11 July 2018

Till He come to rain down justice

St. Benedict
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The prophet Hosea prophesies to a nation in chaos. The northern kingdom of Israel has become prosperous and corrupt. Ruled by a succession of six Assyrian puppet-kings in just 26 years, the people have long since forgotten their duty to God. And b/c they have forgotten who and what they are, God will allow the Assyrian Empire to crush them. Hosea prophesies, “Their heart is false, now they pay for their guilt; God shall break down their altars and destroy their sacred pillars.” A people who lack gratitude, who lack a proper sense of religious duty have no use for altars or sacred pillars. What about a king to quell the chaos? Will the Lord send a king to ensure their safety? Hosea says, “Since they do not fear the Lord, what can the king do for them?” A king is only as good as the people's faith in God. No kingdom can replace the covenant. No king can replace the Lord. When a nation suffers the consequences of its collective sin, its failure to honor God, “it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain down justice upon you.” 
Whatever measure of peace and prosperity we enjoy now or later we must see as gifts from God and God alone. Of course, there are natural mechanisms that work out a good national economy or ensure the end of wars and violence. But it is the Spirit of God that moves the hearts of men and women to seek out the common good and work toward just ends. It is God who pours out His enduring Love and seduces us to do better, to be better when we are tempted with self-serving means and unjust ends. When we receive His love, we are better, we do better and b/c we are so blessed, He deserves our gratitude. Not b/c He needs us to be thankful but b/c being thankful only increases our humility, making it possible for us to receive more and more of His good graces. A people who have turned their backs on God cannot make wise decisions, nor can they prosper, nor can they long survive as a people under His care. No politician or Supreme Court Justice or Pope can save a nation that refuses to acknowledge the source of its material and spiritual wealth. The disastrous consequences of this refusal aren't a punishment from God on the people; it's God allowing these people to be who they want to be: a tribe cut off from His blessings, a nation grown sick with ingratitude. 
When a nation suffers the consequences of its collective sin, its failure to honor God, Hosea tells us that “it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain down justice upon you.”

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08 July 2018

You are a prophet of God!

14th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Bakers bake cakes and pies. Florists arrange flowers. Firefighters fight fires. Doctors and nurses heal the sick. What do prophets do? If you had to write out a job description for a prophet, what would you say? “The prophet is primarily responsible for walking around the neighborhood, shouting 'Repent! The End is Near.' Must provide own animal-skin garments and locusts and honey. Good hygiene optional.” That's our image of the prophet, right? The lonely soul, wandering the streets, yelling at tourists and stinking up the place. We read about them in Scripture, of course. God calls them go out and warn people about their sin and their coming doom. Most of the time they are ignored and God punishes the wicked fair and square. They were warned after all. But here we are in 2018, and we're pretty sure that prophets are a thing of the past. God no longer calls out individuals to speak His word of truth, to foretell the destruction of a city or a nation b/c of sin. God no long uses a single human voice to put us back on the correct path. No, He doesn't use a single voice. He uses all our voices – the bold, prophetic voices of the baptized, the Church. You and me, generations of Christians past and those to come.

The singular purpose of the Church is to serve as the sacrament of salvation for all mankind – an outward sign, a visible manifestation of God's mercy to sinners. The Church is not – as Pope Francis has said – a religious non-governmental social service organization; the Church is not a social club or a business network or a non-profit political action committee. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. And we – the baptized – are the Church's priests, prophets, and kings. As priests we meditate God's mercy, His grace. As Kings, we stand to inherit His kingdom, eternal life. And as prophets, we carry His saving Word into the world so that all those with ears to hear and eyes to see can hear and see His enduring love through our words and deeds. The prophets of the Old Testament served a specific purpose at a specific time. God chose them individually to say what needed to be said in order to bring sinners back to righteousness. Christ's death and resurrection and our baptism into his death and resurrection make each one of us carriers of his Word, his mission, and his ministry. You are a prophet of God. And you have work to do.

As men and women baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we have vowed to be faithful to God, just to our neighbors, hopeful in crisis, loving to all, joyful even as we mourn, and as eager to show mercy as we are to seek mercy for ourselves. The key to our lives as prophets is not moral do-goodism or institutional credentials. Our prophetic key is humility – the certain and daily-lived knowledge that we are creatures of a loving God, wholly dependent, utterly reliant on the Love that gave us and gives us life. There is no other source of identity for us. No other means of doing what we have vowed our lives to do. Ezekiel is consumed in the voice of God. Paul is plagued by a thorn in his flesh. Jesus himself is rejected by his hometown folks. Their humility fuels a righteous fire for God's justice not a self-righteous grudge against the status-quo, not a self-serving envy for what is not theirs. Self-anointed prophets in lab coats, expensive suits, or liturgical vestments might tempt us with a scientific or political or spiritual utopia, but we know that any prophet who will not and cannot say, “Thus says the Lord God...,” we know that they are false prophets. They are not of God; they do not speak His Word. 
If you will fulfill your vow to be a prophet of God, you will be faithful, just, hopeful, joyful, and loving. You will speak the Truth and do the Good. You will set aside self-righteous anger, envy, and pride. And most importantly, you will be the Father's mercy to sinners.

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