13 February 2021

What/Who do you have to lose?

6th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Here's the thing. . .the thing you must, must understand: the Lord always and everywhere, without exception or condition, always and everywhere, wants to make you clean. It is never the case – NEVER – that the Lord doesn't want to make you clean. It should never enter your mind: does the Lord want to make me to clean? The answer is always yes. Don't even ask the question. Why? Because the answer is always yes. If you already know the answer, don't ask the question. The leper asks the question because he's not sure. He's not convinced that Lord wants to make him clean. Why should he think the Lord doesn't want him to be clean? He's got no good reason to think he does. Leviticus is clear that lepers are outcasts. They have to dress like mourners for the dead. They have to shout “unclean” wherever they go. There were bells and signs around their neck, announcing their infectious disease. Not to mention the stench and obvious oozing scabs. This leper has no good reason to believe that Jesus wants him to be clean. You, on the other hand, have every reason to believe, to know that Jesus not only wants you to be clean but that he can actually make you clean. This isn't about Jesus and what he wants, it's about you and what you want.

The leper wants to be clean. But he has no good reason to believe that Jesus will make him clean. But he asks anyway, If you wish you can make me clean.” Notice the difference between what Jesus can do and what he wishes to do. The leper has heard about Jesus and his healing miracles. The leper knows that Jesus can heal him. The question is whether or not Jesus wants to heal him. Jesus resolves the mystery: “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leper is made clean. Here's where we have an advantage over the leper. We know that Jesus wants/wills us to be clean. Our disease isn't leprosy. Our disease isn't being run out of town for having oozing, scabby sores. Our diseases are much less physically dramatic but far more deadly. Our diseases unsettle not just the body but the soul. Our diseases infect and damage our person – who we are as children of God and heirs to the Kingdom. Our diseases are freely chosen rebellion and willful disobedience. Am I talking about COVID and cancer and Alzheimer's? No. I'm about those thoughts, words, and deeds that we select, that we favor in direct opposition to the will of the Father for our flourishing. I'm talking about sin.

And even as I talk about sin, I am confident that Jesus wants to heal us. He wants to make us clean. Not only can he makes us clean, he wants to make us clean. And not only does he want to make us clean, he became Man and suffered painfully and died on the Cross and rose from the grave and ascended into heaven. . .why?. . .So that we can be clean. There is no question there. He wants/wills/desires us to be clean. The question is: do we – you and I – want to be made clean? The leper is tired of yelling “unclean” everywhere he goes. He's tired of being beaten, run out of town, spat on. He's tired of being a pariah. He's tired of being the monster moms use to scare their kids into obedience. He's tired of being sick and tired. So, what does he do? In faith, with fear and trembling, he approaches the Lord, the one he's heard about in the streets, and he says, with faint confidence and a little bravado, “If you wish you can make me clean.” What's he got to lose? What? Jesus will rebuke him for daring to ask for a miracle? He might get smacked by one of the disciples for impudence? He's got nothing to lose. He's got nothing to lose. . .but his disease. That's what we call a Winning Hand.

The secret of the Gospel – if there is one – is that you have nothing to lose. You belong to Christ. You and everything you have. Your spouse, your kids, your property, the stuff that fills your property. You have nothing to lose in asking Christ to make you clean. You don't even have to gamble. The leper gambles because he's not sure about Jesus' intentions. You and I have 2.000 years of knowing and living the Apostolic Faith, so we know that Christ's intention in becoming Man, dying on the Cross, rising from the grave, and ascending into Heaven is that you and I can be healed. . .IF. . .we want to be healed, if we want to be clean. Do you want to be clean? Do you want to be healed? Think carefully before you answer this question: what do you have to lose? Your answer to that question reveals precisely who or what it is that's keeping you from asking our Lord to heal you. Your answer to that question is the name of the god you serve. And it is the name of the disease that owns you. The leper chooses Christ. And he is healed b/c Christ wills him to be healed. Choose Christ. In your disease, your anxiety, your despair, your sin. . .choose Christ. He has always said, is saying now, and will always say, “Be made clean.”

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11 February 2021

On going unnoticed

5th Week OT (Th)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

He could not escape notice. Even when he didn't want anyone to know where he was – he could not escape notice. And it's no wonder. He's been traveling around the region performing healing miracles and casting out unclean spirits. That sort of thing gets noticed! More impressive than miracles and exorcisms – at least to the Jews – is that he's one who teaches with authority, i.e. not like the scribes. The scribes repeat the teachings of others. They record, repeat, rehash, and quibble over minutiae. Jesus is the author of his teaching – the source and medium of the revelation he bears. Sure, he reveals the Father to the Jews. That's his mission. But he also brings that same mission to the Gentiles – the dogs who eat the children's scraps. Our Greek mother knows who he is and says so. She calls him “Lord.” And b/c she places herself and her daughter under his dominion, the unclean spirit flees. The scribes, bickering over jots and tittles, rule all the, well, all the jots and tittles. While Jesus, who cannot escape notice, bears an astonishing revelation and wields authority over both clean and unclean spirits. He teaches a Truth no one else can: place yourself and yours under his rule and find a peace, a Life along the Way – a way to live free of despair, violence, oppression, or slavery to sin. Christ could not escape notice for good reason. Everywhere he went he revived the God-gifted desire to be free.   

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07 February 2021

What is your purpose?

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

Audio File

Job is not a happy man. He's lost everything. His life is drudgery. He's a like a slave who works away his days in the sun. All his nights are troubled. He's soaked in months of misery. Restlessness while trying to sleep; hopeless while he's awake. He says, “. . .my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” We know all too well why Job is having such a tough time. He's lost everything. His wealth. His health. His family. All of it. Maybe he could suffer well under just his material losses, but he's lost one thing that all of us need most. He's lost his purpose. He's lost his end, his reason for living. If he had a purpose, he could look forward and place his losses within a bigger plan to reach that goal. But without a goal, Job has no way to give his suffering meaning. Jesus has a purpose. Paul has a purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. Ask yourself, “What purpose do I serve? What goal gives my suffering meaning?”

What's the point of having a purpose? Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents we're given, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made to live in this world. Not merely to live for a daily To Do List, but to move toward some sort of perfection, some sort of final completion.

For example, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul is given a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, one that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing in the temple's atmosphere. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy accomplished on the Cross.

Jesus, exhausted by his purpose, is doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds. When Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose responds responsibly, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. But now, exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose – to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how far ahead in the worldly battles, has already lost war.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What is your purpose? You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is built into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to Him, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,” – heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel – “so that I too may have a share in it.” Everyone is looking for you. Everyone who has lost their purpose. Everyone who has yet to hear the Good News that Christ is their purpose. Everyone is looking for you. Show yourself! And show Christ.

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