10 September 2018

Gratitude Cures Envy

23rd Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

One of the standards ways of interpreting our Gospel scene is to contrast the rigid, law-abiding Pharisees with the humane and merciful Jesus. The Pharisees are happy to see a man with a withered hand suffer if it means following the Law of the Sabbath. While Jesus is keen on showing us that mercy always triumphs over the Law when needs must. Nothing particularly wrong with that interpretation. But it doesn't tell us much about why the Pharisees are spying on Jesus. It doesn't tell us what motivates them to seek his destruction. For example, is it pride that compels them? Do they see Jesus as a threat to their self-worth? Or maybe it's wrath. They're angry with him for presuming to do what they claim only they can do. Of course, there could be several different motivations. But if I had to pick one, I'd pick the capital sin of envy. Aquinas teaches us that envy is the sorrow I feel about another person's gift when I falsely believe that that gift has been taken from or withheld from me. The Pharisees and scribes see Jesus' gift of healing and they are envious b/c they falsely believe that that gift should be theirs. 
Why would they believe that they should possess this gift of healing? They are religious leaders. Spiritual guides. They know Scripture. They are placed closer to God in virtue of their holiness, their righteousness under the Law. They wield popular political influence. So, they should be the ones healing withered hands not this jump-up prophet from some podunk backwoods town! But here's the problem with envy: you and I have no right to the gifts we receive. God freely gives His gifts and we freely receive them. So, the Devil wins when I spend my time envying your gifts rather than cultivating my own. The Devil also wins when I spend my time following you around trying to catch you using your gifts at the wrong time or for the good of the wrong person. So while my gifts are being destroyed through neglect, you're using yours for the greater glory of God! What's left for me but to be enraged? If I would follow Christ, I would cease coveting your gifts and give thanks to God for my own, asking Him for the strength and perseverance to cultivate what He has already given me. As is always the case, gratitude to the Father prevents a multitude of sins.


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09 September 2018

Preach like you mean it!

23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Perm. Deacons' Retreat, Lumen Christi Center

Ears and a tongue. Three essential tools of a preacher. Ears to hear the Word of God and a tongue to proclaim His Good News to sinners. If the ears can't hear, then the preacher cannot listen to the Word or to those to whom he preaches or even to himself! And w/o a tongue, how can a preacher speak the truth of God's mercy; how can he encourage or admonish or instruct? Of course, there are many ways to preach beyond words. Exemplary deeds. Living a holy life. But for those who have heard and accepted the call to ordained ministry – well, liturgical preaching is part of the job. So, we need our ears open and our tongues wagging. . .at least for the duration of the homily. While we know that the deaf and mute man that Jesus heals is physically impaired, we can ask ourselves: is my hearing impaired? My speech? Is there something or someone who makes me deaf to God's Word, unable to speak His truth? If we are to preach like we mean it – boldly, clearly, with authenticity – we cannot (by our own choices) make ourselves deaf and mute.
Maybe we should explore a bit. What or who could cause us to become deaf to God's Word? There's no denying it: we live in dangerous times. Not physically dangerous. . .yet. But it isn't exactly pleasant being an ordained minister of the Church in 2018. The recent scandals have left many of us disgusted, angry, disappointed, maybe even a little ashamed. Though these reactions are perfectly just, they cannot be allowed to turn us away from God, away from His Word or His Church. It is too simple a thing to ignore the Father's call for justice, to simply shut out the words of His prophets and pretend that this storm – like many others – will pass, leaving you and me and ours untouched. God's Word is the living testimony of men and women long dead, men and women who encountered the Living God and knew His presence sustained them through the worst of all the troubles they had caused for themselves. Scripture is clear: God often allows those He loves to experience the consequences of their sin. Rather than protect us from the results of our disobedience, He allows “nature to take its course.” That's hard. Especially when so many innocents will likely suffer. Even so, we have ears to hear, so listen: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” He is saving the Church. And we must listen!

What about our tongues? What or who could cause them to get stuck? The greatest enemy of the preacher's tongue is fear. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being unpopular. Fear of being accused of hypocrisy. Fear has no place in the preacher's life. If the preacher is preaching God's Word and not his own opinions and ideas, then his proclamation of the Good News will be fearless. The truth is often hard to speak. Hard to hear. Even harder to live out. But truth is truth and there is no profit in trying to bury it in softness and sweet. There's no need for any of us to become fire-breathing Baptists! But boldness, clarity, and authenticity in a homily carry are more than capable of carrying the weight of truth. Yes, it would be easier, more polite, less controversial to tell funny stories in the pulpit, to urge people to be kinder to one another, or to pony up a little more in the collection plate for a roof repair. But right now, in September of 2018, in the U.S., God's people need to hear the truth. They need – even want – to be told about human sin, divine mercy, the reality of evil, and the always already accomplished victory of Christ on his Cross. Preach these fearlessly and you will see holiness flourish.

It's strange. Jesus opens the man's ears and unsticks his tongue only to tell him not to tell anyone about the miracle. “But,” Mark writes, “. . .the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.” Why? Why do they disobey the Lord? Mark says, “They were exceedingly astonished. . .” Exceedingly astonished. As preachers and teachers of the Good News of Christ Jesus, we too must be exceedingly astonished by the Father's mercy – His freely offered gift of forgiveness for our sins. When you think about, pray about, and begin to compose your homilies, do you consider yourself exceedingly astonished? That you have been chosen and ordained to embody in word and deed the Living Word of God? Are you exceedingly astonished that the Holy Spirit is a promised presence in your lives? That He is with you, in you, all around you as you prepare to speak His truth from the pulpit? God's people need/want a prophetic word from you. They want it boldly, clearly, authentically. Go home. Preach like you know it. Preach like you love it. Preach like you mean it.

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