25 September 2022

What will persuade you?




26th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Getting to The Point of a parable can be tricky if we give too much attention to secondary issues. For example, we can easily mistake the parable of the RM and Lazarus to be a parable about the evils of wealth and the eternal glories of poverty. It is true that it's harder for a rich man to get into heaven. Why? Because a rich man can grow to depend on his wealth rather than God. While the poor must depend on God entirely. But our parable this morning doesn't say that the RM depended on his wealth rather than God. It doesn't say that Lazarus was particularly holy just b/c he was poor. The RM doesn't refuse Lazarus charity nor does he go out of his way to be cruel. So, why is he is hell and Lazarus in heaven? The plain text of the parable says that the RM enjoyed luxury on earth therefore he is tormented after death. Lazarus was tormented on earth therefore he enjoys luxury after death. Is this is the point of the parable? No. It's the setup. The backstory. Along with the RM's plea to Abraham to send someone from the dead to urge his brothers to repent. The point of the parable is Abraham's last sentence: “If [your brothers] will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Just two verses before we read the parable, we read Jesus saying, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid.” Jesus is making it clear that he is not abolishing the Law but completing it, perfecting it. The parable reinforces this teaching by making it clear that everything anyone needs to achieve eternal life is already fully contained within the Law and the Prophets. IOW, the Law and the Prophets of the OT foretold the coming of the Christ. The witness of the NT is simply the fulfillment, the perfection of the Old. If the RM's brothers won't listen to the Prophets and follow the Law in love, then even a visit from someone beyond the grave won't change their minds. The parable dares us to consider carefully what persuaded us to repent and follow the Christ. What might persuade others to repent and follow Christ? Embedded in this dare is another question: what prevents us from repenting and following Christ even after we've started along the Way? When we become lost, what encourages us to stay lost?

Going back to the parable, we can see at least one condition that might persuade us away from Christ – wealth. I know I just said that the RM isn't in hell because he is rich. That's true. The text doesn't say that. But we know that worldly prosperity can be a terrible distraction from the pursuit of holiness. Many of us might hope to one day win the lottery or inherit Aunt Mildred's multi-million dollar estate. If you nurture such a hope, you are tempting God and gambling with your soul. Every kind of worldly wealth comes with attachments. The most demanding of which is the desire for more. Bigger, better, richer, more, more, more. And each increase adds more weight to another attachment, another anchor to a passing world. We also know that wealth isn't limited to material luxuries. We can just as easily become attached to the wealth found in acquiring political power, for example. Academic-types know the temptations of the wealth bound up in prestige. Preachers are easily tempted by the wealth given in popularity and applause. None of these is a sin as such. But all of them can persuade us off the Way and get us lost. Like the complacent in Zion, condemned by the Prophet Amos, we can wallow in our luxury and fail to notice how and why we've gone astray.

The Good News is that the Way is always open, always straight and smooth. Yes, the Gate is narrow. But those who have put on Christ and keep him on are supernaturally skinny! Jesus wants us to know and understand that he is the fulfillment of Law and the Prophets. He is the advent of our salvation prophesied and proclaimed in the OT. Our obligations under the Covenant have been satisfied, and we are free and clear of any debt owed to God. As we move through our days toward a final judgment, we are tasked with remaining faithfully within the Law of Love, embodied in the Church and fed by the sacraments. Our only attachment is to Christ. Anything, anyone else is to be attached through him and with him. If you are wealthy, your wealth belongs to Christ. If you are powerful, your power belongs to Christ. If you are intelligent or athletically-gifted or beautiful or eloquent, it all belongs to Christ. To stay on the Way, turn your gifts to the service of others. Attach your gifts to others through Christ so that they too can see and hear the Word of mercy spoken by the Father. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. And he returned from death to show us his saving love.



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24 September 2022

Amazed but not comprehending

25th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


So, everyone is amazed. But no one understands. Just yesterday, a bereft father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for an exorcism. He tells Jesus that the disciples were unable to cast out the unclean spirit. Jesus responds, O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you and endure you?” You can almost feel the disciples hanging their heads in disgrace, looking around for a hole to crawl into! Jesus casts out the unclean spirit, and all were astonished. Astonished yet uncomprehending. What were the Amazed failing to understand? The Big Picture; that is, the divine plan for humanity's salvation. So, Jesus prophesies for them – again, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” For the second time, the Son of Man reveals his end. And they still don't understand. Why? Because the meaning is hidden from them. AND b/c they were afraid to ask. They feared knowing the truth, knowing the meaning of Jesus' cryptic prophecy. Think about it: the disciples have left everything and everyone behind to follow Christ. Everything they have and are is directly tied to Jesus and his ministry. He's a relatively young man, so they figure they have a good thirty years with him to develop the ministry and establish themselves as religious leaders. Jesus is their bread and butter and he's running around prophesying about being handed over to the authorities! That's not a good look for long-term investment and growth. IOW, they are thinking as men do, not as God does. We know how things turn out. Jesus is handed over. He dies on the Cross and rises from the tomb. The HS enlightens the disciples. And they evangelize the known world, growing the oldest living human institution on the planet, the Church. Here we all are 2,000 years later. Yes, we are astonished, but are we comprehending? God's plan for our salvation was accomplished on the Cross. Our human nature is healed. We are free to receive the gift of divine love and participate fully in the life of Christ as heirs to his kingdom. We are sons and daughters of his household. Beloved children. Partakers in the divine nature. God's plan for you, for me, for all of us together is the same as it has always been: to liberate us from sin and death so that we are able to return to Him like Christ did – fully human, fully divine. That should astonish everyone!      


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20 September 2022

Broken elevator, gimpy knees, whiney novices

HELP!

The Priory elevator is broken. The motherboard melted and damaged most of the parts near it. Parts will cost approx. $11,000 and labor another $6,000. Needless to say, as mendicant friars, we don't have $17,000 hidden in a jar or under the Prior's mattress. Or anywhere else for that matter.

The novices have been carrying me up and down the stairs three or four times a day, and they've started complaining about back pain, turned ankles, and psoriasis for some reason.

So, if you can help us out, go to St Albert the Great Priory and send us some $$$.

My gimpy knees and the whiney novices very much appreciate it!

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Denying, carrying, suffering well



NB. For me, writing is thinking. . .meaning, I don't know exactly what I think until I start writing. This homily is an example of what happens when I trust my process. . .and run out of time for editing/revising. Oh well.

St. Andrew Kim

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Gain the world and lose your soul! Obviously, a bad bargain. But many make this bargain everyday. In small ways and large, we all go to this negotiating table daily and haggle over the details. Whether the sticking point is to sneak a twenty out of the till at work or sell dirty bombs to terrorists; to lie in an uncomfortable social situation or cheat on one's spouse, we are – consciously or not – forming the vice of putting ourselves near an occasion of sin. The impulse to cultivate this bad habit is at once social, cultural, psychological, physiological, and spiritual; that is, it's human. We want, and we are motivated to acquire. Jesus knows this better than anyone. So, he says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What better way to lose the world and gain your soul than to follow the One who gives his life for the eternal life of the world? How do we do this? We have to notice something fundamental here: the way Jesus carefully balances on the line btw the personal/universal, btw the subjective/objective. I must deny MYSELF. But I still have to pick up MY cross. Having denied myself and picked up my cross, I must follow him. Even after denying myself, there's still a personal cross for me to carry while following him. I'm not carrying your cross or his cross. I'm carrying my own cross. But I'm carrying it beside you and your cross in line behind Christ. Each one of us is bearing his/her unique cross behind a universal savior. And we're doing it side-by-side in the universal Church. The crosses we bear are both a burden to suffer and the way we participate in our own redemption. IOW, The Cross is the altar upon which Sin is crucified – once for all. My cross is the altar upon which my sin is crucified – repeatedly for me. But – my cross and your cross only works for the crucifixion of our sins b/c Sin itself was crucified on The Cross. When we do all this denying, carrying, suffering well, we're bearing witness to the power of the Father to liberate us from our sins and bring us more fully into His divine life. That's martyrdom. That's bearing witness. So, we show the world that we are both wounded and healed, fallen and lifted up, lost and found. That we are both sinful and forgiven, unlovable yet loved by Love Himself. 



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17 September 2022

Choose the Rock




St. Robert Bellarmine

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving


My father lives in a house I helped to build in 1978. I remember the day we dug the foundation and poured the concrete. I left that house in 1982 to go to college. Since then, I've returned again and again. From as close by as Oxford, MS and from as far away as China. The Order has sent me to England and Italy and to even stranger places like CA. But I've always returned to that forest green house set firmly in the woods of N. MS. Along with my family and the Order, it is my foundation in this world. Despite the best philosophical efforts of Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault, and the poisonous politics of Marx, I've managed – with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Roman Stoics – to remain grounded in reality. Not an easy task these days! It would be far easier and more rewarding in the world to take a hammer to those foundations and throw myself into the violent sandstorm of socially constructed narratives of identity and power. Instead, I found Christ. Or rather, I finally recognized that he'd found me. I finally heard him: Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

Setting aside the question of how wise I may or may not be, I can say that living life w/o a foundation can be a great deal of fun. . .and very, very dangerous. Without a center to return to, without a rock to stand on, every fad, fashion, and trendy bit of nonsense that floats by can put on the costume of truth and demand your allegiance. Without a bit solid ground under your feet – up is down, left is right, yes is no, and nothing really matters. Justice is just power. Peace is just violence. Love is just love. Wisdom is just folly. It's all just whatever. Whatever you want any of it to be. So, we have the Way, the Truth, and the Life. A man, a divine person who is himself the foundation stone, the center. We have his Word, speaking to us still. We have his Body, the Church, us. We have a direction. And we have an end, a goal. What do we do with all this? We act. If we listen and fail to act on what we hear, then we are fools who have built a house on sand. No center. No foundation. The rain and wind come and our house collapses into ruin. You can learn to love the storm and the ruin it leaves behind, or you can build your house on the Rock. Don't be a fool. Choose the Rock.  



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04 September 2022

Love God first

23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


I'm a good Southern Boy. The thought of hating my mama makes me cringe. I can't imagine hating mama so that I can love Jesus. But that's what Jesus clearly says has to happen. How can we understand this command? We can reach for two extremes. First, Jesus means exactly what he says. You have to hate your family so that you can love him. You can love him or your family. Not both. Either/or. So, choose. Second, Jesus is just being hyperbolic. He's exaggerating for affect. He doesn't really mean “hate your mama and daddy.” He's trying to get you to understand how important it is to love him. These extremes are both wrong insofar as they misunderstand the fundamental point Jesus is making. God is love. We live, move, have our being in God. So, we live, move, and exist in divine love. We cannot be Christ's disciples if we do not acknowledge that loving God first makes it possible for us to love others next. The first lesson of being a disciple is this: love in the proper order; love according to the nature of what is. God first; everything created next. This is the foundation upon which we do the work of growing in holiness.

Loving God first has eternal effects. We love our family, friends, and neighbors. We love our enemies. Those who persecute us. Those who sin against us. Those who sin against themselves. We love in apparently ridiculous ways and in dangerous circumstances b/c not doing so places us outside the Love Who is God Himself. We call that sin. If we live, move, and exist in God Who is Love and then reject that love by failing to love, we are in effect ceasing to live, ceasing to move, and ceasing to be who we are. If we should die in this state of unloving rejection, we remain unloving and rejecting for eternity. We call that hell. God loves us still, of course, but we cannot know and receive His love as love. Instead, we experience His love for us as a punishment, a torment, an eternal loss. We receive His love as fear, anger, loathing, and rejection. These perverted perceptions keep us in an eternal state of near-demonic fury. Having chosen to live outside His love while we lived, we can do nothing but persist outside His love in death. Therefore, we are given these years of life to perfect the good habit of loving others in Divine Love.

Loving God first also has real world effects. We love our family, friends, and neighbors. We love our enemies. Those who persecute us. Those who sin against us. Those who sin against themselves. We love in apparently ridiculous ways and in dangerous circumstances b/c not doing so places us outside the Love Who is God Himself. Jesus commands us to love him first b/c he knows what can happen when we love a sinner but rebuke the sinner's sin. The person we love can become the sin we hate. Talk to a recovering alcoholic. He/she will tell you that they became alcoholism. When you confront them with their disease, you are talking to the disease not the person. Talk to a committed adulterer, a serial liar, anyone who's living persistently, knowingly in mortal sin w/o contrition and you aren't talking to the sinner but the sin. Their reaction to you will likely be explosive. Anger, venom, accusations of hatred, maybe even violence. Think of pro-abortion activists and how they react to pro-life prayer groups. The temptation to fight violence with violence is tremendous. Thus, Christ commands us to love him first, foundationally, so that our love is never conditioned on the sin of the sinner but on his sacrifice on the Cross for sinners, including you and me.

That's the Cross you and I are to carry. The Cross of loving the sinner while hating the sin. And yes, the sinner here includes you and me and our sins. Our love for the sinner can never self-righteous or damning or judgmental. You and I have no authority to find anyone permanently guilty of sin. We can see the sinner sin, and we can say that the sin is sin. But we cannot declare a sinner guilty of sin and set his/her sentence for eternity. Only the sinner can declare his/her guilt. Only the sinner can set an eternal sentence, choosing life or death. So long as there is life, there is the possibility of repentance. And so, we love ridiculously, dangerously, extravagantly. We love God first, last, and always. We love as an example, a model. We love as a goal, an end. And so long as we love as God loves us, we abide in His commands, showing mercy, forgiving, and standing apart from the world all the while infecting the world with His creating and re-creating love. 


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30 August 2022

Putting on the Mind of Christ




22nd Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


What is it “to have the mind of Christ”? Think of this way: we talk about the Church as “the Body of Christ” of which each one of us is a member. My right big toe is a big toe on my right foot. It's not a nose or a tongue. My toe is not my nose or my tongue. They each have a specific function, a privileged location, and a distinctly different appearance. But my right big toe – like my nose and tongue – belongs to me. What they have in common is me. We could say that they are what they are insofar as they participate in me. By analogy, each one of us is who and what we are insofar as we participate in the mind of Christ – unique in our gifts, yes; but also common in our shared belonging to Christ. “Putting on the mind of Christ” then means that the unique individual freely assumes him or herself into the common Body of Christ and takes on the mission and ministry Jesus left that Body to complete. This is not merely a new identity; it's a total transformation – heart, mind, body, and soul – a new creation set on the Way to becoming Christ in the world. Our salvation is not merely about being rescued from sin and death; or being healed from an eternal wound; or being found not guilty of our many crimes against God. Our salvation is about living in the world as new creatures in Christ on the Way to becoming Christ more perfectly. We can only attempt this transformation – much less achieve it! – with the persistent and generous aid of God Himself. If my toes, nose, or tongue detach themselves from me, they cease being mine and they cannot fulfill their purpose for me. They cannot function as mine apart from me. Likewise, once we belong to Christ, we cannot fulfill our purpose as Christs if we detach ourselves from his Body, if we “take off” his mind. So long as we have the mind of Christ, we are fed by his Body and given every good gift to grow toward our perfection in him. Our daily challenge then is to use the gifts we've been given keep ourselves attached to Body of Christ – thinking with his mind, feeling with his heart, and discerning with his soul. This is the Way of Peace.     



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21 August 2022

Squeezing through the Narrow Gate




21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


Jesus says the entrance to heaven is a Narrow Gate. This makes me nervous. Ample Friars have difficulty navigating through narrow spaces. Had I been present at this morning's Gospel episode, I might have suggested to the Lord that he use a different image – a bridge. I would've told the Lord about Mrs. Ruby Turpin – Flannery O'Connor's fictional paragon of 1950's Southern white rural middle-class Protestant respectability, – and her revelation of heaven: “[Mrs. Turpin] saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.” Who's crossing this bridge? Mrs. Turpin is shocked to see “whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black [folks] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.” (I would've quietly added that she saw an Ample Friar as well.) Ruby also sees her own kind, bringing up the rear and alone singing on key. “Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” We can imagine that it was a distant relative of Ruby's who asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

As is his habit, Jesus doesn't answer the question asked. He says instead, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” He follows this cryptic answer with an image of some being inside and some being outside. Some make it through the gate in time. Some don't. To those left outside, the Master of the House says, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” It almost goes w/o saying that this is not the image of heaven we're used to hearing about. God is love. God wants everyone in heaven. No soul left behind! All true. It is God's will that all men and women return to Him after death. But – as Jesus makes clear – it is also His will that each one of us return to Him freely. It is His will that we choose to enter the Narrow Gate; that we freely receive the grace necessary to dwell with Him in heaven. Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the Narrow Gate.” Those strong enough will make it through. Those w/o the strength will not. So, the crucial question now is: from where or whom do we get this necessary strength?

O'Connor tells us that Mrs. Turpin is shocked to see who makes it across the bridge to heaven. She's shocked b/c all her respectable life she's believed that getting to heaven is about being clean, propertied, responsible, and white. Of course, none of that matters when striving to enter through the Narrow Gate. What matters is the strength of our striving. And your striving – to be effective – must be graced. That is, simply working for heaven never works. Working with God for your salvation does. Any priest who's heard confessions for more than ten minutes can tell you that Catholics tend to believe – even if only unconsciously – that they must earn their salvation. That God will love them more if they kneel more, fast more, pray more, give more money to the Church. They see the Narrow Gate and think that passing through is the struggle. That getting narrow enough to squeeze by is the work. False. The struggle, the striving is all about working to rid ourselves of whatever it is that keeps us from fully receiving God's help, His grace. God will pull us through the NG if we chose to be pulled. So, the question is: who or what – if anyone or anything – is keeping you from choosing to be pulled?

Look at the freaks and lunatics on Mrs. Turpin's bridge. They carry none of the social burdens she herself chooses to carry. They have not loaded themselves down with expectations of purity or virtue or progress or any other burden that stands in the way of choosing heaven. They choose heaven and live accordingly. Mrs. Turpin chooses status, middle-class morals, property, and race as her burdens. And lives accordingly. In His love for her, God sends her a revelation: none of that stuff matters. What matters is loving God with your whole heart, mind, body, and soul. And then living that love in the company of friends, family, and neighbors. Being loved by God and loving Him in turn has practical, everyday effects. You become more virtuous. More humble. More merciful. Holier. In the world but not of it. But when we start with the effects of divine love and only then move toward God, we become self-righteous. We become RT. Sure of our rightness with God. Sure of our salvation. Only to be shocked when our virtues are burned away and we find ourselves outside the NG. Our strength to enter heaven comes from God alone. Our strength to receive His help comes from God alone. Therefore, our daily exercise is freely choosing to be helped in Christ. 


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20 August 2022

Smacking the prideful



St. Bernard

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


Being humble ain't easy. It requires several intellectual and volitional conversions that violate our sense of Self. First, I have to acknowledge that I am not a free-floating individual who creates and sustains his own reality – I am not my own god. Pride says otherwise. Pride says that I am infinitely worthy of self-worship and deserving of every privilege, every gift, every luxury that comes my way. Most of all, Pride tells me that I do not need you or anyone else as I move through this life. I am self-sufficient, wholly self-contained, and perfectly formed just as I am. Everything I say, do, feel, and think is true, good, and beautiful simply b/c I say it, do it, feel it, and think it. I am the measure and the one who measures. And the one who matters most in the measuring is me. In fact, you matter only in relation to me, so your worth is dependent on my wants and needs. Like I said, getting to humility ain't easy. How does a self-created god become humble? He runs across a bigger god who shows him the Light. He encounters God Himself who gives him Light.

Jesus is busy smacking around the scribes and Pharisees – a favorite pastime. Yes, they are hypocrites. Yes, they are puffed up blowhards. Yes, they need smacking. But Jesus' eye is on his followers. He's not smacking the religious-types just to be smacking them. He's smacking them and looking at us, “Do you see what you could become?” You don't have to be ordained or degreed or solemnly professed to need a good smacking by humility. You just have to believe that you don't need God. Or that you don't need God anytime soon. Or that you don't need God right now for this specific problem. We live, move, and have our being in Him. We “be” in His being. We are imperfect beings in His perfect Being. Acknowledging this truth is the first step toward humility. No measure of phylacteries, tassels, cassocks, religious habits, academic degrees, locutions, or apparitions can ever or will ever grant you humility. Jesus says, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” That's not a threat; it's a promise. 



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10 August 2022

Falling, dying, showing mercy



St. Lawrence

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving

How do we fall to the ground and die and produce good fruit and lose our lives in order to save them and serve the Lord while following him? One way (of many) is to sow mercy so that we may reap mercy in abundance. But we must be careful that we aren't sowing dead seeds! Mercy has nothing to do with excusing sin or dispensing ourselves from the obligations of the moral law. Mercy isn't a shortcut to “you do your thing and I'll do mine and we'll just agree not to bother each other.” Mercy comes after one is convicted of sin. That is, mercy necessarily entails acknowledging one's sin. NB. Before the Confiteor, the priest invites us to “acknowledge our sins.” Not “call to mind” but “acknowledge” – to admit the existence of or truth of our sins. I can “call to mind” hobbits, orcs, unicorns, and even Dominicans who don't like books. But I'm not confessing that any of these mythical creatures actually exist. Mercy doesn't excuse sin. Mercy acknowledges sin and at the same time fuels our growth in holiness. How? Mercy is the time and space we need to see our sin clearly, turn away from it, and get ourselves – with God's help – back on the Narrow Way. None of us is always sinless. Thus everyone needs mercy. One way we can die to self, follow Christ, and produce good fruit is to sow mercy wherever we are planted. If we sow abundant mercy, then abundant mercy will sprout. The harvest will be an occasion of great joy. But if we sparingly sow, the harvest too will be spare, and the weeds of Self will take over. The greatest mercy we can show one another is to bear witness to the Lord's mercy in our own lives. When and where and how did the Lord gift you with the space and time to get things right? When and where and how did he call you out of your sin so that you could grow and flourish in holiness? What you have been freely given, you must freely give.


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05 August 2022

Denying and following



St. Mary Major

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Yesterday, Peter thoroughly embarrasses himself. He rebukes Christ and gets rebuked in turn. And, in the process, he picks up yet another name, “Satan.” Jesus calls him the Accuser, the Enemy, and rebukes him as the Tempter. What did Peter do? He forgets who he is in Christ and places his Old Self btw himself and Christ. IOW, he affirms himself; puts down his Cross; and follows himself – his preferred image of Christ. We, of course, would never do such a thing! Except that we are asked everyday by our narcissistic individualistic culture to do exactly that – rebuke Christ, affirm our preferences, and worship ourselves as self-made gods. We could call this fault “moral selfishness,” but the cracks go deeper than mere morality. They run all the way into the heart and mind, splitting both body and soul away from our Savior. Is there anything more humbling for a 21st century American than having to admit that he isn't the master and commander of his life? The humbling truth for followers of Christ is that we are not the master and commander of our lives. Jesus did not die on the Cross to affirm us in our OK-ness. He didn't die on the Cross to help us feel better about our disordered inclinations. He died to kill our fallen human nature and renew it in divine love. He died so that might die with him and rise again toward his perfection. Following him means following him to Jerusalem and his Cross. Following him into death and out again to eternal life. So, deny yourself in Christ. Take up your cross with Christ. And follow Christ even as you are being made holy.         



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03 August 2022

Remember her


18
th Week OT (W)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving


Not a good week for the disciples. They've whined about having to feed the 5,000. Peter walks on water, freaks out, and then almost drowns. And today they get annoyed by a pagan woman. Even worse, the annoying woman helps Jesus reveal his mission to his cranky students. What is this revelation? That Jesus' mission and ministry is catholic, universal. The salvation he offers is not limited by race, ethnicity, class, nationality, or any other accidental quality of the created world. The Canaanite woman clearly understands the catholicity of Divine Love, probably b/c she is a mother. In fact, Jesus addresses her as “Woman,” taking us back to Genesis and the Wedding at Cana, reminding us that Eve and the BVM play essential roles in our salvation history. Remember her and her confession of faith if/when you find yourself becoming dismissive of those in need, or prideful about your inclusion in the Church, or maybe a little lazy about giving God thanks for the gifts you've been given. Remember her and her confession of faith in Christ if/when you start to believe that you can become God w/o God.   



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01 August 2022

Fish & the Eucharist



St. Alphonsus Liguori

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving

Our Lord bears witness to the power of giving God thanks for all of His gifts. Five thousand are fed with a couple of fish and few loaves of bread. Yes, this event happens in a deserted place. And yes, it happens despite the disciples' sad failure to trust their teacher. Nonetheless, this miraculous meal foreshadows our Eucharist – itself a miracle that occurs daily, everywhere, and whether we trust or not. At the center of the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. As priests of the Most High, we offer ourselves as an oblation. Why? B/c we are gifts from God who return ourselves to God as gifts. But the return happens only as we pass through the holy exchange of the Eucharist – praying as one Body in Christ, giving God thanks for everything we have and everything we are. Without Him, we are nothing and have nothing; literally, nothing. Not-created. Not-redeemed. Nothing. So, we take everything we have and everything we are, and we bring it all to the altar to make it holy in surrender. Only then do we receive Christ – body, blood, soul, and divinity. Only then are we free to become the Christ we are made to be. 


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31 July 2022

Yeah, all really is vanity. . .




18th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving, TX


Qoheleth asks, “For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?” Then, some 2,300 years later in 1905, the German poet, Rainier Maria Rilke, writes to God about His people: Lord, the great cities are lost and rotting./Their time is running out…./The people there live harsh and heavy,/crowded together, weary of their own routines. […] Their dying is long/and hard to finish: hard to surrender/what you never received./Their exit has no grace or mystery./It’s a little death, hanging dry and measly/like a fruit inside them that never ripened.”* If Rilke is right, then the answer to Qoheleth's question – what does all our work and anxiety profit us in this life? – the answer is: not much. As followers of Christ, as those who work to become Christ in the world, this answer is encouraging! Given the vows we've made and the sacrifices we are ready to make, this answer strengthens our hope! (Yes, we're an odd bunch.) Paul lays it out for us: “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above...Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

We have died. Therefore, we are dead. The work, the anxiety, the vanities of the dead are dead. Sure, we breath and metabolize and sleep and eat but we do none of these outside the life Christ. Rilke's dark report to God about His people's plight tells us what our lives look like when we live outside our hiddenness in Christ. When we run after attachments and accomplishments in the world and applause from the world. Or worse, when invite the world into our hiddenness and give it free reign to rule. Paul urges us, “Put to death...the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” This isn't a plea for us to adopt priggish, suburban etiquettes or self-righteous manners. It's a how-to instruction on tearing down the deadly idols we worhsip, esp. the deadliest idol of all: Me, the god of ego. The god I made of myself w/o the God Who actually made me. If I have died with Christ, risen with him, and now live a life hidden in him, then there is no Me for me to worship. There is only an imperfect Christ cooperating with God's grace to be perfected. What stands in my way?

Mostly, me. I have seen the enemy and it is me. Not society or genetics or gov't or any other external force. Just me. And that is more terrifying than any foreign army or terrorist cell or politician. Why? Because with authority comes responsibility. I choose. And as a follower of Christ, I choose freely. Blaming culture or science or economics for the consequences of my choices frees me from responsibility. But the truth is – it's pride or wrath or lust or some other deformation of my virtue that makes my life hard. Greed is our lectionary theme this morning. Paul says that greed is a form of idolatry, an adulterous relationship with our desire for more and more. Jesus tells us to guard against greed because we are infinitely more than what we possess, or more precisely, we are more than what possesses us. He shares a parable about a rich farmer who stores up his abundant harvest and then decides to party as if he'll never face famine. When God calls him to account, what good will his bulging barns do him? All that work, all that wealth, and what will it matter in death? Not much. If he had worked for the glory of God and worried after his holiness – his harvest, his treasure would be a fit answer and offering. But he chose greed. He chose more and more and more of nothing that matters.

“If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above...Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” This is our call to holiness. Life in the world but not the life of the world. It's not easy line to walk. The world is greedy for followers, for cattle to herd, and our vow to follow Christ sets us apart. Apart. Not above. Never above. We are not meant to rule in the world but to serve. And so long as we serve knowing our labor is for the glory of God and not the applause of men, then our treasure is stored in heaven. This is why we can hear Qoheleth despair and still smile. Yes, our work is in vain. Our blood, sweat, and tears are all shed in vain. Our wisdom and knowledge and skill – vanity, vanity, vanity. In the light of heaven and the promise of our eternal end, it is all work we must do for God's glory. But by the measure of the world – all is vanity.     

*The Book of Hours


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26 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing: July 26, 2022

If reality is controlled by language, then language is only about power


No, it isn't. . .but it is unduly influenced by gov't $$$.

Rules for Teachers in 1915. . .these don't look so bad given what's going on in public schools these days. 

Brown and Dobbs. . .how we get the result is as important as the result itself.

Why are Midwest public school teachers leaving the classroom?

"We overplayed the vaccines." Now she tells us. 

Prayer: three lessons. . .

This too shall pass. . .the biological clock just keeps on ticking.

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20 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing: July 20, 2022

Things That Should Have Been Shut Down for $400, Alex. 

How we know that they know they are losing. . .

Why men avoid Church. . .

Fake arrest, fake handcuffs, fake all the way down. . .

Eight hits out of ten shots fired. . .

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19 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing: July 19, 2022

Abortion lies. . .there are many. 

Erasing women from the MI Constitution. . .which exposes the lie that abortion was ever about women's rights.

Good Guy with a Gun stops mass shooting.

Anti-Woke TV. . .some good stuff there. I liked The Terminal List.

The insane world of trans ideology. . .

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16 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing: July 16, 2022

Luxury beliefs as marks of cultural capital. . .fascinating.

What does Progress want? The answer is Satantic.

Mass shootings: it's not about the guns. . .

I'm a Legal Fanboy: recent appeals court decisions.

The history, practice, and triumph of Wokeism.

I haven't watched network news (of any flavor) since 2005 or so. It's a liturgical event in religious houses with Boomers in residence.

A little late on this one: St. Kateri

Woke politicians ruined Starbucks in six cities. . .couldn't happen to a better business.

Lots of protesting going on. . .not much reporting though. 

Waiting for ALL the coffee to kick in. . .

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15 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing: July 15, 2022

Politician who supports protesting SC Justices at home and in public, freaks out when she gets protested in public. 

Teachers to Dems: please follow us down the CRT rabbit hole.

God bless these brave nuns!

Strange New World. . .you should be reading this. 

COVID vax doesn't prevent infection. Why is it called a vax then?

The toddler equivalent of genuflecting at the movie theater. . .

I was fascinated with these vids back in the day. . .

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14 July 2022

Coffee Cup Browsing

I started this blog in 2005 to post my homilies. In 2009, I started Coffee Cup Browsing -- by far the most popular type of post on the blog. I stopped in 2012 b/c I was working full-time at Notre Dame Seminary. Well, I'm unemployed. . .so, here it is again!

Sri Lanka is the Green Revolution's future

No, fossil fuels do not contribute to "climate change." 

Black community leaders condemn racist attacks on Justice Thomas.

The DIE ideology has infected corporate America. 

Paulist Fathers booted from OH Newman Center. 

Will the Pontifical Academy for Life betray Humanae Viatae?

The "clicking language" of Africa. Fascinating.

Some clarity after the Dobbs decision.

I watched it in slow-motion and still can't figure out how he does it!

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08 July 2022

Shrewd Innocence




14th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St Albert the Great, Irving

Be shrewd. Be simple. Beware. All this week we've been getting lessons from Jesus about how to be holy, about how to survive and thrive in the world w/o being of the world. Today we tells us to be wise, to be astute. Sharp, smart like a serpent but innocent, harmless as a dove. That's quite the unique combo to pull off! So, what does innocent shrewdness look like? At the root of this disposition is agape, sacrificial love – willing the Good for the Other even unto death. IOW, properly using innocent shrewdness (or being shrewdly innocent) is just being Christ in the world. Knowing the Truth, living the Way, and expecting w/o hesitation Eternal Life. Through that lens and within that frame, we adopt the mind of Christ and become Christ even as we compose his Body as members. Because we are his mind and body, we are set aside, consecrated for a holy purpose. That holy purpose is to be an irritant to the world. Like a grain of sand in an oyster. It is also about being a witness, testifying to the mercy of God so that the oyster might produce a pearl. All this irritation and testimony makes us vulnerable to persecution, so Jesus teaches us to get out of his way when the trial begins, “Don't worry about what you will say. The Spirit of the Father will speak through you.” If this seems strange, it shouldn't. You have put on the Mind of Christ. You are a member of his Body. You participate in his Spirit. You eat and drink his body and blood. The whole point of baptism, confirmation, all the sacraments is to give you all you need to be perfected in Christ. So, when the prosecutions come and the trials begin, who else would speak for you but Christ? The trick – if there is one – is to get out of his way. Die to self. Lose your life. Hate the world. Those who are wise understand these things; those who are prudent know them. Straight and narrow are the paths of the Lord, on them the just walk while sinners stumble.



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06 July 2022

Get out of his way




St. Maria Goretti

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving


Fall to the ground and die. Lose your life. Hate the world. Not exactly the Hallmark Card affirmations we usually associate with Christian joy. Taken together these admonitions ground a philosophy of living that directly opposes the nihilism we breath in everyday. The 21st c. American version of nihilism produces entitled, emotion-driven, therapeutic, and narcissistic individuals who cannot imagine a world w/o their unique presence. It is easily the deadliest gas we can breath over time. As followers of Christ, everything we are and do is given in witness to our humility, our total and irrevocable dependence on God. Just being human persons striving for holiness is an incomparable witness to God's mercy. We cannot do it w/o Him. So, when Christ tells us to die to self, lose our lives, and hate the world, he is revealing a truth absolutely foundational to our salvation: I cannot be saved. You cannot saved. Only we can be saved and only then by becoming Christs in Christ. I cannot be both Christ and me at the same time. You cannot be both Christ and you at the same time. But together, we can be Christ – one body, one heart, one mind.

Paul asks, Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” And then he teaches, “Whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” If we are one body and one spirit with Christ, then we will suffer and triumph as he suffered and triumphed. Both our sufferings and our triumphs occur in the world, but their effects echo in eternity. So, we bear witness to them as sacraments of love – external signs of Christ's mission and ministry to die and live again for the sake of sinners. How do we bear witness to Christ? We get out of his way. We die to Self, surrendering the need to be the Star of a life that was never ours to begin with. 



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03 July 2022

What's keeping you from the Cross?



14th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving, TX


I have been crucified to the world and the world to me. Through the cross of Christ Jesus, I have been crucified. What is it to be crucified? In the literal sense, it means that I've been nailed to a cross, executed as a criminal. But Paul is writing to the Galatians. He is quite plainly not writing a letter while hanging from a cross. So, being crucified to the world and the world to him must be taken metaphorically. Maybe being crucified is a way of saying dead to the world or detached from the world. That's certainly part of what it means. But Paul says that it is through the cross of Christ that he and the world are crucified. So, the cross of Christ is the medium, the means through which all this crucifying is done. Not just any old cross. Not just any old execution. But that specific cross on that particular day with that exceptional body and soul. Every other crucifixion is an execution. A run-away slave. A deserter. A rebel. But this crucifixion, the one Paul takes into himself, that crucifixion is a sacrifice. The victim, the priest, and the altar are all Christ Jesus. And thus from all eternity, we are gifted with the Sacramentum caritatis.

And that is what we are here this morning to participate in – the sacrament of charity. We are here to be crucified. We are here to be crossified. To be joined to The Cross of Christ, to be transformed into victims, priests, and altars for the salvation of the world. How else can we honor our baptismal vows? How else can we follow Christ? Two thousand years after the resurrection and there is still work to be done. Not just busy work, paperwork, or make work. But the real work of bearing witness to God's freely offered mercy. The real work of preaching and teaching the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The real work of living as Christs in the world w/o becoming subject to the world. Lots of work yet to be done. And looking around us – at the Church, at the world – we can see that only a few are putting their hands to the plow. Jesus himself says that the laborers are few but the harvest is abundant. We can be both alarmed and comforted by this truth. It has always been so. The question for us this morning: am I one of the laborers working to bring in the harvest? Am I among those who will be crucified, crossified for the sake of Christ's mission? If your answer is no, or I don't know, what's keeping you from the Cross?

Maybe it's one of the Usual Suspects: fear of rejection or defeat; false humility; cowardice. Could be one of the Big Seven: wrath, maybe. Or greed. Both attach us to this temporary world. All seven lead us down into irrationality and passionate self-destruction. If I were a betting friar, I'd bet it's Pride – that original sin that lies to us, telling us that we can be god without God. That we can be Christ without the Cross. That we can labor for the harvest without sacrifice, without love, without giving glory to the Father. That the labor itself is all that counts. My work, my time, my treasure. Never once giving thanks and praise to God for the gifts He gives. As if, we are working out of what we have earned rather than received. Pride fools us into thinking and believing that the imperfect can be perfected by the imperfect. That wounds heal wounds. That sin forgives sin. That death conquers death. Only love can do these things. Only divine love can do them perfectly. And divine love hangs on The Cross. If you will be a laborer for Christ, you will be crucified. To the world, you will dead. For Christ and his Church, you will be more alive than when you were first born.     



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26 June 2022

Break your chains!



NB. This is my last Mass at OLR. I am moving back to Irving, TX on Monday, June 27th. 

13th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

OLR, NOLA

Christ set us free! From what? From the Law and from sin and death. How did he set us free? By taking on our broken human nature, dying on the Cross, and rising again from the tomb. Where and when did he set us free? Jerusalem in the first century. And here and now. New Orleans in the 21st century. Most importantly, why did Christ set us free? Paul says it as plainly as it can be said: For freedom Christ set us free.” For no other reason are we set free from the slavery of sin and death. And so, Paul urges us not to fall back into sin, not to put ourselves back into chains. He says, “...do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” Do not abuse your freedom as a chance to wallow in the world – the world of violence, hatred, lust, anger, and revenge. That world refuses the gift of freedom and is kept in slavery to serve chaotic passions absent reason. So, do not abuse your freedom, Paul, says; “...rather, serve one another through love.” That's true freedom. Not a license to do whatever we feel like doing. Not permission to pick and choose from among nearly infinite options. But the recognition that we have an end, a goal and that goal is best reached by loving service to our neighbors.

Loving and serving our neighbors is nothing new for those who follow Christ. The only element of our loving service that changes is the circumstances in which we serve lovingly. It might be a war, a plague, a natural disaster; or something less dramatic like a death in the family or a financial crisis. What never changes is the urgency of our service, the urgency of our YES to Christ. This urgency is daunting; it's intimidating because we have our things to get done. I've been packing and cleaning these last three weeks. Not only my own stuff but the accumulated stuff of 98yrs in St. Dominic Priory. I wanted to be focused and diligent. But Christ kept calling me to service. I had to serve on the Provincial Chapter for two weeks. I had to arrange and preach the funeral of a brother who died earlier this month. I had to take over the financial management of the priory. I had to preside at the profession of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Dominic. Among a thousand other acts of service. I was annoyed, impatient, sometimes rude, and always reluctant to give my time. Then, I read the Gospel for this evening: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Chastened, I closed my big whiny mouth and got back to work.

Three people approach Jesus to express their desire to follow after him. Each one has an excuse for not doing so immediately. They didn't feel the necessary urgency in taking up their crosses. The first thinks that following Jesus means literally traveling around in his entourage. Jesus teaches him (and us) that following him is not a matter of physical proximity to him but rather a matter of loving service wherever we find ourselves. The second wants to bury his father first, an ancient religious custom worthy of respect. Jesus teaches him (and us) that those who do not follow him are already dead. Let them bury those who have died. We have work to do right now. The last, wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Christ. Again, a failure to feel the urgency of loving service. Jesus teaches him (and us) that once we've chosen to follow him, there's no looking back. Serve or do not. There is no try, there is no turning around to contemplate what we've left behind. Our work as followers of Christ is before us, waiting for us up ahead.

So, when Paul says that Christ freed us for freedom, he means that Christ saved us from sin and death so that we may serve lovingly without the distractions of sin and death. The works of the flesh keep us bound to sin, chained in slavery. Each of the three who wanted to follow Christ were slaves to a demand, a custom, an idea of living that prevented them from enjoying the urgency of Christ's work. What is the chain binding you? Probably one of the usual suspects: money, time, false humility; pride, hoarding your gifts for yourself, impatience with other sinners. Or, is that just me? Maybe you've acquired an odd notion of love – it's all about feeling warm and fuzzy! It's all about unconditional approval and acceptance. Or some weird idea about service – it's the gov't's job or Church agency's job or those-other-people-over- there's job. No where to lay your head. Let the dead bury the dead. Don't look back. “I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.” Christ set us free for freedom. Christ set us free so that we might live in the state of being free. Free from sin. Free from eternal death. Free from the poisonous narcissism that is consuming our nation. Free from the irrational passions that are herding our neighbors into hell. Free from all of those things-of-the-flesh that turn us into fools and deceive us into believing that we can be God w/o God. Christ set you free for freedom. Beware that you do not sell yourself back into slavery. 



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21 June 2022

It's a strange silence: Br. Roger's funeral homily



Br. Roger Shondel OP Funeral

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Those who have died in Christ minister to those left behind. Their ministry is to be the object of remembrance and prayer, and a sign of hope for the resurrection. Just not being here with us is a prompt, a push to contemplate the inevitability of our own lives coming to an end. Death comes slowly – over decades; then quickly – a matter of minutes. And it's during the slow-time of death that we plant, cultivate, and harvest the memories and prayers that mark those we love as ministers of Christ. Their not being here motivates us to ponder being with them again. It compels us to cherish the promise of Christ that those who remain in him will rise again. And so, here we are this morning to be motivated, to be prompted into remembering and praying; to be pushed into cherishing again Christ's promise of the resurrection. And our minister is Br. Roger Shondel. Seventy-eight years old. Sixty years a Dominican brother. Forty of those years living right here at St. Dominic Priory. Br. Roger was a whirlwind of organization, focus, and energy; a tireless example of dedication to the work of the Order – teaching, counseling, welcoming, and service. We can hear his absence in the priory. It's a strange silence.

But it's a silence that moves us to remember. It moves us to remember that we do not live in Christ to die eternally. Jesus says to the grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Those who live and believe in Christ will never die. That's our promise of resurrection, of life eternal. And that is our source of hope as we mourn the death of our brother, Roger. Tears and pangs of grief do not betray this hope. Nor do anger, regret, helplessness, or fear. All of these are our limited ways of adjusting to his absence, our shocked and pained ways of getting used to his new ministry to us. As we pray for the repose of his soul and remember his hurricane-level power to get things done, we also remember that he gave sixty years of his life to bear witness to the truth of Christ's promise of eternal life. Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that if you remain in Christ you will rise again? Do you believe that to abide in Christ now is to abide with him forever? Martha answers, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

At 3.30 in the morning, during the school year, I would find Br. Roger in the dining room, burning an English muffin in the toaster and prepping his coffee. He would laugh at my disheveled appearance (Me! His prior!) and attempt to engage me in conversation. I would give him a long uncaffeinated death-stare, and he would mumble something about the lack of discipline among these younger friars. I could feel a Back-In-My-Day-Story coming on, so I'd waddle away as fast as I could. And if I spilled coffee on my way up in the elevator and didn't clean it up properly, I'd hear about it that afternoon. Occasionally, I'd get a talking-to about brothers not returning their dishes to the kitchen. We're missing six spoons, eight forks, three bowls, and steak knife! Yes, he counted the dishes. He also decorated the priory for the holidays. Kept the priory books. Made sure we always had plenty of paper towels and laundry detergent. One year, while he was visiting his sister, Joanie, we called him and begged him to come home b/c we'd run out of dinner napkins! I'm betting he was tempted. He loved “my girls” at DHS. Told stories about them at table. If he was at home, he was at common prayer. His silence among us is huge.

And so, his ministry to us will be huge as well. We're here this morning to pray for the repose of the soul of Br. Roger. That he may come face-to-face with the God he served so faithfully for so many years. That he may be at peace at last and find his place at the Wedding Feast, a feast he would no doubt plan, organize, and execute w/o breaking a sweat. We are here to mourn his silence and to be reminded that those who remain in Christ will find eternal life in the resurrection. Paul writes to the Romans, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” In all things we conquer through Christ who loves us. Death comes slowly – over decades; then quickly – in a matter of minutes. But to die in Christ is to die to death and live forever with him. Remember that by remembering our Br. Roger. Pray for him and remember. 


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