28 December 2023

Renovation Update

That wall behind the crucifix was supposed to be finished on Dec 23rd. Didn't happen. But they are almost done. 

The acoustics in the chapel are MUCH better with the tile floors. We actually sound good singing the Office. The choirs stalls will make it even better!

Consider helping us out. We need about $90,000. We have around $8,000 with pledges for more to come in the next few weeks. 

We're looking into putting name plates on the stalls for donors. 

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25 December 2023

Becoming the Christ Child

Nativity of the Lord (Day)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

On “the Twenty-fifth Day of December...in the 149th Olympiad; in the year 752 since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father...was conceived by the Holy Spirit...born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man...” On that same day in the same year, in virtue of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection, you and I were given – freely given – the gift of our salvation: to become Christs in the flesh, to be made sons of God, heirs to the Kingdom; priests, prophets, and kings to bear witness to His glory in the world. We are rescued, healed, ransomed, adopted, and saved. But by far the greater gift, the greatest grace is our freedom to become Him whom we love – the Son born of Mary in Bethlehem. That son, her son, the Son of God. The Son of God and the Son of Man, the Savior, the Messiah. His name is Christ Jesus, the one sent to save us from sin and death by offering us a share in his divine nature, participation in the divine love that is the Blessed Trinity. This gift of eternal life came wrapped in the flesh of a child born in a stable, adored by shepherds and kings alike.

It is beyond strange – maybe even scandalous – that God chose to offer us a share in His divine life by taking on our human nature. He tried other ways – ritual sacrifice, the Law, the prophets – but none of these served His purpose fully: to bring us into a fundamental intimacy with Him. Human obstinance, vanity, pride, and an inordinate love of worldly things always kept us just far enough away to lose sight of our end. Maybe His older ways of saving us from ourselves were too literal, or maybe they were too difficult. Whatever the reason, we failed. Again and again, we wandered away from the covenant, finding ourselves lost in the wildernesses of the world. He used the nations to chastise us when we strayed. And He used us to show the nations His glory. Finally, at the appointed time, He took it upon Himself to fulfill the terms of the covenant that we ourselves could not or would not fulfill. The Christ Child in the stable in Bethlehem is His final means of bringing us into the Holy Family, of enticing us back into the intimacy of divine love. What the Law and the Prophets did not achieve, the infant Jesus commenced in the manger and the Christ completed on the Cross.

For 2,023 years the Church has marked the Incarnation as that singular moment in human history when the Son of God came to us like us and offered us the possibility of becoming perfectly human. From the year “752 since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,” all of humanity, every single human person, received and receives an invitation from their Creator to become Christ. To live and die as a witness to the Word of liberation from sin and death. To minister to those in need of hearing His Word spoken and to see His Word lived out. Each one of us is granted – by the Incarnation – a chance to not only grow in holiness but to become the means of salvation for another. Christmas is Santa Claus, presents, decorated trees, and glazed hams. But more fundamentally, Christmas is a renewal of our Yes to the Father's invitation to be a child of Christ, to become a Christ Child. “What came to be through [the Word] was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” Remember: you've said Yes. You are that light that shines in the darkness.   

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19 December 2023

Bro, take the win!

3rd Week of Advent (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Zechariah learns a hard but well-deserved lesson in prayer. You can pray for what you think you want. Get it. Question the veracity of the gift. Fail to be grateful. And. . .get your tongue glued to the floor of your mouth. What makes this lesson most-poignant is that Zechariah is a priest, praying in the Holy of Holies, in the presence of an archangel, who tells him that his long-prayed-for son is on his way, and he still has the audacity to bark out a dumb question like: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” I'm reminded of a recent incident in my philosophy class when a seminarian correctly answered one of my questions. I congratulated him on being correct. But he continued to argue with me vigorously. One of his classmates shouted, “Bro, shut up and take the win!” Zechariah, bro, take the win. Now, we could excuse Zechariah's incredulity as a reaction to being addressed by an archangel, or excitement at learning he's finally going to be a father – at an advanced age. But it's a safe bet to take that the real problem here is his understanding of God's providence and the purpose of prayer. I'm betting that Zechariah thought of prayer as a sort of cosmic Amazon Wish List. Put your wants on a list and God will provide when you're ready to receive. That's not how this works. God provides and we receive. That's true. God provides what we need to return to Him freely in love. Not every want that crosses our mind. He gives what we need when we need it. Our job is to be always in a receptive mode. That mode is called gratitude. Whether we have actually been given what we need or not, we remain in gratitude. By remaining in gratitude, we remain open to receiving, always ready to get what we have been given. Zechariah muddles the recipe by adding a dash of doubtful curiosity to the mix. That's like adding cilantro and garlic to your brownie batter. Not good. The result is a dire punishment for a priest: if you're not going to use your gift of speech to give God thanks and praise, then you're not going to use it all. As you prepare to receive the gift of the Christ Child six days from now, contemplate how and why you pray. Are you praying with thanksgiving? Are you praying to add to the Wish List, or praying to receive whatever it is that God has to give you? Are you daring an angel to put you on mute by doubting that God knows what He's doing? By doubting that He can do what He wills? Last lesson from Zechariah's fumble: you and I don't have to understand what God is doing in and with our lives. We've already said Yes. Just give Him thanks and praise.

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17 December 2023

We are him whom we announce

3rd Sunday of Advent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving

When asked “who are you?” John confesses who he isn't – the Christ. He's not Elijah. He's not a prophet. When pressed for an answer, he says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” What sort of person – one who isn't the Christ or a prophet – cries out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord”? We would say that this sort of person is a herald, a harbinger, one who goes out in front, giving warning that One greater than he is coming. He is not the light, but goes out to testify to the light. We know who John is and what he came to do. Who are we? What have we come to do? We could say that we too are heralds, harbingers sent out ahead to make the paths of the Lord straight. And that's true. We could say that we have taken on the work of prophets, announcing God's Word, preaching and teaching His truth. And that's true as well. But if we see who we are and what we do as mere preparation for the Lord's coming, then we miss the bigger picture: we prepare for Christ's coming again by being Christs for others now. We are him whom we announce. Each imperfect alone but more perfect together.

The Christ Child was born some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. He will come again as the Just Judge at the end of the age. In the meantime, what we call the End Times – that's right now –, Christ is here in his Body, the Church. In each one of us as members of his Body. He is with us always b/c he never truly left. He is in his sacraments as priest. He is in his preachers as prophet. He is in his Church as king. And yet, we wait on his coming again. What's the point of waiting for someone who is already with us? What if we're not waiting on him? What if he's waiting on us? That is, what if he's waiting on his Church, his Bride to be fully prepared to welcome him? What if he's waiting for you and me to exhaust our gifts in service to the Gospel, to receive the fullness of the Father's holiness, to totally surrender in gratitude to just being loved creatures desperately in need of his mercy? What if we are imperfect Christs waiting to be made perfect – and that is his Coming Again? It would seem that the only proper response is. . .rejoicing!

What else would we do? Cry? Laugh? Groan in disappointment? To be made perfect in Christ – to be made a Christ – is the highest glory of the baptized. And it's a transformation we must participate in. How? Paul gives us a start: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. This is the will of God for us. That we rejoice, pray, and give thanks. “[Keep] what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” Easily done if we are rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. If we are rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks, we are growing in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ, moving away from the world and toward the kingdom. The closer we get to the kingdom, the closer we get to our perfection in Christ and the closer we come to bearing witness to Christ coming again. But we aren't just sitting around being perfected, passively being worked on by the HS. In receiving all the Father has to give us, we become conduits for those gifts, fire hoses of grace soaking the world with His invitation to repentance and forgiveness. Like the Christ we will become, we minister, attend to those with eyes to see and ears to hear, showing them the mercy we've received, and bearing witness to the mercy they show us.

Paul ends his letter with a blessing: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For this blessing to take hold and bear fruit, we must acknowledge our nascent Christ-hood and rejoice. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Rejoicing is the wordless prayer of thanksgiving that leads to surrender. And surrender leads to perfection.  

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15 December 2023

Renovation: Kitchen & Chapel


St Albert the Great Priory in Irving was finished in 2002. It was built as a home for the friars who were serving the University of Dallas as profs and chaplains. 

The house has 13 rooms for friars and one guest room. The kitchen was designed to be a "warming kitchen" b/c the friars used the catering service used by Holy Trinity Seminary. 

The chapel (above) was designed by a commercial architect in a style very much in vogue in 2002 -- lots of natural light, no ornamentation, white/beige/tan, egalitarian arrangement of the furniture, etc. Serviceable but easily mistaken for a Quaker meeting room. 

In 2005, the priory was designated as the novitiate for the province. From 2005 to 2019, we had novice classes ranging from zero to four novices and a senior community of six or seven. 

Last year, we had five novices. All professed vows and moved on to the studium in St. Louis. This year we have seven novices! We are on track to have seven more next year. 

In early 2022, the friars decided to renovate the kitchen and the chapel. In the kitchen, we needed appliances that did more than warm up catered food. And in the chapel, we needed choir stalls for chanting the Offices, an altar of repose for the re-centered tabernacle, and tiled floors for acoustics. 

We received a generous grant to begin the renovations. But we woefully underestimated the cost of the work. What we thought was going to be a $160,000 job turned into a $320,000 job!  

We are still soliciting bids for the choir stalls. . .after reducing the number of stalls and going with less expensive wood. 

Work started on Nov. 1, 2023. We've been closed to the public since then, using our tiny library as a chapel. 

We need around $110,000 to finish the work and reopen to the public. 

You can help us out: RENOVATE

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Get on with it

2nd Week of Advent (W)

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

I'm tired. I've been tired for years. Not physically tired. Not even mentally or spiritually tired. Just. . .ready to get on with it. Maybe the right word is “antsy” or “fidgety.” Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden light. And I know this. I believe it. He's done the hard part. All I have to do is bear witness to his saving work by living a life that proclaims the Father's mercy to sinners. All the while confessing that I am the principal sinner in my one act play. This can be difficult or easy depending on whether or not I choose to bear witness from my own efforts or his. Bearing witness from my own efforts usually leaves me frustrated, confused, and feeling distinctly unfinished. Why? Because there's something dark and satisfying about holding a righteous grudge or making a mountain out of another's molehill. But doing so rubs against what I know to be the mercy I've been shown. And I'm left nursing an ulcerous ingratitude that quickly grows into resentment. What makes the upset worse is knowing that I chose to be burdened. I chose the more difficult way. All this comes together to trap me in knowing the way out AND choosing the heavier yoke.

Thanks be to God, yokes are movable. Knowing the Christ Child is coming and knowing that the Christ Child is also the Just Judge, seeing the end with the eyes of faith and a hope borne of trust, the heavier yoke falls away, and I can receive the strength [that God gives] to the fainting” and the vigor He gives to the weak. That's the only way mercy can find its way into the world. For a reason known only to God, He wills that the only creature needing His mercy should be the only means of showing mercy. Maybe that's why his yoke is easy. He gets the apparent absurdity of it all! If, like me, you're tired – or rather antsy – ready to get on with it, then get on with it. Set aside the questions, the objections, and the quibbles, and just be merciful. Be mercy. Accept the lighter yoke, the easier burden and allow His strength and vigor to flow through and out. The alternative is a lifetime of fainting, weakness, frustration, and bitterness. A lifetime of chosen dis-ease and injury. No farmer can pull his own plow. For mercy's sake, it's better to wear the yoke of Christ.

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Are you a stubborn mule?

St. Juan Diego

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

I've never pulled a plow. But I've seen it done. Properly worn the yoke fits across the shoulders and extends back so that the animal's forward motion is pushed into the ground with blades tilling up the soil. The farmer wears his own version of the yoke, using it to stabilize and guide the plow. The yoke's burden is either heavy or light depending on the condition of the soil and how patient the farmer wants to be. No farmer in his right mind wants to increase the burden of his yoke. So he makes steady, even progress across his fields, making several shallower passes rather than one deep trough. This takes disciple and time. It takes rapt attention and patience. Jesus says that the burden of the Gospel is light. The work of plowing the Kingdom's fields is easy. Ask yourself: am I being a stubborn mule by adding unnecessary work to the work the Lord has given me to do? Am I making my burden heavier than the Lord himself demands? Our work in the fields of the Lord is to be restful. We can take this to mean that we're to laze about doing much of nothing. But that's not what he says. He says, I am meek and humble of heart...learn from me.” Here's what we learn: I don't do less work by wearing my own yoke instead of Christ's. His fields are no less rock-strewn and stumpy than mine. The same heat and humidity wear on me whether I'm yoked to the Gospel or the world. The difference btw wearing my own yoke and his is that his sits gently on my shoulders b/c he has already plowed the field. From all eternity, my work for/with/in Christ is done. All I have to do now is bear witness to the truth and beauty of the field. Why would I insist on starting over? Why would I plant rocks or stumps in perfectly tilled soil? Why would I presume to look at Christ's field and think that I could do a better job? But that is precisely what I do when I invent obstacles to my growth in holiness. When I multiply requirements for accessing the Father. When I judge the work of other farmers as insufficiently serious or faithful or refined. Worse yet, I can find myself longing to plow a rocky plot of clay and roots, thinking that my holiness depends entirely on how difficult my work promises to be. The Kingdom needs faithful farmers not self-flagellating heroes. The work is done, brothers. Now, we have work to do.

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How ought we to live?

2nd Sunday of Advent

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

John the Baptist makes his Advent appearance, looking like some homeless guy under a Houston overpass and sounding like a street preacher at Mardi Gras. As a reputable salesman for the Good News, he lacks polish and – let's be frank – proper hygiene. Despite his appearance and fragrance, he possesses one supremely qualifying attribute: he recognized the Christ while both he and Jesus were still in their mothers' wombs. Before he was fully formed, he knew that Jesus was the Messiah. He knew this not b/c he was superhuman or angelic but b/c he was formed to be The Herald of Christ's Coming. His given purpose was to “make straight the paths of the Lord.” At the instant he encountered the subject of his purpose, he leapt in Elizabeth's womb, rejoicing that his Lord was near. From that moment until his unfortunate end at the whim of a stripper, John's life was singularly driven by the need to prepare God's people for the arrival of their Savior. He lived outside the world, just on the edge of the wilderness, preaching, baptizing, and wildly crying out that Christ Jesus had arrived. Finally, the long-awaited Messiah is here. How then ought we to live? What sort of persons ought we to be?

Advent is not Lent, but it's still an excellent time of the liturgical year to take stock of who we are and how we choose to live. You've probably heard it said that we are an Easter People. A tribe, a nation founded in the resurrection of Christ, living day-to-day in the joy of knowing that sin and death are dead and that we are free. True enough. But we can't ignore the fact that we are an Easter People living through an apparently endless Good Friday. The world we occupy is still mired in sin and death despite the divine offer of freedom. The world we occupy is still chained up in anger, bitterness, deceit, passionate excess, and the worship of Self. That this world tempts us with its temporary luxuries and easy indulgences is all too evident, especially when we invite it across our borders and give it refuge. Especially when we forget who we are and exchange our freedom for shiny new chains. Advent calls us out of our self-imposed bondage and demands that we fulfill our promise to be witnesses – like John – to the coming of the Christ. Advent admonishes us to “make straight the paths of the Lord.” We live in a Good Friday world. But we do so as an Easter People.

How? How do we hold fast to the resurrection in a world hell-bent on the daily crucifixion of Christ? Peter answers, “...since you await [the new heavens and a new earth], be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.” While we await the advent of the Lord, we work on being w/o spot or blemish. We wait in the freedom of Christ, receiving his good gifts, sharing those gifts, bearing witness to the mercy we've been given, and giving all the glory to God. Even as the world swirls the cosmic bowl, we stand out by standing up and following after the Baptist in crying out that Christ has come, is coming, and will come again. We stubbornly refuse to surrender to despair. Not b/c we're “betting on Jesus.” But b/c we know – we KNOW – in hope that the victory is always, already his and that his victory is ours by inheritance. Even as we lose again and again in and to the world, we win from all eternity. All we need do is endure in faith. This short time before his coming as the Christ Child is the time to prepare, to make ready. It's our time to get busy waiting. It's time to decide what sort of person you ought to be.    

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04 December 2023


First Sunday of Advent

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

Heavy English cavalry sweep downhill, lances dropped into killing position, charging the infantry line of Scottish rebels. When unarmored foot soldiers face a ton of horse-flesh and plate steel, the result is never in doubt. Unless you have the patience, courage, and determination of Wm Wallace, Braveheart. As the English pound closer and closer, Wallace starts screaming, “HOLD!” The tension is almost unbearable b/c we know that he has a line of hundreds of lances just waiting to be snatched up from the ground and staked into the English knights. The scene flashes back and forth btw the approaching wall of near-giant horses and the terrified Scotsmen. Each scene shift is punctuated by Wallace screaming HOLD! HOLD! HOLD! We know what happens next. But do we know why this is an Advent story? Advent is about watching, waiting, getting ready; it's about seeing the end of the charge toward Christmas but not reaching for Christmas too soon for fear of being overwhelmed. Advent is Wallace screaming HOLD! as Santa Claus, Mariah Carey, reindeer, snowmen, and elves charge our lines and tempt us to jump too soon into a season we are not prepared to celebrate. So, Jesus says, “Watch.”

Watch. For what? For whom? For the master of the house to return. OK. But we know he's arriving on the Nativity, Dec 25th. What's the point of watching then? Why not just abandon the walls, put out the watch fires, open the gates, and party til he gets here? We could do that. We often do exactly that. But what we miss in the meantime in a chance to get ready, a chance to prepare. To allow the anticipation to build up. The waiting isn't a punishment or a penance. It's like fasting before a blowout feast. If you feast everyday then Just One More Feast is nothing special. And the Lord's arrival is just another day. So, Advent is Christmas' Lent. The Time Before for self-denial, examen, the small excitements of knowing the day is coming but not quite here just yet. You could think of your life here on Earth as one long Advent season. Christ comes at Christmas as a Child. He comes again as the Just Judge at the end of the age. If you are reaching for Christmas during Advent, then are you reaching for the end of the age before you have fully lived your life? Surely, you have things yet to do. Preparations to make. Surely, you are not NOW ready to meet the Just Judge? If you answer no, then stare Santa Claus and his elves in the eye and scream HOLD!

Christmas in my family started around Dec 13th. That's when I got home from college to help mom buy gifts, put up decorations, and cook. Christmas ended Dec 26th. We spent the day de-Christmasing the house. Being generic Baptists, my family had no tradition of liturgical seasons. Holidays like Easter and Christmas were one day events like the 4th of July and Memorial Day. Nearly indistinguishable from civil celebrations and having no more religious content. It wasn't until I became an Episcopalian that holiday seasons became a thing for me, and I began to understand that the liturgical calendar was more than switching out vestment colors and whether or not we sang an alleluia. Liturgical seasons are a different way to keep track of time. They mark the passage of days by keeping us deeply embedded in the history of our salvation. When the Son became Man, he entered human history, subjected himself to the linear step-by-step process of moving through space marked by time. The historical events of our salvation happened “at the appointed time.” And so, we remember these events at the appointed time, using a calendar set outside the world's calendar.

We have about three weeks of prep time until we welcome the Christ Child. What do we do? We watch. We look for opportunities to get right with the Lord. We contemplate what it could mean for the Christ Child to also be the Just Judge. We find ways to relish the anticipation of Christmas w/o bringing Christmas into Advent. We pray for the Lord's coming again, and we also pray that we are ready to receive him. And when the temptation to bring Santa Claus and Mariah Carey and Frosty the Snowman and all the other worldly seasonal characters into our Advent, we stare them down, and we scream HOLD!

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10 November 2023

How do we know that Jesus is the Christ?

St. Leo the Great

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

Jesus says that Simon Peter knows that he – Jesus – is the Christ b/c the Father revealed this truth to him. How do you and I know that Jesus is the Christ? Has the Father revealed this truth to us? Doubtful. Did we arrive to this truth through deductive reasoning? No. Empirical investigation? No. Maybe we used a Ouija board? Definitely not. Nor did we come to know this truth through angelic visitation, lucky guesses, or alien abduction. Everyone one of us came to believe that Jesus is the Christ b/c we chose to believe a witness. Someone, somehow testified to you and me that Jesus is the Christ. And we believed. Our witnesses also chose to believe a witness. And those witnesses believed on another's testimony. And so on, all the way back to Simon Peter. Since his testimony to the other disciples in front of Christ himself, those of us who chose to believe through the centuries have developed stories, poems, plays, complex philosophical and theological systems, liturgies, and legends around the mission and ministry of the Christ. We've received his gifts, used them to bear our own witness to his mercy, and jump-started many a sinner's movement toward becoming Christ themselves. It all begins with Peter, the Rock, and Jesus' question: “Who do you say that I am?” For our witness to continue, for our witness to bear good fruit, we need to answer this question everyday with Peter's own answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If we answer any other way, we betray those who witnessed to us. If we answer any other way, we call Peter a liar and deny the Father's truth. If we say that Jesus is only a teacher; only an advocate for the poor; only moral exemplar; only an agitator for liberation; only an ideal or a model or an avatar for human love – then we are liars and traitors. And our foundation is built on sand. Jesus is the Messiah. Sent by the Father to become like us in all ways but sin. To become sin for us and die on the Cross for our eternal lives. He rose from the grave. Ascended into heaven. And now he sits at the Father's right hand, drawing us to him with perfect love. Do we know every detail of how this works with absolute certainty? No. But we know Christ and him crucified. That's the truth we have been sent to witness to. That's our testimony. 

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You are a temple

St. John Lateran

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

We are flesh and blood temples of the Holy Spirit. Made for the worship of God and preaching of the Gospel. Our foundation is Christ Jesus and his mission to save the world from sin and death. When we are properly built and maintained, we are mobile tabernacles, bringing Christ with us wherever we go. Improperly built and/or poorly maintained, we risk becoming a den for thieves. We risk becoming a rented space for cheats, liars, cultural prostitutes, and intellectual frauds. Through the centuries, these spiritual squatters have changed names and faces, but the scam has always been the same: use the supernatural appeal of the Good News to prey on the anxieties and hopes of the least among us. Whether the squatters are promising material wealth, bureaucratic utopias, or a wide-open gate to heaven, they are defacing the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus drove them out once. He can do so again. But the best defense is a good offense. Never let them settle in the first place. Build your temple on the rock solid foundation of the apostolic faith – the unchanging and unchangeable truths of the Gospel. God's enduring love. The necessity of repentance of sin. The freely offered mercy of the Father. Christ's promise to be with us always. Never leave your temple unattended. Pray always. Keep the tabernacle lamp lit. And guard the door against anything and anyone who would bring the world's language, images, and idols to the altar. Receive gifts with humble thanksgiving and share the temple's wealth generously. Know Christ as a person not just as an idea or an ideal. Know him as a friend, a teacher, a brother. Know him most intimately in one another and those you serve. When a sacrifice is necessary, remember that God receives our fears, our desires, our lies, and our hopes. He makes them all holy when we hand them over with child-like faith, trusting fully that He bring the Good from our mess. Receive His gifts w/o prejudice for your wants. And use them to keep your temple free of the world's deadly distractions. Finally, ask yourself daily Paul's question to the Corinthians: Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 

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28 October 2023

Apostolic foundation

Ss. Simon and Jude

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

Knowing what they know about Jesus' soon-to-be bloody end in Jerusalem and his promise that all who follow him will end in a similar way, I wonder what the Twelve are thinking and feeling when the Lord chooses them and sends them out. Are they excited? Afraid? Confused? Maybe all of the above and more. Remember: since the Lord is still with them in the flesh, the Holy Spirit has yet to be sent. Meaning they have not yet been infused with the living fire of the Spirit and empowered to preach and teach Gospel in many tongues. IOW, they are – at the moment of their choosing – merely students who've witnessed the Lord ministering while he teaches them the truth of the Father's mercy to sinners. There must've been a palpable sense of anticipation among the Twelve, a vigorous wanting to-get-on-with-it that fires up the start of any monumental adventure. But they could not have known the results of their work. Millions of followers of Christ spread across the globe, working out their salvation in fear and trembling. At the moment of their choosing, whatever else they were thinking, they must've thought, “What will we do w/o the Lord?”

After the coming of the HS at Pentecost, that question is answered: “We will never be w/o the Lord!” One becomes Twelve and Twelve becomes 1.6 billion. And that 1.6 billion continues to grow by the hour. On the foundation of the faith of the Apostles, the Lord's Body grows and matures. The Church finds herself failing in one part of the world and thriving in another. Under attack here and compromising there. When the ordained hierarchy is flirting with the world, the laity are picking up the slack. At any particular moment, somewhere on the globe, the Lord's mercy is being witnessed to even if our witness as a whole is less than muscular. This is what it is to preach and teach the Good News to sinners, ourselves first and foremost. The testimony of a witness is only as good as the integrity of the witness. Being chosen and sent doesn't guarantee that integrity. To wit: Judas Iscariot. What does guarantee the integrity of the witness and his/her testimony is fidelity to the apostolic deposit of faith. The Church is established and built on the witness of the Twelve chosen and sent by Christ. W/o them we would've been little more than a book club in fancy liturgical dress.

We avoid being just a book club in fancy liturgical dress by holding firmly to the faith handed-on once for all. The Son of God became Man – fully human, fully divine – died on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins; rose again, ascended, sent the HS; and established his Church, his Body as the living, breathing corporate witness to the Father's freely offered mercy to repentant sinners. How we understand all this can vary. How we apply it can vary. But the truth of it all is our foundation, our cornerstone. A book club in fancy liturgical dress will abandon the foundation and welcome the ever-shifting, always trendy nonsense that passes for wisdom in the world. Such a club will come to believe that truth is created by those we are vowed to seek it; that truth – that the HS – takes a poll and changes policies when the cultural winds blow in a different direction. That's not the apostolic faith. Our Lord chose and sent Twelve men, including Simon and Jude, to bear witness to all that he had taught them, to all that they had seen. Their testimony is fundamental to our salvation. It cannot change anymore than the choosing and sending of the Apostles 2,000 yrs ago can change. If you will be a witness, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.      

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23 October 2023

Liberalism fails the Church

10/23/23: I found this post from 2009. It is deeply relevant to our on-going crisis in the Church.

In 1966, the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, read a paper at a conference held at Johns Hopkins titled, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences."  Thus was the American academy introduced to the corrosive influence of deconstuction's radical skepticism about the ability of language to convey truth.  The history of the liberal arts in the U.S. since 1966 has been a long, sad story of decline into relativistic chaos and left-wing political manipulation.  Deconstruction is essentially (no pun) a machine of critique.  It is conceptually incapable of building anything.  It can only destroy.

In 1998, Francis Cardinal George stunned a congregation at Old St. Patrick's with this line delivered in his homily:  "Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project."  Later, he was asked to elaborate and did so at a Commmonweal forum held at Loyola University in 1999.

An except from his elaboration:

"We are at a turning point in the life of the church in this country. Liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. Essentially a critique, even a necessary critique at one point in our history, it is now parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. It has shown itself unable to pass on the faith in its integrity and inadequate, therefore, in fostering the joyful self-surrender called for in Christian marriage, in consecrated life, in ordained priesthood. It no longer gives life."

What started as a much-needed critical review of Church doctrine and practice in the late 19th century, peaked in the documents of Vatican Two, and found its most strident voices in the 70's and 80's has become the sterilizing practice of postmodern dissent and heresy.  The "necessary critique" of manual Thomism and semi-Janenist moral practice in the Church is indeed now "parasitical."

Just as deconstruction demolished the absurd pretenses of liberal western culture and literature with its relentless attack on language, and now sits like a bloated toad on the university quad poisoning everything in its reach, the Spirit of Vatican Two refreshed a moribund institutional Church only to find itself haunting a decimated and demoralized body of believers.

Lest we think the cure is nostalgia, Cardinal George quickly adds:

"The answer, however, is not to be found in a type of conservative Catholicism obsessed with particular practices and so sectarian in its outlook that it cannot serve as a sign of unity of all peoples in Christ."

We cannot rebuild the Church if the only vision of the Church we can see and communicate is the Church as it was in the 1800's.  The liberal project (exemplified by Newman) pushed the Church to engage the world in terms foreign to its basic philosophical foundations.  In taking on this challenge, the Church gained an incredibly fruitful means of evangelization that saw amazing results in the decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council.

Then, like most good things, one good thing was taken to be the only thing and aggressive, unrelenting critique became the mark of being a Catholic intellectual.  Left aside were the pesky admonitions of tradition, ecclesial authority, reason, and just plain good sense.  The only thing that came to matter was opposition to alleged oppression and the failure to be radical enough in one's take-down of the Church.  This is the intellectual equivalent of deciding to renovate your kitchen by demolishing your house and killing your family.

What both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been trying to communicate to the Church and the world is this:  the time for critical demolition is over.  That project is done.  It is time to retire the dynamite, return the bulldozer, fire the demolition crews, and start to rebuild on the foundation left for us by the apostles.  At the very least, this means a return to the documents of Vatican Two, read and implemented through their continuity with the tradition and reason.  They are not calling us back to an uncritical embrace of Baroque Thomism and manual moralism.  Nor are they asking us to live in the illusions of a warmed-over 1950's nostalgia.  All they are asking the Church to do is start in the present, look back to where we came from and forward to where we are going without getting lost in the bitterness and cynicism that a life of complaint and opposition engenders.

Is that so hard?

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20 October 2023

Doubt. . .but worship

Ss. John and Issac

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

One of the strangest sentences in the Bible occurs in the readings this morning: “When [the disciples] all saw [Jesus], they worshiped, but they doubted.” They doubted him, but they worshiped him despite their doubt. I think this sentence strange b/c we moderns usually need to have something like “without a reasonable doubt” before we grant the status of fact to a mere claim. Jesus has made all sorts of bold claims in the disciples' hearing. Now, (at the end of Matthew's Gospel) he's been crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, and is appearing to them, making more claims that sound a little dodgy. Yet. They worship. What does this sequence of events – we doubt yet we worship – teach us? It teaches us that we can have our doubts, we can be not quite sure and still offer to God through Christ our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. To the finite mind only finite knowledge is possible. A plastic gallon jug can only contain a gallon of liquid. It cannot contain two gallons, nor can it contain a bonfire. Nor can we say that that jug contains all the liquid in the world simply b/c it's full. The disciples doubt. But they worship. So, we can say: worship is a means of coming to know.

At your baptism, you were given the seed of a divine nature. This makes you a disciple. Learning about Christ, the Church, the Scriptures makes you an educated disciple. And faithfully living out Christ's commandments perfects your discipleship, making your sacrifices to God holy and acceptable. None of this would be possible unless you participated in the Divine Life. Since we are finite creatures, our participation in divine nature is necessarily finite. But we can cooperate in perfecting our imperfect participation through worship. Grounding ourselves in baptism and discipleship, we approach the altar of God fully aware that we are not worthy of His love, and yet He has made us worthy to be loved. And so we are. And b/c we are, we are gifted with the possibilities of coming to know and love Him to the limits of our capacity. If and when we exhaust our capacity to know and love Him, He readily enlarges us, increases our capacity, giving us more and better opportunities to cooperate in grace, perfecting our participation in the Divine Life, living and loving more fully in the divine nature.

So, our worship is the immediate means of perfecting our participation in the Divine Life. Worship brings the whole person to the task. Body and soul. Intellect and will. Worship gives us ways of encountering the Divine Life that nothing else can. We are together. One Body, one Faith, one Baptism. With one voice we offer thanks and praise to God. With one sacrifice we offer ourselves as an oblation to the Father. With one love we offer ourselves to the Son to become his Words and Deeds in the world. With one blessing we offer ourselves to the Holy Spirit to be His presence to those who cannot yet see or receive His gifts. When you come to the altar this morning, bring it all! Bring everything you have collected. Bring your anger, your impatience, your hatred, your need for revenge, your failures. Bring your tribalism, your prejudices, your cramped biases. Bring your legalism, your entitlement, your selfishness. But also, bring your joys, your triumphs, your loves, and your blessings. Bring thanks and praise. You live and move and have your being in the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity. He gave us Christ so that we might be perfect as He is perfect. How do we start? Bring all you are and all you have and give it to God. Give Him everything in you and with you that isn't Christ. With Him, empty yourself out “for we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus.”

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15 October 2023

Go to the Wedding Feast!

28th Sunday OT

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

Imagine: you go into the hospital with a terrible but curable disease. Your doc plans out your treatment. When the time comes to start the medications, you refuse to take them. Your doc is confused but honors your wishes and begins the discharge paperwork. You inform the doc that you don't want to leave the hospital. Even better, you'd like to arrange it so that you can be admitted to the hospital once every week. No meds, no surgery, no therapy of any kind. Just an hour in bed and you go home. The doc agrees and gives you a pamphlet outlining some things you can do to help treat your terrible but curable disease. You take the info, read it, and promptly throw it away when you get home. You've come to believe that your weekly visit to the hospital is sufficient to cure your ailment. You feel OK for a few weeks. Then, after one of your weekly visits, you drop dead outside the hospital. How many here tonight think that this is a truly bizarre way to behave – sick, you refuse treatment but insist on staying close to the source of your cure? Isn't this how many of us think about our faith? Weekly visits to church is just enough to treat and cure our spiritual diseases. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Everyone is invited to the Wedding Feast. From the lowest to the highest; from the smallest to the largest; rich, poor; black, white; male, female; Democrat, Republican; everyone! And it's possible that everyone invited to the Feast will show up. But this is no ordinary feast; it's the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – a party to celebrate the eternal marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. Those who accept their invitation are expected to show up properly dressed; that is, properly prepared to party forever with Christ in heaven. You wouldn't show up to a friend's church wedding wearing flip-flops, short-shorts, and an AC/DC tee-shirt – especially if you were a member of the bridal party! And you are a member of the bridal party. You are a member of the Church, the Bride. So, accepting your invitation to the Wedding Feast begins with baptism. You put on the white garment of new life, and you proceed through the years to add to your Christian wardrobe, always thinking ahead to the Big Party to come. How do you go about acquiring the articles of clothing you need to Party Well in heaven? Over your lifetime, how do you choose to put your wedding outfit together?

Start by considering what you do not do. You do not come to believe that the absolute bare minimum is enough. Sure, those flip-flops, short-shorts, and AC/DC tee-shirt cover all the necessary bits. You aren't naked at the Party. And sure, baptism, confirmation, weekly Mass, and a yearly confession cover all the basics. You haven't lived a life-time w/o receiving some of the basic graces. These most basic of the graces keep you coming back – for the most part. Another thing you do not do in assembling your Wedding Garment is come to believe that just any old piece of clothing will serve your eternal end. Sure, that hot pink bandanna on your head looks good with your tee-shirt, and those black socks look comfortable under your shower shoes. And sure, praying the rosary three times a day and fasting on Fridays helps you remember that you are Catholic. Absolutely nothing wrong with hot pink bandannas, black socks, the rosary, or fasting! But your Wedding Garment needs more than the bare minimum and a few flashy accessories. Your Wedding Garment must be in fashion for eternity. It must be durable, proper to the occasion, and serve as a sign of your all-consuming love and devotion to Christ. Your Wedding Garment must be made from the organic silk of 100% pure charity.

You've received your invitation to the Feast. You've accepted the invitation. Now, you are gathering the pieces of your Wedding Garment. We know that the bare minimum and flashy accessories aren't enough. You need a lifetime of loving God, yourself, and others to put this garment together. You need a lifetime of doing spiritual and corporeal works of mercy; acts of selfless love, words and deeds that proclaim to the world that you belong to Christ. You need a lifetime of personal prayer – private conversations with God in the Spirit – listening to His will and making His will manifest in the world. You need a lifetime of allowing yourself to be transformed into Christ so that those around you can see and hear him in your flesh. A lifetime, Father? Yes. What if I've spent decades doing the bare minimum and collecting flashy accessories? No problem. Your lifetime begins again at the moment of repentance and confession. If you will stay at the Party, start now gathering your Wedding Garment. Once the wailing and gnashing of teeth begins, it is too late. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Choose to Party with Christ forever. And start now.

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23 September 2023

There is no Christ w/o the Cross

Padre Pio

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

Can you and I become Christs w/o the Cross? No. Emphatically, no. What it is to be the Christ (a Christ) is to be crucified. Christ and Cross are bound together historically, theologically, psychologically, and (big theology word alert!) eschatologically; that is, according to the logic of Christ's return in glory at the end of the age. Over the centuries, many have preached Christ w/o the Cross, attempting to extract what they like about the faith and exclude what they don't. These efforts turned the Catholic faith into a circus of ethical philosophies, or political systems, or therapeutic programs. All of these have failed, are failing, and will fail b/c the good of Christ is inextricably bound to the sacrifice of the Cross. How do we know this? Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He does not say, “Whoever wishes to come after me must exalt himself, blame others for his sufferings, and do his own thing.” Following Christ has never been and cannot be about settling into the world as a comfortable cog. Following Christ is about being a faithful servant, a hopeful irritant.

What the world needs us to be is poorly paid actors, mouthing a script. Shout this slogan for our politician. Process this procedure according to this policy. Buy this stuff with this currency. Make this product your idol. This celebrity your god. Kill these people. Dance. Line up. March. The world thrives on power, believing itself divine and rebelling against God. Anyone who denies self cannot be a full-time consumer. Anyone who picks up a cross cannot be self-absorbed. Anyone who follows Christ cannot be an obedient actor in the world's comedy. Anyone who does what Christ commands is an irritant b/c the world knows that Christ is King. But it will not kneel. Our mission is to live in the world and show that kneeling to Christ, becoming Christs for others, is the way to freedom and joy. We don't conquer the world by fighting the world. We can't win on any battlefield against guns and bombs. Our fight is at once larger and smaller. Larger b/c we are in a spiritual battle. Smaller b/c the battle is internal. The cosmic war of Good vs. Evil is a Manichean myth. We are not pawns in a black and white chess game played by warring deities. Rather, each one of us is in a match played against the self. This is why Paul must say, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” If you and I can say the same, then we are only competing with ourselves for the prize of becoming Christ on the Cross.       

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18 September 2023

Prayer is dangerous

24th Week OT (M)

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

Prayer is a dangerous habit. Some might add that it is superstitious or magical, or risky but worth it. Prayer is intimacy with God. Any moment where you find yourself intimately holding the will of our Father in your body and soul, you are praying. You may petition, give thanks and praise, intercede for someone. You may adore God. And, if you are so inclined, you may contemplate the divine in a life of study in order to share the fruits of your contemplation with others. Regardless of your technique or goal, Paul makes it absolutely clear to Timothy that God expects us to pray. I repeat: prayer is dangerous…not only because you sometimes get you pray for, but because the first fruits of all prayer accrue to the Pray-er, the one praying. Prayer is dangerous because it is divinely designed to change substantially those who take it up as a habit.

So, you’ve decided to live a life of prayer. What can you expect as an eager Pray-er? In no particular order, you can expect most of the following: an overarching sense of peace and joy; a lot of turmoil and struggle day-to-day; a slow growth toward obedience and charity; an occasional tumble with angels and devils alike; long periods of spiritual productivity and emotional health; longer, darker periods of spiritual aridity and roller-coaster passions; the overwhelming presence of the Triune God; and His apparent absence. In other words, as a creature who chooses to obey God and to pray habitually, you will find yourself becoming more intensely a creature, more fully human as you work out your perfection in His grace. And it is vital that you understand that in prayer your goal is to become fully human, perfectly human as Christ is perfectly human. You will fail if you think your goal is to become an angel. Prayer does many wonderful things for us. It will not, however, help you switch species. Therefore, let God worry about making you divine in His own time.

Our centurion this morning is the perfect pray-er. What does he do? First, he is praying, petitioning for someone else, an act of charity. Second, he involves the entire community in his prayer. He asks the Jewish elders to petition Jesus for help. Next, the Jewish elders acknowledge the centurion’s largesse to their nation and persuade Jesus to do as the soldier asks. Jesus agrees. However, the centurion meets them half-way and then humbly confesses that as a pagan he is not worthy of having Jesus in his house. And then he confesses, again with humility, that he knows that Jesus has the authority to heal his slave with a word. Jesus is amazed. The slave is healed. And prayer is once again shown to be a very dangerous practice.

When the centurion confesses his absolute trust in Jesus’ power, Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” How is this dangerous? Jesus has just publicly admitted that a pagan, a man with no filial connection to the God of Israel is a man of faith. And it is through trusting prayer – not nationality, racial heritage, family affiliation, nor religious creed – but through faith that the centurion’s prayer succeeds. It is through trust in Christ and trust in Christ alone. In Gaudium et spes, we read that Christians will die and rise again with Christ and that his promise carries us in hope. For non-Christians, they continue: “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery”(n 22). Thus, the possibility of becoming Christ through Christ in prayer. Given his end, is there anything more dangerous than that?

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29 August 2023

Folly Thy Name is Pride

Passion of JTB

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

Like any one of us who fall into sin, Herod's devolution into foolishness starts with pride. Salome the Dancer, and her mother, Herodias, take advantage of Herod's pride and lust and turn his generosity into murder. They succeed because Herod is ruled by anxiety and fear. Why else does a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man in prison? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is and always will be the enemy of God's wisdom. 

John persists in preaching against Herod's adultery. The king imprisons John, keeping him close but also preventing him from preaching against Herod publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching, but power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool. 

Herod's fall into darkness shows us that fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of pride, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it, and lust and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit: we choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest. Even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into moral foolishness.

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits: choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If living in God's wisdom is your goal, then let your prayer be: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

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Don't make Jesus say, "Woe to you!"

St. Augustine

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

It's never a bad idea to compare ourselves to the Pharisees. Spiritually speaking, how do we measure up? Jesus consistently points out their hypocrisies and ties their spiritual failures to a near-pathological need for control. IOW, they love to control others, but seem unable to control themselves. That they can't/won't control themselves partially explains why they want to control others. If I can't/won't control myself, the least I can do is try and control you. Do we, do you have the same problem? Have you ever been upset with someone for committing the same sin you regularly commit? Do you moralize about sin to others while rationalizing your own sin to yourself? Maybe you've granted yourself a dispensation from a moral precept but refused the same to another? Perhaps you regularly receive mercy but rarely give it? The basic idea here is that I can come to expect others to be tightly bound to the rules while I am allowed a great deal of flexibility in following the same. Any sin I commit is ultimately explicable, justifiable, and forgivable, while you – you dirty sinner! – have no excuse! Obviously, this is no way for a follower of Christ to live.

How ought we to live then given our weaknesses and the law of love? One way comes in the form of a practice: anytime I am tempted to condemn a fellow sinner, I will stop myself and perform a quick examination of conscience. What is motivating me to speak out here? Am I trying to control another b/c I can't/won't control myself? Am I trying to show all the others how holy I am? Am I hoping to distance myself from that sinner's sin b/c that sin is also my sin? Am I being moved by charity or fear? Hope or anger? Do I hate the sin but not the sinner? Or, do I hate the sin B/C I hate the sinner? Or, do I just hate the sinner regardless of the sin? Hopefully, by the time I've completed this examen, it's too late to say or do anything dumb, and I've avoided yet another temptation to hypocrisy. I've avoided another temptation to appoint myself Judge of the Law. When you commit a sin, you go to Christ for forgiveness. You know in your heart and mind that you are contrite and repentant. If you want to escape hypocrisy, presume grace in the other and firmly believe that they to are looking for mercy. Otherwise, as Jesus says, “Woe to you!”

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27 August 2023

You gotta meet him!

21st Sunday OT

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

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. But does he know what this means? Do we? It took the Church about 400 years after the resurrection to settle on the answer and even then we struggled over the details over centuries. And we're still struggling. Why it took us so long and why we're still perfecting our answer would take a couple of years of daily classes to explain. The Cliff Notes version is this: who and what Christ is for us is a revelation. Who and what he is for us cannot be discovered by argument, experiment, or a proclamation from Rome. I mean, we can write the sentence – “Jesus is the Christ” – w/o divine intervention. We can say the sentence out loud. We can compose songs, poems, stage plays, and novels with that sentence as our thesis. We can even say we believe it's true and live our lives accordingly. But we cannot KNOW that Jesus is the Christ and know him as a person w/o meeting him in the flesh. 2,000 years after his bodily ascension into heaven – that takes a lot of divine assistance! So, how do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? How do we even start?

Here's an analogy. I'm a young man in my mid-20's. I'm ready to get married. My parents say they know the perfect woman for me. They show me pictures. I google her and discover reams of info about her education, work history, hobbies, and favorite foods. I read her autobiography and talk to her on the phone. We have several Zoom meetings. We exchange letters. (Her grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect, btw!) I know just about everything there is to know about her. I propose a wedding date and a venue for the honeymoon. In my head, we're already married and living happily ever after. My parents, however, say we need one more little thing to seal the deal. We need to meet in person. In my zeal to just get on with it, I say, “Naw. I'm in love! I know everything I need to know!” Being a seasoned married couple, they insist, saying, “You know about her. You don't know her.” I agree and ask her on a date. She says yes. But. . .on the fateful day and hour, she's a no-show. I never hear from her again. Turns out – “she” was an A.I. chat bot, a computer program designed to make me think she was real. Moral of the analogy: you can know everything about a person and never know the person.

To know a person you must meet him/her person face-to-face. Even and especially if that person is Christ. How do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? Jesus knew he would be with us always. He says so several times. He also knew that he would ascend to the Father. He says that too. So, how can he be with us always and with the Father at the same time? Thanks be to God, he made some arrangements before he left. He left us the apostles. Personal witnesses to his life. He left us a Church, his body, his hands and feet here on earth. He sent us his Holy Spirit, the soul of his body, the Church. He left us a vicar, a steward with the keys to the Kingdom. Even with all of these essential elements left for us so that we might know about him. . .how do we meet him? He left us two additional elements that bring him as close to us as our own souls – one another and the Eucharist. If you will meet Christ face-to-face, meet him in your neighbor; your spouse and children; your co-workers; even your enemies. The Christ you meet there will be imperfect. On the way to perfection. But the Christ they meet in you will be imperfect too. In a different way but nonetheless on the way to perfection. Your imperfections and theirs will bring you both closer to his perfection.

Granted, meeting Christ in another isn't perfect. But it is a meeting. It is a face-to-face encounter that brings us closer to him. In the Eucharist, we meet him body, blood, soul, and divinity. We meet him as he is and know him as sacrificial love. By taking in his body and blood, we become more and more like him, taking on his mission and ministry, taking on everything he is for us. And becoming Christs for others. The Eucharist is a revelation. It's rational, but it cannot be understood through reason alone. It's a personal experience, but it cannot be understood through personal experience alone. We can know the theology, the philosophy, the psychology, and history of the Eucharist and still not know him who is the Eucharist. Who the Eucharist is for us must be revealed, unveiled and shown. Jesus says to Peter, “...flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” If you will know Christ, meet him face-to-face, sit still and ask the Father to give you Peter's revelation. Ask Him to show you Christ. He is always here to be revealed. To be met in person. Ask and you will receive. 

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26 August 2023

Father (doesn't) always know best

20th Week OT (S)

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

While serving as a priest-formator at NDS in NOLA, I had many opportunities to talk to seminarians about the dangers of clericalism. It was The Topic after the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke in 2019. Power, authority, influence, money, and people were grievously abused for the jollies of one man. That this man was aided and abetted by dozens of other clerics (from cardinals to deacons) over several decades reveals the ugly, infectious nature of sin. The sin reigning at the rotten center of this scandal was Pride, “I am a god.” Surely, greed, lust, envy all played their part. But Pride gave them their marching orders. Talking to the seminarians, the formators spent a lot of time defining clericalism for them. It boils down to this: clergy are better than the laity. How clericalism manifests differs from age to age, but the basics never change: “I am a priest/bishop (etc) and b/c I am the priest/bishop I am always right.” Therefore, the cleric's will is the single, stable measure of what counts as true, good, and beautiful in any situation. To make matters worse, clericalism is almost always nurtured by some portion of the laity who say, “Father knows best.” Jesus says, The greatest among you must be your servant.”

Humility is no easy virtue. It requires the death of Pride, the submission of one's will to the Father. At minimum, it means confessing one's total dependence on God alone and then living a life of gratitude for His abundant gifts. It means refusing the serpent's temptation to Eve: “You can be a god w/o God.” Practically, for the cleric, it means never confusing legitimate authority with naked power. Righteousness with popularity. Truth with personal preference. For all of us, humility is about knowing and deeply understanding that we are – at our very root – unnecessary creatures. Made beings brought to perfection in the loving sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Our creation is a gift. Our re-creation is also a gift. Everything we have and are is a gift. When we serve one another, we are gifts serving other gifts for the glory of God. When we serve for self-satisfaction, to puff up our ego, we serve another Master entirely. His name is Pride. So, Jesus warns us, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 

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15 August 2023

Martyr of Charity

St. Maximilian Kolbe

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

Whoever does not love remains in death. That's a weighty sentence at 8am on a Monday. But the truth is not limited by clock or calendar. The truth sets us free. And the truth is: if I do not love, I am dead. I may be up and waddling around; talking, doing my laundry, saying Mass, but I am w/o Life. Outside the Way. Knowing that love frees, that love saves, I have a choice: love or don't. If I receive the gift of Divine Love and choose to love in turn, then I live and walk the Way. If, however, I receive the gift of Divine Love and choose not to love, then I live a waking death. A life w/o God. A choice He will honor even after soul and body separate. John tells us that we come to know love b/c Love Himself laid down his life for us. He showed us how to love sacrificially by dying on the Cross for the salvation of the world. If we will love and follow him, that's our path. Like I said, weighty stuff for a Monday at 8am. But not as weighty as the sacrifice we celebrate this morning. We all know the martyr's story of Friar Maximilian Kolbe. He volunteered to take the place of a prisoner in Auschwitz who'd been sentenced to starve to death. With nine others, Kolbe was interred in an underground bunker. After two weeks with no water or food, the Nazis injected the four surviving prisoners with carbolic acid, including Kolbe. JPII canonized him in 1982, declaring him a “martyr of charity.” As horrific as his death was, it was a sacrifice of love. The man he saved was a husband and father. That man survived the Holocaust and attended Kolbe's canonization. As a martyr of charity, Kolbe bears witness to what it is to walk the Way of Christ, to live for the truth in love. There is almost no chance at all that anyone here this morning will be called upon to bear witness to the faith in a similar manner. But Kolbe's sacrifice shows us the limitless edge of sacrificial love. Whatever we do in love today will not match the historical drama of Kolbe's sacrifice. It will pale in comparison. Fortunately, we are called upon to compete with the martyrs. We are called upon to bear witness where and when we are in a way that gives God glory and demonstrates to the world that loving is living a life in Christ. Whoever does not love remains in death. That's our testimony. Love, therefore, not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

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13 August 2023

Where's the doubt?

19th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Albert the Great, Irving

Peter is having a hard week. Our Lord has called him “Satan” and described him as an obstacle. Then there's the whole failed exorcism episode where the disciples' faith is too weak to drive out a demon. Today, Peter nearly falls into the sea b/c his faith is too small. Pulling him back from the drink, Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” Peter doesn't answer, so we're left with the accusing question. Is it fair to accuse him of being a doubter? Keep in mind: it's Peter who, seeing Jesus walking on the sea, yells out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yes, there's some doubt in there – “if it is you” – but it still takes some pretty solid faith and courage to test Jesus' power with one's own life. Peter had no way of knowing whether or not the “ghost” he was seeing was really the Lord. Of course, the accusation of doubt against Peter comes only after he's on the water and the sea becomes rough. Fearing for his life, Peter yells out, “Lord, save me!” Where's the doubt? Even knowing that he is looking at the Lord, Peter thinks that he has to ask Jesus to save him. As if Jesus had not already done so.

Digging deeper into Peter's doubt, we can ask: what is Peter doubting? If we take doubt to mean something like “a failure to trust” or “a hesitancy to believe,” then there has to be someone we are failing to trust or believe. Our gospel scene strongly suggests that Peter's near demise in the rough sea is caused by his lack of trust in Jesus; he hesitates for just a second to believe in Jesus' love for him. Is this the failure that nearly kills him? If so, then why does he immediately cry out, “Lord, save me!” Why cry out for help to the very person whose power you are doubting? In other words, if Peter is doubting Jesus, why turn to him for rescue? Yelling out for Christ's help when in peril seems to be an exemplary expression of faith in Christ. So, again, who is Peter doubting? Consider this: Jesus has called Peter “Satan;” described him as an obstacle; and rebuked him for his small faith. Despite all of these indications that the Lord is somehow displeased with Peter, Jesus establishes his Church on Peter and gives him the keys to the kingdom. Is it possible that Peter is experiencing just a little confusion about who he himself is? Maybe Peter – in a moment of panic – fails to trust in the faith he has been given. Peter doubts his own strength in Christ.

Think about your own relationship with God. There have been times when you doubted. Doubt creeps in a like a noxious fog no matter how tight you think you are with God. Think about that doubt and ask: was I really thinking that Love Himself stopped loving me personally? Or was I really worried about the strength of my own love for Him? See, God is Love, so His love for us is a universal given. He loves us b/c Love is Who He is. And though we are made to love Him, we are also made with a built-in free will that is subject to sin. When doubt wiggles its way into our relationship with God, more often than not we can trace that doubt back to a lack of confidence in our own “small faith,” back to our own anxiety about whether or not we are truly in love with God. When the sea gets rough and Peter panics, he does what any one of us here would do: he calls on Jesus for help! That call, that cry for rescue isn't a sign that Peter doubts Christ's power to rescue him; it's a sign that he needs a stronger sense of himself as a man already rescued. How strong is your sense of yourself as a man or woman already rescued by the power of Christ?

God knows we are limited creatures. Prone to making mistakes and even intentionally doing evil things. Part of being limited is needing to be reminded over and over again that we are loved by Love Himself. We forget that w/o His love we cannot exist. Literally, God's love is what holds us in being. At those moments when we forget that His love holds us in being, we also tend to forget that we experience His love for us as caring attention. He supplies all that we need. That we think we need all sort of things that we don't really need and never receive is not His problem. Strip away greedy wanting and all need is exactly what God provides – His love. So, when we forget that He loves us, when we forget that we live, move, and have our being in His love, our confidence fails and doubt runs wild and free. Left unchecked, doubt will play and play and play until a moment's lapse in faith becomes a lifetime of anxiety and despair. Doubts needs a soul that forgets that it is loved, rescued, and freed from sin and death.

Do you know that you have already been rescued from the storm of sin and death? Do you know that whatever disaster strikes, whatever fear grips you in a moment, that God loves you and will provide for you? He might not provide what you think you need or want, but He will provide all that you need to return His love. If your confidence fails, do what Peter did and cry out: “Lord, save me!” That's enough to remind you that you are already saved in Christ. It's just enough to strengthen your heart, to slay the doubt, and return you to knowing again the love that God always gives. Remember what Elijah discovers about the Lord – He's not in the tornado, the earthquake, or the fire. He's in the small, still voice, a voice that forever whispers, “Take courage, it is I; I am with you always.” 

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