01 February 2022

Fear is Control losing its power

4th Week OT (T)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Fear can be constructive. It makes us cautious when there's a 2possibility of injury or death, nudging prudence when prudence needs nudging. Fear can also be destructive. Sometimes it can nudge prudence too aggressively and drive us into a panicked state of paranoia about our health and safety. An existential threat to our livelihood or social position can do this. So can being diagnosed with a fatal disease. Jesus offers a clear and simple choice here: fear or faith. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” To 21st c. over-educated, middle-class, professional religious ears this is neither clear nor simple. It's Black/White and simplistic. When my health and safety are on the line, I want more than bumper sticker slogans! But what is fear, and what is faith? Fear is Control losing its power. Panic and paranoia are its death-throes. Faith is Control being surrendered to God – an easy move since our Control is a illusion anyway. Fear is a tumor, a deadly lesion that can at once warn us that something is wrong, and kill us. But faith is always the proper cure. Trusting God to do the right thing for us is always the safest bet.    

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30 January 2022

I'm no prophet!

4th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP


I've heard the following in one form or another a thousand times over the years: “But, Father, I'm just a housewife, a secretary, a teacher, a coach, a retired cop, etc. . .I'm not a priest or a prophet! I can't preach or teach the Good News!” This exclamation disavowing responsibility for being a priest and prophet usually comes after I've exhorted a congregation to go out into the world and be the priests and prophets they've promised to be. It boils down to saying that I can't be and do what I promised to be and do b/c I'm not who and what Christ says I am. What a strange thing for a Christian to say. I am not who and what Christ says I am. When someone says to me that he or she is “just a student or just a nurse or just a custodian,” I add, “You are not just anything. You are a priest, prophet, and king; dead, buried, and risen in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus; baptized into his mission and ministry, and charged with bearing witness to the coming of his Father's Kingdom! Now, go act like it.” Why the reluctance to be and do what we've promised to be and do in Christ? Jesus answers, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

For example, last Sunday, we heard Jesus announce to the synagogue that he is the Messiah. Everyone is amazed by his graciousness. That amazement lasts about ten seconds. Then the questions, suspicions, and accusations start to fly: “Hey, wait a minute, isn't he just a local boy? That's Joseph the carpenter's son. Someone from this podunk town can't possibly be the Messiah. Who's he think he's foolin'?” If they can say that about Jesus the Christ, what are they going to say about me when I try to preach or teach the Good News? I remember her from Cabrini/Mt. Carmel/Dominican. I remember him from Brother Martin/Jesuit/Rummel. And then the memories start to flow and whatever credibility you had is washed away in your dodgy past. I get it. I do. I'm right there with you. My own past is a huge stumbling block for friends and family who knew me before I became a Dominican friar and priest 23yrs ago. But here's the hard truth of who you are now: in Christ Jesus you are a new creation, a renewed creature of grace and mercy. And you have been given all that you need to be preacher and teacher of the Good News right where you are, whatever you are doing.

No, it's not an easy path to walk. No, it's not a simple thing to bear witness to Christ. And no, it's not just a matter of being kind to others and smiling a lot. Jesus stood up in a synagogue and claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah. They literally ran him out of town and tried to kill him! If you follow Christ, then you can expect nothing less when you bear witness to him. You can expect ridicule, opposition, indifference, and maybe even some violence. You might be canceled, fired, silenced, or even jailed. Or. . .you might be ignored altogether. Doesn't matter. Our mission is not to drag dirty sinners into the confessional and browbeat them until they convert. Our mission is to show in word and deed how the mercy of God has transformed our lives and how that transformation is freely offered to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. Our mission isn't about being right, or holier-than-them, or more socially respectable. It's about being as much like Christ as we possibly can so that his offer of mercy to sinners is heard and seen in us. And we cannot forget that we were once and probably still are sinners in need of his mercy. That's our motivation to preach and teach – we've been into the dark, and we've seen the light. This makes us humble and grateful. . .not self-righteous and prideful.

So, if you struggle to be a prophet at work or at school, why? What's stopping you? Are you afraid that your family and friends are going to remind you of your sins? If those sins are forgiven, who cares? That's the point! Your sins are forgiven. You are a new creation. Maybe you're reluctant to preach and teach the faith b/c it means living up to the standards you're preaching and teaching. Good! You should be reluctant. Following Christ is not an easy path to walk. But telling others about your life in Christ is a great way for you to hold yourself accountable. Maybe you're afraid that bearing witness will expose your faith to ridicule and opposition, and you're not sure you can fend off objections and answer hard questions. Fair enough. All you need to do is tell your story. If you can't answer objections and questions, fine. Don't. Just say, “I don't know. But here's what I do know. . .” And tell your story. Your story is Christ's story. Mercy, forgiveness; always doing the right thing; seeking the face of God in prayer; and being willing to sacrifice in love for another. That's what prophets do. That's what you've promised to do.

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