11 June 2016

How you feel about it is irrelevant. .. .

11th Sunday OT 2013  
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP  
St. Dominic/Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Let's get right to it: why does the notoriously sinful woman wash Jesus' feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and anoint them with oil? But before we tackle that question, let's ask another one: why should we ask that question at all? Why should we ask why she does what she does? Two reasons: 1) her motives for doing what she did tells us a great deal about how and why her sins are forgiven; and 2) the parable Jesus tells Simon is meant to teach him (and us) about the long-term effects of forgiveness. So, why does she do it? She wants Jesus to reward her with absolution. She wants to embarrass the smug Pharisee in his own home. She wants to appear in public with a great prophet and discredit him by association. Or, we can go with Jesus' assessment of her motives, “. . .her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” The notoriously sinful woman honors Jesus in a way his host did not b/c she wants to show Jesus Great Love. Tying her devotion back to the parable of the generous creditor, Jesus concludes, “. . .the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” We are forgiven everything. How big is your love? 

Here's a better question: how big can your love be? The only thing we know for sure is that our love cannot be bigger than God who is Love Himself. So, btw the Nothingness of Evil and the Perfection of God, we have plenty of room to grow and shrink, to expand and contract. When we grow in love, we do so along with God in response to the Great Love that He gives us. When our love shrinks, we do so as well. We become less human, less like the image and likeness of God who made us. Of course, it's sin that causes us to shrink in love, to contract away from God. It's sin that derails us on our Way to God, and sin that staunches the free flow of mercy into our lives. This is why Jesus directly ties the sinful woman's love for him to her forgiveness. Which came first: her love or his forgiveness? Did Jesus forgive her as a reward for loving him? Or does she love him b/c he forgives her? Jesus says, “. . .her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.” So, she loves first, then he forgives. But how does she love in the first place while wallowing in sin? Surely, she must be forgiven before she can love? Can our love ever be big enough to overcome your sin? No. But God's love for us is big enough to make up the difference, big enough to bring us all to repentance through Christ. 

Paul writes to the Galatians, “I have been crucifed with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” You see the genuis of the Catholic faith is that nothing required of us all is truly required of us alone. We admit from the beginning that we can do nothing without first receiving the grace necessary to complete the task. Even our desire to cooperate with God’s various gifts is itself a gift. Our completed tasks in grace are no more responsible for saving us than any number of goats sacrificed and burned on an altar. We are not made just by our works. In other words, we cannot work our way into holiness apart from the God of grace Who motivates us to do good works. Paul writes, “We who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ even we have believed in Christ Jesus…b/c by works of the law no one will be justified.” We are made just when we are crucifed with Christ (in baptism) and when he abides in us (in confession and Eucharist) we remain just. We can proclaim with Paul then, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself for me.” We can say, “I live by knowing, trusting that Christ loves me away of my sin.” 

Can we, then, be members of the Body of Christ, the Church, who participate in the ministries of the Church not for pragmatic gain, nor the need to “feel something,” nor in the hope of fitting-in, but b/c we long to show Christ a Great Love, the love that he first showed us on the cross and shows us even now on this altar? Can we do what the sinful woman does: freely, openly, purely, and without caring about gossip or any negative consequences, can we express our Great Love for Christ and one another with the gifts of tears—humility, forgiveness, mercy; and the gifts of service—teaching, preaching, healing, feeding? Can you show others—for no other reason or purpose than your Great Love for God—can you show others the Christ Who Lives In You? And can you show them that Christ did not die for nothing but that he died and rose again for everything, everyone everywhere? And can you show them that b/c he died and rose again for everything and everyone everywhere, that they too, saying YES to his gifts of trust, hope, and love, that they too can shine out a Christ-light for all to see, that they too can wash filthy feet with repentant tears and anoint them clean with precious oil? 

Now, you might thinking at this point: “Hmmm. . .I can say that I love God, but I don't really feel like I love God. He loves me, I know, but I don't feel Him loving me.” Let me gently remind you: your feelings on the truth of God's love for you are irrelevant; that is, whether or not you feel God's love is irrevelant to the truth that God does love you. Since at least the middle of the 19th c.,* Christians have been duped into believing that emotions take priority over the intellect in all things theological, that the only worthy human response to reality is emotional. We've replaced “What do you think?” with “How do you feel?” and we've decided that how we feel is more important than what we think. This is not the Catholic faith. We are rational animals not emotive animals. We are human persons composed of a human body and a rational soul. That which makes us most like God is our intellect not our passions. Why am I ranting about this? B/c too often I see otherwise faithful Christians anguishing over their apparently empty spiritual lives b/c they do not feel God's presence. Feelings ebb and flow, come and go. Yes, feelings are spiritually significant, but they do not tell us much about the truth. The truth is: God loves you. He is with you. And how we feel about these truths is irrelevant to whether or not they are true. 

The notoriously sinful woman's sins are forgiven whether she feels forgiven or not. The Pharisee is a hypocrite whether he feels like a hypocrite or not. Jesus did not command us to feel love. He commanded us to love. So, angry, sad, joyful, exhausted, pitiful, happy—does it matter to our obligation to love? No, it doesn't. Do not let fleeting emotions bargain away the triumphs of God's Love. Feel what you feel and Love anyway. Feel angry and love anyway. Feel depressed, exhausted, spiteful, and love anyway. Feel elated, ecstatic, on cloud nine, and nearly uncontrollably happy, and love anyway. Feel bored, isolated, cranky, and mean, and love anyway. Christ did not die for nothing. He died for you. And you are not nothing. You are everything to him. We are everything to him. Yes, our sins betray us. But his Great Love forgives us. Our debt is always canceled, always forgiven. Knowing this, is your love big enough to forgive others? Probably not. But God's love for you is big enough to make up the difference. He loved you first anyway, so allow Him to forgive through you. Allow yourself to be just one small way for His Great Love to be found in this world. Allow yourself to be the greater love of Christ who lives in you. 

*I'm thinking particularly of Friedrich Schleiermacher, who reduced religious faith to feeling and intuition.

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10 June 2016

Getting Right with Jesus

NB. Squirrels are keeping me busy. . .

10th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Many, many years ago, a good decade before I entered the Church, I traveled to Mobile, AL with two college friends to celebrate Madri Gras. Our first night out took us into the street revelry of the Central Business District. Mingled in with the drunks, the streakers, the homeless, and lots of broke college kids were small groups of Protestants handing out pamphlets. Without much luck these folks tried to persuade the party people of Mobile's Madri Gras to abandon their iniquity and repent. One particularly scary looking fellow had drawn a crowd with his fire and brimstone preaching. He stood on a milk crate and waved a hand-written placard that read, “You Had Better Get RIGHT With Jesus!” My friends and I—all raised Baptist—chuckled at this knucklehead b/c we had long ago given up such fundamentalist nonsense. But the preacher's warning became a catchphrase for us for the next year or so. Anytime one of us did something wrong, we'd shout in our best Baptist preacher's voice, “You'd better get RIGHT with Jesus!” Jesus himself tells us, “getting right” with him surpasses “getting it right” in the Law. 

All of the gospel readings this week have provided us with the chance to examine the relationship btw the Old and New Covenants. From Day One, the Church has taught that the New Covenant in Christ fulfills all of the promises made by the Father in the Old Covenant. The Mosaic Law is fulfilled in the Law of Charity. The prophecies are fulfilled by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Christ. But what does this mean for us? What is the fundamental difference btw the Old and New Covenants, the difference that brings us to righteousness? In his 1993 encyclical, Veritas splendor, John Paul II, writes, “. . .it is through faith in Christ that we have been made righteous: the 'righteousness' which the Law demands, but is unable to give, is found by every believer to be revealed and granted by the Lord Jesus”(23). The Old Covenant revealed righteousness, made the need for a right relationship with God known, but it could not establish that right relationship. Where laws, animal sacrifices, and purity codes failed to make us right with God, Christ Jesus not only succeeded in making righteousness possible, he actually makes us righteous by our faith in him. Christ achieves in us all that he makes possible for us. 

To his disciples, Jesus issues this dire warning: “. . .unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” The righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees is based on the Old Covenant; it is revealed but not made. Our righteousness must go deeper than just doing the good works that might create a relationship btw the Divine Lawgiver and a Law Abiding Believer. Our rightness with God must surpass the mere possibilities of the Law and be established by faith in the One who fulfills the Law. In other words, trying to get right with God under the Law was a risky gamble—might work, might not. Getting right with God through Christ is a guaranteed win, every single time, a win. Why? Because in Christ, every promise of the Law and the prophets has been made good. Nothing has been left to chance. “Getting right with Jesus” surpasses “getting right with the Law” b/c Jesus has already fulfilled all of the requirements of the Law for us! Therefore, invest the wealth of your faith, your invaluable trust in Christ Jesus. In him is found and established for us the righteousness that frees us from death forever.


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