01 July 2016

Warts and all. . .

13th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Moses was tongue-tied. King David was a murderer and an adulterer. John the Baptist was smelly locust-eating hobo wandering 'round the desert. St. Matthew was a tax-collector for the enemy of his people. Saul hunted down and jailed Christians before the Holy Spirit got him. Jesus himself named St. Peter “Satan,” and Peter later lied about even knowing Jesus. . .three times! St. Moses the Ethiopian was a murderer and a gang leader. St. Augustine was a fornicator and a heretic. St. Francis was blowing his daddy's money on wine and women. St. Patrick worshiped idols and Blessed Giles worshiped the Devil. St. John of the Cross nearly drank and gambled his life away.* When Jesus hears the Pharisees criticizing him for eating with tax collectors and hookers, he says, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. . .I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” If the blood of the martyrs waters the seed of the Church, then the repentance of sinners is the harvest she reaps. Our Lord sees us exactly as we are, without filter, without sentiment. . .warts, scars, scabs. . .he sees it all. And he says to each and every one of us, warty, scabby, and scarred, “Follow me.”

To follow him, Jesus says we need to learn the meaning of “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Our Lord is paraphrasing the prophet, Hosea, pointing us toward what is fundamental to our life in the Spirit – if we will to follow the Father's will for our lives, then we will show mercy and receive mercy rather than rely on the sketchy effectiveness of sacrifices and ritual purity to relieve us of the burdens of sin. A life lived in mercy necessarily grows in holiness. The one who receives mercy is relieved sin's guilt, and the who shows mercy is relieved of the burden of seeking restitution for the offense. Everyone is freed from the stain of sin! And holiness is possible only when we are free. The animal sacrifices and ritual purity of the Pharisees only temporarily imputes cleanliness; that is, they can only pretend to be clean and only for a short time. This means that Pharisaical holiness cannot grow; it is holiness on a meter with the clock ticking down. When Jesus quotes Hosea, he turns us toward the First Commandment of Love, and says, “How you show and receive mercy is how you love one another.” Shut out the adulterer b/c he is an adulterer, or refuse to love the thief b/c she is a thief, and the entire Christian project fails. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. . .I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

And what did he come to call us sinners to? Repentance. He calls us to turn ourselves around, re-orient ourselves toward righteousness, and come home to our loving Father. Showing mercy to the sinner in no way implies approval or acceptance of his/her sin. Receiving mercy as a sinner in no way implies that my sin is not sin. I can only show another mercy for a sin; in other words, if there is no sin, then showing mercy is pointless. And I can only receive mercy for a sin; in other words, if my sin is unconfessed, then mercy is pointless. The whole purpose of mercy is to destroy the power of sin and death over those caught in its grasp. Confession and repentance are necessary, otherwise sin and death squeeze just that much tighter. All the saints I mentioned before are saints b/c they all tired of the oppression of sin and sought their freedom in God's mercy. They all grew to be saints b/c they practiced mercy. Being free of sin and death, and living toward eternal life. . .that's why we were made and re-made in Christ. Our Lord says, “Follow me.”

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30 June 2016

An interview with me. . .

Matthew Coffin at Big C Catholic has posted an interview with me. . .

Check it out!


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26 June 2016

Excuses, excuses, excuses. . .[Audio Link Added]

Audio Link

13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

I was seventeen when I first heard the call to priesthood. And I wasn't even Catholic at the time! For the second seventeen years of my life I answered God's call with “Maybe” and “Not Yet.” I used an array of excuses and dodges. I need to finish college. Then, I need to finish my Masters. Then, I need to finish my doctorate. All the while I was playing around with all sorts of spiritually dangerous ideas and practices, and not in the least bit interested in hearing anything God had to say to me. I went to my Episcopal parish off and on, and basically just managed to stay right out on the edge of the faith. Joining the Church in 1996, I revisited my vocation and decided to give it a whirl. The order I applied to rejected me in the summer of 1998. Not too long after that, I got an internal staph infection that went undiagnosed for three months and came within a few days of dying. That woke me up, and I got serious. I entered the Dominican novitiate in 1999, and I've never looked back. When Jesus hears our excuses, our delaying tactics, even our good reasons for not following him, he says things like, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

So, yes, I spent seventeen years dodging God's call to priesthood. My excuses/dodges/good reasons all sounded excellent at the time. I did need to finish my studies. I wasn't yet ready to fully embrace chaste celibacy. My parents weren't keen on me being Catholic. My set of university-educated, politically-progressive friends hated the Church. There were a few things the Church teaches that I couldn't yet accept. I was living the typical life of a impoverished twenty-something grad student, which means I managed to stay alive in the fall semester by stealing fried chicken and liquor from the tailgaters in the Grove at Ole Miss home games. Don't ask how I made it in the spring. And I was still too much of a hard-headed, big-mouthed, and cynical redneck to let anyone tell me what to do or believe. So, yeah, it took seventeen years and almost dying from an undiagnosed staph infection to get me to shut up and sit down long enough to actually listen to what Christ was saying to me. I finally heard him, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” No more excuses. No more dodges. No more “good reasons.” Put your hand to the plow, and don't look back.

So, Jesus is walking the countryside, preaching the Good News. He comes across a guy and says to him, “Follow me.” What does the guy say in return? “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” A perfectly good reason to delay following Christ. Burying the dead, especially your dead parents, is an ancient obligation, one blessed by countless generations of families. This guy didn't say he wanted to finish his workday and get paid; or that he needed a shower and a clean change of clothes; he didn't say that he wanted to discern for a few years and attend some retreats first, or consult with his spiritual director. He wanted to bury his dead father! Knowing the urgency of the Father's Good News, and knowing how many hearts and minds longed to be turned back to God, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, [you] go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” What did the man do? Did he drop everything and follow Christ, leaving his father unburied? We don't know. Maybe we aren't supposed to know b/c “that guy” is you and me. Luke doesn't tell us how he responded b/c you and I are still responding. We are still answering (or not answering) Christ's invitation to follow him. You are That Guy. How do you answer Christ?

While you're considering your answer, think about this. Christ was not indiscriminate about who he invited to follow him. While he walked the earth preaching and teaching, he selected his close followers for personal instruction. Think of the Twelve. He chose them all by name to become his ambassadors to the world. He stood in front of thousands in his three years among us, and only occasionally to a very few did he say, “Follow me.” The universal call to discipleship and holiness comes after the Holy Spirit's visit at Pentecost. Only after Christ ascends into heaven does everyone receive the invitation, “Follow me.” While he was still among us, he carefully chose whom to invite. That Guy – the one with the dead and unburied father – wasn't just some random guy randomly chosen. Jesus knew him. Heart and soul, Jesus knew him. And he knows each one of us. The universal call to discipleship and holiness is directed at each one of us in the Church AND to the whole world. Jesus knows each one of us b/c we have died with him and we have been buried with him and we will be raised with him on the last day. We are members of his body, the Church. We have been chosen and invited. And so, he says to us, all of us, “[Anyone] who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is [not] fit for the kingdom of God.”

If we will be fit for the kingdom of God, we will not look to what we have left behind. Leave it behind where it belongs. Whatever “it” is. Leave the excuses, the bad decisions, the terrible mistakes, even the deliberate acts of vengeance and violence; leave the angry self-accusations, the guilt and the shame, all the junk that gathers around you when you wallow in sin. Leave it all. And plow forward. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Why not? You aren't smart enough. You aren't articulate enough. You're shy. You're afraid that people will think you are weird. Your family and friends will be embarrassed. You'll lose long-lasting relationships. You might lose your job. People will stare. What? You need to go bury your dead father? Let the dead bury the dead. When I entered the novitiate in 1999, I lost more than half of my friends and former grad school colleagues. By 2010, I had lost my two best friends of 24 years. When I say “lost,” I don't mean that they died. I mean that they cut me out of their lives b/c they hate the Church. My family – thank God – didn't turn away. Though they still look at me like I'm some sort of circus monkey with a bad perm.
What and who are you willing to lose to follow Christ? You might not lose anyone or anything but your sins and those who encourage sin. You might not leave behind much at all. Or, you might have to leave everything and everyone behind. The decision to follow Christ is the decision to make him Master of your heart and mind. That means putting aside whatever or whoever else rules you. It means stepping off into another world of freedom, peace, forgiveness, and mercy. And it means giving to others anything that you have received from Him.
You have plow. Now, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

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