24 December 2020

I became a Child among you. . .

NB. A Vintage Homily. . .

The Nativity of the Lord 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation


The Word speaks and everything is. The Word names everything that is “Very Good.” On stones, the Word etches wisdom and truth and promises His human creatures abundant blessings, strength, prosperity, and children like the stars. Wild men wander out of the desert to speak the Word again and again to bring back to memory and mind promises made and received, vows of obedience and fidelity, a covenant of identity, power, singular divinity. The Word of the Law and the Prophets recites for us a litany of loving deeds—miraculous acts of mercy, rescue, healing—deeds done for us, and repeats with near-chant solemnity His promises of salvation, fidelity, holiness, belonging, love, peace, fruitfulness, and friendship. The Words calls. Whispers. Bellows. Pleads. Bargains. Threatens. Cries. The Word came to what was his own, but his people did not accept Him. And so, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw—finally!—His glory.

What have we heard of this Word? What have we seen? We hear the cry to repentance and holiness, the cry for justice and peace. We hear the promises of eternal healing and glory. We see the reparation of disease and injury, the repair of sin’s ruin among us. We see the blessings of God’s hand in our lives, the abundant flood of riches—for some: health, wealth, education, children, loving family, a perfecting vocation; for others: gifts of intelligence, influence, generosity, strength to persevere, patience, peace; and still others: gifts of music, speech, art, wisdom, counsel, true holiness and insight. We hear the rustling Word moving in hearts spacious with joy, emptied of anxiety and fatigue, and the whispered invitation is clarion-clear: become my children! I became a Child among you so that you might become my children.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we see His glory. The Nativity of the Lord celebrates a unique event in human history, a miraculous intervention in space and time—Bethlehem some 748 years after the building of Rome: the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son takes on human flesh—one person, two natures: human and divine. The Word at creation, the Word of the lawful stones and the prophets, the Word of the whirlwind, the pillars of fire and dust, the Word of destruction, and the Word spoken to Mary, our Mother; this Word, the Son of God, becomes the Son of Man and lives here among us. The Christ Child has arrived. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is here. We see and hear his glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth and ready to fulfill for us His promise of salvation!

Are we ready to hear this promise? Ready to reach and grasp the covenant that will save us? Our history with God has not been an exemplary story of careful attention and compliance! As a race we have been willfully ignorant, prideful, disdainful of being taught, and violent with God’s prophets. And we have been sacrificially generous, gracious, truly humble, and welcoming to the stranger and the outcast. It is this spark of charity, this flicker of holy light in our history that speaks to our readiness for the promises of God. A readiness, by the way, that is fundamentally a readiness to love and a readiness made ready only b/c God loved us first!

If you will stand to receive the promises of God in His Son’s birth among us as Man, you will stand ready to receive the promise of your own godliness, that is, you will stand ready to become God with God. Our salvation is no mere rescue mission, no simple matter of healing the God-Man rift. The purpose of the Incarnation is our divinization. God became Man so that we might become God. The purpose of the Incarnation is our transformation into the Christ Child, our transformation into the Anointed One for the mission of preaching the Gospel to the world. If the Son became flesh to reveal the Father, then flesh, once healed, is revelatory of divinity, that is, made ready to show out Christ. The Son did become flesh to reveal the Father. Your flesh is healed in baptism—freed from sin, no longer bound to disobedience and angst. Therefore, you, O Healed Flesh!, you reveal the Father!

If you think your job as a Catholic is to show up here for Mass, drop a check in the plate, and shake Father’s hand on the way out…stop right there and consider what you do here this morning: you will come forward and eat the flesh of Christ, drink the blood of Christ and you will pledge to go out into the world as Christ to be Christ for everyone you meet! Christmas, the Mass of Christ’s Birth, is most certainly a celebration of our Lord’s nativity, but it is also a celebration of our birth as Christs for his mission of grace and truth. You see, this Mass can’t be just a matter of remembering some ancient event, some legend or myth; it can’t be about simply calling to mind again a pleasant childhood story of barn animals, shepherds, and a little drummer boy! This Mass is your Nativity. You are born as Christ b/c Christ took on flesh in birth. Your flesh. You hands. Your feet and tongue and eyes and ears. Your gifts for his mission. From his fullness we have received grace upon grace, gift upon gift, goodness upon goodness, a beautiful completion and a stunning perfection polished for loving everything into eternal life.

The Word made flesh is Love made with bone and blood, mercy given stature and weight. We celebrate a singular event this morning, a one-time grace in history—the sending of the Son among us as Man. We also celebrate a daily event, an hourly grace: our own persistent transformation into Christ, our magnificent fight to be born as Christ, to see and hear His Word rustling in our hearts—a determined murmur or a dramatic call or a silent pause—to see and hear His Word occupying the tabernacle of our one desire: to be filled, satisfied with His presence; all our longing for love and peace, given freely; hunger assuaged, thirst slaked, gnawing need emptied; to breath His glory and to be free. Our one desire: to be free as His slaves.

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us and we see His glory! The Christ Child is here. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is among us. Full of grace and truth He is here. History bends to account for this miracle of giving, this wonder of the Father’s gift of His only Son to us. Make your lives wonders around which history must bend; miracles around which all the stories we will ever tell must flow. With Christ, be the true light which enlightens the world. Go out and be yourselves the Word made flesh.



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13 December 2020

Attach to Christ. . .and REJOICE!

Audio File


3rd Sunday of Advent (2020)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


God spoke to Isaiah to Paul and to John the Baptist. God speaks to me and you and the Church. And God will continue to speak to anyone with ears to hear. He speaks to us in Scripture – Back Then, Right Now, and Always. Through His creation – the things of the universe, what we call Nature. And He speaks perfectly and uniquely through His Christ, whose Body the Church on earth we all are. When the Lord sends Isaiah “to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,” He is sending us to do the same. When the Lord inspires Paul to tell the Thessalonians to “rejoice always [and] pray without ceasing,” He is inspiring us to do the same. When the Lord inspires St. John to recount the history of John the Baptist, who then quotes Isaiah – “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord”! – He is giving all of us our prophetic mission in this time and this place. The Word of God is eternal. What He said to Back Then holds Right Now and will hold for us Always. Heal the brokenhearted. Proclaim liberty to captives. Rejoice always. Pray w/o ceasing. Cry out in the desert. And make straight the way of the Lord! Advent is our time to prepare.

We prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. His arrival as the Christ Child given to the world for the forgiveness of sin. We also prepare for his coming again at the end of the age. His coming as the Just Judge to weigh our words and deeds and to establish the Father's kingdom. The Church sets aside the third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday – as a way of reinforcing our fundamental attitude toward God and the mercy He offers to sinners: rejoicing. Exultation. Jubilation. Offering praise and thanksgiving to God for His loving-kindness. For creating us from nothing and for re-creating us in Christ Jesus. With everything going in this nation and the world, it may seem a bit naive to insist that we rejoice. It may seem somehow irresponsible even foolish to spend our time and energy giving God thanks and praise when it all looks to be falling apart. But there is no better time for rejoicing, for gratitude than right now. Right here, right now. The more the world around us collapses, the harder and quicker we must turn to the Lord. Turn to Him with rejoicing, with thanksgiving, and with praise. We are in this world. But we are not of it. And so, we are given the gifts of praying w/o ceasing. Of crying out in the desert. And of preparing the way of the Lord.

So, as the world collapses – which it is pretty much always doing – we stand firm on the foundation of Christ and his Church. If you are attached to the things of this world, then it's collapse presents a clear and present danger to who you are. If who you are is chained to your career, your wealth, your reputation, your politics – IOW, attached to anything important to being taken seriously by the world – then you are clearly in danger of losing yourself in the fall. If you've clothed yourself with the robe of success, entitlement, and prestige, or wrapped yourself in the mantle of self-righteousness and human justice, then the fall is going to hurt. And hurt bad. We've seen this show before. Many times. The Imperial Dynasties of China. The Mongols. The Roman Empire. The British and Ottoman Empires. Napoleon. The Third Reich. The Soviet Union. Maoist China. How many movie stars, athletes, politicians, pop stars have we lifted up only to see them crash? How many Utopian political ideologies have failed us? Stock markets crash. Wars flare up and destroy. Viruses infect and kill. And even Church leaders scheme and disappoint. Nothing in this world endures for long.

So, we attach ourselves to Christ, giving him thanks and praise and enduring along with him. One way we do this is to listen carefully to the Word of God that speaks to us through Scripture, through His creation, and His Christ. John the Baptist heard the Word and spent his life preaching so that any with ears to hear might repent and be baptized. He cried out in the desert. He prayed w/o ceasing. He gave God thanks and praise. We too have heard the prophetic Word from Christ. To go out into the world and bear witness to his mercy, testifying to the love of God and His promises of eternal. Gov't's fail us. Politicians and pop stars fail us. Popes, bishops, priests, and religious fail us. Money, power, reputation, stocks and bonds, academic credentials and careers – they all fail us or will fail us. Even a spouse or child, a best friend or a colleague can fail us. God cannot and will fail. We tie ourselves to His power and promises by offering Him our thanks and praise. He doesn't need anything from us. Nothing. But we need everything from Him. When it all collapses – and it will, it always does – Christ alone remains. So, rejoice and be glad. Your salvation comes in the name of the Lord!



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28 November 2020

Remaining faithful while we wait

 Audio File

1st Sunday of Advent (2020)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 


Why do you let us wander away from your ways, O Lord? Why do you harden our hearts so that we do not fear you? Both good Advent questions! The answer to both these questions is: He loves us, that's why. He allows us to wander from Him b/c He loves us. He hardens our hearts so that we no longer fear Him b/c He loves us. God's love for us entails the gift of our free will; that is, that God loves us gives us free will. And that free will can and does stray from the Way. And straying from the Way too often and for too long eventually turns the human conscience to stone. God does not do these things to us; rather, He allows us to do them to ourselves. Isaiah laments, “. . .you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” By delivering us up to our guilt – by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our sin – we are blind to His presence. And so, we have Advent, a short penitential season before the coming of the Lord in the flesh, to sort ourselves out. To get back on the Way. And return to Christ who is the light of the Father in this world. For this reason, we wait; we watch; we anticipate, and we expect. “He will keep [us] firm to the end.”

What is “the end”? The end of the world? The end of time? The end of the age? The end of my life, your life? Or, does he mean until we reach our goal, our telos – The End for which we were created? Maybe he means all of these. Maybe the end of my life is the end of time, the world, the age for me. I can only reach my supernatural end after my natural life is over. Christ will keep me firm in the faith until then. But I'm the member of his Body, the Church. My personal end can't be The End b/c the Church will go on after I'm dead. Maybe he means the end of the Church – the goal for which his Body was created. That end is the New Jerusalem, heaven. So Christ will keep me and you and the whole Church in the faith until we all – together – reach the end for which we were all created. Heaven. “He will keep [us] firm to the end.” True. But he won't do it w/o us. He won't keep us faithful against the choices we make in freedom. He won't keep me/you faithful against the choices you and I make in freedom. He loves us; therefore, we are free. We are freed to choose our supernatural end. Freed from every burden that prevents us from making his life and death our life and death. So, we wait; we watch; we anticipate, and we expect. He will come again.

If “the end” is the supernatural goal for which we were created, when does “the end” arrive? Today? Tomorrow? Ten years from now? Fifty? “You do not know when [that] time will come.” We don't know. We can't know. Like the hour of the master's return home from abroad, we don't and can't know. In fact, we don't need to know. We are expected to be prepared regardless. Should the servants slack off just b/c the master is away? Should we grow spiritually lazy and foolish just b/c the Lord hasn't returned yet? I remember a bumper sticker from a while back. It read: JESUS IS COMING! (Quick, look busy!). The faithful Christian is always busy with the Lord's work. Not just b/c we know he's coming back but b/c doing his work is who we are. When he will return is entirely irrelevant to our mission and ministry. The day and hour of his coming again is a trivial bit of info that makes not a jot of difference in how we live our lives. Faithful servants cook, clean, wash, tend the herds caring not at all when the master will be back. Faithful Christians preach, teach, do good works, love, forgive, show mercy, and sacrifice, knowing that Christ will return but giving no thought to when. Why? B/c when doesn't matter.

What matters is our faithfulness. Remaining faithful means never forgetting who we are and where we came from. It starts in humility: “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” We are the work of His hands, and we do His work with our hands. For the gift of being, the gift of just existing, we owe Him our thanks and praise. This alone – sincere and habitual – is enough to keep us on the Way. But still we stray. Still we long for the false freedom of lives w/o Him. Or, at least, lives where we get to decide what is of God and what isn't. And so, we have Advent to sort ourselves out. A short season to thump us gently back onto the Narrow Way before the Christ Child arrives at Christmas. We know he is coming in about a month. He does every year. What we don't know is when he is coming for the last time. He will hold us firm in our faith while we wait, until the end. No question. The question – maybe an Advent question – is: will I remain faithful while I wait? Will I choose to stray? Will I walk away from the Way b/c I will no longer trust God's promises? Do not forget who you are and where you came from. You belong to Christ!



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27 November 2020

Reading the signs

34th Week OT (F)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

“Reading the signs of the times” has been a favorite pastime of the professional Catholic since Gaudium et spes was published in 1965. The Church “labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings [of human history]”(11). Deciphering these signs has often looked more like an exercise in Hegelian dialectics than a prayerful discernment of Christ's presence in the world. Regardless, we are called upon to see and hear the coming of the Kingdom in the people, places, and things of the world. Easier said than done. One sure way to find our way is to read unfolding events in terms of the conflict btw the Gospel and the world. Not btw Christians and non-Christians or Christians and Christian heretics. But btw the spirit of Christ and the spirits of the world. Btw the necessities of sacrificial love and the false promises of humanism w/o God. This conflict is brutally played out in the via crucis of Christ in Jerusalem. It is being played out now in China btw Christ's Body and the communist state. In a much smaller way – here at home – some state gov't's use “health and safety regulations” to gently isolate Christ's Body and silence our public prayer. This conflict btw Christ and the world isn't new, of course. Jesus warns us that he came to bring a sword, a sword that will divide family, friends, and even nations. Our task as saints-in-the-making is to read the signs and work diligently to remain firmly in the Sacrificial Love Camp. Even if we are never called upon to literally give our lives for the faith as red martyrs, we have already given our lives for the faith as friar-preachers. So long as the Word remains, our preaching cannot/must not pass away.


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26 November 2020

Not too late to give thanks


Thanksgiving Day 2020

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Giving thanks for the Year of Our Lord 2020 may strain a few of our spiritual muscles. Giving thanks for 2020 – even so close to its finish – may also seem premature. There are still six weeks remaining and plenty of time for the Zombie Apocalypse to commence. Or the SMOD to fall. Or – lest we forget – time for the Murder Hornets to fly in and ruin Christmas. But even with these unlikely disasters looming, we can and must give God thanks b/c He never abandoned us. And He never will. Despite one seemingly improbable calamity after another, He remains faithful to His promises urges us to do the same. If the Samaritan leper can return to Jesus and thank him for his healing, we can surely thank him for seeing us through this trying year. We can even find the courage to thank him for our trials. Being faithful in comfort is easy. The true test comes when nothing goes right and the world spins out of control. Who or what do we turn to when “things fall apart”? Gratitude guarantees no specific results. But it does condition us to bear up under a hard and constant reality: w/o God we are nothing. Thanks be to God!


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22 November 2020

Christ is King and there is no other!

Audio File


Christus Rex

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Who rules your heart? My annual question on this solemnity of Christ the King! Who rules your heart? More so than in years past, this question this year speaks to something deeper and more vital b/c the battle for our hearts and minds has intensified. We always live with the tensions btw the demands of the world and the demands of the Gospel. Btw being in the world but not of it. That hasn't changed this year. And it won't change in the years to come. What has changed – it seems to me – is the intensity of the world's demands; the vigor, the volume of those who clamor for us to denounce the Gospel and embrace the world. They no longer see us as quaint oddities to be indulged but as vicious enemies to be crushed. And to that end, we are challenged daily, hourly to dethrone Christ from our hearts and minds and install the spirit of the world on his throne. Meeting these challenges and resisting the temptations of promised comforts will be how we define ourselves in the coming years. This solemnity is meant to remind us that there can no one and nothing on the throne of a Christian's heart and mind but Christ. Christ is King and there is no other!

So, who is this King? What does he do? Ezekiel tells us that he tends his sheep. Rescues us from where we are scattered. Gives us rest in his fields. Seeks out the lost. Brings back the strays. Binds up the injured and heals the sick. He takes care of those who follow him, giving us life and liberty. Giving all that we need to come to him freely. And, he says, on the last day, “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” Kings take care, and they judge. They govern; they weigh good and evil, measuring bodies and souls so that justice may be found. Our King is Christ. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will sit upon his glorious throne, And he will separate them one [nation] from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” And how will he judge the nations? He says, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me. . .Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” The nations will be judged by how they choose to treat the least among Christ's brothers and sisters. How they choose to treat him in the persons of the undefended, the weak, the vulnerable, the sick and dying, the hungry and the homeless.

These are the sheep Christ the King shepherds. And those of us who willingly submit to his rule. Read carefully what Christ says here about the sheep and the goats. We are to help the poor, feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. Christ does not say that his followers must work to eliminate poverty, hunger, homelessness, disease, and every injustice. Nowhere does he instruct us to sell our souls to the state so that we can accomplish these corporate works of mercy. Nowhere does he tell us that we must submit our moral laws to the judgment of the state in exchange for grants, loans, and permissions to be charitable. Nowhere are we obligated to pretend that we are not followers of Christ in order to do our Christian duty. We serve – you and I – we serve when and where we are. The tiny space and time when and where we have been planted by God to serve. Our individual mission is the corporate mission of the whole Body of Christ, the Church. And vice-versa. Christ does not charge us with “fixing the world's problems.” We are charged with loving God and neighbor; bearing witness to His mercy to sinners; and standing up for the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We are the flesh and blood of Divine Love in the world. To be who we are and to do what we do, we are not obligated to recognize any other king but Christ!

So, who rules your heart and mind? Have you put on the mind of Christ and found his peace? Have you discovered that you are created in the image and likeness of God? That while you are a citizen of this world, you are an heir to the Kingdom before all else? As subjects of the Divine King, his brothers and sisters in the Spirit, we are not made for this world but for the world to come. The powers and principalities need us to believe that their world is all there is. There justice is the only justice. Their love is the only love. Their peace is the only peace. But all of it, everything created, belongs to Christ. You, me, them, us – all of it. “When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.” This is the Truth the world desperately needs to obscure, desperately needs to distort. Otherwise, we might lay claim to our inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High and deprive the Enemy of his temporary throne. He has lost. Christ has won. And we are victors with him. Christ is King and there is no other!



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15 November 2020

Staying sober, staying alert

Audio File


33rd Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Nothing belongs to you. Nothing belongs to me. Not permanently anyway. The most we do is have use of the gifts we receive from God. If pressed, we would likely describe all we have – houses, cars, kids, boats, savings accounts, credit cards – we'd likely describe these as a mixture of stuff we've earned and stuff we've been given by God. The house, the car – we definitely earned those. The spouse, the kids – gifts from God! (Though I suppose that would depend on the spouse and the kids!) We readily give God thanks for our less-material gifts, like your amazing ability to dance; your song-bird singing voice; your sharp, computer-like analytical mind. It's the stuff we work for, pay for, and protect with insurance premiums that we stubbornly believe we're entitled to. Not gifts. Oh no, this stuff wasn't just given to me. I earned it. And just who are you to earn anything w/o God. Who am I? Even the stuff we've earned with the sweat of our brow and a quick debit from the checking account is a gift from God. Any and everything that is not God is a gift from God. The sooner and better we receive this truth and make it our own, the sooner and better we will be prepared for what's coming. Don't sleep as the rest do. Stay sober and alert.

Any and everything that is not God is a gift from God. Starting with your creation, your conception in your mother's womb right up until this very second – every single physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional characteristic you possess; every single chemical, electrical, and biological process that keeps you alive; every single civil, religious, personal, and professional relationship you depend on is a gift. Freely given by God. That any of us exists at all is a gift. Anything over and above mere existence is also a gift. And everything that happens after we cease to exist is a gift. Why am I beating this “giftedness” drum? B/c if anything can pull us away from the Gift-Giver it's the stuff we feel entitled to, the stuff we feel is ours by right. The Master gives his servants talents according to their abilities. Their abilities? Their abilities to do what? Their abilities to invest the gifted-talents and bring them back to the Master better than they were. Their abilities to use the talents for the Master's greater good, accomplishing his goals and achieving for him the glory that raises up his entire household. Don't sleep as the rest do. Stay sober and alert.

If feeling entitled to our gifts leaves us ungrateful, how much more does being lazy and wicked servants render our gifts impotent? Now, it might seem a bit harsh to label ourselves “lazy and wicked.” But think about it: spiritual laziness is all about neglecting our relationship with God; ignoring our duty to render Him thanks and praise for His gifts. Sure, we all here this evening – singing, praying, receiving His graces – but what happens out there? What happens at work, at school, at home? What happens to our thanks and praise at the restaurant, the bank, the grocery store? Ask yourself: do I use every gift I have received from God every moment of every day? Do I invest my talents in such a way that it is obvious to all that I am offering them to God for His greater glory? We are quickly approaching a time in our lives when a public witness to the Gospel will be called a crime. Teaching and preaching the Gospel on most college campuses is already counted a “hate crime.” Corporations around the nation are making obedience to the Woke political agenda a condition for remaining employed. How long do we have before “the free exercise of religion” is reduced to “freedom of worship only” and we are forced by law and profit to deny Christ just to get an education and work? Don't sleep as the rest do. Stay sober and alert.

We think it can't happen here. Here in the U.S. We have laws and courts and rights. But these mostly limit gov't action. Political action. Where Christ and his bride are being challenged most fiercely is in the cultural and business arena – entertainment, media (esp. social media), arts and letters, and sports. Politics is downstream of culture. What the culture-machine permits and forbids almost always makes its way into law. So, as followers of Christ, we must be willing and able to bear witness to Christ in the public square – not just at church with our fellow Christians but anywhere and everywhere we might find ourselves. This means making the best possible use of the gifts we have received from God. This means resisting the temptation of the world to become “lazy and wicked servants” by abusing our gifts. This means being loud, visible, and active participants in our civil life; being bearers of the Good News – joyful, loving, forgiving, steadfast against the Lie and always ready to testify to the mercy of God. And finally, don't sleep as the rest do. Stay sober. Stay alert.



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08 November 2020

What gods do you turn to...?

NB. This one is from 2005. . .one of the first I posted on this site! Very different style back then. Even the formatting is different. I had a lot of fun preaching in this style. . .but it's not really right for normal Catholics.

32nd Sunday OT

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas

I believe that most of us are idolators. Now there’s a way to begin a homily! Idolators. Most, if not all, of us. Think about what it is that you spend the most time worrying about, mulling over in your head. What is it that claims the most time, most attention in your day? What is that you call on when you are anxious or feeling insecure or doubtful? What is it that you call on to build up your confidence, your trust? Does stress become an occasion of sin for you: some form of gluttony—food, drink, sex, public piety. Or maybe some form of pride: a false sense of self-sufficiency, or an arrogance that comes from your created beauty or talent.

What gods do we run to when things get stressed out, ragged around the edges? What gods do we worship in the silence of our hearts? Ah, but the temptations are legion, right? A whole pantheon of worthless gods call out for our attention—a temple’s worth of darkling spirits hunger of our gaze. Theses idols thrive in our hearts when we do not first bow to the wisdom of God and seek his consolation, thrive our hearts when we do not first call out His Name in prayer, and ask, just ask for what it is that we need in this moment of stress, this moment of doubt.

I can ask the question about what gods you worship b/c I too often find myself in front of strange gods offering incense and muttering arcane prayers. Frequently, I find myself in front of the god, Dessert, worshiping at his ice cold temple, the ‘Fridge, and praying his most sacred prayer, “I beesch thee, O Carbohydrate, to show me the Leftovers and make me your faithful glutton.” Turning to strange gods in times of need is a condition common among those of us who live in this world and engage it fully. The danger is not so much that we will be wholly consumed by the polytheism of the cult of modernity, but that we will be slowly cooked, slowly digested in the juices of ethical relativism, pop-psychobabble, and world-think.

At this point, you must be saying, “OK, Father. What’s the point?” The point is this: as Catholics we thrive in a world alive with hope, soaked through with the goodness, the truth, the beauty of a God who loves us first and most among His creatures. And it is to Him that we owe our worship and praise, to Him that we owe our allegiance and trust. Of course, we are tempted by the little devils of modernity, the petty spirits of a philosophy that puts the creature at the center of the universe and makes him into a god. But it is the Creator who breathed us into being, and it is the Creator that holds in being now.

I said that most of us are probably idolators b/c we turn to strange gods in times of distress. The Thessalonians are stressing out b/c some of them have died before the Lord’s promised return. In doubt, in stress they begin turning away from their baptismal vows and back toward their comfortable philosophies and pagan religious practices. There is comfort in the familiar; there is solace in habit. Paul writes to assure them. He writes, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” This is hope and consolation; it is comfort and truth: we shall always be with the Lord.

The temptation to indulge in the distraction of idolatry is short-circuited, derailed by the profound notion that we will always be with the Lord. When anxiety, stress, habitual sin grab us by the hand and gently pull us toward the hungry spirits of our age, we are comforted, consoled by the truth of the gospel: the Lord is always with us. There is no need to bow before the idols of modernity, the strange gods of the culture of death. The Lord is with us: “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” The Lord’s wisdom is poised to be recognized, ready to be welcomed, eager to be of help in time of distress. To fix one’s attention on wisdom is the perfection of prudence, to be vigilant in seeking the guidance of the Lord’s wisdom is to be fully grown in understanding. It is to be a wise virgin, a body and soul risen in faith and freed from anxiety forever.

I will confess: I said that most, if not all, of us are idolators to get your attention. I don’t believe that. Maybe some of us make votive offerings to the gods of modernity, little offerings like a too tight dependence on technology or a quick recourse to relativism when confronted by an unhappy truth or maybe a rationalization of a sin everyone else is indulging in w/o obvious consequence. But I doubt that many of us have turned ourselves over in full-blown worship to the gods of our culture. That temptation is irresistible when hope is difficult and trust seems impossible. When it seems better to you to hang on to your money, job, education, political party, ideology, anything, everything but God and his revelation, then the voice of the gospel seems muted and weak and the seductive music of idol worship vibrates harder, flashes brighter, and you give away eternity for smoke, mirrors, and spiritual fluff. I don’t think we’re there yet, b/c we’re all here now.

That we are here tonight means that we have responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to join Christ’s Body in the proper worship of the Creator. Let that be fundamental. Stand, sit, kneel in the presence of Christ tonight, and know that you worship no idols. Know that you come to the altar of God to receive Him in His fullness. To take into your body the flesh of hope and the blood of salvation. 

In stress, anxiety, desperation, doubt, confusion, in whatever condition you find yourself, with whatever temptation dangles empty promises in front of you, you will always be with Lord. Keep your expectation of eternal perfection lodged squarely in front of you. Keep your hope fixed on the Lord’s wisdom: “Whoever watches for [his wisdom] at dawn shall not be disappointed.”

The Good News is that there is no disappointment in the Lord, no frustration, no regret. Just watch, wait, rely in trust, rest in hope, witness in charity, and like the wise virgins, you will be ready when the bridegroom comes to celebrate with his people the wedding feast that never ends.



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25 October 2020

I must die to love you perfectly

 Audio File


30th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Thinking about your daily life as a follower of Christ, what is the one thing you have the most difficulty doing consistently? Personal prayer? Forgiving your neighbor? Being patient with adversity? Suffering well? If you are like me, you will say “loving God, self, and neighbor.” Thankfully, I inherited my mom's amicable nature, her “live and let live” attitude toward life. It takes a lot of rile me up, and I don't hold grudges. Over the years, I've developed a Stoical philosophical approach to disaster, disease, and the general chaos of living in New Orleans. Living in a religious community with ten other friars has also helped me learn how to handle the temptations of homicide. Practice makes perfect, even in avoiding murder! But the one area where I struggle mightily is caritas, love. And the reason for this is pretty simple: I am not yet a saint. Thanks be to God, Jesus provides everything necessary for the Saint Becoming Process. He orders each one of us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . .You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, dying on the Cross, he shows us how it's done.

“You SHALL love the Lord, your God. . .You SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.” Singular, second-person imperative. An order. Not a suggestion, or a plea, or a prediction but an order, a command. And a strange command at that. Usually, we think of commands in connection with actions. March! Sit! Wear a mask! Stay six feet apart! Pay taxes! So, when our Lord commands us to love, what is he commanding us to do? How are we supposed to act? I mean, isn't love a feeling, an emotion? Isn't it a passion that either just is or isn't there? I love my family and friends, but I know them well. How do I love a stranger? An enemy? How do I love God Who is not a being but Being Itself? Jesus commands us, “Agapēseis. . .” You shall agapē. You shall always and everywhere prefer and will the highest possible Good for God, neighbor, and self. . .in that order. You obey the Lord's command to agapēseis by converting, by turning your intellect to the Truth and your will to the Good, always and everywhere doing the greatest possible Good Thing for God, neighbor, and self. This is the foundation for the Law of Moses and the whole of the Law of Love. This is how you and I become saints: sacrificial love, love expressed perfectly from the Cross.

What keeps us from that Cross? That is, what or who in this world tempts you away from loving perfectly? More often than not it is the Self who lures us away. My needs. My feelings. My hurt. My wants. My reputation. My fears. My prejudices. My work. Me as an idol whom I worship b/c I am – obviously – the source and summit of My universe. NO. You and I belong to Christ. We are his Body in this world. His hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice. We are his flesh and bone sent to do his work and accomplish his mission. Anything that stands in the way, anyone who stands in the way, stands in the way of our Lord's command to love perfectly, sacrificially. If you yourself stand in your own way, then there is nothing to do but move yourself aside. Turn around and come back to Christ. Turn around and run back to the only one who can give you what you need to be perfected in love. Health, wealth, reputation, career, stuff – all of these crumble to dust when you do. Sic transit gloria mundi! Thus passes the glory of the world! You and I must die in this world before we can live forever in the next.

And this why agapēseis is so difficult to obey. I have to die to love you perfectly. To will the greatest possible love for God, for you, and myself, I must die in sacrifice. I must sacre facere – make holy – everything I am and have. All of my thoughts; all of my words; all of my deeds; my heart, my mind, my soul, my body. All of it must be oriented toward understanding the Truth and willing the Good so that I become a living sacrifice, another Christ on the Cross for the salvation of the world. If this sounds narcissistic – I must become another Christ! – remember you and I were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, living, dying, and rising with him. You and I were strengthened by the Holy Spirit. At every Mass we celebrate, you and I make of ourselves an offering to the Father through Christ. You and I eat his flesh and drink his blood, becoming him whom we eat and drink. The only way any of us can ever come close to loving perfectly in this life is to lose ourselves in the life and death of Christ, allowing him to love perfectly through us, hoping, that on that Last Day, standing before the Just Judge, it is Christ's face he sees in ours. Wear the face of Christ now, so that you might wear it forever.





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18 October 2020

It all belongs to God

 NB. I'm "isolating" b/c of COVID. . .so, I didn't celebrate a public Mass today. . .here's one from 2017.
29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? Notice that Jesus doesn't say, “Repay Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is yours.” Or “Give to God what is ours.” Or “Give to God what is theirs.” Caesar gets back what is his. God gets all that belongs to Him. So, what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? Whether we know it or not, this is the question that lies under all of our other questions about how we are participate in the affairs of the world. These are daily questions, of course, but they tend to cause us more problems around election time than any other. How can we be both citizens of this world and heirs to the Kingdom? How we think, feel, speak, and act as citizens of the world can determine whether or not we inherit the Kingdom. With our eyes firmly focused on the Kingdom, won't we eventually end up in conflict with Caesar and his rule? Absolutely. And the history of the Church bears this out. And continues to bear it out even now. What belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? For us, members of the Body, the Church, the answer is easy but not uncomplicated: it ALL belongs to God! You, me, mine, yours, theirs, ours. It all belongs to God, including Caesar himself.

Is this the point Jesus is making when he says that we owe Caesar what is his and God what belongs to God? Why not just say, “It all belongs to God”? Remember what Matthew tells us about the Pharisees. They are plotting against Jesus, trying to entrap him with a legal problem. When they ask their question, our Lord “knows their malice,” and asks them in turn: “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Jesus knows that they aren't interested in a learned opinion on the Law. They aren't genuinely intellectually curious about his response. They're trying to snare him in an impossible political/religious position that they can then use against him. Jesus' brilliant response to their fake question explodes the trap. The coin has Caesar's face and inscription on it. It's his. Give it back to him. Everything else goes to God. The Romans can't fault his reply. The Pharisees can't either. But Jesus knows that everything belongs to the Father. And so do we. So, what do we – in 21st c. America – do with this bit of teaching? 
We all know the standard answer here. We obey just laws. We pay our taxes. We vote in elections. We support our communities. We serve in the military. In other words, we participate in Caesar's state as upstanding, patriotic citizens. There is no contradiction btw being an exemplary citizen and a faithful Catholic. That's the standard answer. And there's nothing wrong with it. However, what happens when we come to understand that everything belongs to God? My life, your life, everything we are and everything we possess first belongs to God. You and I were and are gifted with everything we are and everything we have. Gifted. Given. You might say, “But Father! I worked all my life for my house! Nobody gave it to me!” God gave you life. He gave you the time and talent you needed to work for that house. He's giving you your life now to enjoy your house and your family and friends. At best, we can say that the things we have are borrowed from God, including our very lives. So, what happens when this truth becomes a daily reality for us? What happens when you wake up – alive and well – and note that you are alive and well? Do you give God thanks and then go about your day noticing the abundance of gifts you've been given? I hope so! Because Jesus says that we have to give it all back. At some point, it all returns to the One Who gave it to us in the first place.

The moment it all returns, the moment our borrowed lives and borrowed things go back to God is the moment we spend our short lives preparing for. Jesus says to repay Caesar what is Caesar's. Repay. Nothing more than what is owed. That's what counts as good civil citizenship. But we are also heirs to the Kingdom. On loan to this world for the salvation of the world. When we and all we have are called back, we bring back with us more than we were given. Or, at least, that's the goal. If we have used God's gifts to do His holy work, then we bring back to Him all that we owe plus substantial interest. His love in us has been perfected through our sharing of His love with others. When the Christ the Just Judge looks at you on the day of final judgment, will he see his face and inscription stamped on your soul? Will he be able to lift you up to the Father and say, “This one is mine returned to me in greater love”? Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar while you live. But remember, in the end, it ALL belongs to God.




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11 October 2020

Putting your Garment Together

 Audio File


28th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Imagine: you go into the hospital with a terrible but curable disease. Your doc plans out your treatment. When the time comes to start the medications, you refuse to take them. Your doc is confused but honors your wishes and begins the discharge paperwork. You inform the doc that you don't want to leave the hospital. Even better, you'd like to arrange it so that you can be admitted to the hospital once every week. No meds, no surgery, no therapy of any kind. Just an hour in bed and you go home. The doc agrees and gives you a pamphlet outlining some things you can do to help treat your terrible but curable disease. You take the info, read it, and promptly throw it away when you get home. You've come to believe that your weekly visit to the hospital is sufficient to cure your ailment. You feel OK for a few weeks. Then, after one of your weekly visits, you drop dead outside the hospital. How many here tonight think that this is a truly bizarre way to behave – sick, you refuse treatment but insist on staying close to the source of your cure? Isn't this how many of us think about our faith? Weekly visits to church is just enough to treat and cure our spiritual diseases. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Tonight's parable tells us that everyone is invited to the Wedding Feast. From the lowest to the highest; from the smallest to the largest; rich, poor; black, white; male, female; Democrat, Republican; everyone! And it's possible that everyone invited to the Feast will show up. But this is no ordinary feast; it's the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – a party to celebrate the eternal marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. Those who accept their invitation are expected to show up properly dressed; that is, properly prepared to party forever with Christ in heaven. You wouldn't show up to a wedding on Earth wearing flip-flops, short-shorts, and an AC/DC tee-shirt – especially if you were a member of the bridal party! And you are a member of the bridal party. You are a member of the Church, the Bride. So, accepting your invitation to the Wedding Feast begins with baptism. You put on the white garment of new life, and you proceed through the years to add to your Christian wardrobe, always thinking ahead to the Big Party to come. How do you go about acquiring the articles of clothing you need to Party Well in heaven? Over your lifetime, how do you choose to put your wedding outfit together?

Start by considering what you do not do. You do not come to believe that the absolute bare minimum is enough. Sure, those flip-flops, short-shorts, and AC/DC tee-shirt cover all the necessary body parts. You aren't naked at the Party. And sure, baptism, confirmation, weekly Mass, and a yearly confession cover all the basics. You haven't lived a life-time w/o receiving some of the basic graces. These most basic of the graces keep you coming back – for the most part. Another thing you do not do in assembling your Wedding Garment is come to believe that just any old piece of clothing will serve your eternal end. Sure, that hot pink bandanna on your head looks good with your tee-shirt, and those black socks look comfortable under your shower shoes. And sure, praying the rosary three times a day and fasting on Fridays helps you remember that you are Catholic. Absolutely nothing wrong with hot pink bandannas, black socks, the rosary, or fasting! But your Wedding Garment needs more than the bare minimum and a few flashy accessories. Your Wedding Garment must be in fashion for eternity. It must be durable, proper to the occasion, and serve as a sign of your all-consuming love and devotion to Christ. Your Wedding Garment must be made from 100% pure charity.

You've received your invitation to the Feast. You've accepted the invitation. Now, you are gathering the pieces of your Wedding Garment. We know that the bare minimum and flashy accessories aren't enough. You need a lifetime of loving God, yourself, and others to put this garment together. You need a lifetime of doing spiritual and corporeal works of mercy; acts of selfless love, words and deeds that proclaim to the world that you belong to Christ. You need a lifetime of personal prayer – private conversations with God in the Spirit – listening to His will and making His will manifest in the world. You need a lifetime of allowing yourself to be transformed into Christ so that those around you can see and hear him in your flesh. A lifetime, Father? Yes. What if I've spent decades doing the bare minimum and collecting flashy accessories? No problem. Your lifetime begins again at the moment of repentance and confession. If you will stay at the Party, start now gathering your Wedding Garment. Once the wailing and gnashing of teeth begins, it is too late. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Choose to Party with Christ forever.

→ You've probably heard about the desecration of the altar at SS. Peter and Paul Church in Pearl River. If you haven't, go on-line to get the details. I can't repeat them here. Archbishop Aymond has released a statement, condemning the incident, and the priest involved, Fr. Tavis Clark, has been arrested and suspended from ministry. As your “sort of pastor” for the last eight years and as a seminary professor and formator, I need to say something too. What happened in PR is an abomination. It was a demonic attack on the Church, on all of us – the sort of attack that we are seeing more and more frequently these days. We can and should expect more of this sort of thing as our nation moves further away from God and His will for us. The Enemy wants you to be horrified. He wants you to be outraged and vengeful. He wants you to lash out at the archbishop, at your priests, the Church in general. He wants you to leave in disgust and despair. And, honestly, I can understand those who do. Like the abuse scandals that rocked us years ago, this incident, along with the revelations about Fr. Pat Wattigny, gnaw away at our trust and leave us believing that the Church is wholly beyond saving. We've had about 40yrs of bad catechesis, terrible preaching, made-up liturgies, secularized pastoral care, and bureaucratized bishops. Along with all this came seminary formation programs that taught heresy, preached about mercy but never sin, and trained young men to be “ministry facilitators” rather than Spiritual Fathers. Despite the best efforts of the revolutionaries in the Church, most seminarians came out of formation and served as good priests. Some didn't. I want to assure you that the young men being formed at Notre Dame Seminary right now are being formed by a team of faithful, orthodox priests and lay professors. All of us on faculty at NDS think with the Church. Our guys are assigned individually to one of the seven priest-formators who meet with them monthly to review their progress. The seminarians pray a Holy Hour everyday. They pray Morning and Evening Prayer as a community and celebrate Mass daily. They each have a spiritual director they meet with monthly. Their academic work is tightly tied to the tradition of the Church, and their human formation is rooted in acquiring and perfecting Christian virtue. Underneath all of this is the constant exhortation to embrace Spiritual Fatherhood as a priest. Does all this prevent problems from arising? No. Of course not. Seminarians are human. Some leave. Some are dismissed. The formators and professors are human too. This means that we need your prayers and sacrifices to defend us in battle. I am deeply proud to be part of the NDS community. We have turned out some amazing priests. Please! Pray for them and pray for us.

Now, to conclude, if the Enemy has gotten to you, if you're thinking that the Church is beyond saving, and you're disgusted and despairing, I need you to hear this: Christ has won. The war is over. Christ is the Victor. And you and I, as members of his Body, are victorious with him. We have our battles to fight until Christ returns, but never for a moment doubt that Christ has already won. Our battles are over whether or not you and I will remain members of his victorious Body, the Church. Not just the Church on earth – but the Mystical Body that spans all times and places. The Enemy has always attacked the Church. It's his nature. But the Church endures b/c we have the Holy Spirit on our side. Battles can be ugly. But keep your eye on the prize. Don't let the Enemy distract you with his theatrics and abominations. It's not worth you immortal soul.



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08 October 2020

From stupidity to wisdom

27th Week OT (R) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Apparently, the Galatian church has fallen back into its old habits and living as if following the Law led to salvation. So, Paul asks these “stupid Galatians” if God supplies the Spirit to them b/c they do works of the law or b/c they have faith. The answer Paul wants from them is: God gives us His Spirit b/c we have faith in Christ! Jesus reveals another possible answer that further undermines the Galatian backsliding: “For everyone who asks, receives.” God always gives His Spirit. That's Who He is – diffusive Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. When we turn to the Law in an attempt to earn the Spirit or coerce the Spirit or in some mechanical fashion control the Spirit, we lose. The Spirit is always, already given as a Divine Gift. What we must do is receive. When we seek, we find. When we knock, the door is opened. When we ask, we receive. Asking is how we receive. Without expectations, without preconceived notions, without plans or designs, ask to receive. Our works, our worries will not conjure the Spirit to do our will. Only by trusting that the Spirit is ever-present and asking to receive can we move from stupidity to wisdom.


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04 October 2020

Will the Kingdom of God be taken away from you?

NB. Deacon preached tonight. Here's one from 2014. . .

 27th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Here's a warning no servant of God ever wants to hear: “. . .the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” What's worse than living your life as an heir to eternal life only to discover that—in the end—you've been disinherited? When Jesus finishes telling the priests and elders the parable of the murderous tenants, he quotes Ps 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” By rejecting Christ as the cornerstone of their relationship with God, the leaders of God's people reject their inheritance. Their reaction to this prophetic statement? They ain't happy. However, they are more afraid than unhappy—afraid of Jesus' popularity, so they postpone arresting him. They're not worried about losing their eternal inheritance. They're worried about losing their power and prestige among the people. When we think about the arduous demands of faithfully following Christ, do we think first of our eternal inheritance, or do we first consider how following him might look to family, friends, or neighbors? Do we reject the cornerstone of our faith in favor of not being noticed, in favor of never being challenged or excluded from polite company?  
Rejecting God in favor of wealth, power, and fame is not new to the 21st century. The parable of the tenants retells the history of the Jewish people's stormy relationship with God. We know the story all too well. It tells just like the history of the Church's relationship with God: lots of disobedience and great moments of heroic virtue. What the parable doesn't include is an explanation for our repeated failures. We can hear greed in the tenants' justification for killing the owner's son. But greed never poisons alone. We can hear a little wrath in the tenants' desire to wound their employer. Some pride and class envy. Why do the priests and elders reject Christ? Why do we so consistently reject making Christ the cornerstone of our lives. Making Christ the cornerstone of our everyday lives means risking one of our most valuable treasures: being a respected player in whatever social game that defines us. Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow parishioners. If I make Christ my cornerstone, will I have to buck popular political trends, go against the prevailing attitudes of my peers, and risk losing real prestige for nothing more than a promise of future glory?
Social psychologists will tell you that there is almost nothing more difficult for an individual to do than go against the crowd. The psychology of the herd is infectious; it takes the single soul into a massed spirit where deliberation and freedom are strangled for the sake of frenzy. But few of us will ever be caught up in that sort of mob. The mobs we belong to are much more subtle and more dangerous: the workplace, the family reunion, movie night with friends, faculty meetings, events where those whose opinions of us we honor gather to socialize and strengthen the bonds of the group. When the opportunity arises, do we choose Christ as our cornerstone; or do we choose our standing in the group? When family, friends, co-workers express their support for the culture of death, do you stand on Christ; or do you back down to save face? When your peers start advocate undermining marriage and the family; or expressing racist opinions; or defaming the Church, do you stand on Christ, or back down? If Christ is to be your cornerstone, then everything you are must find its integrity and strength in Christ, regardless of the consequences. As baptized prophets of the Church, you are sent out to live the truth of the gospel. Even if and especially when it means your prestige must take a beating. When the time comes, will you “remember the marvelous works of the Lord,” most especially the marvelous work of your salvation achieved on the altar of the Cross?  
If contemplating your willingness to remain faithful to Christ and his Church is making you nervous, listen again to Paul: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus if we make known to him – in prayer with thanksgiving – all that we need. If you need strength to stand firmly on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need patience to stand diligently on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need wisdom to stand knowledgeably on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. Nothing you need to stand upon the cornerstone of Christ will be denied you if you seek it out and simply ask for it with thanksgiving. Any anxiety you may be feeling b/c of who you are in Christ is the product of the Enemy coaxing you toward silence, toward defensiveness and silence. The peace that God gives us surpasses all understanding, all anxiety, all hesitancy and guile. When we speak up to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is not our tongues that speak but his. Not our words but his. Not our time and energy spent but his. As his faithful servants, we serve his mission and ministry by continuing to speak his Word of mercy to anyone who will listen.
Paul not only tells us how to pray for what we need to stand on the cornerstone of Christ, he also tells us how to go about training our hearts and minds for the holy work that the Lord has given us to complete. He writes, “. . .whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, pure, lovely, gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Just as we work to discipline our bodily appetites against temptation, avoiding those occasions where we might be tempted to put the things of this world before God, so too can we work to discipline our hearts and minds against the invasive ideas and passions – falsity, dishonor, injustice, impurity, ugliness, crudity, mediocrity, and scorn. Look at the tenants who murder the vineyard owner's son. They think about murder and talk about murder before actually committing murder. They fail to resist greed and anger, and they feed one another's passions until the deed is done. They would, according to the priests and elders, suffer “wretched deaths” for their failure to discipline themselves. When we make a stand on the cornerstone of Christ and lay claim to our inheritance as the Father's sons and daughters, our words and deeds must bring honor, dignity, and praise to His name.

The builders God raised up rejected Christ as their cornerstone, and Christ says to them, “. . .the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” We stand with Christ in his Church to proclaim the Good News of salvation. Whether this stand is popular or not; prestigious or not; profitable or not. If we would be the people who produce the good fruit of His kingdom, the people to inherit the Kingdom of heaven on our last day, then we must stand with Christ as he died for us.


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01 October 2020

Do you need a Jobian trial?

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Brothers, I think we're supposed to pity Job. All the horrors that happen to him. We're suppose to recoil and give thanks to God that we haven't been tested like he was. And that would be exactly the right reaction. But consider this: in the middle of his trial Job is more confident than ever that God will see him vindicated AND his desire to be with his Lord is radically clarified: “. . .my inmost being is consumed with longing.” Satan's plan is to break Job's dependence on God. Satan bets that Job will buckle under the torture and renounce God, giving in to pride and eventually taking the doomed path of trying to become god w/o God. He doesn't. Instead, Job accepts reality as it is not as he wishes it were. He accepts his creatureliness as a given, knowing – as a matter of providence – that his existence is a gift. This truth is what makes his trial bearable, if not entirely intelligible. We know how Job's trial ends. We know that his attempt to grasp at an explanation, an answer to why?, ends in mystery. How does this mystery deepen our own longing for God? Do we need a Jobian trial to perfect our humility?!




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27 September 2020

Pull down the idol of Self



26th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


It seems that disobedience comes naturally to us. Our first impulse is to say NO to God and hope we can get away with saying NO. We can. For a little while at least. In the end though – disobedience comes around to bite us in the. . .the rear. If we're smart, we'll take that bite, jump in surprise, and mend our ways, returning to the straight and narrow that leads to eternal life. Like the first son in Jesus' parable, we might say NO at first but then realize how dumb that is and repent. Saying NO and repenting later is certainly better than the path taken by the second son – saying YES to God and then doing nothing. This is both a lie and an act of disobedience. The bite that comes after this little charade will hurt. . . forever. So, how do we overcome the vicious habit of saying NO to God? How do we get into the habit of obedience, the habit of listening for God's will and following Him? Paul helps us out here: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. . .Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Disobedience grows out of pride; pride is conquered by humility; and humility is nurtured by repentance.

Disobedience grows out of pride. Fundamentally, pride is the vicious habit of thinking and acting as if I can become god w/o God; that is, that I can achieve perfection w/o any help from God. If I can achieve my end – perfection in heaven – w/o any help from God, then there is no reason for me to be obedient to God's will. This is the lie that the Serpent told Eve in the Garden – “You can be like God.” How? By disobeying Him. This tendency to ignore God and outright defy His will is part and parcel of our fallen human nature. How much time and energy do we waste trying to find the perfection we long for and at the same time ignore the only Perfect Way available to us? DIY religion is quite the trend these days. Pick and choose, buffet-style from a wide diversity of options and blend them all together into a comfortable, happy little spirituality that soothes the seared conscience and provides an incredibly shallow sense of spiritual depth. Or we could substitute political activism for religion and feed self-righteousness with outrage, believing that our anger will somehow propel us into a secular saintliness. If we choose anyone or anything but Christ, we are choosing Self. We are choosing pride and willful ignorance. And this path leads to destruction. Every single time.

Fortunately, pride is conquered by humility. If choosing the Self above all others – including God – leads to destruction, then choosing Others over Self perfects humility. Humility is nothing more than acknowledging the truth that I am totally dependent on God for everything I have and everything I am. Nothing I have, nothing I am is truly mine. It all belongs to God. Whatever gifts I have belong to God. My education, my experiences, my talents, my memories, my priesthood, my religious life – all belong to God. My family, friends, colleagues; those who call themselves my enemies – all of them belong to God. The more deeply I acknowledge and live out this truth, the more deeply am I able surrender to God's will and use all that He has given me to preach and teach His Good News. And the more deeply I surrender, the closer I get to being perfected in His Christ. IOW, the less I struggle to take control of my own perfection, the freer I am to receive the perfection He freely gives. Pride clings to Self. Pride stubbornly controls and seeks control. Pride urges me to proclaim myself the god of my life. Pride makes ME into an idol for me.

How do we depose the idol of Self and turn toward Others? Humility is nurtured by repentance. The first son says NO and then repents. Saying NO to God is certainly a sin, but repenting and turning to obedience is salvation. We are free to say to God NO. But saying NO to God traps us in slavery to sin. Once we say NO, it gets harder and harder to say anything else. Over time, we become fools, unable to distinguish Good from Evil. We can hold pride in check and put off becoming fools by naming our sins, repenting of them, and receiving God's always, already offered forgiveness. This is simply a process of saying to God, “I belong to You, Lord. Everything I have and everything I am is Yours! What would You have me do with what is Yours?” Think of repentance as the daily, hourly intentional return to the Truth of who you really are in Christ. When some other god worms its way onto the throne of our heart, repentance is only tool you need to accomplish a coup. Turn to Others and give freely from all that the Father has freely given to you. Turn to God and freely give back to Him everything you have and everything you are. Pull down the idol of Self. Be free to become Christ!




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