27 May 2019

Remember and testify

6th Week of Easter (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

Brothers, we can't drop specimens of faith into a petri dish to examine its structure. There's no body to dissect or theorem to prove in the life of faith. Jesus tells the disciples that the Advocate will testify as a witness to the truth. Then he says to them and to us, “And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.” Through the tradition of the Church we have been with him from the beginning, and we do testify to the truth of the Gospel in our teaching and preaching. If there's a proof of faith or a faith theorem to solve, it's this: we embody the memories of those who lived the faith before us. That's not very scientific or mathematical. But it is what we do. Every time we climb into a pulpit or get behind an altar or throw on a purple stole for confession, we give flesh and bone in the present hour to a living relationship with the Divine, the God who created us and re-created us in Christ Jesus. They might kill us as sacrifices to God but one body is not The Body. As a church, our first ministry is to the memory of faith. Without that we are students without a text, students without a teacher.

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26 May 2019

Keep his word???

6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I'll be the first to confess that all this “loving Jesus” language makes me a little queasy. It sounds WAY too Protestant. Way too fundamentalist Protestant for my tastes. Growing up as a heathen in woods and hills of MS surrounded by Baptists, Pentecostals, and Church of Christ folks left me with an aversion to talking about Jesus in overly emotional terms. Any religious talk that was too intimate, too personal sounded like a sales-pitch, like an attempt to sell me a place on one of their denominational pews. We didn't talk that way in my family. We had Bibles in the house, and no one in my family denied the existence of God or the thought going to church was a bad idea. . .we just didn't go. We had things to do on the weekend – like clear land, tend gardens, and mow fields. So, when a town-dwelling classmate started talking about Jesus as his “personal Lord and Savior,” and bugging me about going to a revival at his church, I found somewhere else to be. It wasn't until I discovered and came to understand how Christ's love for me is mediated by his Word that my ample stomach calmed down. Jesus says to the disciples and to all of us: “Whoever loves me will keep my word. . .”

There are two elements in this teaching: “loving Jesus” and “keeping his word.” These two elements are connected by an “if/then” construction: “If you love me, then you will keep my word.” It logically follows therefore that: “Whoever does not love me does not keep my word.” Easy enough. Now, what does he mean by “keep my word”? How do we do that? In everyday speech we might say, “I will return the money I borrowed. I give you my word.” You might respond, “Your word is good enough for me.” I've made a promise and you've accepted that promise. That's a good start on what Jesus means by “keeping his word,” but there's a lot more going on here than the exchange of a promise. We know that the word “word” is used in a number of different ways in the history of the faith. The Father breathed the Holy Spirit over the void, speaking a single word – Christ – and everything came to be. The Bible is the written Word of God. Christ himself is the Word made flesh. The Church is the body of Christ who is the word made flesh. We are all members of that Church, and so we live united in the Word and as individuals words dwelling in Him. To put it a bit too poetically: each one of us is a word and we receive our meaning and purpose as words from The Word. 
So, “keeping Jesus' word” then means that I hold in the center of my heart and mind that I am an expression of Christ in the world for others. I'm not just someone who calls himself a follower of Christ. Not just someone who visits a church once a month or so, or someone whose nana prays a rosary for me every week. But someone who gets out of bed every morning knowing, feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting as another Christ for those I will meet that day. This isn't a cultural thing – like “I'm from New Orleans so I must be Catholic” sort of thing, or a family thing – “My family is Catholic so I must be Catholic too” – or a “Well, the man/woman I'm marrying is Catholic so I have to be Catholic too” sort of thing. This is a “If You Love Christ, Then You Will Keep His Word” sort of thing. If you desire holiness, the salvation of your soul, and the resurrection of your body come the end of the age, then you will live your life right here and right now as Christ lives his – fully in the presence of the Father with the Holy Spirit, keeping to His commandments; receiving His sacraments; abiding in peace and joy with one another; and doing every in your power to be the Word for others in this tragic world.
I noted earlier that I came to some peace with the “loving Jesus” language after I discovered and came to understand that divine love is mediated. What do I mean by “mediated”? None of us has a direct, unfiltered experience of God's love. His love for us is mediated – filtered – through His word: Scripture, Christ, and creation. It's through these three mediators or filters that we come to know and love God. Our knowledge and love of God is never just about our emotions. We know and love with the whole person – body and soul, intellect and will, everything we are. Never assume that b/c you don't feel all fluttery about Jesus that you don't love him. And never assume that your emotional attachment to some devotional practice or prayer is evidence of your love for him. Emotions can be deceiving. Instead, rely on what you do in his name, rely on how you keep his word in your thoughts, words, and deeds to guide your growth in love. And the peace and joy of Christ will be all the evidence anyone will need to see that truly love the Lord.

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