18 March 2021

Those who will not believe. . .

4th Week of Lent (Th)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

God says to Moses, “I see how stiff-necked [my people are],” and Jesus says to the Jewish leaders, “. . .you do not want to come to me to have life.” Despite all that God has done for His people in the desert and despite all Jesus has done to confirm his identity in word and deed, there are those who simply refuse to believe. What's preventing them from believing? Jesus gives us a partial answer when he accuses the Jewish leaders: “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” Those who refuse to believe do so b/c they have convinced themselves that it is more important to be of one heart and mind with their peers than to be aligned with the Father. For them, God is safely abstract, distant, and easily ignored. But the benefits of being a well-respected member of the in-crowd are immediate and tangible. Dismissing the testimony of miracles and eye-witnesses comes easily when believing them will cost an in-crowd award, a place of honor, or a hefty donation. If miracles, testimony from witnesses, ancient prophecy, and the spoken Word of God Himself is not enough to convince the unbelievers, what will? Logical arguments? Scientific investigation? Probably not. Pride blinds and deafens. Pride makes it impossible to believe that there is Someone larger, more fundamental to me than my own ego. All we can do here is continue to bear witness in our preaching; doing good works that glorify the Lord; and teaching the Truth given to us by the Apostles. All we can do is struggle to be Christ for others and leave the door always open. 

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14 March 2021

Sin and mercy

NB. Archbishop Aymond has asked that we preach on the Penitential Rite this Sunday. 

4th Sunday of Lent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


I'm told by old-timers in the Church that sermons used to be all about sin, the need for repentance, and the fires of hell for those who don't repent in time. They tell me that it was pretty much “repent or burn in hell” every Sunday. Sunday after Sunday. The faith itself was all about the law, rules/regulations, the legal minutiae of what counts as a sin and just far you could go before you committed a sin. They say the Church was sort of like an accounting firm doing a sin audit. Sometime after the VC2 all that changed and sin seemed to just disappear overnight. Now it's all about love and mercy and forgiveness and just being nice to everybody. Homilies nowadays (I'm told) are mostly diabetes-inducing Hallmark cards; or, partisan political ads; or, slick bureaucratic HR Dept memos. Pre-VC2 sermons may have ignored mercy. And post-VC2 homilies may ignore sin. But the truth of the faith is that both sin and mercy are realities. Sin and mercy are really-real in this world we live in. To forget one in favor of the other is to cripple the faith and leave ourselves open to being co-opted by the darkening spirits that want to ruin us. So, how do we acknowledge the realities of sin and mercy?

First, we notice, name, and number our sins. For our mortal or more serious sins, we have the sacrament of confession, of reconciliation. We go to confession to receive the mercy God has always, already given us. We name and number our sins. Make an act of contrition. Listen to our penance. And then receive absolution from the priest. For our venial or less serious sins, we have the Penitential Rite of the Mass. At the beginning of every Mass – after the greeting – we are prompted to acknowledge our sins so that we may prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries – the rites of the Mass. NB. we no longer simply “call to mind” our sins; we acknowledge our sins as sins. We acknowledge, confess, recognize that even in small ways we have been disobedient to God. All this is done in the silence of one's heart, alone with God. We allow Him to show us how we have failed; how we have lost contact with Him; how we've stepped off the Way and lived a lie. We ask Him to shine His light into our darkest corners and reveal the truth of our waywardness. Once these sins have been brought to the light privately, we can confess them publicly and receive our absolution.

The next step is the Confiteor, the act of contrition. We confess to God and to one another, the Church, that we have sinned. Confessing to God seems like an obvious step, but confessing “to you, my brothers and sisters” may seem less obvious. We confess to one another b/c every sin – large and small alike – damages the Church. We are all members of one Body. Every sin damages the Body and needs to be healed so that the Body as a whole may be healed. We confess that we have sinned in our thoughts and in our words and in what we have done and left undone. Sins we've committed and good deeds we've failed to do. The next part of the Confiteor is vital. Mea culpa, mea culpa, maxima mea culpa! Why vital? B/c we live in a world where taking personal responsibility for bad acts is seen as a dumb move, a rookie mistake, something no one in their right mind does. Blame society, parenting, junk food, genetics; blame anyone or anything but the bad actor. My sin is my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault. And your sin is your fault. We have to confess this if we hope to be healed. Sin is deliberately chosen. We do not sin in ignorance or by accident. So, if it's a sin, it's chosen. Deliberately picked. And the one doing the choosing is at fault. The one at fault needs to be healed.

And b/c I need to be healed, I ask you, my brothers and sisters, the BVM, all the angels and saints to pray for me. IOW, I've sinned against the whole of the Church, so my healing will come with the prayers of the whole Church. Once we've acknowledged our sins, admitted our fault, asked for the prayers of the Church, the priest prays the prayer of absolution: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” NB. the prayer uses “us” not “you.” Even the priest needs this absolution. Now, we are absolved and ready to celebrate the sacred mysteries. But first we ask God for His mercy. Not b/c He needs us to ask. But b/c we need to ask. In humility and with praise and thanksgiving, we need to ask: Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! The Penitential Rite of the Mass shows us the proper way to understand sin and mercy. Both are real. Both are part of who and what we are in this world. Sin separates us from God, and His mercy brings us back. Sin is deliberately chosen, and mercy humbly requested. Sin wounds the Body, and mercy heals all wounds. All of us, me included, sin and all of us live in the mercy of Christ. 

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