26 August 2017

Tape it to your coffee pot or steering wheel. . .

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Anthony of Padua, NOLA

Here in New Orleans we are experts on a few things. Food. Partying. How to wait for a hurricane, which usually involves food and partying. What to do when it rains for too long. And the absolute necessity of solid foundations. . .even if those foundations are nine or so feet off the ground. When you live in a city where the ground resembles a wore-out sponge and the sky never seems to stop crying, you learn to appreciate the usefulness of a rock-solid, never-shifting foundation. Even if everything on top of that foundation gets swept away, the foundation itself remains, ready to start again. We need good foundations for our buildings, and we need good foundations for our faith. In a world that seems to have lost its mind lately, where everything we once thought certain and sure has been swept away, we need the best foundation to keep our place. Christ himself has given us that foundation: Peter and his Church. On his profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, Peter receives the keys to the kingdom of heaven from Christ and hears our Lord say, “. . .you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” IOW, come hell or high water, the Church is here to stay!

And stay she has for 2,017 years. Through the bloody persecutions of Rome's emperors. Through the destruction of the empire by Vandals, Goths, and Visigoths. Through the schism between East and West. Through the Black Death which killed at least half of Europe's people, some 140 million souls. Through three popes reigning at the same time. Through Luther's revolt and the rise of Protestantism. The best intellectual efforts of “Enlightenment” era philosophers and politicians. The French Revolution and its Cult of Reason. Napoleon's empire. The Kaiser's Kulturkampf. The Bolshevik Revolution. The First and Second World Wars. The post-Vatican Two turmoil. The Age of Aquarius. The best efforts of dissenters and revolutionaries within the Church in the 70's, 80's, and 90's. And now – in 2017 – the Church will endure through the current particularly American insanity that pretends to create reality out of thin air by using the correct terminology. Without a solid foundation in the apostolic faith, Catholilcs are liable to end up believing five-year old boys can be magically changed into ten-year old girls just b/c they say so. Thanks be to God we have the Rock of Peter and his Church.

All that the Church has endured over the centuries bears witness to Christ's promise that not even Hell will prevail against her. And his promise endures not b/c the Church is somehow mystically protected from harm. There's no magic at work here. Christ identifies both Peter and Peter's faith as the Rock the Church is built upon. With the Holy Spirit's guarantee to Peter against error and the living faith of the People of God, the Church navigates the world's dangers and the world's silliness to maintain a constant heading toward preaching the Good News and caring for souls. Along the way, members of the Body will jump ship and swim off to answer siren calls, finding themselves dashed against the rocks of all sorts of nonsense. Even religious, priests, and bishops have been and will be seduced on occasion. But when we cling – and cling hard – to Peter's confession – “You are the Christ!” – we can clearly see the silliness for what it is. The nonsense for what it is. What better way is there for us to endure than to cling – and cling hard – to the Way, the Truth, and the Life who is Christ Jesus?

Our Lord has a question for us all: who do you say that I am? That's not a rhetorical question. That's not a question the preacher asks just to sound like he saying something profound. It's a real question from 2, 000 years ago and right this moment. Jesus wants to know who you think he is. Your answer to this question determines whether or not you're in the boat or swimming toward the rocks. If, with Peter, you say, “You are the Christ!” then the next question is all too obvious: do you live like you believe he's the Christ? We are no longer living in a Christian culture. Not even in New Orleans. We can no longer look to our political and cultural institutions for support in the faith. Even our public language, our common ways of speaking with one another, no longer carries the weight of our Christian tradition. Maybe, at one time, we could move through our day and find constant reminders of the faith. This is probably true now only for those of us who work in the Church. So, it has to be said: just showing up is not enough anymore. Your faith must be chosen, intentional; it must determined and in evidence. If not, you are in danger of losing it, or leaving it behind. Tape it to your steering wheel, over your desk; stick on your alarm clock, or your coffee pot; write in on your hand or your favorite book; make it your desktop wallpaper, or your ringtone: Who do I say Jesus is?

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