14 January 2021

Hardening the heart

1st Week OT (R)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

What is it “to harden one's heart”? My doctor tells me that dealing with HBP over a long period of time will force my heart muscles to stiffen. Like working leg my muscles at the gym. He assures me that this is the one time when I don't want to work my muscles too vigorously. A stiff heart can't do the job of circulating blood smoothly. In the same way, a stiff heart (spiritually speaking) can't receive or properly circulate God's graces through the person. Hebrews tells us that hard hearts result from unfaithfulness, a routine rejection of God's guidance and help. This is the kind of stubbornness that Ps 95 reports and Hebrews quotes. God's people stood firm against His graces at Meribah (provocation) and Massah (temptation), falling into the vicious habit of testing God despite having experienced His mighty works. So, to “harden one's heart” is to forget all that God has done for us. It is to stand stubbornly against His will and to test His faithfulness by daring Him to abandon us. How do we avoid hardening our hearts? We follow the example of the leper: we kneel, begging Him, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”

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10 January 2021

I'm tired. . .thanks be to God!

Audio File

Baptism of the Lord

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Brs/Srs, I'm tired. So.very.tired. I'm tired of the fighting. I'm tired of the lies, the gas-lighting*, the hypocrisy, and the vindictiveness. I'm tired of the double-standards in our national politics, our media, and in our Church. I'm tired of being accused of paranoia, racism, homophobia, and sedition. I'm tired of hearing that I am a right-wing nut-job who hates America AND a left-wing crazy who wants to burn the Constitution. (Apparently, I'm an equal opportunity lunatic!) I'm tired of the silliness, the anger, the vitriol, the division, and the fake outrage. Perhaps more than anything else, I'm tired of good people – good mothers and fathers, good citizens; solid, hard-working folks – being derided as rubes, Neanderthals, and idiots. I know I'm not alone in feeling exhausted by it all. This election season, along with COVID and the Summer of Riots and Looting, has proven – to me, at least – that while I am in the world, I am not of it. This isn't my home. But nonetheless here I am. Here we all are. Where do I go from here? More importantly, where do we go from here? The Baptism of the Lord shows us the Way!

We all know that Jesus didn't need to be baptized. As the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus walked among the people free of original and actual sin. He didn't need to be grafted onto the Body of the Church b/c he was born as the Head of the Church. John the Baptist objects to baptizing Jesus b/c he – John – recognizes Jesus for who and what he really is – the Messiah, the Christ, the one sent to die for our salvation. We know that Jesus didn't need to be baptized. So why did he bother? He did for us. He did so that the waters of baptism might be universally blessed. He did so that we can see how to follow him. He did it so that those present and all of us 2,000 years later can hear the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He did so that we know that we too are made beloved sons and daughters of the Most High by the waters of baptism. Baptism washes away original sin, actual sin, and makes us members of the Body. In other words, baptism takes us from the world while leaving us in the world. And it is this tension, this apparent contradiction that is so exhausting day in and day out. How do I live for Christ while living in a world set against his mission and ministry?

Here's where I find a partial answer: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. . .” I don't mean to say here that I am in any way special in being the Lord's servant. All the baptized stand in the prophetic tradition and exercise the teaching and preaching office. I do it as an ordained priest. You do it as members of the royal priesthood. I do it from the altar and pulpit; you do it at home, school, the office, wherever you find yourself. What we need to know and remember is this: the Lord has put His spirit upon us. His spirit enlivens us; it transforms us; and makes us heirs to the Kingdom even while we live as citizens in the world. This means that though we live through the tumult of the world, we are not shaped by the world's troubles. We see and hear what's going on around us – the violence, the hatred, the spewing bitterness and anger – but we do not take it in. We do not allow it to poison us. Most importantly, we do not respond in kind. We cannot respond in kind and at the same time lay claim to our inheritance. What can we do? I think the better question is: what should we not do? Isaiah answers this question as well.

He writes: “[my servant] shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. . .” In fact, “. . .a bruised reed [my servant] shall not break.” Isaiah is prophesying about the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant. He prophesying about the Christ. Because you and I are baptized into the life, death, resurrection, and mission and ministry of Christ, he is also prophesying about us as the Church, the Body. We can and will bring forth justice to the nations. . .but not through rioting, looting, burning, killing, or screaming at innocent by-standers. Not by attacking gov't offices or assaulting public leaders. Not through election fraud or lawsuits or even the democratic political process. God's justice is not ours to mete out. The Lord calls us to the victory of justice. The Lord grasps us by the hand. He forms us. He set us as a covenant of the people. To be a light for the nations. To open the eyes of the blind. To bring out prisoners from confinement. And to free those who live in darkness. He does all this through our words and deeds, through our hearts, minds, hands, and mouths. And we do His work only so long as we do not surrender to the darkened spirits of this world. That is a real temptation – to respond in kind – tit for tat, eye for an eye. That, brothers and sisters, is the way to become the servant of the Enemy.

Jesus was baptized to show us the Way. To become beloved sons and daughters of the Most High. We live near the world, in the world, next door to the world. But we do not belong here. We belong to Christ! It is my duty and yours to show the world what it means to be a follower of Christ.

*Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgement. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs.(Wiki)

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