11 August 2020

To be a child

18th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

What is it to be like a child? More specifically, what is it to be “a little one”? We might think Christ is talking about innocence here. Purity of heart. Minds unfazed by adult obligations. Spontaneous, playful. Or, maybe he's saying we need to be blissfully ignorant and demanding. Centered squarely on self – my needs. Probably not. Given the context of this passage, it's more likely that Christ is telling us to remain firmly centered in our dependent relationship with the Father; that is, to remain humble. It's one thing to be dependent and quite another to acknowledge this dependence and rely on it. We can easily betray the humility necessary for salvation by making idols of our plans, schedules, goals, and programs. That is, pretty much anything that reaches out to grab control of Divine Providence with merely human effort. Little Ones are taken care of. Little Ones are protected. The Little One who declares his independence from God and wanders off usually ends up lost or in the belly of a wolf. Christ will come looking for his lost sheep. But the lost must want to be found.

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09 August 2020

Test your faith not the Lord


19th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Anthony/OLR, NOLA

Peter doubts, and Jesus calls him out. With living, breathing evidence right in front of him, evidence that Jesus is the Christ long-promised by the Prophets, Peter doubts. His courage wavers, and he panics, crying out to his Lord for rescue. We can't fault Peter for his moment of weakness. We've all had them. We've all faced people and events that rock the foundations of our faith. Why does Peter doubt? B/c he's human. Like us, he's imperfect; he's frail and afraid in a storm that could kill him. With Christ only inches away, literally, just right there, he does what any of us would do: he cries out for rescue; his desire to live betraying his faith. Jesus saves him. Of course. And he will save us as well when we panic and cry out. We don't know how Peter explains his doubt. His answer, if he gave one, isn't recorded in the Gospels. Not knowing his answer, we are free to ask and answer ourselves: why do I doubt? Why do I fail to trust in the Lord's love and mercy? Why, when people and events shake my world, do I panic and allow myself to sink close to despair? “Take courage, it is I [says the Lord]; do not be afraid.”

We can't help but notice that the Lord connects doubt and fear. Trusting in God's providence is second nature when everything is moving along smoothly; that is, when our lives are unfolding the way we want them to. It's when the comfortable predictability of daily living becomes uncomfortable and unpredictable that we begin to nurture fear. Reaching out in panic to control people and events, we flop around trying to steer our sinking ship; desperately bailing water; and cursing the wind. This is when fear grows. Fear of loss. Fear of injury. Fear of change, of letting go, and maybe even death. This instability, this uncertainty leads us to think and feel that maybe just maybe God isn't watching. He doesn't care. He's not going to help. Maybe I'm being punished. Maybe I'm being taught a lesson. Maybe just maybe there is no God at all. And that's its own terrible fear. At this point, we can continue to flail about, grasping for control; or, we can surrender to God's providence and give Him thanks for the blessings we've received. One reaction feeds fear and doubt. The other builds courage and strengthens faith. Trust is a habit. It take time, patience, and practice. You have to see it at work over and over again. But you will never see it at work if you never put it to work. Surrender and let God take control.

Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus replies, “Come.” And Peter is able to walk on the water! Peter's faith in Jesus seems unassailable. But notice something: Peter puts the Lord to the test. IF it is you, command me. IF you are there, Lord, heal me. IF you care, Lord, help me. IF you are who you say you are, Lord, do as I ask. Is that faith? Is that trust? No, it isn't. We know this b/c what happens next tells us that Peter isn't believing; he isn't trusting or faithful. A heavy wind threatens to sink him, and he panics. His request to Jesus is rooted in doubt. IF. IF it is you. Rather than test his faith, Peter tests the Lord. And fails his own test. But, again, we can sympathize with Peter. We understand the need to be in charge, to be the captain of our own boat. We know what it is to feel helpless when we can't choose our own direction or pick our preferred route. It's maddening – giving someone else control of our lives. What if they take me where I don't want to go? What if they get lost or leave me abandoned? What if, what if, what if. . .as if our own grasping at self-determination can give us peace.

Our only source of peace is the peace of Christ. The peace that comes with surrendering ourselves to being made perfect in him. Surrendering attachments – the parasites of this world that leech on our good will and intellect. Surrendering anger, vengeance, jealousy, disappointment, the lust for power and control. Surrendering our desire to become god w/o God – our pride, our arrogance, our entitlement. Surrendering our favorite sins – gossip, fornication, lying, theft, cynicism. Surrendering our habit of worshiping false gods – money, celebrities, politicians, athletes, popularity, and our tribe. Peace – the peace of Christ – comes with ridding ourselves of everything that is not Christ. Emptying ourselves of anything that doesn't honor Divine Love. Anything that doesn't help us to be preachers and teachers of the Word. Anything that stands in the way of our growing in holiness. Peter doesn't recognize Christ on the water, so he dares to test his Lord. Dispose of whatever it is that prevents you from recognizing Christ in your storm. Nothing else and no one else can or will save you when the water gets rough. Courage is being afraid and trusting in Christ to spite your fear. Courage is a heart swollen in faith.

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