01 November 2018

Getting through the Christ-shaped Gate

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

To become a saint, you must find the strength to squeeze through the Narrow Gate. To squeeze through the Narrow Gate, you must burn away anything and everything about you that is not of Christ. And to do that, you need Christ and his Church. Those we remember this evening – all the saints in heaven – found the strength, the courage, the perseverance, and the humility to make it to the other side of the Gate. Where did they find all these necessary virtues? In Christ. Through the hard work of burning away anything and everything that is not of Christ. They became Christs for others. But they did not do this work alone. They received the graces God the Father poured out for them and used those graces to show His love at work in the world. Whatever gifts they were given – teaching, preaching, healing; tending the poor and outcast; enduring persecution; bearing witness with their holy lives – whatever gifts they were given were used to announce the abundant mercy of God and to give Him glory. The Gate to heaven is narrow not b/c God wants most of us to go to Hell. . .but b/c that Gate is Christ-shaped. If we hope to enter through it, we too must be shaped by Christ. 
What does being “Christ-shaped” look like? And how do we become like him? John writes, “. . .we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him. . .” He goes on to write, “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.” Those who entered through the Narrow Gate were pure. Pure in Christ. As pure as Christ. They were – while living among us – purely Christ. Nothing that was not-Christ clung to them in this life. And in death they fit perfectly through the Christ-shaped Gate to heaven. How do we accomplish this? John writes, “. . .whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him; whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.” Live just as he lived. Preaching God's mercy. Teaching His truth. Healing with His forgiveness of sin. Feeding, clothing, visiting those in need. Pouring ourselves out in sacrificial love so that nothing is left in us but the Christ who gives us the grace to pour. Only then will we be Christ-shaped, fitting perfectly through his heavenly Gate.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

31 October 2018

Don't Be a Heaven Nazi

30th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Contrary to the often-preached pablum that “All People Go To Heaven,” Jesus preaches the possibility of being left behind. Rather than the all-inclusive gospel of therapeutic deism, Christianity acknowledges the fact that God will honor a choice not to join Him at the heavenly wedding feast. This truth rubs against our modernist grain precisely b/c it places the choice of where you will spend your eternal life squarely where it belongs. On you. Not your parents. Not your culture. Not your genetics. On you. And that kind of responsibility harshes the emotional buzz that Doing It My Way is supposed to produce. Maybe it's not exactly pastoral to say so, but truth is truth. And the truth is always pastoral. A corollary to this hard truth is this: I don't get to decide whether or not you go to heaven. That judgment comes when God stares into your soul after death and asks Himself, “Do I see Christ?” Whether or not he sees Christ looking back at Him is up to you. . .while you still live. Jesus tells us that the entrance to Heaven is a Narrow Gate. Some see it as door. Others see a window or maybe a slip-and-slide. Mrs. Turpin sees it as a bridge.

Mrs. Turpin, that paragon of middle-class Caucasian Christianity created by Flannery O'Connor, believes that the social order she occupies is God-made and absolute. As it is here on Earth, so it shall be in Heaven. Meaning that the first – and possibly only – ones through the Narrow Gate will be the respectable, law-abiding, tax-paying, property owning white folks who keep the divine order in order here on the ground. She has a revelation when a acne-plagued girl bounces a sociology textbook off her head, jumps on her chest, strangles her, and yells, “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!” After the crazed girl is drugged and restrained by a doctor, Mrs. Turpin returns to her pig farm. There she watches the pigs gather around an old sow, “a red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.” In a moment of odd ecstasy, Mrs. Turpin sees a bridge form, connecting the ground and heaven, and on that bridge, marching straight through the Narrow Gate were all of those people she believed would never make it. The white trash. The Negroes. Freaks and lunatics. And bringing up the rear were Her Kind of People. She watches them process upward, and sees “by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”

Rather than spend our sparse time imagining who will get through the Narrow Gate and who won't – like Mrs. Turpin, we could carefully consider our own relationship with the Just Judge and his Church. What can I do now to strengthen myself for the trip through the Gate? What can I do now for others to help strengthen them? Well, first, you can't lie to yourself and others by teaching that the Narrow Gate is actually a Celestial Slip-and-Slide. Everyone makes it through! Second, you can't believe that getting through the Gate is about race, class, tribal allegiance, or good intentions. Third, what we call virtue may be nothing more than social convention – cleanliness, ambition, hard work, saving money – these are the “virtues” that crossing into heaven burns away. Lastly, Jesus wants to know where you are from before he opens that Gate. Are you from his Body, the Church? Do you “do it your way,” or his Way? More importantly, did you make yourself the servant of all? The last to be first? That Gate is narrow. To fit through: burn away anything and everything that is not Christ.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

28 October 2018

Every moment of every day, choose Christ!

30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Whether we realize it or not, every moment of every day, we are choosing a teacher to learn from. Whether we like it or not, every moment of everyday, we are being taught how to think, feel, behave, and live. We will sometimes resist the lessons we are given, and sometimes we will take those lessons in and make them our own, believing that we are choosing what's best from the available options. As we grow older, these lessons accumulate, and we sort through them, tossing some away, giving others more power to influence, and just generally settling into what we might call “our wisdom.” What's missing from this picture is the process of how we choose which lessons to believe and which ones to ignore. If I choose to listen to This Celebrity rather than That One, or That Politician rather than This One, how do I go about the choosing? What criteria do I use to decide? This question becomes all the more urgent when I add in another problem: what if, like Bartimaeus, I am blind? What if I cannot see my choices for what they really are, and find myself choosing my teachers based on dangerous criteria? Before you choose a teacher – every moment of every day – make sure that your blindness is healed.

Think for a moment about the teachers you've chosen. There are the formal teachers – primary, secondary, university teachers. Informal mentors – friends, neighbors, even the occasional stranger. Public teachers – politicians, media personalities, intellectuals, celebrities, writers. Private teachers – people you've chosen as personal examples to follow – saints, popes, clergy, holy lay people. Now, think about why you chose these teachers. Think about what they have in common, what they are teaching you about how to think, feel, behave; how to live day-to-day. Can you see why they are influential in your life? Why you sit at their feet and allow them to shape your life? Maybe they teach you what you believe you need to know to thrive in this world. Perhaps they teach you lessons that make you feel powerful, included, or special. Maybe they teach you what you want to hear. Or maybe your chosen teachers teach you comfortable lessons that never threaten your self-image, never demand anything from you, or push you to grow beyond yourself and your immediate desires. When it comes to choosing who you will follow every moment of every day are you like Bartimaeus, blind and begging? Before you choose, make sure you are saved.

Bartimaeus is saved, physically and spiritually. Jesus fixes his eyes so that he can see. Jesus also fixes Bartimaeus' heart and mind so that he can choose his teacher. It all happens so fast we might've missed it. Jesus does nothing more than declare, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Notice: Jesus tells him to choose. Choose your way. Choose your path. Notice again: Jesus says that Bartimaeus' faith has saved him. Not “your faith has healed you.” But that his faith has saved him. That he is also healed is a bonus. Now that Bartimaeus is saved from his physical and spiritual blindness, he must choose where he will go, whom he will follow. What's his decision? Mark tells us, “Immediately he received his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.” Bartimaeus chooses Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. From begging blind “along the way” to following Christ, who is The Way, Bartimaeus submits himself to the teacher – the only teacher – who can bring him both sight and insight, both healing and salvation. Every moment of every day, are you choosing to be healed by the only teacher who can bring you to salvation?

If I were to ask you to sit down and draw up a list of all those you listen to every day, could you do it? Could you name all of the teachers who exert influence on you? To the parents here: could you list all of the teachers who influence your children? Not just the school teachers but all of those who have a hand in shaping your child's heart and mind? Do you know what lessons your kids are learning? Do you know how your children are choosing these informal teachers? If not, it might be time to ask Christ to heal your blindness. In fact, it is always time to ask Christ to heal our blindness. We cannot follow Christ if we can't see him. We cannot be Christs for others in this world we don't know his Way. As followers of Christ, he must be our first teacher, our chosen path, our Way and our Truth. Every moment of every day we choose whom we will allow into our hearts and minds to shape who we are. For healing, for salvation, choose Christ!

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->