03 July 2019

Denying Thomas picks the wrong religion

St. Thomas the Apostle
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

Dominicans love to preach these readings for St. Thomas the Apostle's feast day b/c it gives us a chance to preach on one of the Church's philosophical foundation stones: there is no inherent contradiction btw faith and reason. There is no inherent contradiction btw faith and science. BishopRobert Barron recently noted that many young people who leave the faith often do so b/c they've been convinced that faith and science are opposed to one another. They choose to give their allegiance to science and abandon their faith. Of course, what they are really doing is simply switching their allegiance to another religion, one called “scientism,” the religious belief that naturalistic science is the only source of human knowledge. How is this a religious belief? Well, the founding principle of scientism is: “naturalistic science is the only source of human knowledge.” That is not scientifically provable theory. It is a metaphysical assertion, and believing it to be true w/o scientific evidence is religious. In the face of Thomas' demand for scientific evidence of his identity, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

It's vitally important to note here that Thomas did not doubt the witness of his fellow apostles. He denied it. He doesn't say, “Well, maybe Jesus showed up. I don't know.” He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, etc. . .I will not believe.” I WILL not to believe. He's Denying Thomas, not Doubting Thomas. And his demand for empirical evidence must sound perfectly reasonable to us. Alien abductions. The rougarou – that's Bigfoot's Cajun cousin. “Climate change.” The Loch Ness monster. Honest politicians. We want to believe, but we need actual evidence. Actual unmanipulated, empirical evidence. What we usually get is “recovered memories,” scratchy audio recordings, blurry photos, altered historical data, and campaign spin. So, when Denying Thomas lays out his conditions for believing – “I want to touch the nailmarks in his hands and the gash in his side” – we can almost hear ourselves saying, “Darn right! Prove it!” But Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That's a whole other kind of standard for belief.

Notice the progression of Thomas' encounter with the Risen Lord: He sees. He believes. And then he is blessed. Jesus gives him and us a different progression: We believe. We are blessed. And then we see. In other words, belief is not a matter of assenting to the weigh of empirical evidence. I don't believe that objects fall to the ground when dropped. I know they do. To believe is to give assent to a truth that I do not yet fully understand, that I cannot yet fully articulate. By assenting to this truth – by believing – I receive the graces, the blessings necessary to see the truth more and more clearly as I grow in holiness. First, believe; then, see. Faith and science cannot oppose one another b/c both reveal divine truths. Faith cannot tell us how to measure the speed of light. Science cannot tell us why there is something rather than nothing. But both can reveal what is true. Denying Thomas' error is believing that empirical evidence is a necessary condition for religious belief. IOW, he starts with a false religious belief in search of a true religious belief. That will get you nowhere. Fast. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Put on the mind of Christ. Believe. Be blessed. Then see.

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02 July 2019

Worry kills

13th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
“Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” You're about to drown in a storm and Jesus rebukes you for lacking faith. Not quite the time for a lesson. But. OK. What's faith got to do with worry? The human brain is nature's most powerful pattern-making machine. We take in massive amounts of sensory data and in milliseconds turn it all into a coherent, accurate depiction of the world. Second only to the power of the human intellect is the power of the human will. As we take in billions and billions of pieces of sensory data, and as the brain churns away at building an accurate picture of our world, the will is struggling to decide What To Do About All of This. How do I react? What can I change? Is this dangerous? Is that safe? Left to itself the will will always act to preserve the body, and if that means scaring the snot out of us, so be it. But living in a constant state of life-preserving fear can threaten our spiritual lives. We can come to believe – falsely – that by will alone we can change that over which we have no control. Faith is the willful act of trusting in God. We set our hearts and minds firmly on the way to eternity, training ourselves to see and hear this world as a passage through to God, back to God. Worry then becomes all about not trusting that God's care is sufficient for today. Worry is all about the lie that I am my own god; that I am my own Master.

And we know that we cannot serve two masters. I serve God, or I serve Myself. I live eternally in peace, or I die daily in worry. I place everything I am and have into His hands for His use, or I snatch it all for myself and desperately try to control the uncontrollable. Is there a concrete way to surrender to God? A way to open my hands and let it all fall into His lap? There are many. Here's just one, perhaps the best one: look at your world, your life, everything – family, friends, co-workers, possessions, everything, and consciously, purposefully name it all “Gift.” Nothing and no one is mine by right. Nothing and no one is mine by merit. Everything and everyone is to me and for me a God-given gift. As gifts, everything and everyone comes into my life gratuitously. Without condition or guarantee. Bless it all by naming everyone and everything with its true name: Gift. Food, clothing, job, spouse, education, talent, time, treasure, life itself, everything is a gift. Serve the Gift-giver by becoming His gift to others. Our heavenly Father knows what we need. Seek and serve His kingdom and His righteousness first. And everything you need will be given to you. “The [disciples] were amazed and said, 'What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?'”

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01 July 2019

An urgent patience

13th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

If the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head, then neither does his Church. We are his Church wherever we find ourselves. There's no hurry to get “back home” just b/c it's bedtime. While the world's other institutions – gov't's, universities, scientific organizations, the U.N. – are all running around with their hair on fire, trying to solve the trendiest “problems” (most of which they themselves have caused) the Church plods along doing her thing. Being the living sacrament of Christ's love in the world. Occasionally, some priest or bishop or theologian will point at the world's whirling dervish investment in Doing Something and complain that the Church needs to Do Something Too! And all the Most Important People in the World will clap politely and say nice-enough things about the Church Person who's trying to climb onto the Urgently Trendy Stuff To Do Train and then go on about their Urgent Business. The cycle repeats, and the Church plods along doing what she does best: being the Body of Christ in the world. Oddly, being the Body of Christ in the world requires that all of us attend to the world with a great deal of patience and sense of desperate urgency.
So, Jesus is ready to depart across the sea. A clingy scribe declares that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. Jesus says, “. . .the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Then a desperate disciple asks Jesus to wait for him while he goes to bury his father. To him, Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” These cryptic responses from the Lord might leave us wondering if Jesus clearly heard what these guys actually said. But if we remember that Jesus has his eyes on Jerusalem and his sacrificial mission there, his answers make perfect sense. The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head b/c all of creation is his home, all that is belongs to him from the beginning. That's the source of our patience. The Church doesn't have to fight for victory b/c the war is always, already won. Our sense of urgency comes from the reality that only the dead need worry about burying the dead. Those who have yet to die in Christ are simply dead – even as they continue to flail around importantly. Let them do something that is actually useful and important – bury those who have died. We who have died in Christ have urgent business: the salvation of world. Jesus doesn't have time to wait for us to get things right before he heads to Jerusalem. 
As members of the Body of Christ, we follow Christ wherever he goes, and we “let the dead bury their dead.” We diligently plod along, spreading the truth of the Gospel despite the demands of the world, despite the trendy “problem-solving” that our betters seem to love. Our eyes are squarely focused on eternity, the long-game. Christ is always with us. And because he is always with us, we are urgently compelled to preach his Good News and, at the same time, diligently, patiently wait for the seeds we plant at his command to germinate, sprout, and blossom. There is no hurry in eternity. But while we're here, we've got an urgent message for the world.

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