04 July 2017

Two Revolutions (2009)

Independence Day (2009)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of St Mary of Namur, Fort Worth, TX

Jesus says to John's disciples, “No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth...People do not put new wine into old wineskins.” What does this bit of homespun wisdom have to do with weddings, fasting, the Pharisees, mourning the death of a bridegroom, and the price of camels in Jerusalem? Better yet: what do any of these have to do with the American Revolution and this country's declaration of independence from the tyranny Old King George? Is Jesus teaching us to party while we can b/c we won't be around forever? Is he arguing that we ought to be better stewards of our antiques—human and otherwise? Or maybe he's saying that the time will come when the older ways can no longer be patched up and something fundamentally new must replace what we have always had, always known. When “the way we have always done it” no longer takes us where we ought to go; when the wineskin, the camel, the cloak no longer holds its wine, hauls its load, or keep us warm, it's time to start thinking about a trip to the market to haggle for something new.

We celebrate two revolutions today: one temporal and one eternal, one local and the other cosmic. The political revolution freed a group of colonies in the New World from the corruption of an old and dying Empire. The spiritual revolution freed all of creation from the chains of sin and death. Today, we give God thanks and praise for the birth of the United States of America by celebrating our 4th of July freedoms. And we give God thanks and praise for the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ by celebrating this Eucharist, the daily revolution that overthrows the regime of sin and spiritual decay.

The revolution of 1776 not only toppled the imperial rule of George III in the American colonies, but it also founded a way of life that celebrates God-gifted, self-evident, and unalienable human rights as the foundation of all civil government and social progress. The revolution that Christ led and leads against the wiles and temptations of the world fulfills the promise of our Father to bring us once again into His Kingdom—not a civil kingdom ruled by laws and fallible hearts, but a heavenly kingdom where we will do His will perfectly and thereby live more freely than we ever could here on earth. In no way do we understand this kingdom as simply some sort of future reward for good behavior. This is no pie in the sky by and by. Though God's kingdom has come with the coming of Christ, we must live as bodies and souls here and now, perfecting that imperfect portion of the kingdom we know and love. No revolution succeeds immediately. No revolution fulfills every promise at the moment of its birth. The women and slaves of the newly minted United States can witness to this hard fact. That we continue to sin, continue to fail, continue to rebel against God's will for us is evidence enough that we do not yet live in fullest days of the Kingdom. But like any ideal, any program for perfecting the human heart and mind, we can live to the limits of our imperfect natures, falling and trying again, knowing that we are loved by Love Himself. With diligence. With trust. With hope. With one another in the bonds of Christ's love, we can do more than live lackluster lives of mediocre compliance. We can work out our salvation in the tough love of repentance and forgiveness, the hard truths of mercy and holiness.

Christ is with us. The Bridegroom has not abandoned us. His revolution continues so long as one of us is eager to preach his Word, teach his truth, do his good works. Today and everyday, we are free. And even as we celebrate our civil independence from tyranny, we must bow our heads to the Father and give Him thanks for creating us as creatures capable of living freely, wholly in the possibility of His perfection.

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02 July 2017

Worthy OR Unworthy. . .not both

13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

It's standard Catholic fare these days on the internet and on TV for some Catholic personality or media-priest to declare that the Church must be more like Christ and drop her moral objections to [fill in the blank]. Without fail, that blank is filled with whatever trendy goofiness the elite secular culture is peddling this week, and it is always has something to do with sex. I wish I could tell you that this sort of thing is new in the Church, but it isn't. Since the day after the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church more than 2,000 years ago, there have been those in the Church who cannot or will not tolerate the discipline our faith requires of us. These days they are especially keen on distorting perfectly good Christian practices like mercy, love, forgiveness, etc. to undermine the Way, the Truth, and the Life that Christ died to give us. Perhaps the most pernicious distortion making the rounds right now is the idea that since none of us is perfectly morally good, we should just dump Christ's teachings on being worthy of him and ignore our responsibility to call one another to holiness. The Church has no business admonishing sinners we're told. Just allow Catholics their moral ignorance; it's the “pastoral thing to do.”

Jesus begs to differ. He says to his apostles no fewer than three times that it is possible for us to be unworthy of him. We are unworthy if (1) we love our parents more than we love him; (2) if we love our children more than we love him; and (3) if we fail to take up our cross and follow him. Why do these three specific failures make us unworthy of Christ? Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if I find “my life” in my family and friends and in my self-centered interests, I will lose that life. BUT if I lose “my life” for the sake of Christ, in his name and for his mission, I will find it again. . .but radically altered. My family, friends, and interests don't simply vanish when I turn my life over to Christ; they return to me newly oriented, re-shaped at the root and pointed faithfully toward Christ. Now, I am able to love them all more perfectly through Christ, and see them all in his light. Our take-away here should be obvious: it is possible to be worthy of Christ and it is possible to be unworthy of him. But not both at the same time.

If I want to be unworthy of Christ, then all I have to do is love something or someone else more than I love him. If I love my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, or anyone or anything else more than I love Christ, then I am unworthy of him. However, if I want to be made worthy of Christ, I give away my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, and anyone or anything else that might diminish my love of Christ. When all these people and things return to me through Christ they will be radically re-oriented, fundamentally transformed in his likeness and given a new mission, a mission that is consistent with the ministry of the Body of Christ, the Church. I can choose to be worthy or unworthy. What I cannot do is choose to be worthy, claim to be worthy, demand that the Church recognize me as worthy and surrender nothing of what I love more than Christ. I may find a priest or bishop or Catholic media personality willing to pump me up and tell my sad story, but without the Cross, without my sacrifice, my surrender, I am telling and living a lie. Jesus can't say it anymore plainly than he does: “. . .whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Pope Francis has suggested that we see the Church as a “field hospital” where wounded patients come for emergency treatment. This is a brilliant image! Those sick with sin and wounded by the world can find immediate spiritual treatment in the sacramental care of the Church. Staying with that image. . .what would we say of someone who comes to the hospital and demands to be admitted as a patient; demands that the doctors not call their wounds wounds; refuses treatment of any kind; and then demands the doctors cease treating all the other patients with similar wounds? Furthermore, what would we say about a doctor who facilitates the admission of this person and bows to their demands? A doctor who looks at an obviously broken arm, says its not broken, does nothing to fix the arm, and then demands that the other doctors stop fixing all of the other obviously broken arms b/c they aren't really broken? I think you would say with me that we've entered some sort of Catholic Twilight Zone! If the Church is a “field hospital,” she is also a “medicinal community” where sickness and wounds are constantly treated as such. If no one is sick or wounded, then there is no necessary treatment. If there is no treatment to be given, then why are we here? 
We are here b/c we know that to be worthy of Christ, to be made worthy of Christ we must first surrender everything and everyone we love, submerging ourselves fully in the Love Who loves us first. That means drowning our actual sins, our disordered passions, our vices and allowing them to fall away in favor of being New Creations. We cannot be who God made us to be if we cling to the old self, demanding that the Truth change to fit our personal preferences. Christ changes us; we do not and cannot change Christ. If you will to be worthy of him, then “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

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