20 October 2023

Doubt. . .but worship

Ss. John and Issac

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

One of the strangest sentences in the Bible occurs in the readings this morning: “When [the disciples] all saw [Jesus], they worshiped, but they doubted.” They doubted him, but they worshiped him despite their doubt. I think this sentence strange b/c we moderns usually need to have something like “without a reasonable doubt” before we grant the status of fact to a mere claim. Jesus has made all sorts of bold claims in the disciples' hearing. Now, (at the end of Matthew's Gospel) he's been crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, and is appearing to them, making more claims that sound a little dodgy. Yet. They worship. What does this sequence of events – we doubt yet we worship – teach us? It teaches us that we can have our doubts, we can be not quite sure and still offer to God through Christ our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. To the finite mind only finite knowledge is possible. A plastic gallon jug can only contain a gallon of liquid. It cannot contain two gallons, nor can it contain a bonfire. Nor can we say that that jug contains all the liquid in the world simply b/c it's full. The disciples doubt. But they worship. So, we can say: worship is a means of coming to know.

At your baptism, you were given the seed of a divine nature. This makes you a disciple. Learning about Christ, the Church, the Scriptures makes you an educated disciple. And faithfully living out Christ's commandments perfects your discipleship, making your sacrifices to God holy and acceptable. None of this would be possible unless you participated in the Divine Life. Since we are finite creatures, our participation in divine nature is necessarily finite. But we can cooperate in perfecting our imperfect participation through worship. Grounding ourselves in baptism and discipleship, we approach the altar of God fully aware that we are not worthy of His love, and yet He has made us worthy to be loved. And so we are. And b/c we are, we are gifted with the possibilities of coming to know and love Him to the limits of our capacity. If and when we exhaust our capacity to know and love Him, He readily enlarges us, increases our capacity, giving us more and better opportunities to cooperate in grace, perfecting our participation in the Divine Life, living and loving more fully in the divine nature.

So, our worship is the immediate means of perfecting our participation in the Divine Life. Worship brings the whole person to the task. Body and soul. Intellect and will. Worship gives us ways of encountering the Divine Life that nothing else can. We are together. One Body, one Faith, one Baptism. With one voice we offer thanks and praise to God. With one sacrifice we offer ourselves as an oblation to the Father. With one love we offer ourselves to the Son to become his Words and Deeds in the world. With one blessing we offer ourselves to the Holy Spirit to be His presence to those who cannot yet see or receive His gifts. When you come to the altar this morning, bring it all! Bring everything you have collected. Bring your anger, your impatience, your hatred, your need for revenge, your failures. Bring your tribalism, your prejudices, your cramped biases. Bring your legalism, your entitlement, your selfishness. But also, bring your joys, your triumphs, your loves, and your blessings. Bring thanks and praise. You live and move and have your being in the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity. He gave us Christ so that we might be perfect as He is perfect. How do we start? Bring all you are and all you have and give it to God. Give Him everything in you and with you that isn't Christ. With Him, empty yourself out “for we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus.”

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15 October 2023

Go to the Wedding Feast!

28th Sunday OT

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

Imagine: you go into the hospital with a terrible but curable disease. Your doc plans out your treatment. When the time comes to start the medications, you refuse to take them. Your doc is confused but honors your wishes and begins the discharge paperwork. You inform the doc that you don't want to leave the hospital. Even better, you'd like to arrange it so that you can be admitted to the hospital once every week. No meds, no surgery, no therapy of any kind. Just an hour in bed and you go home. The doc agrees and gives you a pamphlet outlining some things you can do to help treat your terrible but curable disease. You take the info, read it, and promptly throw it away when you get home. You've come to believe that your weekly visit to the hospital is sufficient to cure your ailment. You feel OK for a few weeks. Then, after one of your weekly visits, you drop dead outside the hospital. How many here tonight think that this is a truly bizarre way to behave – sick, you refuse treatment but insist on staying close to the source of your cure? Isn't this how many of us think about our faith? Weekly visits to church is just enough to treat and cure our spiritual diseases. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Everyone is invited to the Wedding Feast. From the lowest to the highest; from the smallest to the largest; rich, poor; black, white; male, female; Democrat, Republican; everyone! And it's possible that everyone invited to the Feast will show up. But this is no ordinary feast; it's the Wedding Feast of the Lamb – a party to celebrate the eternal marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. Those who accept their invitation are expected to show up properly dressed; that is, properly prepared to party forever with Christ in heaven. You wouldn't show up to a friend's church wedding wearing flip-flops, short-shorts, and an AC/DC tee-shirt – especially if you were a member of the bridal party! And you are a member of the bridal party. You are a member of the Church, the Bride. So, accepting your invitation to the Wedding Feast begins with baptism. You put on the white garment of new life, and you proceed through the years to add to your Christian wardrobe, always thinking ahead to the Big Party to come. How do you go about acquiring the articles of clothing you need to Party Well in heaven? Over your lifetime, how do you choose to put your wedding outfit together?

Start by considering what you do not do. You do not come to believe that the absolute bare minimum is enough. Sure, those flip-flops, short-shorts, and AC/DC tee-shirt cover all the necessary bits. You aren't naked at the Party. And sure, baptism, confirmation, weekly Mass, and a yearly confession cover all the basics. You haven't lived a life-time w/o receiving some of the basic graces. These most basic of the graces keep you coming back – for the most part. Another thing you do not do in assembling your Wedding Garment is come to believe that just any old piece of clothing will serve your eternal end. Sure, that hot pink bandanna on your head looks good with your tee-shirt, and those black socks look comfortable under your shower shoes. And sure, praying the rosary three times a day and fasting on Fridays helps you remember that you are Catholic. Absolutely nothing wrong with hot pink bandannas, black socks, the rosary, or fasting! But your Wedding Garment needs more than the bare minimum and a few flashy accessories. Your Wedding Garment must be in fashion for eternity. It must be durable, proper to the occasion, and serve as a sign of your all-consuming love and devotion to Christ. Your Wedding Garment must be made from the organic silk of 100% pure charity.

You've received your invitation to the Feast. You've accepted the invitation. Now, you are gathering the pieces of your Wedding Garment. We know that the bare minimum and flashy accessories aren't enough. You need a lifetime of loving God, yourself, and others to put this garment together. You need a lifetime of doing spiritual and corporeal works of mercy; acts of selfless love, words and deeds that proclaim to the world that you belong to Christ. You need a lifetime of personal prayer – private conversations with God in the Spirit – listening to His will and making His will manifest in the world. You need a lifetime of allowing yourself to be transformed into Christ so that those around you can see and hear him in your flesh. A lifetime, Father? Yes. What if I've spent decades doing the bare minimum and collecting flashy accessories? No problem. Your lifetime begins again at the moment of repentance and confession. If you will stay at the Party, start now gathering your Wedding Garment. Once the wailing and gnashing of teeth begins, it is too late. Jesus says, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” Choose to Party with Christ forever. And start now.

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