22 March 2019

Who or what is your cornerstone?

2nd Week of Lent (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Here we are at the end of the second week of Lent, and we're reading about tenants and landowners, vineyards and stones. We are also reading about murder and fear – the murder of Christ and the fear of those who are threatened by the truth of his ministry and mission. They hear him say to the crowd, “. . .the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” They know he's talking about them. And their fear is compounded by his popularity with the crowd. How is this parable suitable for a Friday in Lent? Put yourself among the chief priests and Pharisees and ask yourself: is he also talking about me? Am I among those who will lose the Kingdom of God b/c Christ is not the cornerstone of everything I am, of everything I strive to be? If there's anytime in the liturgical year to ask this question, it's Lent. So ask: who or what grounds and supports my daily life? Who or what gives strength and purpose to everything I am building here at Notre Dame? When everything I am and everything I have is taken away, who or what remains? 
Lent is a season for destroying idols, a time for us to count the false gods we worship and un-name them in the name of Christ. We have this time – out and away – so that we can inspect the foundation of our faith, looking for cracks and loose stones. Upon inspection, what do you find? Are you motivated and inspired for ministry by a need for power, prestige, applause? Are you hiding away from a scary world – is the apparent safety and security of the priesthood your cornerstone? Maybe your cornerstone is the chance to set the Church aright, to get out there and fix what you think is broken; to whip us all back into shape with a regular regime of a spiritual diet and religious exercise. Or maybe your cornerstone is a packed schedule, a full calendar – the busyness of being busy. Lent is the time – out and away – to ask: Is Christ your cornerstone? Your ground and support, your strength and your purpose? If not, Lent is the time to receive the grace you've been given and set Him firmly, permanently in place. And b/c we are not yet perfect, we'll need to receive that grace and set that cornerstone daily, hourly for all of the time we have left. By the Lord this will be done. Isn't it wonderful in your eyes?

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17 March 2019

Seeing clearly in the dark

2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

We see God most clearly in darkness. That's a weird thing to say. We hear over and over again in Scripture that we are children of the light. That we bring light to the world when we bear witness to God's mercy and work for His greater glory. We hear again and again that we leave darkness behind and enter the light so that we might better see our true end – eternal life with God. But notice: “As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.” In the darkness, God made his covenant with Abram. In the darkness, Abram became the father of generations and those generations called God their Lord. As heirs to the Kingdom, as brothers and sisters of the Son, we call that same God Lord. And we come into a new covenant through a darkness. . .a darkness of sin, death, ignorance, and despair. Lent is our time to recall all that separates us from God the Father, all that extinguishes the light of Christ. Lent is our time to practice those feats of sacrifice that remind us that Christ's victory is our victory. And that the Devil has no more power over us than we give him. Lent is our time to embrace the dark night of the soul. What awaits us at dawn is Christ transfigured – “his clothing [becomes] dazzling white.” 
When Abram emerges from the “terrifying darkness [that] envelope[s] him,” God seals the first covenant with fire and grants to him descendants as countless as the stars. When Peter, James, and John emerge from their dark cloud on the mountain, a voice from heaven declares, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Having emerged from the other side of their darkness, these faithful men find waiting for them revelations of divine love beyond their imagining. Abram becomes the father of God's chosen people. The disciples become preachers of God's Good News to sinners. Beyond the dark clouds of their human ignorance, these men find their calling, their mission. They find in obedience to God their purpose, their holiness. They are gifted with all that they need to accomplish all that God has asked of them. And so are we. Holiness is not impossible. Living truly righteous lives as followers of Christ is not a ridiculous goal, nor some sort of improbable dream. Abram and the disciples emerge from their darkness by God's will, freely receive their gifts, and then work furiously to finish the job God has given them to do. Their holiness would be impossible if they labored alone in pride, alone in ignorance and disobedience. But they don't. 
And neither do we. The Church has given us prayer, penance, fasting, and alms-giving as faithful means of remembering that Christ's eternal victory on the Cross is our daily victory as his followers. Prayer unites us in the Spirit through Christ toward the Father, ensuring our progress in holiness by freeing us from the damning consequences of pride and deceit. Prayer is how we receive God into our lives and transform His presence into the words and deeds of witness. Penance moves us out of the center of our own lives and helps us to occupy the sufferings of Christ so that we are better able to love sacrificially. Penance is how we become smaller in the world so that Christ might become larger for the world. Fasting detaches us from all those things and people that tempt us to idolatry, tempt us to replace the Creator with His creatures. Fasting is how we remember Who made us and for what purpose. Alms-giving encourages us to imitate God's redeeming generosity, His creative and re-creative goodness and beauty. Alms-giving is how we recognize that everything we are and have is first a gift from the Father. These four Lenten sacrifices, practiced faithfully, take us out of the darkness and transfigure us into partakers of the Divine Life.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord. . .” If Lent is a time of testing, a long dark night of the soul, then make this time a test of your resolve to grow in holiness by imitating Christ. Make it a test of your faith that God is in the darkness, waiting for you. Like Abram, wait upon the Lord, sure in the knowledge that He keeps His word. That His covenant with us in Christ is accomplished and true. Take up these 40 days and treat each one as chance to step closer and closer to the consummation of your salvation on the Cross. When the clouds gather and, in your weakness, you fail – we all do, listen for the voice of God, speaking to you, “You are my chosen.” And confidently lay claim to Christ's victory over sin and death. . .and start again. We see God most clearly in the darkness. . .b/c that is where we most need His saving light.

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