21 October 2021

Burn it all down!

29th Week OT (Th)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

How does Christ bring division to the world, to a nation, a family, a friendship? He sets them on fire. Or rather, he sets a part of each on fire. Christ reveals that the Father offers His mercy to sinners. Those who accept His mercy become His heirs. By becoming heirs to the Kingdom, we set ourselves against the powers and principalities of the world. To live life along the Way of Christ, walking and talking as he did, is necessarily a bold challenge to the world. It's a defiant poke in the eye of sin and death and a slap to the face of those who choose disobedience. To the foolish will – a will twisted by folly – submitting to the rule of Love is outrageous, especially given that Love entails sacrifice. The world thrives on Self – Me, Myself, & I. This narcissistic folly fuels pride and envy and greed and Christ stands firmly for the liberation of the human person from this diseased isolation. Thus, the divisions his arrival, mission, and ministry cause. When we take up his mission and ministry, we become the sources of division. Do not mistake the world's folly for the peace of Christ. “I have come to set the earth on fire.”

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17 October 2021

You cannot be a god w/o God

29th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


The Sons of Thunder – James and John – want to be Big Shots in the Kingdom. Sitting one to the left and one to the right of the throne, they want to be seen and heard and thought to be glorious by the lesser souls of our Father's family – that's you and me. And we shouldn't be surprised by their ambition. As Jesus notes, lording power and authority over the unwashed masses was just one of the perks of being in charge. The “great ones” among the Gentiles relished nothing more than a chance to show the peasants who their Betters were. Jesus, knowing the nature of his Father's kingdom, quickly and easily kills the brothers' dream of power and prestige. He asks, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus is asking if they are prepared to sacrifice everything to be part of the Kingdom, including their lives. Out of pride or ignorance or both, the brothers answer, “We can.” Nonetheless, Jesus says, it's not for him to choose who will be near the throne. That's the Father's job. In His kingdom “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” Not what a couple of ecclesial ladder-climbers want to hear.

The ambition of the Sons of Thunder is an instance of the deadliest sin: Pride. Aquinas tells us that pride is the beginning of all sin. So, it is to our good that we think through what Pride is. In the Garden, the serpent tempted Eve with being other than she was made to be: “You can be god without God,” he whispered. Why is the chance to be a god w/o God a temptation for Adam and Eve? God creates us to return to Him in a perfect union. We are made to dwell with God for eternity as perfectly human. To achieve this perfect union, we live lives of holiness in obedience to the Father's will. In doing so, we are free to be who He made us to be. The serpent offers Adam and Eve a shortcut, a less wearying way to become gods: disobey God and come to know all that He knows; you don't need Him to become Him. Thus is the sin of Pride born: “I can become a god on my own; I don't need God's help.” At the beginning of every sin – big and small – is the serpent whispering, “Disobey and you will be free. Disobey and you will know all that you need to know. Disobey and become a god. You can will to be whatever you want to be.”

If it's not obvious why this temptation is so dangerous, I'll unpack it for you. As creatures – created beings – we are all finite, limited. We have bodies that hold us in space and time. We are always somewhere at sometime. We are never eternal, outside space and time. Our ability to reason is impressive but still limited by our language's ability to express reason. Our faith can be weak or strong but even a strong faith is received by and used by a limited human person. What we know or think we know is necessarily restricted by our creaturely properties: our limited abilities to perceive reality; reason with what we perceive; and make prudent use of what we discover or invent. All this means that when the serpent tempts us to godhood w/o the help of God, he's tempting woefully limited creatures to turn themselves into gods. How does a non-god transform itself into a god? The desire for godhood is legit. God Himself created us with the desire to be in union with Him. His plan of salvation makes it possible for us to “share in His divine life,” to be partakers of the divine nature. But what is lesser-than cannot become greater-than w/o the help of what is always, already Greatest. To think that you can become more than a creature w/o the Creator's help is called the sin of Pride.

Now, I doubt many of you are sitting at home willing yourselves to become gods w/o God. It seems a rather exotic hobby! But, I'll ask you this: are you trying to save yourself? I mean, are you working hard to make sure that you are doing all the right things to make God love you? Are you trying to make yourself lovable so that God will accept you? Oddly, this is Pride at work. You cannot make yourself lovable. Neither can I. Fortunately, we are made lovable by Love Himself. And He loves us in virtue of His nature, which is Love. We don't have to do or be anything other than who and what we are to be loved by Love. Know this truth and living it destroys Pride. Once Pride is gone, we must replace it with Humility. Humility redirects our prideful efforts away from the question – what can I do to make God love me? – to a question only you can answer for yourself: do I love God? If the answer is Yes, then who and what you are changes. You are no longer a creature in darkness, a slave to sin and death but free to be who and what God made you to be: a friend in His divine nature, a son/daughter in His Kingdom.     

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