10 August 2018

Go Big, or Go Home

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

My father and grandfather decided that our family of six needed tomatoes. So, we planted 100 seedlings. They decided that we needed some purple-hull peas. So, we planted three acres of peas. We needed watermelons. Sixty or so we planted. And so on with corn, butter beans, okra, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash. You name it and we had metric tons of it. . .for six of us. We sowed generously and reaped bountifully! My father and grandfather insisted that we weren't going overboard. They insisted that all this planting and weeding and watering and harvesting was absolutely necessary. However, when I went off to college and my younger brother got married – that is, when the unpaid labor got scarce – the gardens and orchards disappeared. Apparently, my brother and I were eating enough homegrown vegetables to feed Grant's Army! Of course, I'm grateful for the time spent bent over a garden hoe. Every preacher needs a story for his homilies. For years, when I was a teenager, my family sowed generously and reaped bountifully! I saw firsthand that nothing grows without a seed being planted. And that seed must die.

Martyrs bear witness to the faith. They plant the seed of truth in the hearts and minds of those to whom they witness. Their deaths for the faith spark that seed. Their blood giving it life and nutrition. But not all martyrs die bloody deaths. The ones we celebrate as saints in the Church did – like St. Lawrence. The vast majority of martyrs – like you and me – probably won't die for the faith even when we die in the faith. Our witness, our martyrdom will be less grand, more ordinary. We seeds of witness we sow are the ordinary seeds of everyday acts of mercy and love. Small handfuls of forgiveness, comfort, kindness. Even tiny little moments of fraternal correction or refusing to deny the truth. Standing up for the faith when doing so imperils friendships or our jobs. Risking social embarrassment or our popularity in the neighborhood. God will take the smallest witness and grow it into a harvest of faith. Think about how you will bear witness out there today. What will you say or do that plants a seed, a seed that could grow into a disciple of Christ? Die to yourself in humility and receive the courage of heart to speak the name of Jesus. Die to yourself in humility and be Christ for another.

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08 August 2018

How great is your faith?

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

The Lord guides Israel's people out of their Assyrian exile. He leads them back to Jerusalem, saying, “I will be the God of all the tribes of Israel, and they shall be my people.” When all are settled, the Lord appears to Israel and reassures them, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt. . .” Despite Israel's faithlessness to the Covenant, the Lord keeps His promise. In His great love, He shows mercy. And His mercy brings restoration. The Good News is that God's love and mercy are not limited to the people of Israel. We Gentiles have a Covenant with God too. A Covenant that we too often forget and fail. When the Canaanite woman begs Christ to exorcise her possessed daughter, the Lord says to her, in effect, “I'm not here for you Gentiles. I'm here for the Jews.” The woman replies, in effect, “Even Gentiles get the leftovers from the Jewish table!” Christ, possibly glancing wryly at his disciples to see if they are paying attention, answers her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter is healed.

In these difficult times, Christ could ask his Church, “How great is your faith?” If we were being honest, we might say, “Not so great, actually.” Or perhaps, “Our faith is being tested, Lord.” He might ask us to look carefully at how faithful we are to the Covenant he died to establish. He might ask us to look at how well we love, how well we forgive, how well we find hope in this mess. He might even suggest to us that as a gift from the Father our faith is not the sort of thing we can measure. Faith is received and put to good use, or it is ignored and left to shrivel up. So, maybe the better question for us is: “Have you received the faith our Father freely offers and put it to good use?” If not, why not? Israel was unfaithful to the Covenant established by Abraham. And the Lord allowed the Assyrian Empire to scatter His people all over the region in exile. When they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, the Lord said to them, “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt. . .” So, after suffering the consequences of their sin, Israel is restored and rebuilt. Please notice that the Lord never stopped loving Israel. Allowing Israel to be scattered, to experience the consequences of their unfaithfulness is what brings them back home. In His mercy, the Lord brings them home. 
How great is your faith? How well do you forgive, show mercy, live in hope? Not so great? Better than you'd expect? Maybe: needs improvement? However you answer these questions – your faith heals you. Your trust in God's promises heals you. You are freed from your sins using the same measure you use to free others from theirs. And remember the Lord's words to Israel as they return from their exile: “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you,  and you shall be rebuilt. . .”

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07 August 2018

Stay and Fight!

I've received some kind emails and blog comments, wondering if I am struggling with the current scandals and the general tumult in the Church. They point out -- rightly -- that my last three homilies have been focused on staying strong in the faith while the Church seems to Circle the Bowl. The preacher preaches to himself first. Indeed.

Yes, I am struggling.

No, I'm not on the brink of cracking up! :-)

In 1995 I left the Episcopal Church b/c I realized that the fundamental doctrine of TEC was up for grabs every three years at the Convention. In the 20 years before I was baptized in the TEC (1982), TEC moved from using the triennial Convention to tinker with canon law to altering Tradition. The weird thing is: I was one of the ones pushing the more radical reforms -- women's ordination to the episcopate, LGBTXYZ inclusion, etc. 

What broke my resolve was the move to further revise the Book of Common Prayer.  There was talk of revising the Nicene Creed and Scripture!

I saw the Whole Thing becoming little more than a bunch of humanities professors playing Church Dress-Up. 

So, I did what any Good Protestant would do -- I left and joined another church.

There's much, much more to the story here, including my grad school training in Marxist/feminist critical theory and deconstructionism, but that's all background. 

I didn't come to any real understanding of the Catholic faith until after my first year in the Dominican studium (2002). And I am still discovering elements of the faith that I've never heard of. 

The sexual abuse scandals of 2002 and the current scandals are aberrations; that is, nothing about them is in concert with the faith. Nothing about the faith justifies Catholic clergy violating their promises/vows. Nothing about the faith prompts bishops to commit or cover-up abuses. Nothing. 

My worry is that faithful lay Catholics will decide that their faith is no longer viable b/c some in the clergy have failed miserably in living out their vocations. 

My other worry is that radical elements in the Church will use the scandals and the Holy Father's change in the CCC to alter the faith according their to destructive agenda, e.g., ending mandatory celibacy, electing bishops, women's ordination, etc.

If the scandals have nothing to do with the faith, then altering the faith is not going to address the scandals. Leaving the Church is not going to address the scandals.

The current tumult is challenging Catholics to be more powerfully Catholic. The temptation of American Catholics is to act like Protestants -- just leave and find another church (as if all churches are equally valid). 

I urge us all to stay the course and fight for the Church! We must avoid a self-destructive Witchhunt, but we must also dig down and find the courage to confront abusers and exercise some much needed fraternal correction (Matt 18.15-17).

Pray for our good priests and bishops. Pray for me.

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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05 August 2018

What crisis? What scandal??

18th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Church is in a hard place right now. The media use the word “crisis” too easily – mostly to sell ads – but I don't think it's an exaggeration to describe where we are as critical. We've been here before. In 2002, in 1968, during WWII, in 1870, 1798, during the French Revolution and the Kaiser's Kulturekampf, all the way back to the 400 year long Arian heresy that started in third century of the Church. That we have been here before and survived should be a comfort to us. But somehow it isn't. Reading about a crisis and living through it are two radically different experiences. So, what do we do? As always, our Lord Jesus Christ shows us the way. The crowd finds Jesus “across the sea,” and asks him an innocent question: “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus hears and answers a different question, saying, “. . .you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. . .” Jesus is telling them – and us – to keep our hearts and minds stubbornly focused on his promise of eternal life. That's the food that will keep us fed through any crisis we must endure.

Now, if you are wondering what in the world I'm talking about – what crisis? What scandal? – I'd urge you to spend some time reading about Theodore McCarrick, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC. About the major seminary in Honduras. About the diocese of Lincoln, NE. I won't explain these now. Let it be enough to say: the sins of the Fathers are coming to light. . .again. And it ain't pretty. In addition to all this, a few days ago the Holy Father “adjusted” the Catechism's teaching on the morality of the death penalty. Whether this is just development of doctrine or a worrisome departure from tradition is a hotly debated question. As a Big Mouth Dominican Friar I'm ashamed to say that I can't answer that question just yet. My initial reaction to the adjustment was less than thoughtful. So, I've decided to just shut up and think on it some more. If you are aware of these issues then you are also aware that the Church is in critical condition; that is, we are at a point in our history where everything can change. And everything can change. Except one thing: God's promise of eternal life. Jesus reassures us: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

And that's where our attention needs to be – believing in our Lord Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life. I'm not saying we ignore the crisis. I'm saying that how we pay attention to the crisis and work to resolve it must be done with the heart and mind of Christ firmly in place. Like everything else of this world, this crisis tempts us to fall into the sin of despair; into self-righteous anger; calls for vengeance; and the sin I call Do-Somethingism – do-somethingism is the sin of rushing past our rational faculties “to do something” about a problem, to do something, anything!, to address what we believe to be the cause of our troubles. More often than not the solution we hastily put in place only causes more problems.* When we put on the heart and mind of Christ we see that sin is real. Human failure is real. And we also see that the Father's mercy is greater than any human failure. And do not forget: divine mercy does not preclude the possibility of human justice. Nor does it prevent the Church from making the changes necessary to prevent similar crises in the future. 

The bottomline here is this (and I'm saying this to myself as well as to you): Do not allow this crisis to undermine your faith! Your faith is deeply rooted in Christ Jesus. . .not a pope, not a cardinal or a bishop or a priest. We are the Body of Christ and him crucified. . .he suffered, died, and rose from the grave to sit at the Father's right hand. And so will we!

*For example, the Dallas Charter the USCCB put in place to address sexual abuse among deacons and priests. It does not include bishops. The way the Charter has been used by some bishops has driven a wedge btw the bishops and their priests, destroying trust and reputations. Not good. 

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