NB. The priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans gathered this morning for Daytime Prayer with the Archbishop. I was invited to preach. . .
Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Daytime Prayer for Archdiocesan Clergy
We are in the season of return. After a season of waiting and another of rejoicing, we stepped into that time between birth and rebirth, btw the birth of Christ and our rebirth in him. But before we can be reborn, we must return. That's what we do in Lent. We return. We bring ourselves back to the Lord – triumphs, wounds, failures, modest victories – we bring it all back to him. And we lay it all out for his judgment. If we were to rely on ourselves alone to accomplish this necessary return, we would be forever lost in the humiliating grind of gathering and packing all that we have done and left undone. Even with a little help from our friends, we'd forget a thing or two. Leave behind some fault or drop a sin or two along the way. But b/c we are heirs to the Kingdom, the adopted sons of the Father, we never truly do anything alone. We can only bring ourselves back to the Lord with His help, with His mercy. There can be no question about whether or not we can do any good w/o Him. We can't. The question is: when we return – loaded with all we have to sacrifice – to whom do we return? When you return to the Lord in His mercy, who do you see?
Who do you see when you return to the Lord?! That's a bizarre question for a church filled with Catholic priests! Maybe. Think for a moment about your failures. Your faults. Your omissions. Think for a moment about your idols. What lesser goods have you worshiped instead of your Greatest Good? (I could list mine, but I only have seven minutes!) We could all probably list a few – popularity (or an aversion to controversy); a need to be right, to be vindicated; a need to be seen as holy (as opposed to actually being holy); a need to be revered, to be honored; a need to be thought particularly intelligent or pastoral or relevant; a need to be innovative or precise; a need to be sought after, followed, listened to. All of these are goods, lesser goods, and all of these are perfectly human needs. But to lift them up and place them along side the Greatest Good, or to use them as replacements for the Greatest Good, threatens not only our vocation as ministers of the Gospel, it threatens our access to the only One who can save us. We become who or what we love. Idols of silver and gold cannot see. They cannot breathe. Idols of popularity and comfort cannot hear. They cannot speak. If we will return to God with all we have to sacrifice, we will return to the only God capable of receiving and blessing all that we have and all that we truly are.
Scripture urges us: “. . .heed [the Lord's] voice all your heart and with all your soul.” All my heart and all my soul. This is the Lord's way of admonishing me to leave nothing behind in my return to Him. I cannot hide a favorite sin, or stash away just one well-loved idol and expect that my return to the Lord will anything but futile. I cannot serve God in spirit and in truth if I am spiritually half-blind, mostly deaf, struggling to breathe, and stuttering. Our work for God's people – the preaching of the Gospel and the care of souls – is too important to be done in half-measures. Priestly service in His name requires the discipline of a well-trained soldier; the zeal of a prophet; the authenticity of a saint; and, most importantly, the love of a father for his family. We're not talking about moral perfection or human impeccability here. We're talking about desire. Wanting what we lack. It's one thing to lack zeal or strength or even love. It's quite another to lack these essentials and never desire them. What we lack – all that we lack – we can receive when we turn again to the Lord and ask.
“The Lord, your God, will change your lot, and take pity on you.” We are in the season of return. After waiting and rejoicing, we step into the long season of turning again to God. Who, what do you see when you turn to your God? Ego? Disordered passion? Power? Or do you see the source and summit of your call to serve in sacrificial love? The source of your strength in hope? When you turn again to your God, do you see the summit of your end in perfect union with Him? What we lack to serve we are given in abundance when we open our hearts and minds to receive the gift that only God can give us – Himself. There is room in the human heart for only one god, one ruler, one source and motivator for loving perfectly. Everything else, everyone else must be sacrificed – made holy through surrender – so that All that He Is is free to equip us for service. Scripture teaches us that the Lord provides. Our task is to receive His provision with praise and thanksgiving so that we can get on with the work we have been given to accomplish. Ask for what you lack to serve and receive from the Lord all that you need.
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