23 June 2023

Stealing credit from God

11th Week OT (W)

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

Just a few days ago, Jesus said to the disciples, “...your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds...” This morning he says, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them...” So, which is it, Jesus? Shine or hide? Let others see our good deeds, or keep them hidden? Well, like most moral choices, we have to think hard about our motives for doing good deeds. Why am I performing this good deed? If it's to let everyone know how wonderfully generous I am, then I'd best keep the deed hidden. That's what's best for the health of my soul. If, however, I'm doing the Good so that others might give God the glory, then I'd best bring the media and shine as brightly as I can. The simple truth is: I could not have done the Good w/o God, so He gets the credit. It might not be immediately apparent why making sure that God gets the credit for my good deeds is essential to my spiritual health. Consider this: everything you have and everything you are is a gift from God. Freely given, freely received. Your spouse, your kids/grandkids, house, job, car, everything. That you are in the first place is a gift. Your talents, your health, your vocation. All gifts. At the end, nothing you have or are belongs to you. Not your body, not your soul. Nothing. It's all God's. And He gave it all to you so that you can use it all to give Him glory. When you use all He gave you to give Him glory, you become a way and means of diffusing His limitless goodness into the world. The more His limitless goodness is diffused, the more His Gospel is heard and answered. If I make my good deeds about me and my pathetic need for applause, then I make my good deeds about my very limited goodness. Sure, the example I set may spark a copy-cat benefactor or two, but all I've done is help another needy ego get an attention-fix. Spiritually speaking, I've lied. I've done the Good and claimed the credit when the Good I've done is not mine to do. It's a false witness. Jesus condemns hypocrisy for this very reason – stealing credit for the Good done while never allowing the Good to change me for the good. So, do the Good and give God the credit. Not b/c He craves glory but b/c doing so highlights a fundamental truth of reality, a truth that brings others to Him – every existing thing is a gift. All of it. You, me, everything is His first. The Good we do can never be anything but secondary. We can either steal the credit, or give credit where credit is due. Only one these options brings us closer to Christ.

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18 June 2023

Poetry Writing Exercises

NB. I taught a poetry writing workshop at UD back in the summer of 2011. Some of these exercises may have been borrowed from a workshop text. I can't remember. . .

What does one do in a poetry workshop? 

A couple of HancAquam readers have written to ask what does one do in a creative writing workshop. Well, we spend most of our time reading and critiquing student poems. When we aren't doing that, we read and critique published poems. In this summer's workshop, we are focusing on contemporary poetry published in the U.S. and the U.K. We spend one day a week writing in class using exercise I've cobbled together. Here are a few examples:

Epigraph Exercise

Choose one of the quotations below as your epigraph:

“What do you love better: the ruin or its repair?” – Eric Pankey, “Prayer”

“Repetition is the death of art.” – Robin Green

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks.” – Plutarch

“Earth, is it not this that you want: to rise/invisibly in us? – Is that not your dream,/to be invisible, one day?” – R.M. Rilke, “Ninth Elegy”
“The woman wants a salad.” --Ange Mlinko, “A Few Leaves of Salted Rocket”

Compose a twelve-line free verse poem that argues against the idea/sentiment presented in the epigraph.

No form of “to be” may be used.

You must include the phrases: “ducks and oranges” and “beats me” in the poem.

Each line MUST be exactly eight syllables.

Junk Drawer Exercise

You are looking for a rubber band.

In your kitchen junk drawer you find the following:

a can opener
a box of staples
a screwdriver
several broken pencils & dried pens
a watch w/o a wrist band
two used tubes of Chapstick
a handful of coins
a bottle of baby aspirin
two Christmas cards from 1983
a plastic spoon
several packets of soy sauce
a couple of crumpled receipts from WalMart
a seed catalog
five keys on New Orleans Saints keyring
a pocket-sized bottle of bug spray

Choose nine of these items and compose a free verse poem consisting of seven couplets.

You need the rubber band to save your life.

Not-guilty Confession Exercise

In a prose poem of no fewer than 75 words, confess to a crime you did not commit. You may not mention your innocence; however, it must be clear that you are innocent.

Give specific details of the crime—details that only the criminal would know.

Include the penalty for the crime and how you intend to deal with it.

You are confessing to your “victim” or the victim's family/friends.

Missing Persons Exercise

Media sources all over the world are reporting that individuals seem to be randomly disappearing.

Not only are these people disappearing physically but memories of them are fading as well.

Choose five of these people and compose a twenty-line elegy for them.

Include enough detail to distinguish them from all the other individuals who have disappeared.

Questions in Heaven Exercise

After a long and happy life as an award-winning poet, you die in your sleep and arrive at the Pearly Gates.

St. Peter greets you with the following request, “You've lived a long and happy life as an award-winning poet. The Angelic Host needs your help. The questionnaire we use for admission into Heaven has become a bit outdated. Would you compose a list of questions for us that tests a soul's grasp of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?”

St. Peter needs no fewer than eight questions that never mention Truth, Goodness, or Beauty nor do they hint at their true purpose.

The questions may not refer in any way to religious/spiritual concepts or use language that might betray their religious/spiritual nature.

The idea is to ask recently separated souls questions that only indirectly test their humanity.

Antique Store Exercise

While on a road trip to __________ you come across an antique store called Noah's Next Ark.

You stop for a bathroom break and decide to explore the store.

Compose a longish (20+ lines) poem about what you find in the store.

While exploring the store, you discover that you have been killed in an auto accident.

What do the things in the store teach you about the nature of chance?

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He prays for shepherds

11th Sunday OT

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

Why does Jesus pity the shepherdless sheep? They are – probably – a flock of lost, hungry, sick, and unwashed folks who have been abandoned by the Temple and the Empire, left to wander in spiritual and material poverty, despairing of any hope and lacking any trust in legitimate authority – legal, religious, or otherwise. They follow Jesus around b/c he speaks with an authority that strikes them as authentic, real. He heals. He feeds. And they've witnessed him casting out demons. Word spread. Here's a man who is more than an office, more than a representative of a distant ruler, more than just another voice from the Temple. He might be the Son of God, the Messiah. He might actually be who and what he says he is. And what if he is? What if he is the Messiah? Then, there's hope! There's an end to the hunger, the sickness, the despair. We can trust again. We can trust that God's promises are not locked away safely guarded in a temple vault or hoarded in a Roman barracks. His pity, his compassion will see us through and beyond. Jesus sees lost sheep. And his compassionate response is to give them shepherds.

Jesus appoints the 12 apostles b/c he sees the sheep for what they are. Men and women created in the image and likeness of God, struggling to find their way back to God. Living in the world while not being of the world, they are lost to the powers of darkness and fear, threatened by both material and spiritual forces they do not understand and cannot resist. Rather than giving them a new set of rules or a revised book of policies and procedures, Christ gives them a team of laborers, a college of apostles to shepherd them. Each one sent out to be Christ wherever he lands. These apostles establish a church, an assembly of believers who gather to pray, to baptize, to break bread, heal the wounds of sin, and study the Word for preaching and teaching. As these churches grow, suffer persecution, grow some more, and mature, the apostles are replaced with more apostles. And the sheep come to understand that they too have a ministry. They have a mission rooted in their own death and resurrection in Christ Jesus. They too are priests, prophets, and kings. Because the laborers are few and the harvest is abundant, Jesus prayed for more. More laborers. More help. The apostles and priests cannot do it all. God answers with sheep who themselves become priests, prophets, and kings.

If I asked you how many priests we have in the chapel this morning, you might say four or five. How many prophets? How many kings? If you say none, you'd be wrong. If you are baptized and confirmed (anointed), you are a priest, prophet, and king in the Church. We draw a distinction btw the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood – a difference in kind not just degree – but the ministries of both are fundamentally the same. Intercede and sacrifice; preach and teach; and bring Christ into the culture for its sanctification. Those of us who are ordained, fulfill our offices in leadership – in persona Christi Capitis. All the baptized and confirmed serve in persona Christi. In the person of Christ, you are baptized and confirmed as priests, prophets, and kings for the the mission and ministry of Christ in the world. You are authorized to act and speak in the person of Christ wherever and whenever you find yourself. You don't have to wait for an ordained priest to pray, to sacrifice, to love, show mercy, or forgive. You are Christ where you are. Yes, we need ordained priests for the valid celebration of the sacraments! But you do not need to be ordained to be a sacrament of love for the world.

For some, this truth is freeing. For others, it's scary. You might prefer that the burden of being Christ in the world fall only on the ordained. That limits your liability for being a good Catholic to Sundays, HDO, the occasional confession; no meat on Fridays during Lent; and a crucifix on the bedroom wall. But – the harvest is abundant and the laborers few. Jesus prayed for help. And he got it. In the form of all the baptized and confirmed! This means that each one of us is charged with being Christ wherever we find ourselves. Not just while kneeling in the pew. But at home, at school, at work, at WalMart, at Whataburger, wherever we are. We are charged with gathering the harvest and caring for the sheep. The lost, the hungry, the sick, all of the Father's creatures who seek to return to Him. We hope, we forgive; we speak the truth in love; we cast out dark spirits and show those afflicted to the Light of Christ. Then we return to the sacraments – intercede and sacrifice, preach and teach, and recharge to go out again and bring Christ to the world, proclaiming, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

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