20 August 2020

Few are chosen

St. Bernard
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

It's part of our job as Preaching Friars is to make sure that as many people as possible hear Christ's invitation to join the Wedding Feast. It's SOP nowadays to think of this job as extensions of PC culture's obsession with diversity, inclusion, and tolerance. That's fine as far as it goes. Everyone is to be included in the invitation, w/o remainder. But the parable Jesus tells reveals that there are some less than PC elements to the invitation project. First, potential guests can refuse to attend. No big deal. Except that there are consequences for refusing. Second, the invitation can be ignored. Again, not such a big deal except for the consequences of doing so. Third, fed up with being rejected and ignored, the Lord sends us out to invite anyone who will listen. This gambit fills the banquet hall! But now we are confronted by the man improperly dressed. He accepts the invitation. Arrives at the feast. But does so unprepared. That is, he says he wants to be guest and shows up as a guest, but he doesn't bother to change his clothes. He doesn't bother to change his life. He wants all the benefits of being a guest but none of the responsibilities. He ends up bound and gagged and bounced on the street. 
Commenting on this tussle, the Lord, says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” This may make us squirm a bit. Our original mission as bearers of the invitation makes us uncomfortable with a guest getting bounced. And that bit about being “chosen” is more disturbing still. Who's chosen? And who does the choosing? Maybe we can take some comfort in the fact that those invited do the choosing. When the Lord's invitation to the Wedding Feast is made, received, and accepted, the guest knows that he/she will be attending a Wedding Feast. He/she has freely chosen then to prepare for the feast and show up properly dressed. When benefits flow, responsibilities accrue. Choosing to take on the latter means taking on the former. Fortunately for us, as Preaching Friars, our job is announcing the invitation. What we can't do is play bouncer or pretend to be the Lord. Nor can we pretend that there won't be those who reject or ignore the invite, or those who will accept and arrive unprepared. What we can do is attend to them and do everything we can to help them be better prepared when next invitation arrives.

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16 August 2020

Observe what is right

Audio File

20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Lord warns His prophet, Isaiah, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” It's odd that a promise of salvation and divine justice should sound so threatening. But it does. That phrase “observe what is right, do what is just” gives you the sense that salvation and justice are only available to the righteous, the just. And that is exactly what the Lord means. Only those who observe His commandments and live in His justice can receive the salvation He offers. This shouldn't surprise us. A closed jar cannot receive water. A locked door cannot welcome guests. A heart and mind that rejects the Lord and His mighty works cannot/will not receive His graces. And without those graces there is no salvation or justice. The Lord's warning to Isaiah is a call to repentance. It's a call to hear His revealing Word and see our final end. Not as abstract concepts floating high above us. . .but as real, concrete, everyday realities that form our thoughts, words, and deeds as we live and breathe. What is right and what is just in eyes of the Lord is the Law of Love, a law given human flesh in the divine person of Christ Jesus.

That Law of Love is being tested now more than ever in this country, in this city. You've watched the news. Protests, riots, cities on fire; racial hatred and violence; social and class division; political chaos and economic disruption. NOLA hit 100 murders on June 28th. LA 157. NYC 227. Philly 247. At the end of July, Chicago hit 440 murders. All dramatic increases over last year. The pandemic is partly to blame. But so is the indoctrination of our young adults in Marxist ideology. And the demonization of law enforcement in the media. A long history of racism adds fuel to the fire. And the upcoming presidential election only gives the teetering situation a push toward total collapse. The solutions being offered for these crises will only make things worse. More racial discrimination to combat racial discrimination is a recipe for more resentment and violence. Defunding the police only hurts those not able to hire private security. Changes to election laws right before an election just look like partisan trickery and will delegitimize whoever is elected. How we understand and address these issues as citizens of the US must be rooted in who we are as heirs to the Kingdom. The Law of Love – given flesh and bone in Christ Jesus – must be our one and only anchor in this storm.

Part of the storm we face as Christians is the temptation to seek permanent solutions outside the Law of Love. Many look to systematic solutions that overturn our long-standing political institutions. Some look to messianic figures, usually politicians, to save us. Others dig around in decades-old, failed economic theories to find a way to justice. And a few just want to watch it all burn after they've set the fire. The temptation for us is to hitch our spiritual wagon to one or more these and give them credibility with our support. That's a quick way to lose sight of our ultimate end and find ourselves used and abused by the world. We are not called to establish justice on the earth. We are called to be just where we are planted. We are not called to force righteousness on the world. We are called to be righteous where we are. We are not called to legislate holiness but to be holy day in and day out. The Law of Love – given flesh and bone in the divine person of Christ Jesus – calls us to sacrifice for the Good of the Other. Not to sacrifice the Other for their own good. Self-righteousness as a political tactic is beyond dangerous; it's suicidal. And we are teetering on the brink.

What's a faithful Catholic to do? Remember who you are: heir to the Kingdom, a child of God; a priest, prophet, and king by baptism. You belong to Christ not to this world. Pray! With the poor mother of the demon-possessed daughter, cry out to God, “Have pity on [us], Lord, Son of David!” Pray we will not suffer the consequences of our sin. Fast and sacrifice. Pick a day and fast. Give that fasting over to the peace of the nation. Make your fasting holy by explicitly giving your denial to God for our good. Read the signs of the times. Stay away from gossip, disinformation, rumors, and lies. Resist the temptation to fall into conspiracy theories and strange plots. You are a rational animal. Use your reason to seek the true, the good, and the beautiful. We are not herd animals like cattle or sheep. Resist the urge to panic and flail about. Lead with your faith in Christ Jesus; don't follow blindly with a need to belong. And finally, attend to your most intimate relationship – your relationship with Christ. That bond needs food and water; exercise and sunshine. Observe what is right, do what is just. Attend to the sacraments and bear witness to his mercy. Live the Law of Love.

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