31 August 2019

Serviam, non serviam. . .you decide

Audio link

22nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Serviam. Non serviam. God has banished his brightest angel to Hell for rebelling against Heaven. Satan, the Arch-fiend, surveying his fiery kingdom and his fallen kin, boasts to his minion, Beelzebub: “Here we may reign secure, and in my choice/To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:/Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav'n” (Book 1). Non serviam. I will not serve. And b/c Satan once and always chooses not to serve, he is eternally chained by his bitter pride, “rolling in the fiery gulf,” Milton writes, “Confounded though immortal.” As a creature of God, Lucifer, receives from God not only his very being but also every gift that he needs to thrive as a servant of the Almighty. Yet, out of jealously and pride, he rebels, placing himself above the duties and obligations of a creature and settles himself into an immortal existence of bitter and ultimately impotent rage against his Father. That is pride's pay-out: bitter, impotent rage. But a rebel against God doesn't have to be an angel first. We humans are quite good at rebelling against our Creator. Every moment of every day, we are all saying, in thought, word, and deed either: “Serviam.” I will serve. Or “Non serviam.” I will not serve. We serve Self, or we serve God. There is no third option.

So, if we are not serving God, then we are serving Self. But how? Sure we avoid the obvious, public displays of Pride that might've been thought good and true in Jesus' day – like marching up to the seat of honor at a wedding feast; or boasting loudly of our wealth; or bragging about our sexual conquests. We know now that that sort of thing is impolite. I hear my grandma's voice, “That's just tacky.” But there are many other more subtle ways that we can serve Self instead of God. You can serve your passions. You can allow your fears, lusts, anger, and loves to run wild, and believe yourself entitled to a forgiving audience. You can serve your will. You can assert your choices, your personal preferences and demand that they be honored simply b/c you asserted them. You can also serve your intellect. You can come to think that your reason by itself is capable of knowing any and everything worth knowing. In other words, in each case, you elect to serve a temporary, limited, unfaithful god. YOU. And like Satan and his minions in Hell, you can become quite proud of your rebellion. An impotent, bitter rebellion against the Very One who holds you in being.

So, what does non serviam look like for us? What does the refusal to serve God actually look like down here on earth? Think about your daily routine, your daily life. Think of each moment as a chance to serve God in love, faith, and hope. To be a living sign, a prophet of mercy to others. Think about each of those moments and then think what it means to say No. I will not love. I will not forgive. I will not believe. I will not hope. I will not pray, sacrifice, or give thanks. I will not be generous. I will not trust nor will I praise. I will not obey. What I will do is do and think and speak as I wish when I wish to whom I wish b/c I serve ME. My life; my choice. My choice; my right. My right; I'm right! This is the bitter, impotent rage of Pride and it places us in the company of the Devil, among his minions, ruling Hell. . .b/c I will not serve. Another way to say this: I will not to serve – deliberate, conscious, voluntary. To serve Self rather than God. And therefore the consequences that flow from this choice are mine to bear. Individuals makes these choices. Couples, families, states, and nations makes these choices. . .daily. And the consequences flow accordingly.

The better seat – the Best Seat – at the wedding feast is the seat offered to you by the Host. Not the one you choose out of Pride, believing falsely that you deserve a better seat, or that you've earned the best seat. But the seat given to you by the Host, the one He knows you deserve b/c you grasp the reality of your relationship with Him. You have lived a life in service to the Truth, serving Him by serving His; always giving thanks and praise for every gift; always bearing courageous witness to His mercy; always placing yourself last – not b/c you are worthless but b/c you know you have been made worthy by His Son. Made heirs in the family. We do not earn that seat. We don't buy it or rent it. We can't steal it or bribe our way into it. We inherit a seat at the table. As loving and well-loved children of the Father, we inherit our places at the feast. And it is humility and godly service that keeps us firmly within the Holy Family. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Every second of every day until you die you are offered a chance to serve God and secure your inheritance. Which will it be: serviam or non serviam? Choose wisely.

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28 August 2019

An interview with me on Youtube

I was interviewed yesterday at Notre Dame Seminary by Ms Linda C. Jones, a well-known singer and musician in the New Orleans area.

(That intermittent fasting stuff needs to work faster. . .)


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25 August 2019

Squeezing through the Narrow Gate

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Audio File 

Jesus says that the gate to salvation is narrow. This worries me. . .as I get wider and wider with age! The whole Squeezing a Camel Through the Eye of a Needle metaphor makes me wonder if there's any hope that an Ample Friar can find his way to the Heavenly Banquet. Of course, there's always hope. There's always the attempt, the hard try. Maybe I can wiggle, twist, and stretch my way through. Beg, bribe, pitch a fit. Or maybe I can try to figure out a way to widen the Gate; figure out a way to get Jesus to do a little renovation and make that Narrow Gate into some nice, wide French doors. OR! I could do the right thing: confess, repent, do my penance, and sin no more. Call it a Spiritual Diet – a way of trimming down my sin-fat soul. Here's my theory of the Narrow Gate: the gate is inversely proportional to the size of the Pride trying to squeeze through. The bigger one's Pride, the narrower the gate. Humility, however, widens the Gate. The truly humble soul strolls through a Gate large enough to pass an aircraft carrier. Jesus says that many will not be strong enough to enter through the Narrow Gate. . .so, measure your strength in terms of humility.

The first lesson in humility for us comes with the way Jesus answers – or doesn't answer – the question he's asked while traveling to Jerusalem, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” A curious question. Why would anyone want to know this? The more sensible question is, “Lord, will I be saved? Will my family be saved?” The question as asked makes it sound as though the questioner wants to be among an elite few, a chosen group. It's a nosey question designed to puff up the questioner's sense of self-importance. Jesus doesn't answer that question. Instead, he gives the questioner some much-needed advice, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Now, if you're sure you're gonna get through the Narrow Gate, and you want to make sure that you will be among an elite few on the other side, then this advice has to sound a bit ominous. It must strike at the core of your Pride to think that you might not be strong enough. Good! That's the point. If you're worrying about whether or not others are going to squeeze through, but simply assuming that you will. . .you may need to be the Spiritual Diet, losing some Pride and gaining some Humility.

The second lesson in humility comes in the parable Jesus tells about those left outside the house after the master locks the door. Knocking on the door and begging to be let inside, the latecomers will claim to know the master from previous dinners and his teaching in the streets. The master says, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” Not only are they left outside but they are evildoers as well! What did these latecomers expect? B/c they had dinner with the master and heard him teach on the streets a few times that they were entitled entry into his house? Salvation is not based on knowing the Right People, on social connections or family ties. Remember: some on the Last Day will cry, “Lord, lord!” And the Lord will say to them, “I do not know you.” Pride assures us that our social standing, our wealth, our education, etc guarantees salvation. But Christ wants to know: do I know you? Do you know me? If you know him, then you know that everything you have and everything you are is a freely given gift from him, including, and most especially, your very life. Pride tempts us to confuse status in this world with salvation in the next. Just so we're clear: Pride lies!

The third lesson for us in humility is perhaps the harshest. After believing – falsely – that merely knowing about Jesus and rubbing elbows with him at dinner parties would get them through the Narrow Gates, the latecomers are treated to a vision of all those who will be invited in once they're refused entry – all the prophets and people from every corner of the world. And these aren't just any people. These are the last among us, those who put themselves last. They will be first through the Narrow Gate. These are men and women who have taken the time and energy to come to know Christ as their Savior. The ones who have taken on his mission and ministry and carried it out in their daily lives. These are the children of the Father who forgave, showed mercy, stood tall for Truth, followed the Way, refused to compromise with the world, and loved sacrificially. In other words, they followed Jesus to their crosses and gave themselves as an offering for others. That's Humility. If all this sounds hard, listen again to Hebrews: “. . .do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines.” Pride corrupts; humility teaches.

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