15 April 2017

There's an empty tomb waiting for us all

The Easter Vigil 2017
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

In a homily for Holy Saturday, St. John Chrysostom asks the catechumens, “How can I lay open before you the mystery of the Lord's resurrection, the saving grace of his cross and of his three days' death?” Explaining a mystery is a fool's errand. What makes such an explanation foolish isn't the inevitable failure of intelligence or will, rather explaining a mystery – especially one foundational to the apostolic faith – requires an understanding of salvation history that God alone possesses. We get bits and pieces throughout the liturgical year, and tonight we got much larger bits – but it was bits nonetheless. The mysteries of our faith must be lived 'til death and even then our understanding is limited to the perfectly human. How we react to these mysteries and what we do with what we do understand sets our course toward (or away from) holiness. Is one reaction better than another? When Mary of Magdala arrives at the empty tomb, the angel says to her, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.” Seeking the crucified Christ after his resurrection requires courage; it requires a willingness to tell the truth about the empty tomb, and what that empty tomb means.

The truth is: there's an empty tomb waiting for us all. True, it's empty right now b/c we're not dead yet, but it is also empty b/c the finality of death itself is dead. The Resurrection brings us back to the ever-living God Who is life eternal. So, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of dying, of getting old, of becoming infirmed; do not be afraid of losing your dignity, your intellectual prowess, your creative gifts. Do not be afraid of anything that could threaten your faith in the reality of the Resurrection, the promise of God the Father to you back to Him in glory. The empty tomb of Easter morning is the enduring witness of this promise, the Lord's testimony to His faithfulness and love. 
When the risen Christ meets his disciples on the road, he says to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Whatever anxiety, whatever apprehension the disciples must feel at their teacher's death, it all melts away when they see him again. They approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. That's the courage of holiness.

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14 April 2017

Small mercies and large

Good Friday 2017
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

Brothers, recall for a moment all the small mercies you have enjoyed through the years. I don't mean the really big stuff like sacramental absolution from mortal sin, or a last-minute reprieve from a serious accident or a deadly disease. I mean the truly smallish mercies; the everyday mercies of living and working with our fellow sinners – here at the priory, in the parish, at your ministry site, or just strolling around WalMart! What sort of lives would we lead if we couldn't give and receive mercy, especially the little mercies we need just to be up and moving around w/o constantly finding ourselves in furious arguments or fist-fights? 
What I'm calling small mercies flow unimpeded from the one Big Mercy we celebrate this afternoon – the death of Christ on the cross. Over the centuries, the Church has preached a consistent message about the consequences of his crucifixion – we are freed from sin and death and made heirs to His Kingdom. But there's one other element that doesn't get as much attention. Without Christ's death on the cross, mercy would have no eternal weight, no transcendental worth. Without his final proof of divine love at Golgotha, mercy would be mere courtesy, and our struggle would be with civility not holiness. But b/c he took on sin and healed our human nature, we are able to see well-beyond the limits of the here and now and look forward to a time and place where being merciful is no longer necessary b/c being sinful is no longer an option.

This Friday is a Good Friday b/c Christ's death on the cross elevates our human virtues, giving them immeasurable weight and worth. Because his suffering and death on the cross makes our return to the Father not only possible but all the more desirable. And because – left to ourselves – patience, forgiveness, even love would be impossible to empty of self-regard and self-preservation. Thanks to be God, that Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross is the still running-engine of mercy that gives life to the possibility of our conversion and the reality of our hope in the resurrection. While we commemorate the bloody cross this afternoon, we keep our hearts and minds clearly and fiercely focused on a divine horizon – the empty tomb and the promise of Easter morning.

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13 April 2017

What Holy Thursday teaches us. . .

Mass of the Last Supper
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

Holy Thursday teaches us how an execution becomes a sacrifice and how that sacrifice becomes a on-going feast for giving thanks. When Jesus and his disciples gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they are doing more than honoring an ancient Jewish custom. For three years now, Jesus has reminded his disciples—in word and deed—that everything he says and does is moving them all toward a single goal: the fulfillment of the Covenant btw Abraham and God the Father. Every sermon, every hostile exchange with the Pharisees, every healing miracle, everything he has said and done fulfills scriptural prophecy and points to his birth as the coming of the Kingdom. This last celebration of Passover in Jerusalem is no different. It's a prophetic sign of who and what he is for us. 
When Jesus and his friends recline at table to begin the feast, they know that what they are remembering is God's rescue of His people from centuries of Egyptian slavery. Bread for the feast is unleavened b/c there is no time to wait for it to rise. The wine is watered b/c they need to be clear-headed for their escape. They are girded for travel and lightly packed. Jesus lifts the bread and says, “This is my Body.” He lifts the cup of wine, “This is my Blood.” At that moment, what were the disciples thinking? Knowing full well what the Passover means—freedom from slavery—did they understand that the Lord was telling them that their ancestral meal of remembrance was now a feast of freedom? That eating his Body and Blood would free them from sin and death? Later, after Jesus' execution, did they make the connection btw ritually sacrificing a lamb in the temple with his sacrifice on the cross?

Holy Thursday teaches us that the Roman execution of Jesus is a Jewish sacrifice, a sacrifice that the Risen Christ transforms into a feast of thanksgiving – a New Covenant Passover celebration that celebrates our rescue from slavery to sin. How does a Roman execution become a Christian feast? When the one executed is the Son of God and Son of Man. When the one whose body and blood we eat and drink is presented to God as a sacrifice, a sin-offering made once for all. And when we are commanded to remember this sacrifice, to participate in it by taking into our own bodies the Body and Blood of the one sacrificed for us.
Holy Thursday teaches us that Jesus the Christ has fulfilled the promises and obligations of the Covenant made btw Abraham and God the Father, establishing for us a New Covenant of grace, of freely offered forgiveness for all of our offenses. Knowing this, “. . .let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need.”


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09 April 2017

Knowing he will die. . .

Palm Sunday (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Between today and next Sunday we will hear again and again how Christ emptied himself out for our sake. How he took on the form of a slave for us. How he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Palm Sunday remembers the day he entered Jerusalem in triumph, hailed as a conquering king. What a difference one week can make. From King to Criminal, from Conqueror to Crook. He will be celebrated and honored, betrayed and falsely accused, wrongly convicted and executed. . .all this week. . .and for no other reason than to free you and me from the bonds from sin and death. He goes to Jerusalem – knowing he will die – he goes to Jerusalem b/c it is in Jerusalem that every righteous sacrifice must be made. He dies in this one place so that every place from then on will be made right for offering the Father worthy praise and thanksgiving. Spend this week before his death giving God thanks and praise for making His mercy freely available. For making His Son the means of your freedom from the darkness of sin and death. For making us His children again.
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