29 August 2023

Folly Thy Name is Pride

Passion of JTB

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

Like any one of us who fall into sin, Herod's devolution into foolishness starts with pride. Salome the Dancer, and her mother, Herodias, take advantage of Herod's pride and lust and turn his generosity into murder. They succeed because Herod is ruled by anxiety and fear. Why else does a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man in prison? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is and always will be the enemy of God's wisdom. 

John persists in preaching against Herod's adultery. The king imprisons John, keeping him close but also preventing him from preaching against Herod publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching, but power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool. 

Herod's fall into darkness shows us that fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of pride, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it, and lust and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit: we choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest. Even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into moral foolishness.

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits: choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If living in God's wisdom is your goal, then let your prayer be: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

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Don't make Jesus say, "Woe to you!"

St. Augustine

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

It's never a bad idea to compare ourselves to the Pharisees. Spiritually speaking, how do we measure up? Jesus consistently points out their hypocrisies and ties their spiritual failures to a near-pathological need for control. IOW, they love to control others, but seem unable to control themselves. That they can't/won't control themselves partially explains why they want to control others. If I can't/won't control myself, the least I can do is try and control you. Do we, do you have the same problem? Have you ever been upset with someone for committing the same sin you regularly commit? Do you moralize about sin to others while rationalizing your own sin to yourself? Maybe you've granted yourself a dispensation from a moral precept but refused the same to another? Perhaps you regularly receive mercy but rarely give it? The basic idea here is that I can come to expect others to be tightly bound to the rules while I am allowed a great deal of flexibility in following the same. Any sin I commit is ultimately explicable, justifiable, and forgivable, while you – you dirty sinner! – have no excuse! Obviously, this is no way for a follower of Christ to live.

How ought we to live then given our weaknesses and the law of love? One way comes in the form of a practice: anytime I am tempted to condemn a fellow sinner, I will stop myself and perform a quick examination of conscience. What is motivating me to speak out here? Am I trying to control another b/c I can't/won't control myself? Am I trying to show all the others how holy I am? Am I hoping to distance myself from that sinner's sin b/c that sin is also my sin? Am I being moved by charity or fear? Hope or anger? Do I hate the sin but not the sinner? Or, do I hate the sin B/C I hate the sinner? Or, do I just hate the sinner regardless of the sin? Hopefully, by the time I've completed this examen, it's too late to say or do anything dumb, and I've avoided yet another temptation to hypocrisy. I've avoided another temptation to appoint myself Judge of the Law. When you commit a sin, you go to Christ for forgiveness. You know in your heart and mind that you are contrite and repentant. If you want to escape hypocrisy, presume grace in the other and firmly believe that they to are looking for mercy. Otherwise, as Jesus says, “Woe to you!”

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27 August 2023

You gotta meet him!

21st Sunday OT

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

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ. But does he know what this means? Do we? It took the Church about 400 years after the resurrection to settle on the answer and even then we struggled over the details over centuries. And we're still struggling. Why it took us so long and why we're still perfecting our answer would take a couple of years of daily classes to explain. The Cliff Notes version is this: who and what Christ is for us is a revelation. Who and what he is for us cannot be discovered by argument, experiment, or a proclamation from Rome. I mean, we can write the sentence – “Jesus is the Christ” – w/o divine intervention. We can say the sentence out loud. We can compose songs, poems, stage plays, and novels with that sentence as our thesis. We can even say we believe it's true and live our lives accordingly. But we cannot KNOW that Jesus is the Christ and know him as a person w/o meeting him in the flesh. 2,000 years after his bodily ascension into heaven – that takes a lot of divine assistance! So, how do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? How do we even start?

Here's an analogy. I'm a young man in my mid-20's. I'm ready to get married. My parents say they know the perfect woman for me. They show me pictures. I google her and discover reams of info about her education, work history, hobbies, and favorite foods. I read her autobiography and talk to her on the phone. We have several Zoom meetings. We exchange letters. (Her grammar, spelling, and punctuation are perfect, btw!) I know just about everything there is to know about her. I propose a wedding date and a venue for the honeymoon. In my head, we're already married and living happily ever after. My parents, however, say we need one more little thing to seal the deal. We need to meet in person. In my zeal to just get on with it, I say, “Naw. I'm in love! I know everything I need to know!” Being a seasoned married couple, they insist, saying, “You know about her. You don't know her.” I agree and ask her on a date. She says yes. But. . .on the fateful day and hour, she's a no-show. I never hear from her again. Turns out – “she” was an A.I. chat bot, a computer program designed to make me think she was real. Moral of the analogy: you can know everything about a person and never know the person.

To know a person you must meet him/her person face-to-face. Even and especially if that person is Christ. How do we – poor limited creatures that we are – meet our Savior in the flesh? Jesus knew he would be with us always. He says so several times. He also knew that he would ascend to the Father. He says that too. So, how can he be with us always and with the Father at the same time? Thanks be to God, he made some arrangements before he left. He left us the apostles. Personal witnesses to his life. He left us a Church, his body, his hands and feet here on earth. He sent us his Holy Spirit, the soul of his body, the Church. He left us a vicar, a steward with the keys to the Kingdom. Even with all of these essential elements left for us so that we might know about him. . .how do we meet him? He left us two additional elements that bring him as close to us as our own souls – one another and the Eucharist. If you will meet Christ face-to-face, meet him in your neighbor; your spouse and children; your co-workers; even your enemies. The Christ you meet there will be imperfect. On the way to perfection. But the Christ they meet in you will be imperfect too. In a different way but nonetheless on the way to perfection. Your imperfections and theirs will bring you both closer to his perfection.

Granted, meeting Christ in another isn't perfect. But it is a meeting. It is a face-to-face encounter that brings us closer to him. In the Eucharist, we meet him body, blood, soul, and divinity. We meet him as he is and know him as sacrificial love. By taking in his body and blood, we become more and more like him, taking on his mission and ministry, taking on everything he is for us. And becoming Christs for others. The Eucharist is a revelation. It's rational, but it cannot be understood through reason alone. It's a personal experience, but it cannot be understood through personal experience alone. We can know the theology, the philosophy, the psychology, and history of the Eucharist and still not know him who is the Eucharist. Who the Eucharist is for us must be revealed, unveiled and shown. Jesus says to Peter, “...flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” If you will know Christ, meet him face-to-face, sit still and ask the Father to give you Peter's revelation. Ask Him to show you Christ. He is always here to be revealed. To be met in person. Ask and you will receive. 

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