12 March 2018

Do you need signs and wonders?

4th Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic, NOLA

This scene from John always makes me a little nervous. Jesus seems to be dismissing the royal official's anxiety about his dying son. He asks Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal the kid and Jesus sort of waves him off with “You people just won't believe unless you see signs and wonders.” Completely ignoring him, the official persists, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Here's where I have to be careful, b/c I can almost see Jesus roll his eyes and sigh before he says – a little too pompously? – “You may go; your son will live.” Now, I know Jesus didn't roll his eyes or sigh, and I know he's not arrogantly dismissing this poor man's distress over his dying son. But I think you can see how this all reads on the page. Jesus here isn't exactly the picture of the heroic healer we've some to expect. So, what's going on? The answer – I think – comes in the sentence immediately after Jesus tells the man that his son will live. John writes, “The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.” In other words, the man believes Jesus has healed his son before he actually knows that his son is healed. He didn't need to see signs and wonder before he believed. He takes Jesus at his word.

When we talk about faith, we often talk as if faith is a quantity of something, a measurable amount of “holy stuff.” I need more faith. I don't have enough faith. We do the same thing with grace. More grace. Not enough grace. This is a deadly way of thinking about the trust we place in the Lord. We cannot account for faith; that is, count it up and balance the ledger btw credits and debits. Faith is our living, daily trust in the Father's promises. I trust God, or I don't. If I say that I trust God but still seek after signs and wonders, then all I'm doing is gambling that I'm right to trust Him. If I refuse to trust until I have proof, then my trust – when the proof comes – isn't really trust at all. However, if – like the official – I ask in faith for something and believe it is given before I see it done, then I can say that I truly trust in God's Word. We like evidence. We like to see and hear and touch. We like to know. But the only grounds we have for believing in God's promises is the indwelling of His love and our belief that we are – from all eternity – the subjects of His boundless mercy. To this truth we are vowed to be public witnesses, to give testimony without fear or shame.

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10 March 2018

By Grace We Have Been Saved

NB. I almost forgot that I am celebrating a Vigil Mass for the Carmelite sisters and their benefactors today.

4th Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA

For all the weirdness of the Catholic faith – things like chapels made of skulls and monks sleeping in coffins – we Catholics are a practical people overall. We like prayers that work for us. We like devotions that console us. One of the ways that we sometimes keep track of our salvation looks something like a bookkeeper's ledger. Good deeds on the credit side. Sins on the debit side. We look at that ledger and think, “If I can manage kick off while the credits are larger than the debits, I'm good.” With this mindset firmly in place, we look for ways to build the credit side – indulgences, extra penances, more time in the confessional, maybe a few extra bucks in the collection plate. We may even take on trying to reduce the debit side of the ledger by giving up a few vices or fasting once and awhile. Lent is a particularly time of year to kick a few bad habits and pick up some good ones. At the end of these 40 Days we sit down at the ledger and hope the balance looks good before Easter! While all this is a sensible, practical way of growing in holiness, it does nothing to the bottom-line of our salvation. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy. . .brought us to life with Christ — by grace you have been saved. . .”

By grace we have been saved. Not prayer or good deeds or donations or extra penances. By grace. Through a gift from God. His gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ. Being the practical people we are we sometimes have difficulty really believing that our redemption is free. In fact, our redemption from sin and death is so free that we were given our freedom before we could do anything to earn it. Paul writes, “God, who is rich in mercy. . .brought us to life with Christ. . .” Why? “. . .because of the great love he had for us. . .” When did He do this? “. . .even when we were dead in our transgressions.” Even when we were dead in our sins, God's love for us, His mercy for us brought us back to life with his Christ. We did nothing to earn this. Nothing to merit it. Nothing we could do would gain us this life in Christ. We hear this echoed in John oft-quoted verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The kicker here is that even our desire and ability to believe in His Son is a gift!

So why do we work ourselves into a frenzy “doing holy things” to assure our salvation? I have no idea. Doing holy things can help us grow in holiness, to become more perfect in Christ, but they can do nothing to save us. Why? Because we are not saved in degrees. Being Saved is like Being Dead. Either you are or you aren't. Now, you can sin to such an extreme degree that you effectively reject your salvation. But even then God's offer to return remains open and free. Just turn around. Confess. Do your penance. And receive the Father's mercy. Here's a suggestion for the remaining days of Lent: sacrifice your religious pride; that is, give up any false notion that you can “do your own thing” in order to be saved. You can't. You can't earn what's already free. You can sacrifice your religious pride by adopting a program of prayer that focuses exclusively on giving God thanks for all that you have. No other prayer than: “Thank You, Lord, for my family, my friends, my health, etc.” Thank Him for your trials so that they can be made holy. Thank Him for your temptations so that they too can be made holy. Work for holiness not salvation. John writes, “whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

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I'm WAY holier than you. . .

NB. The deacon is preaching the Sunday Mass at OLR, so here's a Vintage Fr. Philip Homily. . .

4th Sunday of Lent 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

Hear it!

I’ve been feeling rather proud of myself this last week! I got up early everyday and said my rosary. Spent thirty minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament on my knees. Prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Forty Days Prayer for Lent. I did all this before breakfast, without food, in our unheated chapel at the priory. I don’t mean to boast, but you know, I feel really, really holy, like I’ve really managed to get God to love me a little more, maybe I got a little closer to convincing Him to let me into Heaven. One morning, one of the other brothers just popped into the chapel for a second. Just bopped through like a rabbit and grabbed one of those missalette things and ran off. Guess he’s not interested in saving his soul. Well, I tell you, not to boast, of course, I’m determined to earn some Heaven Points today. I’m saying the rosary two more times, praying the Stations, and doing a few prostrations before the Blessed Sacrament! That should top off my grace account for the day.

Man, you know, working for redemption ain’t easy! But at least I’m working, right? At least I know that God loves me when I’m working for His love. I’m not like those other friars in my priory—I can fast more often, kneel longer, pray louder (and in Latin!), I adore the Blessed Sacrament instead of the TV, spend time with the Blessed Mother instead of the computer, and I know I’m holier because my habit is cleaner, and I iron it too! Jesus loves me best and most because I deserve it. You know, I’ve earned it.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re absolutely sure that you’re holier than the guy kneeling next to you at Mass? That you are most certainly better loved by God, closer to redemption and better insured against Hell? Look right now at the people around you. Can you tell who God doesn’t love as much as He loves you? Who isn’t as close to Heaven as your hard work has gotten you? They’re just spiritually lazy, right? Don’t you have a solemn duty to let them know that they’re being spiritually lazy, that they need to work a little harder for their grace points? Don’t you, as one more loved by God, have a duty to monitor their spiritual progress and correct their faults so that they will earn as many points as possible? Don’t you have a responsibility to save them, to save them from themselves for Christ?

No. You don’t. And do you know why? Of course you do! Grace ain’t earned. God’s love cannot be worked for. Our salvation was accomplished 2,000 years ago on the Cross and out of the Tomb, and no amount of kneeling, fasting, praying, boasting of holiness, monitoring our brothers and sisters, correcting others’ faults, or walking the Stations during Lent will get us one more ounce of redemptive grace, not one step closer to the Father’s mercy. Listen to Paul again: “[…] by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” His love for us is not our handiwork. We are the Father’s handiwork. We do not conjure His love. We can stand in awe. We can offer thanks. We can bend the knee in adoration. We can even fall flat on our faces in righteous humility. But we cannot earn, buy, beg, steal, or in any shape, form, or fashion bank God’s love.

You’re probably thinking: “OK, Father, why are you on about this again!? Didn’t you just prattle on about this recently?” I’m on about this again because I think we all need to be reminded, especially in Lent, that God loves us and that our redemption, the healing of the Original Wound, is done and nothing we can do now will make redemption more available or freer or easier to get. Lent brings us to a powerful recognition of our mortality, a kind of panic about the years left to us and the weight of the years behind us. Lent dangles before our eyes our lives of sin: our disobediences, our many failures to love. It is uniquely a season for us to pull out of our souls all the festering junk that poisons us and set it ablaze in the desert. That vulnerability, that nakedness can leave us open to alien notions about grace, ideas foreign to our tradition. Our bishops know this well, so we have today, in the middle of Lent, John’s gospel on Christ’s love for us. How fitting!

Any time we spend with God alone leaves us naked in His glory and every blemish, every smudge, every little imperfection in us shines like a beacon. God does not love us despite our blemishes and little imperfections—as if we will live with Him forever stained with sin. No! It is because He loves us first and always that He opens a way to cleanliness for us and then He leaves us to wash. We do not earn the invitation to bathe. But we must bathe to enter His house.

Whoever believes in him will be saved. Whoever refuses to believe in him is already condemned.

I said to you earlier that no amount of fasting, prayer, or kneeling, none of these, will get you one more ounce of God’s love. This is true. It is true because you have every once of God’s love right now. He sent His only Son to die for us. He loves us as Love Himself, caritas per se. There is no love for Him to hold back. No love held back for Him to reward those who work harder. Deus caritas est. God is Love. And God is a person, Jesus Christ.

Our Holy Father, Benedict, in his first encyclical, teaches us, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Perhaps too boldly, I want to elaborate on our Holy Father’s teaching: being a Christian is not the result of righteous work or well-earned grace, but the result of “bumping into” the love that is God, the person of Jesus Christ, the Christ who freely accepted his death on a cross for us, and in so doing, makes it possible for us to live with him everyday of our lives and with him always in glory.

Pray. Fast. Kneel. Fraternally correct. Prostrate. Confess. Do penance. It is Lent! Be repentant, absolutely! But know that your spiritual athleticism will not save you. If you pray, fast, kneel, and do penance to earn God’s love, you will not grow in holiness. If you pray, fast, kneel and do penance because God loves you, in the full knowledge that your redemption is accomplished, then your work will be a blessing and holiness will prosper. The temptation of this wonderful penitential season is to fall into the Devil’s trap of believing that the Father expects us to earn His approval, His love. This is evil. The truth is that we are loved now, always. And we are loved sacrificially.

By grace we have been saved, raised up with him. By the light of this truth may our works be clearly seen as done in Him, with Him, and through Him.

Brothers and sisters, it’s time to bathe!

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04 March 2018

The Church is not a marketplace

3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

When is the church a house of prayer, and when is it a marketplace? What is prayer and what is commerce? Prayer is asking God to bless us with what we need. Commerce is buying from and selling to others what we think we need. Prayer is an act of humility; commerce is simply an exchange of goods or services, seeking profit. The church is a house of prayer when it is a place for God’s people to gather to ask Him for what they need in humility and to offer Him worship in justice. The church is a marketplace, however, when it becomes a place for God’s people to make profitable deals with the Father, or attempt to buy or sell His gifts. There is nothing sinful about commerce or profit per se. But when the merchandise is the Truth of the faith, or when the profit gained weakens God's people, there we have a problem! The Church is not a marketplace. It's a nation, a priesthood, a tribe of men and women who make up the Body of Christ, men and women given to Christ by his Father to save from sin and death. Nothing we have from the Father is for sale. Nothing we need for eternal life can be bought.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem with a little righteous anger brewing and hits the temple area like a desert whirlwind. Laying hold of his prophetic authority, Jesus, recalling Zechariah the Prophet, calls the temple a house of prayer that has been made into a den of merchants. To cleanse the temple of thievery, he drives out those who have turned his Father’s place of worship into a marketplace for Mammon. Now cleansed, the temple becomes his place for teaching, a place for proclaiming and preaching the Word—a place where the people gather to hang on Jesus’ every word. In this one movement, this single display of righteous indignation, Jesus has redefined the church for us, reconceived what it means for his people to gather, to hear the Word, to worship in spirit and truth, and to live in the abiding presence of God day-to-day.

When the People of God, the Body of Christ, come together to offer praise and thanksgiving, to offer up petitions and intercessions, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the Word is proclaimed and preached and the sacrifice of thanksgiving made on the altar and in the heart, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When we gather to give to God what is His in justice, that which we owe Him as a matter of covenant and elemental desire, that is, our lives, the house of the Lord is a house of prayer. When the house of the Lord is a house of prayer, it is a time and place of distilled righteousness, a time away from time, a place away from place, where and when we take into ourselves the Body and Blood of Christ. Where we ourselves are the sacrifice.

While here we don’t just hang on his words in prayer; we hang on his cross, offering to God what has been His gift to us from the beginning: our love, our adoration, our very lives.

The house of the Lord becomes a den of merchants when we withhold our assent and our surrender. When we choose, freely, the stingy path of hoarding for later our desire to be with God forever; that is, storing up our YES, tucking away our YES, we steal from Him what is rightly His. And deny ourselves everything we can be for Him.

To worship in spirit and truth, to adore Him with our strength in joy, to be seduced by His hope, cherished in His love, and brought forever to live in His beauty – that’s prayer! That’s justice! We are not here in this church as The Church to make deals with the Father. We aren't here to bargain for healing or to trade on promises of good deeds done sometime later. We're not here to borrow grace with interest or make payments on a loan. Everything the Father gives us He gives us for free. We owe Him praise and thanksgiving not b/c He needs it but b/c we need to praise Him and give Him thanks. That's how we grow in holiness. That's how we become more like Christ. On the Cross Christ destroyed the temple of the merchants – the deal-making, the buying and selling of salvation – and he rebuilt the temple in three days, rising from his grave on the third day to establish his Church, his nation of priests, to offer him praise and thanksgiving.
If, on this Third Sunday of Lent, you need something for which to give God thanks and praise, look to Paul writing to the Romans: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” The One who promises us eternal life is both wiser and stronger than we are. Our foolishness and weakness is no match for His mercy and love.

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26 February 2018

Could be scary. . .or not

2nd Week of Lent (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Conventual Mass

Of all the truly difficult things Jesus asks us to do, at the top of that long list would be: “Be merciful. . .Stop judging. . .Stop condemning. . .Forgive.” Right up there on that same list is another familiar command from the Lord: “Love God, love your neighbor.” You can always tell when Jesus knows that he's giving us a difficult job b/c he makes that job a command. He makes so that we really don't have much wiggle room when it comes to hearing and doing what he's asking us to do. We could see this as a slight – “He doesn't trust us with just a kind suggestion or a subtle hint!” Or we could see it as a gift – “Left on my own, I couldn't forgive you, but Christ commands it!” And just in case the command alone is not enough to move us toward mercy and forgiveness, Jesus adds this little trailer, “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” So, we not only have his command to forgive, we also have a preview of how we will be judged on the Last Day! When we get to the Lord's Prayer later in the Mass, pay close attention to the line that goes, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” You are asking God to judge you in the same way you judge others. Could be scary. . .or not.

Forgiveness is difficult b/c we carry with us many false notions about what forgiveness entails. “If I forgive her, I'm saying that what she did wasn't wrong.” If what she did to you wasn't wrong, there's no need to forgive. “If I forgive him, then he'll just do the same thing again.” So, by refusing to forgive you hope to prevent a future offense? Is that how God works with us and our sin – withholding His mercy until we're perfect? How about this one: “I like having something on her. I like feeling wounded and righteous in my anger”? Fine. Just remember: you will soon ask God to forgive you in the same way that you forgive others. Do you really want God holding a grudge against you? My personal favorite: “I have forgiven him. I just don't feel like I've forgiven him.” You've forgiven him, or you haven't. How you feel about it is an entirely separate issue. No where does the Lord command us to be happy about forgiving those who've sinned against. He simply commands that we forgive. If there's a season in the Church calendar that's better suited for a reckless spree of mercy and forgiveness than Lent, I don't what it would be. There's still time. Get out there and show your fellow sinners – all of us – some astonishing mercy!

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25 February 2018

But why do you sacrifice?

2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

God commands Abraham to slaughter Isaac, Abraham's only son, as a sacrifice. Let that sink in. Abraham has just the one son, Isaac. God wants Isaac's father to kill him as a sacrifice. I don't know what y'all have sacrificed for Lent, but I'm willing to bet that none of you will be offering a child on an altar in the wilderness. My own pitiful Lenten sacrifices pale in comparison to what Abraham is asked to do. I have no children of my own, so I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to hear God command a mother or father to sacrifice one of their own children. Fortunately, we know, that God's will was not that Isaac should die in sacrifice but that Abraham's obedience to God be tested. Whatever we may think of God's command or Abraham's willingness to obey Him, we must keep in mind that God the Father Himself does what He commands Abraham to do: He sacrifices His only Son, and He does it not to prove His devotion to us but to save us from sin and death. He gave us then and gives now us His Son in sacrifice so that we might come back to Him made perfect, and share in His divine life. Ask yourself and think carefully: what am I sacrificing this Lent, and why?

We need to be absolutely clear up front about how our Lenten sacrifices work in our growth toward holiness. First, our sacrifices do not “buy” us holiness. We are not purchasing degrees of holiness by giving up our favorite vices. Small sacrifices buy us small amounts of holiness, and bigger sacrifices buy us larger amounts of holiness. Second, we aren't changing God's disposition towards us by sacrificing our vices. We are not performing some kind of magical ritual that forces God to love us more when we abstain from a vice. Third, prayer and alms-giving during Lent aren't bribes to God to persuade Him not to be angry with us, nor are they goodies meant to entice Him to be happy with us. The very idea that anything we can do or say or think has the power to change God in any way is a pagan notion, and one we need to vigorously remove from our thinking. The pagan thinks in terms of appeasing the gods or bribing them into favorable action. The Christian – the human person consecrated to Christ – knows that every good gift, every blessing, every grace he will ever receive has already been given to him. Our Lenten sacrifices make it possible for us to see more clearly all that God has given us and more easily receive what He has given.

Lent is a time for us to clean our spiritual pipes. A time for us to sweep away the spiritual dust and cobwebs. It's a time to re-focus our time and energy on the only thing that matters to a Christian – Christ himself and his mission. Lent provides us with the time, the instruction, and the support we need to think deeply about and explore intensely how we relate to the one who sacrificed himself for us so that we might live. Our time in the Lenten desert becomes a time of temptation precisely b/c we shift our attention to God and away from self. This “shifting away from self” invites the Enemy to test us, to try us; we become more vulnerable to his attempts to stroke our pride and see us abandon Christ. By sacrificing a few vices or taking up additional prayer and alms-giving, we remove the Enemy's preferred weapons, making it more difficult for him to tempt us with our own weaknesses. By detaching ourselves from all those things that drain us of spiritual strength, we conserve all that makes us strong in the Lord. When the Enemy tries harder to break our bond with Christ, we respond by sacrificing more, by sacrificing until it hurts. And it does hurt. But only for a little while.

Paul writes to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us? [. . .] It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?” We are shown what God's support and acquittal looks like. On the mountain Jesus is transfigured in the witness of the apostles. He is changed into his glorified body – the body he will have in heaven, standing in the immediate presence of the Father's glory. We are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and b/c we are so baptized, we follow Christ in his death and resurrection. Along the way, we wrestle with temptations, failures, victories, and we do it all with Christ beside us. We do all this as men and women on our way to becoming Christs. Our sacrifices – big and small – keep us detached from the things of the world and attached to the things of heaven. If we sacrifice in love, for the good of another, we not only strengthen our bond to Christ, we also strengthen the Church, the whole body of Christ. So, again, I ask: what are you sacrificing this Lent, and why? The why is more important than the what. Sacrifice b/c you know that you need Christ. Sacrifice b/c you know that the Church needs Christ. And remember: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”

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18 February 2018

We must be made ready

1st Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

The Holy Spirit drives Jesus into the desert. Why? Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Messiah. Why must he endure 40 days of hunger, thirst, and loneliness? He doesn't need the discipline to help him repent of his sins. He is sinless. He doesn't need the time alone with God the Father b/c he is God the Son. Satan knows who he is, so there's no need for Jesus to prove his identity to himself or the Enemy. What makes our question even more interesting and infuriating is that Mark uses the Greek verb, ἐκβάλλει (ekballei) which means “casts out.” The same verb used to describe what Jesus does the demons he encounters in his ministry. So, in the same way that Jesus casts out demons, so the Holy Spirit casts Jesus out into the wilderness. There's an almost dismissive or casual sense that Jesus is being “thrown away,” tossed out like garbage. But to get the full picture here we need to remember where Jesus is heading next. He goes to Galilee and begins to preach, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Before he can endure his passion in Jerusalem and die on the cross at Calvary, he must be made ready. We too must be made ready. And Jesus shows us the way.

We can think of Jesus' time in the desert in the same way that we think about his baptism. The Messiah, sinless and unable to sin, doesn't need to be baptized. Jesus' baptism in the Jordan is God's way of revealing His Son to us; His way of announcing to the world that His Christ has arrived. Jesus forty days in the desert didn't need to happen either; that is, he didn't need to endure all that for his own sake. He did it for us. He did it to reveal himself – his true nature and purpose – before he set off to Galilee to begin his public ministry. What this scene in the wilderness tells us about our Lord is that though he cannot be properly tempted, he knows that we can. He knows that the power of the Devil – though real – is ultimately temporary and deceiving. And he know that when we place ourselves at the mercy of Father, we will be ministered to by the choirs of angels. None of this knowing on Jesus' part prevents us from actually feeling hunger, thirst, loneliness, or pain. Our knowing that we can be tempted doesn't make enduring temptation any easier. Knowing the Devil's power is deceptive or that we are ministered to by angels makes the preparation for our own passion and death any more pleasant.

BUT knowing that Christ has gone before us and is with us now, makes any trial here and now endurable. Knowing that Christ is with us when we fast, when we pray, when we give what we have to others, knowing he is with us always and everywhere, that makes our troubles more than endurable. . .it makes them sacrificial. When do as he did and speak as he spoke, and when we do and speak in his name for his sake, we follow faithfully behind, picking up his work and his words, and we bear witness in the world to the love that made it possible for him to die on a cross for us. His forty days in the wilderness with Satan and the wild beasts was our preparation, the preparation of his future body, the Church, to carry on with his ministry. And, thanks be to God, we do not minister alone. The same spirit that drives Jesus into the desert, the same spirit that saw the angels minister to him, and the same spirit that set the apostles to fire at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that binds us together now in the Church.
Make these forty days of Lent a time for preparation for your own passion and death. It may sound a bit morbid. But think: death misses no one; no one gets out of here alive. Take this season to heart and spend the time necessary to dig deep into your relationship with God. He loves you. Do you love Him? If there is sin in your life that prevents you from receiving His love, confess it, repent, and believe the Gospel! If there is temptation pestering you, name it and face it. Call on the Holy Spirit for help. That's His job. If you are attached to something that has become a god, an idol for you, sacrifice it – make it holy by giving it up. Fast and pray. There is no better way to see the deceptive power of the Enemy than through the eyes of fasting and prayer. Give what you have to others. There is no better way to destroy the power of attachment than to surrender whatever it is you believe you can't live without. Jesus did it all before us, he did it all for us. And, now, it's our turn to prepare. Prepare well. “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.”

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11 February 2018

Why does God love us?

6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Why does God love us? One answer to this question goes like this: God love us b/c He is Love; it is His nature to love – Love is who He is and what He does. According to His nature, God cannot not love. If we take the question to mean – what is the ultimate purpose of God's loving us? – we get a slightly different answer. The purpose behind God's loving us is to change us for the better. And to change us for the better, God's love requires our cooperation. God will not force us to love Him. He will not force us to change. He loves us without condition or pretense b/c it is His nature to love. So, you need never worry about whether or not God loves you. He does. Always. And in all circumstances. If you must worry, worry about whether or not you love God. Notice the leper. Despite his disease, despite the fact that he is required by Mosaic Law to avoid healthy people, and declare himself Unclean, he approaches Jesus, kneels, and begs, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus touches the Leper and says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Christ loves without condition or pretense, but he will only cleanse you of sin if you ask to be made clean.

In recent years, the Church has been roiled by internal debates about the nature of mercy and sin; the morality of “second marriages” and taking communion; whether or not the individual conscience trumps the Church's moral teaching; whether or not a pastor can bless same-sex “marriages.” The different sides of these debates line up like you might expect: those who say every case is different so we cannot impose universal rules and those who say that there are rock-bottom truths that always apply to all cases. We hear that God loves us unconditionally, therefore, all are welcome! We hear that God hates sin, therefore, sinners must not be welcomed as sinners. Bishop Bob says we must embrace the sinner. While Bishop Jim says the sinner must be admonished. Pastors and lay folks get in on the action – documents are quoted; popes are cited; councils invoked; and theologians and Celebrity Catholics rant in the media about the respective rigidity or moral laxity of the other side. Either the Church must always keep up with the times, or the Church must never change. Notice the leper. His faith in Christ pushes him to ask for healing. He asks. And Christ heals him. God loves us in order to change us. To make us holy.

Some would have us believe that God's unconditional love affirms the OK-ness of our sin; that is, they say, since God always loves us (true), despite our sin (true), then our sin must be OK. False. My sin is a sign, is evidence that I do not love God. He still loves me, true, but I do not love Him. If I am to be healed, I must ask to be healed. If my sins are to be forgiven, I must ask to be forgiven. And in order to ask to be forgiven I must first actually believe that my sins are indeed sins! But if God loves me despite my sins, why bother with asking for forgiveness? Because my sins tell God that I do not love Him, and He will not force His love upon me. Without my cooperation, God's love cannot help me to grow in holiness; without my cooperation, God's graces go unused. And when my time for judgment comes, God will honor my choice not to love Him and allow me to live apart from Him for all eternity. The love that God has for of us does not – in any way – diminish or negate the damage we do to ourselves when we sin, when we refuse to repent of that sin and ask for His mercy. Notice the leper, begging, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Christ responding, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Ask, receive. No asking, no receiving.

So, the bottom-line is this: if all you want out of your life as a follower of Christ is to be loved by God. . .well, you got it. You're done. In fact, you were done the moment you were conceived. God loved you in your mother's womb; He loves you now, and He will always love you. He will even love you as you choose to spend eternity separated from Him. If, however, you want your life as a follower of Christ to be a love affair between you and God, a mutual, life-giving, grace-filled affair, then you will name your sin what it is and ask to be healed. And God will heal you b/c He loves you. What you – we – cannot do is ask God to love our sin, to pretend that our disobedience is not disobedience. Doing that would make God – who always loves us – an accomplice in our damnation. That He cannot/will not do. Lent is fast-approaching. We'll be charged with spending some time and energy examining our relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Take some of that time and energy to explore the depth and breadth of your love for God. Ask yourself: do I just presume that my sins are forgiven b/c God loves me? Or, have I actually asked Him to heal me? The difference it makes is eternal.

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04 February 2018

Everything is Lost!

NB: from 2006 a Vintage (oh boy) Fr. Philip Neri homily! (The deacon preached tonight. . .)

5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas 
Hear it!

Everything is lost. Nothing really lives here. There is no light, no life, no hope of being found. There is work with no purpose. Movement toward no end. Day, then night, then day again. No meaning. Pointless striving. Unraveling hours of nothing at all. Sleep brings no rest. Work never tires. It won’t end soon enough. Or, too soon. Like an exhausted wind weakly blowing dust. Sigh. Job is not a happy man. He’s learned that his life of blessing and prosperity is very easily washed away. Troubled nights. Restlessness ‘til dawn. His life like a wind. Never to see happiness again. Job has lost his faith. And with it his humility and his gratitude. Self-pity and anger are not the seeds of blessing. So, he will be hopeless, restless, and sleepless until he finds again a purpose bigger than his small dreams, his little dramas of success.

We read tonight that Jesus and Paul know their purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. What makes you happy? What Purpose do you serve?

Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents given to us, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made. It’s how we live in the world.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul has been given an end, a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing the temple air. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy.

Paul’s sleep is restful. His work exhausts him. He is a slave whose labor is never drudgery, never pointless. His end, his purpose is Jesus Christ, the telling again and again of his story, his bruising encounter with the man of love. And offering to anyone who will open their eyes to see and their ears to hear, offering to them the same restfulness, the same pleasing exhaustion, the same intense focus of a purpose driven by the need to proclaim Christ.

Jesus, doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds, responds responsibly when Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose says, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. Now, nearly exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose—to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation—heaven and earth, human and devil—and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how much ahead in the race, has already lost.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What goals do you serve? Why do you get up in the morning? What meaning does your work, your play have for you? Who are you in light of what you have promised to be and do? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy? Lots of questions! But all of these are really just one question: what is your purpose?

You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is dyed into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to God, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,”—heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel—“so that I too may have a share in it.”

What Purpose do you serve? I mean, when you work, when you study and teach and play, toward what end do you reach? What goal seduces you forward, pulls you to the finish line? Surely for us, all of us here tonight, that purpose is Jesus Christ. Our goal is his friendship, his love. And our goal is his witness, our telling of his Good News. We can waddle around in the darkness of sin, bumping around blind, reaching for what’s never there. We can wail into the wind like Job, moaning about the meaninglessness of life, the pointlessness of our daily striving. We can even refuse happiness, refuse to see that we have a given purpose. But you will find your release and your license, your freedom and your choice when you make yourself a slave to all, when you make yourself all things to all, to save at least some.

Like Paul, a trusted steward, a faithful child, preach the gospel. Live it right where you are. Make it your reason for getting out of bed, for going to work, for making it to class. Make it who you are, what you do, and everything you ever will become.

Everyone is looking for you. For what purpose do you live

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28 January 2018

Anxiety Kills

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Distraction kills. So does anxiety. But spiritual distraction and anxiety can kill you. . .forever. Between December 21st and January 22nd I drove Interstates 10 and 55 some 2,310 miles back and forth among NOLA, Houston, and Memphis. In all those miles I lost count of the number of times people passed me on the road doing 90mph while texting, talking on their cell, putting on make-up, and eating. One guy passed me doing over 90 holding a plate in one hand and stuffing a piece of pizza into his face with the other. Ninety plus MPH w/o a finger on the wheel! That sort of distraction will kill you and anyone who happens to be in your way. But as bad as distracted driving is, it can't compare with a distracted and anxious spiritual life. So Paul writes to the Corinthians, “I should like you to be free of anxieties.” And Jesus casts out a distracting and unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue, saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” For us to grow in holiness, for us to flourish on the Way to the Lord, we need to be free and quiet. Free from worry and doubt; free from attachments and worldly burdens. We need to be quiet, surrendering ourselves to the loving-care of God our Father.

What does this all mean in practical, day-to-day terms? Paul, ever practical, says that marriage can cause us to be anxious. Husbands distract wives. Wives distract husbands. He doesn't mention kids, but I'm pretty sure they can be their own sort of anxiety! He's clear that his point is not about the innate value of celibacy over marriage but about what it takes to be freed so that our hearts and minds may serve the Lord unburdened with the worries of pleasing a spouse. It's not the Grand Problems of Being that Paul believes drives us toward the unclean spirit of Anxiety and Distraction but rather the mundane, everyday, purely routine chores that accumulate over time and wear us down. Paying the bills, laundry, lawn care, car repair, buying groceries, going to work, cooking, cleaning, the stuff we all do every single day. So the trick is to stop doing these things, right? Husbands and wives are cheering Paul on! No, that's not his point. His point is to do these things in order to please the Lord. If the routine stuff we do everyday is done in the spirit of pleasing the Lord, then our routine stuff becomes something truly worshipful, truly spiritually beneficial. It all becomes prayer, a means of speaking to God our Father.
Look again at the man possessed by the unclean spirit. Jesus orders the spirit to be quiet and come out! He separates the spirit from the man; he doesn't destroy the man b/c he's possessed. . .he frees him. He removes from the man the spirit that is causing him to be distracted and distracting. We can do the same with our every thought, word, and deed. We can – in the name of Christ – consecrate (set aside, separate) everything we think, say, and do to the pleasing service of God thus making our entire earthly existence one long sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Pay that car note and give God thanks that you have transportation. Buy groceries and praise the Lord that you will eat tonight. Clean the house in the name of Christ to keep it filled with his abiding love. Give God thanks for your co-workers. You have others to help you with your job. Many of you will confess to being distracted during Mass, thinking about Sunday football, or the roast in crock pot, or the kids' undone homework. What if instead of seeing these thoughts as distractions you see them as promptings from the Holy Spirit to give thanks to God for giving you leisure time, food to eat, and children to love? 
There is no reason for us to be anxious or distracted. Neither anxiety nor distraction has any power over us. . .IF you choose to place your anxieties and worries into the hands of God, trusting that whatever good thing you must do will be done to please Him and give Him glory.

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26 January 2018

Death is Not the End

Mom's Memorial Mass
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Death is not the end. We know this. Death is not the end, and we know this b/c Christ died to defeat death. He died on the Cross to put an end to sin and death, to create in us a hope for the resurrection and life eternal. Death cannot be the end b/c “hope does not disappoint,” hope in, trust in the promises of Christ cannot fail. And we know this b/c Christ himself prays, “Father, those whom you gave me are your gift to me.” We are Christ's, and again he prays, “I wish that where I am they also may be with me. . .” And we are here, where he is, in the Body, giving thanks for his passion and death, and hoping in our resurrection when Defeated Death comes to take his best, last shot. Death is not the end; it cannot be the end b/c we – each one of us – b/c we are bought, paid for, and delivered into the possession of, the family of God, our Father. We are His adopted sons and adopted daughters, reborn in baptism, confirmed in the Spirit, and joined into the Body through his body and blood. If dying is not the end, then why does the death of a mother, a father, a child, why does it hurt so much? If dying is not the end, then what do the dead do for us, for those left behind?

The dead bear witness to our enduring hope. If we open our hearts and minds to the fleeting nature of our earthly existence; if we acknowledge our fragility in this fallen world; and if we have surrendered ourselves to the cross of Christ, following him in all things, then the dead minister to us in their absence from our lives; that is, by not being with us still, they bring us back to a pillar of our faith – the enduring hope of the resurrection and all that that hope requires of us while we still live. The dead, in the hardest possible way, remind us that our lives are given to us – not earned, not borrowed but freely given. They remind us – by their bold absence – that our promised eternal lives are gifts as well. Never earned, never merited by own hands, but freely given, freely gifted. In their silence, they remind us that our hope must be lived – daily, hourly – until we come face-to-face with Christ himself for judgment. The ministry of the dead is remembrance. Even as we remember those who have died, they tend to our desire to forget who we are made to be, who we are re-made to be in Christ Jesus. Even as sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then are we loved now that we are justified by his death and resurrection?

How do we hope in the face of death? How do we go on? Jesus prays to the Father, “I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” We know His name. And we know that the Father's love for His Son is with us, and that Christ is in us. The hope that cannot disappoint is our good habit of living knowing that – as we follow Christ – death in the world is as fleeting as life in the world, a passing through onto the resurrection of the body and life eternal. But even with hope, the death of a mother, a father, a child, death hurts those left behind. Perhaps part of that hurting is the ministry of the dead, their traumatic way of bringing us back to clarity and commitment; their way of pushing hope back into our lives when we have chosen despair. If all of this is true, then to mourn, to grieve is to welcome and nurture hope – as painful as it is. And those who mourn are blessed b/c their dead minister to them with the hope that only Christ can promise and deliver. Death is not the end. Death is defeated. But all of us – each one of us – will be left behind. And our faith in Christ will travel with us. Then one day, it will be our turn – through our bold absence – to minister to the living, to pray for those still on the Way.

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20 January 2018

Funeral Arrangements for Mom

Mom's visitation and funeral arrangements:

Family will receive guests on Sunday, January 21, 2018 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm at Olive Branch Christian Church, 8300 Craft Rd. Olive Branch, MS. 

Services to immediately follow. 

Burial will follow at Autumn Woods Cemetery.

Obit from Brantley Funeral Home 

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18 January 2018


I ask your prayers for the repose of the soul of my mother, Nancy Rebecca.

She died this morning at 9.15.

God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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11 January 2018

Thanks and an Update on Mom

Big Mendicant Thanks to Jenny K. for the bottle of paint.

Thanks to the anonymous donor(s) of all the jars of paint.

Mom is only able to breath w/o the vent for a few hours at a time. Since she has been intubated for a week, the doc said that he will need to perform a tracheotomy in order to avoid damage to her vocal cords. 

Please continue your prayers for her and for my dad, Glenn.

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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10 January 2018

Great News!

Great News!

Mom is breathing on her own this morning. The vent tube is still in place in case she needs it, but she's been doing all the work since around 9.30am (CST).

Thank you all for the prayers!

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP

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08 January 2018

Prayer Request for Mom

Prayer Request. . .for those of you who are not on Facebook: my Mom, Becky, has been in the ICU since Jan 2nd. She caught the flu and experienced complete respiratory failure -- she has COPD. She was put on a ventilator and has been on it since. Yesterday, the docs discovered that her right lung had collapsed. They inserted a chest tube to re-inflate it. We're hoping/praying that she will be able to come off the vent tomorrow (Tues).

Your prayers for her would be most appreciated!

Frat., Fr. Philip Neri, OP


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