08 June 2023

You must die for love

9th Week OT (Th)

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

Thinking about your daily life as a follower of Christ, what is one thing you have the most difficulty doing consistently? Personal prayer? Forgiving your neighbor? Suffering well? If you are like me, you will say “loving God, self, and neighbor.” It takes a lot of rile me up, and I don't hold grudges. Over the years, I've developed a Stoical philosophical approach to disaster, disease, and the general chaos of the world. Living with other friars has also helped me better handle the temptations of self-righteous anger and cynicism. As the brothers here can tell you, I'm still working on it! Practice makes perfect. But the one area where I struggle mightily is caritas, love. And the reason for this is pretty simple: I am not yet a saint. Thanks be to God, Jesus provides everything necessary for the Saint Becoming Process. He orders each one of us, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . .You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, dying on the Cross, he shows us how it's done.

“You SHALL love the Lord, your God. . .You SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.” Singular, second-person imperative. An order. Not a suggestion, or a plea – a command. And a strange command at that. Usually, we think of commands in connection with actions. March! Sit! Wear a mask! Pay taxes! So, when our Lord commands us to love, what is he commanding us to do? How are we supposed to act? I mean, isn't love a feeling, an emotion? Isn't it a passion that either just is or isn't there? I love my family and friends, but I know them well. How do I love a stranger? An enemy? How do I love God Who is not a being but Being Itself? How do I love Being Itself??? Jesus commands us, You shall love. You shall always and everywhere prefer and will the highest possible Good for God, neighbor, and self. . .in that order. You obey the Lord's command by converting, by turning your intellect to the Truth and your will to the Good, always and everywhere doing the greatest possible Good Thing for God, neighbor, and self. This is the foundation for the Law of Moses and the whole of the Law of Love. This is how you and I become saints: sacrificial love, a love expressed perfectly from the Cross.

What keeps us from that Cross? That is, what or who in this world tempts you away from loving perfectly? More often than not it is the Self who lures us away. My needs. My feelings. My hurt. My wants. My reputation. My fears. My prejudices. My work. Me as an idol whom I worship b/c I am – obviously – the source and summit of My universe, right? Not quite. You and I belong to Christ. We are his Body in this world. His hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice. We are his flesh and bone sent to do his work and accomplish his mission. Anything that stands in the way, anyone who stands in the way, stands in the way of our Lord's command to love perfectly, sacrificially. If you yourself stand in your own way, then there is nothing to do but turn around and come back to Christ. Turn around and run back to the only one who can give you what you need to be perfected in love. Health, wealth, reputation, career, stuff – all of these crumble to dust when you do. Sic transit gloria mundi! Thus passes the glory of the world! You and I must die in this world before we can live forever in the next.

And this is why “you shall love” is so difficult to obey. I have to die to love you perfectly. To will the greatest possible love for God, for you, and myself, I must die in sacrifice. I must sacre facere – make holy – everything I am and have. All of my thoughts; all of my words; all of my deeds; my heart, my mind, my soul, my body. All of it must be oriented toward understanding the Truth and willing the Good so that I become a living sacrifice, another Christ on the Cross for the salvation of the world. If this sounds narcissistic – I must become another Christ! – remember you and I were baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, living, dying, and rising with him. You and I were strengthened by the Holy Spirit. At every Mass we celebrate, you and I make of ourselves an offering to the Father through Christ. You and I eat his flesh and drink his blood, becoming him whom we eat and drink. The only way any of us can ever come close to loving perfectly in this life is to lose ourselves in the life and death of Christ, allowing him to love perfectly through us, hoping, that on that Last Day, standing before the Just Judge, it is his face he sees in ours. Wear the face of Christ now. so that you might wear it forever.

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06 June 2023

Don't be a circus monkey

St. Boniface

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

The handout is titled, “The Temptations of a Preacher.” It's an expose on how the Devil lures the preacher away from his anointed task – to preach the Good News in its entirety w/o making any dishonest adjustments or compromises. I pass the handout around to the seminarians, and the discussion begins. After nearly two hours of dissecting the topic, we conclude that all of the Devil's temptations can be lumped into One Big Temptation for the preacher: You Can Be a Star! You can have a fan base. Lots of applause. Influence across media platforms – even a YouTube channel! All you have to do is: never say anything of substance; never preach the hard stuff; always scratch itchy ears; affirm prejudices – cultural, political, economic – ; and put on a good show. The preacher's job once this temptation is yielded to is simple – you're an over-educated circus monkey wearing an anachronistic costume. Contrast that image with this one: I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Circus monkeys don't die for their groupies.

St. Boniface, not a circus monkey but rather an eighth-century English Benedictine bishop, martyr, and missionary to Germany, writes to a friend, “Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent on-lookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf…Let us preach the whole of God’s plan…in season and out of season.” No dishonest adjustments. No compromises. Boniface barked at the wolves. And he died a martyr for refusing to run away. Same with Paul. We read in Acts that Paul was seized by the Jewish leaders and almost killed because “[he] preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance.” Paul preaches the truth; he barks at the wolves. He too dies a martyr for not running away. Faced with the temptation to be an Ecclesial Star and the promise of martyrdom for preaching the truth, do you bark and die or whimper and slink away? Lest you lay folks are too comfortable, I'll add: these temptations aren't limited to pulpit preachers. All the baptized are charged with preaching the Good News, veritas in caritate. The truth in love. You can be a circus monkey getting laughs, or you can be a dog for the Lord. You can dance for applause, or bark at the wolves. Guess which one takes the Devil's coin.

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