17 February 2023

Is the Spirit asking us to do a New Thing?

6th Week OT (F)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Serra Club, Irving

Some say that the Spirit is moving through the Church. That the Spirit is inspiring us to do “a new thing.” To re-establish the Church as a “radically inclusive” community that “listens and welcomes” unconditionally. To achieve this level of inclusivity, the New and Improved Church will no longer preach the Gospel of confession and repentance. Confession will not be necessary b/c nothing will be sinful. If nothing is sinful, then repentance is unnecessary as well. Rather than exhorting the faithful to deny themselves in charity, the NIC will encourage the newly included to celebrate their diversity and explore alternatives expressions of Self. Rather than supporting the faithful in carrying their crosses, the NIC will rename those burdens “structures of oppression” and find someone else to blame. Rather than showing the faithful how to follow Christ, the NIC will invoke the Spirit of Age and point to the world as our model of holiness. What is now a straight and narrow path to heaven will become a twisted, wide-open ditch leading us back into the world and eventually straight into hell.

Some say that the Spirit is inspiring us to do “a new thing.” That the Spirit is moving through the Church. Wrong. The Spirit is not moving through the Church. The Church moves within the Spirit. Even better: the Spirit and the Church move together in the person of Christ Jesus. And his words to us couldn't be clearer:Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory...” Like every other generation, this one battles the temptation to edit the Gospel to its tastes, to revise the words of Jesus into something more pleasing and less likely to get us in trouble with the world. The promise we hear is this: if we would just change one or two of the Lord's harsher teachings, the world would reward us with applause and acceptance. We wouldn't have to be embarrassed by our outdated morality or silly rituals. The world will love us! And we could be proud of identifying as Catholics. Of course, this is a lie, a lie bought wholesale by the Episcopalians, some or most of the Methodists, the Presbyterians; the UCC, the Anglicans, most of the Protestant world, and, of course, the Catholic bishops in Germany. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Follow Christ. Not the world and its fashionable but deadly nonsense.

What Christ is asking us to do is repent, believe the Gospel, love God and one another, and bear witness to the mercy we have received. He is not asking us to rewrite the Bible or edit the Apostolic faith once for all delivered. He is not asking us to love both the sin and the sinner and to pretend that sin isn't sin. He is not asking us to dismantle structures of exclusivity in the Church by adding diversity, equity, and inclusivity to the Ten Commandments. There is a Spirit demanding that we do all these things. But it is not the Holy Spirit. It is the Zeitgeist. That infernal spirit that applies pressure to applause-seeking clergy and theologians to tweak the faith just enough to confuse the message of the Good News. The Good News is that the Church is already as radically inclusive as she can be. No one is excluded from receiving the grace needed to repent and take up the Cross. No one is excluded who desires a life of holiness. No one is excluded from the straight and narrow path who wills to walk it. “Whoever [WHOEVER!] wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

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15 February 2023

You don't need a sign

6th Week OT (M)

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

Why are the Pharisees seeking a sign from Jesus? They've heard him preach. They've seen a couple of his healing miracles. They know Scripture, so they understand who and what he is claiming to be. Why do they need (or want) another sign? Maybe they are on the fence, leaning Jesus' way and just need a little push to bring them over all the Way. Could be they are just curious and want to see if he'll perform for them. Since they consider Jesus a dangerous influence on the faithful, they probably want him to refuse so they can say, “See! He can't show us a sign. He's a fraud!” Jesus refuses them, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” He doesn't explain why they won't get a sign. He just hops into a boat and rows away. Strange as it might sound, this is an ingenuous evangelical tool. Preach a bit. Teach a bit. Give a sign or two of heavenly approval. Refuse all requests to perform another sign, then leave. Jesus' approach here says, “I know who and what I am. I know my mission, my purpose. I have nothing to prove to you.” The Pharisees can't be argued into having faith. They have too much to lose if Jesus is telling the truth. They can't be bullied, or bribed, or tricked into following the Way. Again, too much to lose. The only path open to them – to anyone, really – is to believe, confess belief, repent, and follow Christ. The bottom line is: you believe or you don't. If you believe already, signs only confirm your belief. If you don't believe, you'll find a way to debunk the sign. Signs quickly becomes irrelevant once the initial surprise of their appearance wears off. Besides, the Enemy can perform signs too. Without a grounding in faith, a sign can be read, misunderstood, and followed to one's destruction. Jesus knows this, so he refuses the Pharisees. If you find yourself asking God for a sign, think twice. Are you testing Him? Are you admitting a lack of faith? Maybe you're just curious? Regardless, signs are one thing, knowing what they mean is another. Faith can show you what the sign means. But if you have faith already, the sign is pointless. Faith is the good habit of trusting God. Asking for a sign is not a sign of trust. The Pharisees have a lot to lose if Jesus is telling the truth. What do you and I have to lose? Slavery to sin, anxiety and worry; the threat of eternal death. Well worth a life of faith and foregoing an unnecessary sign. 

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