12 November 2019

God is in control. . .not you

32nd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic, NOLA

Jesus tells the apostles that they must forgive their sinning brother, even if he sins seven times in one day. How do the disciples respond? They plea, “Increase our faith, Lord!” I live with nine Dominican brothers. . .so, what's 9x7x365??? So I hear and feel the desperate cry of the apostles. I would add to their cry, “Increase my patience, Lord! And my prudence. And my fortitude. . .oh, and my peace.” And I am confident that each brother in the priory feels the same way about dealing with my sins against them. But the point of this Gospel is not calculating the required number of times we must forgive a sinner. This Gospel is about how deeply and broadly we trust in the Lord's promises to make all things right. It's about how much of our own strength and energy we invest in trusting that God the Father has both the first and last word on who receives mercy. When Jesus assures his despairing apostles that faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a mulberry tree, he's not telling them that faith can be measured in pounds and inches; he's telling them that even the smallest faith is invincible when wielded with absolute confidence.

How can one's faith be invincible? Faith is not a magical power. It's not a means of manipulating God. Nor is it something that can be accumulated and counted like money. BXVI tells us that faith is the good habit of trusting in God's promises. He writes, “. . .faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see.”* So, faith is a stable disposition of the spirit. Firmness. Solidity. Consistency. Stability of temperament. The question of one's faith is NOT: how much faith do I have right at this moment? But rather: how stable/strong/consistent is my trust in God's promises over the long haul? When the inevitable storms of life beat me up, how strong is my foundation in Christ? Are the walls and roof of my relationship with Christ well-built? You can forgive a sinner 7x's a day or 77x's a day b/c you trust that God – as the infinite source of mercy – is doing the same for you. You can dole out forgiveness freely and easily b/c you are strongly disposed, permanently bent toward trusting that God is in control, and that His promises have been kept. Woe to you who cause another to sin. Woe to you who will not forgive. 

*Spe salvi, 7. 
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10 November 2019

Do you belong to Christ?

32nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

What does marriage and re-marriage have to do with the resurrection of the dead? Nothing, as it turns out. But Jesus' opinion on marriage and re-marriage was never in dispute. The dispute is about his teaching on the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees are practicing a time-honored form of argument – the reductio ad absurdum. Take an absurd but possible real-life scenario and challenge your opponent to explain this scenario using his beliefs. The goal here is find what's called a limiting principle, some rule or boundary that helps to define the reach of your opponent's position. If there is no limiting principle, then your opponent's beliefs explain everything, meaning they explain nothing thus making his beliefs useless. The Sadducees are probing for the limits of Jesus' explanation for what happens to the righteous after death. More specifically, since they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, they are trying to refute this novel theological teaching. But Jesus doesn't play their game. Instead, he teaches them (and us): “. . .the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob [. . .] is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” All who are alive in Christ are alive forever. Even in death there is no death in Christ.

Here's what the CCC teaches us: “Christ is raised with his own body. . .but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, 'all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,' but Christ 'will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,' into a 'spiritual body'” (nos. 999-1000). How does this happens? It starts at baptism. When you were baptized your “lowly body” was started on the path that leads to a “glorified body” and you were made a member of the “spiritual body,” the Church. In other words, all that you are – body and soul – was initiated (started) in the process of becoming Christ. If you remain in the body of Christ, the Church – through the sacraments, prayer, and good works – then, like Christ, you will, at your death, be raised like he was. So, even in death there is no death in Christ. The life you are living now is not your own. You belong to Christ. Your death belongs to Christ. And your life eternal belongs to Christ. The question to ask yourself at this point is: am I living my life as if I belong to Christ? If not, what can I do to change course?

Staying in the Body of Christ is a matter of consistently and worthily celebrating the sacraments, esp. confession and Mass; diligent and devoted daily prayer; and doing good works for the greater glory of God. As Catholics, we gather weekly (daily) to participate directly in the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. When we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we gather as One Body to partake in a sacrificial meal, a meal where Christ is made present in the bread and wine, where we eat and drink his body, blood, soul, and divinity, where we take into ourselves everything he is for us and anticipate our own transfiguration after death. In the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus wrote, “Just as bread is no longer ordinary bread after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, the Eucharist is formed of two things, one earthly, the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.” Living in the hope of the resurrection is not just an intellectual exercise — it is living a Eucharistic life, one moment of thanksgiving after another, one instance of praise after another, taking into ourselves all that Christ is for us so that we might become Christs for others.

We find our strength and energy to be Christs for others in diligent and devoted daily prayer, receiving the graces that the Father pours out on us, clearing away any obstacles to reception and sharpening our ability and willingness to say, “Thank you, Lord!” Gratitude builds humility; and humility builds holiness. The further we are from the world while still living in the world, the closer we are to being perfected in the Christ who owns us. The closer we are to Christ, the more like him do we speak, think, feel, and act. And the closer we are to speaking, thinking, feeling, and acting like Christ, the readier we are to do the good works we are vowed to do. The old-school corporate works of mercy still apply: feed the hungry; give water to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; and bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy apply as well: instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish the sinner; bear patiently those who wrong us; forgive offenses; comfort the afflicted; pray for the living and the dead. All who are alive in Christ are alive forever. Even in death there is no death in Christ. Are you living your life as if you belong to Christ?

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