25 February 2023

Calling all sinners!

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

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

The Church is a like a field hospital. Great image! If this is true, and I think it is, then her members are like field medics. You and I are like EMT's working to save lives – bodies and souls – in a world filled with both physical and spiritual hazards. Imagine you're working one day in this field hospital and a guy drags himself in – broken, bleeding, barely conscious – and you move to work on him when suddenly your fellow medics start yelling at you to kick him out! He's getting blood everywhere! Look at him – he's dirty and his clothes are all torn up and he screaming and just making a mess. He's got to go! The poor guy drags himself out. He may die or maybe he'll find another more welcoming hospital nearby. You confront your fellow medics about their refusal to help the guy and discover that they think of their hospital as a pristine almost museum-like facility for perfectly healthy people. People who do not need a physician, people who are already whole in themselves. You say to them, “Healthy people don't need a hospital; the sick and dying do. I'm not here to save the healthy but to help save those you need saving.”

Now, imagine the same scene. Badly wounded guy drags himself into your hospital, and you start to work, prepping him for surgery. But you notice that your fellow medics are following you, undoing all your work. Removing the IV, throwing out his meds, unwrapping his bandages, reopening his wounds. You confront them. And they respond angrily that we must accept everyone who comes into the hospital just as they are. They are furious at you for trying to change the guy's condition. “Who are you to decide that he's injured? You are being judgmental for saying he has to be helped or fixed or cured! All are welcome here – just as they are!” They refuse the guy treatment; applaud him for his injuries, call him brave, and watch him die. Totally dumbfounded, you ask your fellow medics why we have a field hospital if we aren't going to help save lives. They respond, “We're here to celebrate everyone's life regardless of their injuries or diseases. It's not our job to help people get well. It's our job to make them feel loved.” You say, “I'm not working here to applaud disease and death. I'm here to cure the sick, repair the injured, and care for those in need.” If the Church is a field hospital, and I think it is, then it cannot be a museum for the healthy only, nor can it be a place where the sick and injured are encouraged to stay sick and injured. Jesus says, Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

22 February 2023

Dust is never proud

Ash Wednesday

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

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts! Not your garments. Where do we begin this pilgrimage of forty days? How do we get this time away started? Jump start your Lenten pilgrimage by acknowledging your dependence on God for absolutely everything. We are wholly unnecessary beings. Creatures of God's goodness. Our lives are fundamentally gratuitous – freely given – and graced at the root. Begin with humility and give God thanks for your life. If your Lenten pilgrimage is going to produce good spiritual fruit you cannot spend these forty days obsessed with sorrow, self-pity, and doubt. We deny ourselves always if we would grow in holiness, but this isn’t the kind of denial that looks like the public posturing of the Pharisees. Our Lenten denial is the self-emptying of Christ, that is, the work of doing daily what Jesus did on the cross just once. Lenten denial is about making our gratuitous lives sacrificial. And we sacrifice when we give something up and give it back to God.

Therefore, turn your heart over to God. Give your life back to Him. Repent of your disobedience, rejoice in His forgiveness, and then get busy doing His holy work among His people.

If your Lenten sacrifice is going to be just a pious public display, don’t bother with Lent this year. Jesus teaches his disciples that performing righteous deeds for show – fasting, giving alms – will win you nothing from our heavenly Father. He calls those who strut around showing off their piety hypocrites. It’s a show, pure theater. Nothing but a skit for public consumption. He says, “[…] when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting[…].” Jesus warns us here about our tendency to think that we’re doing something substantial by superficial means. Does that rosary around Madonna’s neck really mean she venerates the Blessed Mother? Does the cross of ashes most of us will wear today mean that we’re truly humble before the Lord? That we’re wholly given over to repentance, to a conversion of heart, and a life of holy service? If that cross of ashes is going to be a mark of pride for you today or a temptation to hypocrisy, wash it off immediately. If that cross of ash is going to be the sum total of your witness for Christ today, wash it off immediately.

Our Lord wants a contrite heart not an empty gesture. Our Lord wants our repentant lives not public piety. When you pray, go to your room and close the door. When you fast, wash your face. When you give alms, do so in secret. Rend your hearts not your garments.

The Lenten pilgrimage we begin today is an excursion into mortality, a chance for us to face without fear our origin and our end as dust. It is our chance to practice the sacrificial life of Christ, giving ourselves to God by giving ourselves in humble service to one another. Lent is our forty day chance to pray, to give alms, to fast and to do it all with great joy, smiling all the while, never looking to see who’s noticing our sacrifice.

Remember, brothers and sisters: dust is never proud.

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->

19 February 2023

Pagans do that too

7th Sunday OT

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

Jesus is tempting me to despair. I'm only partially serious here. But his admonition to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect makes me wilt a little inside. When I do a quick examination of conscience, I come away feeling and knowing that my heavenly perfection is about as far away as me fitting into my 32in Levi's ever again. 1982. That's the year I was last able to squeeze into a pair of 501's. And it might be the last year I felt remotely holy. I was a college freshman and didn't know any better. Now I do. And the distance between where I am and where I ought to be is frightening. If you feel this way, well, welcome. . .we've got work to do! Thanks be to God He doesn't abandon us to work this holiness-thing out for ourselves. We've got all kinds of help. Sacraments. Prayer. Fasting. Good works. Spiritual friends. Best of all, we've got God Himself cheering us on and throwing His considerable weight behind our progress. If we will to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, we can be. But we can't do it if we use our pagan neighbors as our measure of progress. Jesus couldn't be any clearer: doing merely what the pagans do cannot get us closer to the Father's perfection.

So, who are these pagan neighbors? Jesus' pagan neighbors were Romans, Greeks, and a variety of Semitic peoples – all of whom worshiped a pantheon of gods closely associated with Nature. Lots of idols – stone, gold, ivory, wood –; lots of bloody animal sacrifices on temple altars; lots of seasonal festivals and ancient religious customs. Their gods embodied a specific human passion – love, war, wealth, revenge. Or were sovereigns over some part of Nature – mountains, the sea, rivers, forests. These gods were typically fickle about helping their followers. And often prone to getting upset. They rarely issued moral commands or set out ethical guidelines for good behavior. In essence, the gods were just Big Humans who lived forever and used their power to play with the humans who worshiped them. Pagans indulged their appetites and passions – lust, greed, pride, anger; they sought revenge for offenses – real and imagined; they also loved their children and helped their neighbors; tried to be virtuous – as they understood virtue; and worked to be faithful to their gods. What the pagans didn't do was strive to live in the world w/o being of the world. They worshiped the world. They worshiped creatures not the Creator. And for Jesus – and for us – that's the difference that makes the difference.

We need to be quick to note here that Jesus doesn't condemn the pagans for loving their neighbors, their children, or for greeting one another as friends on the street. We have long accepted that there are “virtuous pagans,” those who to the best of their ability and circumstances embody prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. God bless them! Jesus' admonition is aimed directly at us not the pagans. Even the pagans do the things we call good. Our perfection in the Father requires we go beyond the merely Good Enough and strive for the Best. Why? Because we are striving to be and to do something otherworldly while remaining firmly grounded right where we are in the world. The only way to accomplish this holy task is to set our hearts and minds irrevocably on God and do and say and think only those things that bring us closer and closer to our end. Look to the pagans and their natural virtue. What are they doing right and how do we do it better as followers of Christ?

Pagans welcome strangers to their temples. We welcome strangers to our Masses. But that's not enough. Do we testify to the mercy we've received? Do we show them sacrificial love? Do we tell them about the power of repentance and the confession of sin? It's not enough to be welcoming. Even the pagans do that. Pagans can and do heal the sick, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned. So do we. But that's not enough. Do we give God the glory for providing the food? For giving us the medicine? For infusing us with hope to share with the hopeless? It's not enough to do good works. Even the pagans do that. Pagans love, forgive, show mercy, and tell the truth. So do we. But do we do these things for social advantage or b/c we live and move in love and forgiveness and truth? Because we are Love, Forgiveness, and Truth in Christ Jesus? It's not enough to be virtuous. Even the pagans do that. Yes, we have a lot of work to do. But there's no good reason to despair. We have the Church – one another; we have the sacraments; the Word of God, and we have the gift of God Himself to see us through. We can be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. . .if we receive all He has to give us. 

Follow HancAquam or Subscribe ----->