23 August 2016

Update and Thanks

Thanks to Jenny K. for hitting the Wish List and sending me two jars of much-needed paint! 

The Knee is healing well. No sign of infection. I overdid it a bit yesterday and paid for it today. Oy. Swelling, soreness, and angry joint noises.

Classes are off to a great start at Notre Dame Seminary. Orientation Week was a big success.

We celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit with Archbishop Aymond yesterday. . .he dedicated and blessed the renovations of St. Joseph Hall. 

Doc appt on Friday. . .

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21 August 2016

Who will be saved?

21st Sunday OT (2012)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Blackfriars, Oxford Univ.

Some see it as a door. Others see it as a path. Jesus says it's a gate, a narrow gate. Flannery O'Connor's creation, that paragon of 1950's white rural middle-class Protestant respectability, Mrs. Turpin, saw it as a bridge. She stands at the fence of her hog pen, the pigs have gathered themselves around an old sow: “A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.” She watches them 'til sunset, “her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge.” Finally, ready for the revelation, Mrs. Turpin raises her hands and “a visionary light settles in her eyes.” A purple-crimson dusk streaks the sky, connecting the fields with the highway: “She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.” Mrs. Turpin is surprised to see not only poor white trash on that bridge but black folks too. And among the “battalions of freaks and lunatics,” she sees her own tribe of scrubbed-clean, property-owning, church-going people—singing on key, orderly marching, being responsible as they always have been. We might imagine that it was a distant relative of Mrs Turpin who asked Jesus that day, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Some say it is a door or a path. Some think of it as a key or a tabernacle. Jesus says that it is a Narrow Gate, a gate so narrow that most won't have the strength to push themselves through. There will be some on this side of the gate and some on the other side. Most of us imagine that we will be on the right side of the gate when the master of the house comes to lock the door. We will be on the inside listening to those on the outside plea for mercy, shout out their faithfulness, and cry for just one more chance. We will be on the inside when the master shouts at those on the outside, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” When we hear this brutal rebuke, do we flinch? Do we beg mercy for those left outside? Do we try to rejoin them in a show of solidarity?

These questions matter only if we have gathered the strength necessary to squeeze ourselves through the gate. If we are weak, exhausted, apathetic, or if we really are evildoers, then staying on this side of the gate, away from the table of the kingdom, probably seems more attractive, easier to accomplish, not so much sweat and tears. Do we really want to be part of a banquet that excludes so many? Do we want to lend our support to a homeowner who crafts a narrow gate for his front door, knowing that most will not be able to enter? We may be lazy or stupid or just plain evil, but we would rather suffer righteously with sinners than party self-righteously with the saints!

Mrs. Turpin's distant cousin is insistent, however: “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus never answers the question. Rather than giving a straightforward yes, no, or about one-third, he moves the question away from the number of those to be saved toward the method by which they will be saved. Those who are saved are saved b/c they have used their strength to push through the Narrow Gate just before the Master locks the door. How many are saved? Don't know. Who are these people? Don't know that either. What happens to those who didn't make it through? Wailing, grinding teeth, and being cast out. Despite all their pleas, they are cast out.

Is there anything for us to do now in order to build up our strength for that final push through the Narrow Gate? Anything for us to do to fortify ourselves for that last surge, that last run at the battlement's gate? We read in the letter to the Hebrews: “. . .strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.” This is a call to righteousness, not just the sort of uprightness that comes from following the rules, but the righteousness that comes from calling on God to correct our infirmities—our drooping hands and weak knees—so that what is lame is healed and not made worse by time and trial, not left to become disjointed. Our rush through the Narrow Gate is not a test of physical strength, nor is it a marathon of virtue. The narrowness of the gate is a test of our determination, a trial against a tepid heart and irresolute mind. The narrowness of the gate challenges the sharpness of our focus on being among the blessed who will be called upon to sacrifice everything for Christ's sake, everything for the love of just one friend. It is not enough that we have been to dinner with the Lord; that we have shouted his name from a crowd; that we have witnessed his miracles, praised his preaching, memorized his teaching, or invited ourselves to recline at his table. It is not enough that we are respectable, well-educated, middle-class, religious, worthy citizens of a civilized nation. We might manage to squeeze our respectability, our diplomas, our tax forms and churches and passports through that Narrow Gate, but none of these will assist in the squeezing. Yes, we will likely end up on Mrs Turpin's bridge, heading into the clouds with all the other freaks and lunatics, but we will end up there b/c we have placed ourselves at the mercy of God to forgive us the sins that impede us, that slow us down, and all but guarantee that we do not make the gate in time.

Mrs Turpin sees her own people on that bridge. Somewhat bewildered by the strange company of white trash and black folks, her tribe of middle-class church-goers nonetheless sing on key: “Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.” Perhaps what will get us through that Narrow Gate is the willingness to have everything that seems so vital, so necessary, so absolutely true. . .to have all of it burned away.


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20 August 2016

Brief Book Review: A Deeper Vision

When I teach Adult Lay Formation classes, I always get questions along these lines: "Father, how did X happen?" Or "Why did the Church start doing Y?"

I am challenged in answering these question by the fact that the answers are usually highly complicated and would require a couple of hours of explanation.

Why a couple of hours?

Because our faith (liturgy, canon law, theology, philosophy, etc.) are all intertwined. . .every question about X is rooted in several additional questions about A, B, C. . .W.

For example, "Why did the Church move the priest behind the altar to face the congregation after VC2?" I can't even begin to answer this question thoroughly until it's clear why the priest faced liturgical East in the first place. . .why we consider the Mass a sacrifice. . .the role of the priest in sacrifice. . .the move toward liturgical egalitarianism post VC2. . .etc.

One way for the laity to better prepare themselves as teachers and preachers is to read Robert Royal's latest book, A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.

What you get in this excellent book is an overview of how the Church thought about her faith from the late 19th century to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.

Some of the chapters will be tough going for regular Catholics (i.e., 99.99% of Catholics who don't spend their lives as academic theologians and philosophers). For example, he covers Rahner, von Balthasar, Ratzinger, and several other modern European theologians.

The chapters on the various and competing forms of 20th c. Thomism are fascinating but dense.

The chapter on the intellectual challenges and reforms of VC2 is spot on. He explores the major documents in some detail and covers the more controversial aspects of others. He's balanced here, but it is abundantly clear that he does not believe that the Council has been fully or properly implemented.

The chapter on Catholic biblical scholarship is a must-read for the laity.

The second half of the book is probably the most important for the laity in that it places the intellectual life (not just the academic life) of the Church squarely in the public sphere, challenging the laity to take up their charge to evangelize our secular culture.

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19 August 2016

Surgery Update

All is well!  I managed to waddle downstairs this morning for some Much Needed Coffee. . .

The Knee is fixed. Doc said that there was more damage than the MRI showed, so the operation took a little longer than normal. He had to go in from three different portals.

The anesthesiologist said that I took to the anesthesia like a pro. No problems there.

I'm sitting here with a Polar Care Kodiak machine wrapped around the knee to counter the swelling.

Because I am extremely susceptible to staph infections, they gave me an IV bag of my old friend, Vancomycin

With the Aleve and the Norco, I'm set for inflammation and pain management.

Classes at NDS start on Monday, so I'll be on crutches or a walker for a couple of days. 

Thanks for all the prayers! 

P.S. Bubba Sue, I talked to Mom this morning. . .she said you were worried, thus the update.  :-)


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14 August 2016

Help Him Set the World on Fire!

NB. My surgeon has ordered me to stop taking all anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, Aleve, etc.) a week before the surgery. I'm finding it difficult to stand for too long. . .so, a short homily this week.

NB 2.0. My surgeon's father, Pete Finney, Sr. died over the weekend. Please keep him in prayer.  

Audio File

20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Are you ready, willing, and able to help Christ set fire to the world?If you have entered his birth, death, and resurrection through baptism, then you are indeed able to help him. You have been made ready in the waters of baptism to stand before the world and bear witness to the power of the Father's mercy. But being ready and able is not the same as being willing. You have to want to set the world on fire with Christ. You have to want to stand out there and bear up under the questions, the ridicule, the temptations, the applause, whatever else the Enemy might send your way to break your will. If it's You out there, just You and your determination, just You and your will out there trying to bear up under what comes with living the Good News, then you bought failure before you left the house. You can stack the rules and rituals all around you. You can build up a tidy fort of logical arguments and historical data. You can dig a deep and wide moat of separation between yourself and the world. BUT if you want to help Christ set fire to the world with your witness, then you must first live as Christ lived. AND die to self as he did. . .for others.

Being ready, willing, and able to help Christ with his mission and ministry is just the beginning of our lives with him. Being followers of Christ does not make us immune to the same traps and errors that await men and women of other faiths or no faith at all. The author of Hebrews writes to admonish us, “. . .let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. . .” As we step out into the world to bring the world the Good News, we can be lured into a dangerous self-righteousness that slowly twists our hearts and minds back in on themselves and leads us to believe that we are the source of our goodness and strength. That I am the rock upon whom my faith is built. That I am the one who's setting the world ablaze with my zeal. Self-righteousness hides the burden of sin. And it prevents us from doing the work we have vowed to do. If I cannot surrender myself to Christ – sins and all – then I cannot be a faithful witness to the mercy he purchased for me. I cannot testify to having been made free. Without our freedom in Christ, without being a slave to Christ, we can only work for ourselves and our homemade righteousness. 

If you are willing to help Christ set fire to the world, then surrender yourself – body, soul, heart, and mind – to the mercy he freely gives you. Once freed from your burden of sin, you are free to tell the truth. And nothing burns the darkness of this world like the truth. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ so that you never move from the Way he has shown you. Nothing that Enemy can throw at you can move you. . .unless you want to be moved. So, make your witness, your testimony so much a part of your daily living that to be moved away from Christ means being moved away from everything and everyone you love. And when you are tempted or confronted or ridiculed “consider how [Christ] endured such opposition from sinners, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?” His answer shocks us, “No, I tell you, but rather division.” He comes to divide us from our sin, from our self-righteousness, from our attachments to this world. He comes to divide us one from other in the world so that our unity might be rooted in him. Help him to set fire to whatever stands btw you and his peace.

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13 August 2016

Update and Thanks

Mendicant Thanks to E.M. for hitting the Wish List and sending me Bearing False Witness. . .so far, it's excellent! Prayers continue for your discernment, E.M.

Also, some Kind Soul purchased Words Overflown By Stars: Creative Writing Instruction And Insight From The Vermont College MFA Program from the Wish List on July 12th. . .it never arrived.

I am scheduled for knee surgery on August 18th. Just a quick scoping of the knee to remove some debris floating around in there. Nothing too serious. Prayers appreciated!

Classes at Notre Dame Seminary start back up on August 22nd. We will have 138 seminarians, 42 of whom will be new to the program. Keep us all in prayer, please.


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07 August 2016

Are you ready?

NB. This homily is an example of what happens when I drink four cups of Italian roast coffee. . .

19th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

To be vigilant is to be in a constant state of watchfulness, always prepared, always ready. The faith we claim and practice entails vigilance. Along with trust and belief, faith in God requires us to be perpetually geared up and ready to move out. At a moment's notice, we can be called upon to bear witness, to offer sacrifice, to give thanks and praise, to heal or forgive; to teach, preach, and bless. Whatever it is that the Lord might ask us to do, we must be prepared to obey. This level of persistent preparation means – at the very least – living always within His grace. The Lord says to his disciples and to us: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. . .You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Though the Lord is with us always – in the sacraments, the Church, the baptized, the ordained, even in creation itself – though he is always with us, he will return to us and sit in judgment of how we have lived our lives as bearers of the Good News. Are you prepared for his return?

One way to be in a constant state of vigilance for the Lord's return is to live your life in Christ as if he had already returned. That is, imagine that he has come again among us to judge the living and the dead and that you're just waiting for your name to be called. How would you live your life in Christ if you knew that your name could be called any moment now? Another way of being vigilant is to live your life as an acknowledgment that Christ is always present to us. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, Christ is there with you. Every person you meet, there is Christ. Yes, he's present in the Eucharist and the tabernacle. But he is also present in his Father's creation – in the natural world and among his human brothers and sisters. If you want some serious practice acknowledging the reality of Christ's presence in the world, find him among those who hate you. Those who would sooner kill you than look at you. He's among them too, working their hearts and minds toward the Father's mercy. Seeing Christ there and acknowledging his presence could be the lightening strike that breaks Satan's hold on those who would see you crushed. Living as if Christ had already returned and living in his presence now will give you a head start on being properly prepared.
But neither one of these methods is possible without the good habit of faith. The author of Hebrews tells us that: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” So, the good habit of trusting in God is itself the manifestation of all that we have come to expect from Him. In other words, when we trust in God, when we believe in Him, our trust and belief in Him is itself what we had hoped for, all that we ever expected from Him. Whatever else might result from our faith is a sign of God's own faithfulness with us. Abraham is our example: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” Not knowing where he was going, Abraham went out anyway, trusting that his obedience to God's command would result in a blessing – an inheritance. “By faith Abraham obeyed. . .By faith he sojourned. . .By faith he received power to generate [to have children].” And why did he obey God's command? Because “he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” He hoped to have children with his barren wife and his faith in God was made manifest: “So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.” 
Vigilance in our faith is necessary not because “believing creates reality,” but because trusting that God will fulfill His promises keeps us always awake in His presence. Christ urges us to stay watchful because he know how easy it is for us to go asleep in faith. What does it take? One bad accident? The loss of a job? The death of a spouse, a child, a friend? What does it take for us to close our eyes on faith and let despair have its way with us? At the very moment when we most need to be awake in the presence of God, we can nod off and lose hope. Or – even worse – we can apply ourselves to activities and people who encourage us to fall dead asleep to faith. Acts of disobedience that separate us from God. Family and friends who lure us away – in a moment of weakness – from all that God has promised. Being vigilant in faith also means being vigilant against those temptations that seduce us away from faith. Abraham received all that he hoped for because he believed in God – found him trustworthy – and obeyed His command to go out in faith. God's command to us is no different. We are commanded to out into the world and bear witness to the Father's freely offered mercy to sinners. We are not only living witnesses to His mercy, we are also instruments of His mercy. We hoped to be saved from our sins, and that hope is made manifest in our faith. Stay ready, always prepared to receive the blessings of God and to give testimony to the saving power of His infinite mercy.

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02 August 2016


Mendicant thanks to S.B., M.R., and E.M. (continuing to pray for your discernment!) for hitting the Wish List and sending me books and painting supplies.  You are all on my prayer list. . .

God bless!


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31 July 2016

Nihilism picks away at faith

Audio File Link

18th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


God says to the man who would store up his treasures in this world, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Forget – for a moment – about the things that you store up. And forget about to whom they will belong after you die. This night your life will be demanded of you – to whom do you belong? Your things come and go. Your things aren't immortal. But you are. So: who owns you? Who rules you? Our Lord is asking a question that demands much more than just a promise of allegiance, or a statement of mere belief. He's asking you and me to decide where we stand in this world while we prepare for the next. Christ is asking you and me to make a choice: me or the world? Your life will be demanded of you. It's your choice. We can look to our assets, our earning potential, and we can do a quick calculation. We could be better off submitting to the world – if this world is where we hope to find our end. But this world is passing; it's temporary. And finding your hope here – among all these fading away things – is foolishness. And yet it appears that we are living in an age of foolishness. To survive, listen to Paul: “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly. . .”

When we live to accumulate the things of this world rather than to serve the Lord for His greater glory, we swear ourselves to the service of Nothing. Nothing is our god. We love Nothing. We have absolute faith in Nothing. Nothing matters. And Nothing is our purpose in life. As we watch this world slowly grind itself to its bloody end, we can depend on Nothing to spare us; Nothing will provide what we need. Why is Nothing so accommodating, so solicitous of our desires? Because Nothing has nothing to lose by promising us everything we imagine that are we entitled to. Nothing has nothing to give, so promising us everything costs nothing. When we live by the values and philosophies of this world rather than the the Word of God and His Church, we sell our souls to the spirit of the age, giving ourselves away cheaply to both new and ancient falsehoods. The greatest lie of this generation – one we can see celebrated in every element of our daily lives – this lie tells us that we are nothing but random bits of matter accidentally arranged by impersonal cosmic forces, thrown haphazardly into sentience, and destined for nothing more than complete annihilation after death. This lie – both its new and ancient versions – is the creed of nihilism, the worship of Nothingness and the negation of life.

It might seem that our preacher, Qoheleth, is a nihilist. He laments life's futility, “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” But the vanity of the life that Qoheleth laments is simply how we mere mortals see the workings of the world. He's not celebrating life as futile, or holding out vanity as the only truth. At most, he's regretting what he sees as the overall unfairness of it all, while wanting life to be truly just and purposeful. To achieve that end, Paul offers the soundest advice, “Put to death. . .the parts of you that are earthly; immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” While Qoheleth wails against the futility of striving in a world that cannot reward striving, Paul suggests killing in ourselves anything that binds us too closely to the world. When the world passes, or when we pass from the world, our ties should easily unknot and see us safely free. To believe that there is Something More, that there is Someone More waiting for us when we are set free is the antithesis of nihilism. To live now in the belief that Someone More wants us with Him forever is what keeps us striving toward holiness and away from the Nothing's altars.

You might wonder how a good Catholic can be tempted to nihilism? Perhaps some of us here tonight have been seduced in some small way toward offering Nothing a pinch of incense. Paul names a few of the temptations: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and idolatry. Maybe, for example, some of us believe that sexual behavior outside marriage isn't all that bad. Or that two men or two women can be truly married. Or maybe, someone here privately believes that abortion is bad but that the State shouldn't have a say in the matter. Or maybe, that we should only allow certain races of people across our borders, or that we as a people have no responsibility to take care of God's creation, or that there are no differences btw men and women, therefore we can pick our own sex; or that science has the answers to our all problems. Each one of these tempts us to embrace an earthly lie and leads us toward renouncing our pursuit of holiness. How? By showing us how to pick away at our foundation, our faith in God. Whether we are tempted to embrace the idolatry of gender politics, or demean human life in the act of abortion, or degrade a person b/c of race, or reject the life-giving gift of sex – whatever the temptation, underneath is a rejection of God and His providential rule. Underneath is Nothing.

So, Christ asks again, “This night your life will be demanded of you. . .to whom will [your things] belong?” Forget the things you own. And answer instead: to whom will you belong? To whom do you belong now? If you belong to the things, the ideas, the values of this world, then you will follow your owners in passing into nothingness when they pass. If you belong to Christ now, then you will pass into life eternal. If you belong to Christ now, then the temptations of Nothingness seem foolish and Qoheleth is right, “All is vanity!” But if you find yourself in the company of nihilists – and you will – the pressure to submit to the Spirit of the Age will be intense, maybe even irresistible. Turn you heart and mind back to God and remember your true purpose here on Earth: to serve Him by serving His people, to always seek His will for your life, and to bear witness to His mercy for all sinners. Nothing can promise and cajole and tempt, but Nothing cannot bring you to freedom, or place you at the banquet table. Only Christ Jesus brings us peace forever.

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24 July 2016

Who are you in prayer?

17th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
John the Baptist teaches his disciples how to pray. The Pharisees and the Sadducees know how to pray. The Zealots and the scribes can pray. Even the Roman occupiers—with their home altars and idols—know how to pray. Why don't the disciples of Christ know how to ask God for what they need? How could they spend so much time with Christ and not understand the basic rules and methods of prayer? Well, part of the reason could be that every time he needs to pray, Jesus runs off to the hills or the desert, or gets in a boat and flees the crowds. He needs some space, some time alone to properly pray. It could be that pretty much all he does with the disciples is teach, preach, and heal. Or it could be that he is teaching them to pray all along and they don't recognize the lessons for what they are. Regardless, they wanted to learn to pray, so they ask a Master for instruction. What does Jesus teach them? He teaches them that prayer is first about knowing who and what you are in relationship with God. And that knowing and understanding this relationship to God brings exactly what you need.

So, who are we in relationship with God? “Man is a beggar before God.” So says St. Augustine. And he's right. But being a beggar before God and knowing that we're beggars before God are two very different things. What separates the truth from our ignorance is the sin of pride, more specifically, the lack of humility before God and His gifts. We are beggars but we don't know how to beg well b/c we do not yet fully understand what we truly need to thrive as children of God. To learn what we truly need, we must embrace a life of discipleship, the life of a student and learn to beg at the feet of a Master. The disciples—Jesus' students—realize this, so they ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And he gives them The Lord's Prayer. He gives them not only the words to pray but shows them the proper attitude of prayer: humility, not demeaning groveling or sniveling toadyism but the truly, deeply held understanding of their creaturely nature. Like all created things, we are wholly dependent on God for our being, for our very existence. Absent this basic understanding of our nature, we cannot properly ask God for anything useful, for anything at all helpful to our flourishing. Humility, then, is the foundation of prayer.

Recognizing our total dependence on God for absolutely everything, we can begin our lessons in how to beg. First, asking God for what we need is not the be-all and end-all of prayer. St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes in her autobiography, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” This surge of the heart might be humility rolling out in force; or it might be delight in love, or anguish during trial. What does she recognize while praying? Does she see her end, her purpose? Does she see-again Christ's love for her on his cross? Maybe she is reminded that she is a creature, a made-being who has been remade in her freedom from sin? Begging before God is fundamentally about knowing who and what we are before a thought or a word can form; before we can even name our need, we must know that Love draws us to beg; Love seduces us into prayer and teaches us to ask. That we must ask is itself a gift precisely b/c the need to ask pulls us into a tighter union with God. This is why Jesus teaches his students to begin their prayer, “Our Father. . .” Our source. Our beginning. Our origin. Think about it: You cannot ask for directions if you do not know where you are going. And you cannot ask for directions unless you know how to speak to the One Who knows the way.

Abraham learns to speak to God, and finds his way. In what may look like a flea market negotiation, Abraham and God haggle over the fate of Sodom-Gomorrah. Back and forth they propose and counter-propose the acceptable number of righteous citizens allowable to save the city from destruction. God finally settles on the not destroying the city if Abraham can find ten righteous souls. The lesson seems to be: God is reasonable with our demands if we are properly respectable but persistent, even if we're trying to save a cesspool like Sodom. Wrong. This story has little to do with sinful Sodom and more to do with Abraham learning the true nature of the God he serves. With each step in the negotiation with God, Abraham learns that the Lord hears, listens, and concedes not b/c Abraham is persistent or respectable or desperately needful but b/c God is merciful. How is his mercy made real in the world? At the request of His faithful servants! God wills that we ask for what we need so that His mercy and generosity can be made manifest, so that His mighty works can be seen and bear witness to His saving love. But in order for that to happen, we must ask for, receive, and then make known the blessings He pours out for us.

So, the first lesson about prayer is that we must know and understand who and what we are in relationship with God: dependent creatures. The second lesson is that prayer—undertaken with all humility in recognition of our creatureliness—releases the already given blessings of God for us to receive. The third lesson is that receiving God's blessings always and immediately merits copious thanksgiving. Gratitude is the essential ingredient in humility. Try making a roux without fat. Gumbo without filé. Try celebrating Madri Gras without beads. Won't work. Humility without genuine gratitude is simply a less obnoxious form of pride. When we receive a blessing from God, our gratitude, our expressed gratitude, deepens and strengthens our bond to God and purifies our humility. If humility is the foundation of prayer, then giving thanks for the blessings we receive reinforces the ground upon which we stand to pray. We come to know ourselves more fully. We come to see and hear God more clearly. And the bonds of divine love that we share among ourselves grow stronger even as our selfishness and pride wither away. 

Jesus makes a significant promise to his disciples regarding prayer. He says, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find. . .For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds. . .” The keys to understanding this promise are selflessness, service, humility. He's not promising us that God will be our celestial Santa Claus, or our divine Sugar Daddy. Ask in humility and you will receive in love. Seek in service to others and you will find merit in sacrifice. Before you give voice to prayer, remember who and what you are in relationship with God. Remember that what you are given reveals God's nature to you and to the world. And never forget that God Himself has no need of our thanks or praise. Giving thanks to Him for His gifts is for our benefit not His. He calls us to prayer so that we might grow in holiness, grow closer to His love, and become beacons of that love for a darkening world. Without His prompting, without the good work of His Holy Spirit, we cannot pray. So know that every urge to pray, the very need to pray is the Holy Spirit working His loving work within you. We can nothing good without Him. With Him, every door falls open.

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19 July 2016

Painting Experiment

I've been experimenting with fluid paint lately. . .below is one example. Basically, I'm figuring out how the paint moves and what colors work best.

 Experiment I


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18 July 2016

Why no signs. . .?

16th Week OT(M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic, NOLA
Up for the second time that night and headed to the bathroom in a staggering daze, I was shown a truth about my world I had never thought to question. There just about three feet from the floor, hovering in mid-air, is a small glowing object. I stare for a moment, without my glasses, in the dark, and think for just a second or two that perhaps the Lord has sent an angel to tell me something amazing. As I contemplate this greenish-yellow glow, thinking about revelations, dreams, visions, and prophecies, I am suddenly struck by the truth of what I am seeing. There it is, as plain as the shine of a full moon in October, there it is in plain view, and I realize with a nearly blinding clarity: my toothbrush glows in the dark! Then, just being me, the question arises: why would anyone think to make toothbrushes glow in the dark? Stumbling back to bed, I chuckle myself to sleep wondering what we would all look like if our teeth glowed in the dark. 
Strictly speaking, my “vision” of the glowing toothbrush was a discovery not a revelation. Its discovery was accidental and has no meaning beyond what I can give it in a homily about seeking after signs of God’s presence. As a divine sign my glowing toothbrush fails what we can call here the “From Test;” that is, my toothbrush shining in the darkness on the sink cannot be said to be “from” God. And though we can rightly say that anything made is made by a creature who in turn is created by the Creator and reveals his/her Creator as a creature, we cannot say that a glowing toothbrush made by a creature reveals much about God. Signs point the way and make present that which they signify. Divine signs point the way to God and make His presence knowable to those who desire to know Him.

The scribes and Pharisees are understandably both curious and worried about Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. They approach him and make a reasonable request, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” Traditionally, those claiming to be “sent from God” provide signs that point to God’s presence and make Him knowable. These men are educated, pious, intellectually curious, and therefore rightly seek some indication from this rabble-rousing preacher that he is who he claims to be. Show us a sign. Jesus’ response is unexpected and harsh: “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it…” We have to wonder why Jesus is being so stubborn. We know he is capable of miraculous deeds. Why not show these men what they need to see? 
Jesus says that no sign will be given to them “except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and nights, so the Son of Man will be “in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Jonah is expelled from the whale and goes on to preach repentance to the decadent citizens of Nineveh. They repent and return to God’s favor. So Jesus too, expelled from the grave and risen from the dead, will be a sign to the scribes and Pharisees and a sign to us that Jesus is indeed who he claims to be. Jesus goes on to add that on the day of judgment, “the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, b/c they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” Needing no other sign than the earnest preaching of an honest prophet, the citizens of Nineveh return to God. 
Living here on the edge of the end of the second decade of the 21st century, can we be counted an “evil and unfaithful generation” seeking after signs? What signs could we seek? Crying statues? Marian apparitions? Bleeding Hosts? Yes, all of these and many more. But do we need these signs? We do not. We have a magisterial Church, her Eucharist, a divine guarantee against defeat, and pews packed with priests, prophets, and kings. All of these speak with one voice to say what is good and what the Lord requires: “Only to do the right and love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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17 July 2016

Take the Better Part

NB. This one is short for a Sunday homily b/c I'm not sure I can stand in the pulpit for the usual length of time!

16th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

How do we go about revealing to the world the mystery of God's mercy? We have in the sisters, Martha and Mary, two models of how we might proceed. When Jesus visits the sisters, Martha begins to fuss about, trying her best to prepare a suitably hospitable meal for their guest. Frustrated that Mary is ignoring her domestic duties in order to dote on Jesus, Martha complains to Jesus and asks him to admonish Mary for her apparent laziness. Instead of scolding Mary for her inattention to duty, Jesus turns Martha's complaint back on her, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” We should notice here that Jesus doesn't chastise Martha for griping nor does he seem ungrateful for her work on his behalf. Rather than soothe Martha's hurt feelings by telling Mary to get to work, rather than tempering Martha's anger with a lecture on patience, Jesus goes straight to the root of her fussiness. Martha is anxious; she is worried. Faced with the presence of Christ in her home, Martha chooses to get busy; she deflects her anxiety by “doing stuff,” hoping, perhaps, that by staying busy she will burn off the fretting worry. Mary, on the other hand, sits at Jesus' feet and listens to his instruction. She too might be anxious. She might be just as wound up and nervous as her sister in the presence of Christ, but she chooses “the better part,” attending to Jesus as he teaches her the mysteries of his Father's revelation.

Why does Jesus consider Mary's rapt attention to be better than Martha's distracted busyness? Let's ask this question another way. Who is most likely to learn: a student who sits in class texting on her cell phone, checking Facebook, or doodling; or the student who attentively listens to the teacher – no distractions, nothing to cloud her mind or burden her heart? If you have ever tried to teach a child a difficult math problem, or convey a set of relatively boring facts, then you know the answer to this question! Mary has the better part because she is more likely to learn, more likely to “get it,” more likely to become the better teacher and preacher of the mysteries herself. Martha will get quite a lot done, but will she be open to seeing and hearing the mystery that Jesus has to reveal? Jesus tells Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” There is only one needful thing, only one thing we need: to listen to the Word, the Word made flesh in Christ Jesus.

When you take up Christ's commission to preach the mystery of salvation to the world, do you first listen to the Word; or do you get busy “doing stuff” that looks Christian, sounds Christian? Do you really hear what Christ has to say about God's mercy, His love? Do you attend to the Body of Christ in action during the celebration of his sacraments? Do you watch for Christ to reveal himself in those you love, in those you despise, those you would rather ignore or disparage? Can you set aside the work of doing Christian things and just be a follower of Christ, just long enough to be filled with the Spirit necessary to teach with all wisdom? It's vital that we understand that Martha isn't wrong for doing stuff. Her flaw rests solely in her anxiety and her worry while she's doing stuff. Being anxious and worried about many things while doing God's work is a sure sign that we are failing to grasp the central mystery of our commission to preach the Good News: it is Christ who preaches through us, not only with us, along side us, but through us. If we have truly seen and heard the mystery of our salvation through God's infinite mercy, then there is nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about, nothing that can or will defeat the Word we are vowed to spread. Why? Because everything we do and say reveals Christ to the world. If the Church is the sacrament of God's presence in the world, and we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church, then we too are sacraments of God's presence. Individually imperfect, together we are made more perfect on the way to our perfection in Christ.

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14 July 2016

Audio File: 15th Sunday OT

Audio file for 15th Sunday OT. . .First Mass for Fr. Sean DeWitt.

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Let God do the work

St. Kateri
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic, NOLA

Jesus tells the disciples that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Is this how we experience our lives in Christ? Light and easy? It's a fair question and one many of us ask. However, we shouldn't worry about doubting that the life we have chosen in Christ is light and easy. The demands of growing daily in holiness are few. All we need do is love God and others as God Himself loves us. Be merciful, avoid evil, witness with our every word and deed the way to salvation through Christ. The demands are few, but they are relentless – unwavering and constant. Even the smallest task done all day every day for years will eventually exhaust the strongest body and soul. It's not the weight of our work toward holiness that burdens us but the repetition this work requires that can send us into despair. Anyone can be holy, do holy work for an hour or a day. But being holy, doing holy work for a lifetime is much, much more difficult, if not impossible – well, impossible, that is, if holiness were measured by what we manage to accomplish in a lifetime, or measured against the perfection of achieved by Christ. His yoke is easy and light, and so is the life in Christ to which we have vowed ourselves. Isaiah shares the secret of being a follower and doing God's work: “The way of the just is smooth; the path of the just [God makes] level.”

If we experience our lives in Christ as a heavy burden is it probably because we believe that our work toward holiness includes the arduous task of clearing away the wreckage of our sin. How can I come to Christ and do and be what and who he demands if I am loaded down with the garbage of a dissolute life? Don't I need to be clean before I start down the Christian path? It makes sense to hold that nothing clean can come from a filthy source. We cannot do evil to achieve goodness. And this would make sense if we were talking about human goodness, human evil. But we're not. Isaiah says it plainly, it is God Himself who levels the steep hills, straightens the crooked paths, and sets us right by washing us clean. It is God Himself who prepares us for the work we must do. Christ's yoke on our shoulders is light and easy not because we come to him as self-made, ready-made holy men and women, but because the really hard work of our holiness has already been done for us. All we need do is persist, endure in the work. And even then we persist and endure only because of His grace.

If Christ's yoke is heavy and difficult around our necks it is likely because we ourselves weigh it down, because we ourselves have tried to put it on without Christ's help. Knowing that only Christ forgives us our sins, does it make sense to believe that we are burdened by sin and that we must come to Christ cleansed of that sin? Can sin remove sin? If you believe that you cannot take on Christ's yoke until you are strong enough to bear it, then how do you get strong enough w/o Christ? Can weakness strengthen weakness? Obviously not. The burden our Lord lifts is not only the actual sin that we carry but also the heavy and false belief that the job of lifting this burden is ours alone. It is not. Never has been. It is God's job to smooth the steep hills and straighten the crooked paths. Let Him do His work. It is your job to travel His smoothed-out, straightened-upped Way. Now, that your work is light and easy and the yoke around your neck is a joy, count yourself among the loved ones of the Lord, hurry to Him and find your rest.


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