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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