13 April 2015

12 April 2015

Just the beginning of our surrender

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Lay Carmelites/Our Lady of the Rosary

The Easter scene – one week later – is fraught with tension and trial. The disciples are frightened and disbelieving, maybe even on the razor's edge of freaking-out and abandoning the Gospel altogether. And who can blame them? For three years they've followed the man Jesus as he wandered the countryside teaching and preaching the conquering power of the Father's freely offered mercy. Healing the sick, exorcising the possessed, multiplying bread and fish to feed the thousands, the disciples had every good reason to trust that their teacher was exactly who he said he was. And then Judas sold him to the temple priests and the Romans nailed him to a cross. At the expected moment, when the Son of God should have come down from the cross and laid waste to his enemies, at that moment, he instead cried out to his Father – Why have you forsaken me? – and died. Now his body is missing from the tomb and no one knows where they took him. Hunted as traitors and heretics, the disciples hide in fear, wondering what went wrong and why. To their surprise and shame, the resurrected Lord appears in their midst, and says, “Peace be with you.” Despite their lack of faith, their abandonment of hope, the Lord shows them his mercy. 

Or maybe he shows them his mercy b/c of their lack of faith and abandonment of hope? When Thomas the Twin returns to their locked-tight hide-out, the other disciples bear witness to the Lord's appearance. He refuses to believe their testimony; he refuses to believe that the resurrected Lord appeared to them, showing them his execution-wounds. In defiance and with all the arrogance of a modern American, Thomas announces, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” One week later – this week – the resurrected Lord appears again in their midst and again shows them the Father's mercy, “Peace be with you.” And rather than punish his arrogant disciple, Thomas, the Lord does the unexpected again. He relieves Thomas' disbelief in the only way that Thomas could accept: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” The Lord's gift of Divine Mercy moves Thomas to an act of faith. He shouts, “My Lord and my God!” 

We can sympathize with Thomas' disbelief. We can sympathize with his faith. No doubt each one of us have lived through days and weeks of despair, and days and weeks of vivid faith and hope. We can even sympathize with the frightened disciples, locked away in their hide-out. Over the centuries, the Church has thrived in hiding and barely survived out in the open. We've ruled empires and been ruled by them. We've shaped whole cultures and allowed ourselves to be shaped by them. Whether we are hiding in fear of the State or openly thriving in the marketplace, there is one constant that never fails us: God's enduring and freely offered gift of mercy for the forgiveness of our sins. That offer, this gift never changes. Our Lord always appears in our midst and says, “Peace be with you.” The stillness of that hope and the constancy of that faith pulls us to belief in him and belief in him gently lays us down with love. Thomas' arrogant demand for physical proof is born of fear. If what his fellow disciples tell him is true, then he is obligated to act, to change, to become someone wholly given-over to the power of Spirit who is Love. That commitment is more than just frightening; it's dreadful, filled with the possibilities and promises of giving testimony to an event he himself did not witness. Can he bring himself to live as a follower of Christ and die as his witness when he does not/cannot know if Christ is truly risen?

That's a question we must ask ourselves. Can we? Can I live as a follower of Christ and die as his witness when I do not/cannot know if Christ is truly risen? It's one thing to live as a follower of Christ, to live using his words and deeds as my measure. It's a whole different kind of thing to die b/c I live according to his words and deeds. Think about our brothers and sisters in Iraq right now. Christian boys and men are beheaded in the streets b/c they are followers of Christ. Christian girls and women are herded like animals into cages and sold as sex slaves at auctions. In Nigeria, our brothers and sisters are blown to pieces while attending Mass. Whole Christian villages are macheted for no other reason than that they follow the Christ. In China, the gov't regularly arrests and jails Catholic priests and bishops and leaves them to rot. In Mexico, the Priest Murder Capital of the World, there have been some 47 priests murdered in two decades. Though no where near this level of violence, the U.S. and Europe are seeing a rise in anti-Christian bigotry and the soft-totalitarianism of political correctness. In some ways this sort of soft pressure-to-conform is more dangerous to the faithful than machetes and car bombs. One small surrender at a time eventually amounts to total surrender.

And we will end in total surrender to the secular culture if we do not surrender first to Christ. Our surrender to the culture will not be the end of the Church. The Church will endure, always endure. What will come to an end is the life in Christ for those who give up, for those who – like Thomas and the disciples – choose despair over hope, choose hiding-in over going-out. When Thomas sticks his hand into Christ's wounds he shouts, “My Lord and my God!” What went on in his head during those second btw feeling our Lord's worn flesh and his confession of surrender? Maybe he realizes his mistake and repents. Maybe he feels ashamed of his doubting. Maybe he is convicted in his heart that his mind is wrongly closed to believing what he cannot see. Maybe, just maybe his fear is given rest and his anxiety is appeased by the knowledge that his fellow disciples have testified in truth: the Lord is no longer in his tomb! Thomas is made faithful by the radical truth that his Lord and God is truly risen! Knowing the Risen Lord and believing in the Risen Lord makes Thomas a man-sent-out, an apostle. A man who is what he does and does who he is.

Each one of us is made faithful by the truth of the Risen Lord. If you come forward to eat his body and drink his blood, you are putting your hands into his wounds. Do not be unbelieving but believe. Do not be unknowing but know. And ask yourself: if I can live as a follower of Christ, can I die as a follower of Christ? To say yes to this question is the beginning of your surrender.
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05 April 2015

The Liturgical Revolution: failure and collapse

A post from five years ago. . .now that I am directly involved in the education and formation of seminarians into priests, I can see how the reaction to the Poundians is faring. It's not going well for them. Seminarians and religious students are almost universally rejecting the Poundian liturgical revolution. Thank God and All the Saints! Now, this doesn't mean that they are eagerly embracing the Extraordinary Form. . .though many are. . .it does mean that we will likely see the complete collapse of the "Spirit of Vatican Two" liturgical revolution by mid-century. We'll look back at the 1980's, shake our heads, and ask, "What were they thinking?!" 
 
Though there is almost no chance that our young priests and religious will plan a Clown Mass or wreckovate a beautiful old church, there is another temptation hovering over their enthusiasm for tradition-oriented liturgical worship: the means of achieving tradition-oriented liturgical worship
 
Having lived through Fr. Hollywood's abuse of pastoral discretion to denude his parish church of any and all Catholic iconography, Fr. Youngster has in mind a restoration to Full Roman Catholic Glory. Good for him. How does he do it? If he looks to Fr. Hollywood's example of pastoral abuse, he will simply decree that It Be Done. . .and do it. Without consultation, without catechesis, without any sense at all of what his people need or want. . .he will decree Make It So. . .and then make it so. This is a HUGE mistake. Correcting small liturgical abuses can be easily done, but re-orienting a modernist, suburban parish toward a more formal, traditional style of worship takes time, energy, and tremendous amounts of patience and love. To rush such a reformation on nothing more than the word of the pastor is authoritarian and counter-productive. In the minds of parishioners, tradition-oriented liturgical worship is associated with the abuse of clerical power and poisons any chance that the reformation will take hold organically.
 
Fr. Youngster, remember: "Gentle as doves, wise as serpents." Patience, love, wisdom, and then a lot more patience and love.
 
The Post:
 
In the early 20th century, the American crypto-fascist ex-pat poet, Ezra Pound, issued a three word manifesto that came to define the modernist movement in poetics:  "Make it new."  Reacting to what he saw as the calcified conservativism of formal verse in the West, Pound urged poets to strike out into unexplored poetical territories and bring to the art of the image and line the perpetual revolution of novelty for novelty's sake.

Pound's orders were faithfully followed by his loyal troops and the hydra-headed monster of modernist poetry laid waste to traditional versification.  The influence of his revolution of novelty was not limited to the arcane practices of poets.  Novelists, dramatists, artists, musicians, dancers, architects, all heard the call of "make it new" and went about deconstructing centuries of subtle, complex beauty with the fierce simplicity of the single, powerful image. 

As any Catholic who has witnessed the dissolution of our faith's liturgical heritage can attest, Pound's revolution had no respect for the Church or her treasures.  The central document outlining the Second Vatican Council's plan for liturgical renewal, Sacrosanctum concilium, was snatched by Poundian revolutionaries in the Church and used to dismantle the 500 year old tradition of worship in the Catholic faith.  Pope John Paul II, and to a much greater degree, Pope Benedict XVI, have mitigated, if not yet entirely reversed, the lasting damage done to the liturgical heritage of the Church by insisting on the organic development of liturgy and the need to read the Council documents with a hermeneutic of continuity.   What remains of the Novelty Revolution lies mostly in the misplaced creative efforts of priests and religious who, for whatever reason, see it as their vocation to make sure that the Church's worship remains "relevant" and "up to date." 

By placing relevance and novelty above organic development and continuity, liturgical Poundians ignore the historical and ecclesial nature of the liturgy and privilege their subjective cultural assessments above the real spiritual needs of their charges.  The widespread phenomenon of liturgical abuse is an insidious form of clericalism that encourages those with clerical power to use that power to inflict their private preferences, political agendas, and ideological quirks on congregations powerless to stop them.  Though Catholics have seen a dramatic decline in liturgical abuse in the last twenty-years, abuses still occur, and in some places, abuses are the norm.

Liturgical abuse comes in three varieties:

1).  a misplaced emphasis on the immanent at the expense of the transcendent
2).  the elevation of the purely intellectual at the expense of the affective/experiential
3).  an emphasis on the local at the expense of the universal
(NB.  there is absolutely nothing wrong with the liturgy expressing the immanent, the intellectual, or the local.  The problem is an emphasis on these aspects at the expense of their balancing opposites.)

Immanent vs. transcendent

In reaction to the over-clericalization of the medieval liturgy, Poundians worked hard to redirect our liturgical attention to the presence of the divine among us.  Initially a necessary reform, this redirection quickly became a foil for all-things-transcendent.  The most notable example of this abuse is the almost-disappearance of the notion of the Mass as a sacrifice.  In order to displace the over-hyped role of the priest, Poundians turned the Mass into a communal meal, distributing the larger portion of the priest's role to the community and making Mass all about bringing the community together.  We still see this happening in the unnecessary use of communion ministers; the priest refusing to use to presider's chair; folksy language used to replace liturgical language; and the illicit use of gender-inclusive language.

Intellectual vs. affective

Many older Catholics lament the demise of traditional devotions after Vatican Two.  In an effort to bring our undivided attention back to the celebration of the Mass, Poundians waged war against devotional practices.  Seen as private, affective luxuries, devotions were railed against as willful acts of rebellion against the need to build community through individual "active participation" in the Mass.  Modernist innovations in the secular arts always required some knowledge of the theory that produced the art.  Pollock's paintings only make sense if you understand what he is trying to do in the context of traditional painting techniques.  Poundian liturgical revolutionaries were quick to dismiss criticisms of their innovations with ringing calls for more catechesis--more education would somehow diffuse the overwhelming discomfort most Catholics felt when confronted with disruptive, alien liturgical practices.  We still see the intellectual being privileged over the affective in abuses like monologues on the meanings of liturgical symbols; an insistence on equating stark, barren sanctuaries with "noble simplicity"; the deconstruction of traditional church architecture as a way of embodying ideas about the nature of community; and the dumbing down of liturgical language so that immediate cognitive understanding trumps the more profound experiences to be found in elevated language and ritual.

Local vs. universal

As part of the effort to undermine a universally told story about the faith, Poundians began emphasizing the need for more and more local options in the celebration of the liturgy.  Citing the Council's call for inculturation, the "Make it new" crowd attacked the notion that our liturgical worship connects us to a historically-bound narrative of God's Self-revelation; in other words, their novelty revolution would not tolerate a liturgy that privileged tradition as the clearest lens through which the Church understands her historical relationship with God.  Building on the growth and spread of subjectivity and relativism, the Poundians latched onto a rarefied notion of the local church ("this church-community") and opposed it to the universal Church as the most authentic expression of catholic identity.  This move allowed them to argue for more and more specificity, more and more idiosyncratic innovations in how the liturgy was celebrated at the parish level.  It quickly became commonplace for parishes to be identified by their "worship-style," and even Masses celebrated at different times within the same parish were described in terms of style.  This abuse is most clearly seen in so-called ethnic parishes where attempts are made to accommodate the dominant culture of the parishioners (Latino, African-American, Vietnamese) at the expense of the universal story of our faith. (NB. not all cultural accommodation is necessarily an abuse; abuses are always perversions of allowable uses.)

Liturgical Poundians are on the decline.  Like their counterparts in literature, the excesses of novelty for novelty's sake have proven that the revolution has no underlying principle of restraint, no intrinsic limits.  What counts as "new" is itself subject to the whims of those deemed avant-garde enough to define the term.  Poundians have been rightly criticized for becoming staid, predictable, and highly orthodox in their privileging of a late-20th century liturgical aesthetic. Anyone who has clashed with a professional liturgist knows that the principles they espouse are as plastic as they need to be to justify the preferred worldview of the liturgist.  Rubrics, magisterial documents, liturgical law, tradition, all form a  repugnant canon to those who see it as their sacred ministry to shape the liturgical lives of the less enlightened.

Though it is not entirely clear that young Catholics will embrace the ancient liturgical tradition of the Church in large numbers, what is clear is that the age of experimentation is over.  Novelty for the sake of novelty is an exhausted project.
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03 April 2015

Good Friday: Stop All the Clocks

Good Friday 2012
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA


Our Lord takes a sip of wine and sighs, “It is finished.” Our Lord is dead. Do we mourn? Do we rejoice? His mortal life is finished, and now we. . .what?. . .celebrate/remember/grieve. He is finished; his work is done. And whatever we choose to do with his passing, our pilgrimage to lives eternal is just beginning. The poet, W. H. Auden, chose to dwell at the cross on Good Friday. He writes:

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message 'He is dead'[. . .]

I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
*


Mr. Auden was wrong. . .about being wrong. Love does last forever and there is no need to empty creation of its stars and oceans and woods. Come Easter morning—we know—that Christ's tomb is empty and all creation is brought back to Love. But for today, our Lord is dead. And the good he brings seems forever away. Do we mourn? Rejoice? Do we laugh or cry? Whatever we do, we take one step toward eternity. 

* Stop All the Clocks, W. H. Auden, 1937.  This poem was written as lyrics for a play.  The subject of the poem is a deceased politician, not Christ; however, I thought the idea of the poem fit well with Good Friday.  
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02 April 2015

What Holy Thursday Teaches Us

Office of Readings: Holy Thursday
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA


All that we read and hear read in these Holy Thursday liturgies teach us to how to see our Lord's death. If we were to watch him die on the cross as a criminal, we would have nothing to celebrate. He is dead. If we were see him die as just a man, as this morning's sin-offering, we would have to prepare another victim to sacrifice for tomorrow's sins. If we were to see him die as a god, then nothing human is healed by his dying. Holy Thursday teaches us to see our Lord's death in truth. He is a heretic to the Jews. A criminal to the Romans. Just a man to Jew and Gentile alike. But for us, he is the Son of God and the Son of Man, offered once for all on the altar of the Cross as a sin-offering for the whole world. “When perfected [through obedience], he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. . .” 

Holy Thursday teaches us how an execution became a sacrifice and how a sacrifice becomes a on-going feast for giving thanks. When Jesus and his disciples gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they are doing more—much more—than honoring an ancient Jewish custom. For three years now, Jesus has reminded his disciples—in word and deed—that everything he says and does is moving them all toward a single goal: the fulfillment of the Covenant btw Abraham and God the Father. Every sermon, every hostile exchange with the Pharisees, every healing miracle, everything he has said and done fulfills scriptural prophecy and points to his birth as the coming of the Kingdom. This last celebration of Passover in Jerusalem is no different. It too is a prophetic sign of who and what he is for us. When Jesus and his friends recline at table to begin the feast, they know that what they are remembering is God's rescue of His people from centuries of Egyptian slavery. Bread for the feast is unleavened b/c there is no time to wait for it to rise. The wine is watered b/c they need to be clear-headed for their escape. They are girded for travel and lightly packed. Jesus lifts the bread and says, “This is my Body.” He lifts the cup of wine, “This is my Blood.” At that moment, what were the disciples thinking? Knowing full well what the Passover means—freedom from slavery—did they understand that the Lord was telling them that their ancestral meal of remembrance was now a feast of freedom? That eating his Body and Blood would free them from sin and death? Later, after Jesus' execution, did they make the connection btw ritually sacrificing a lamb in the temple with his sacrifice on the cross? 

Holy Thursday teaches us that the Roman execution of Jesus is a Jewish sacrifice that the Risen Christ transforms into a feast of thanksgiving—a New Covenant Passover celebration that celebrates our rescue from slavery to sin. How does a Roman execution become a Christian feast? When the one executed is the Son of God and Son of Man. When the one whose body and blood we eat and drink is presented to God as a sacrifice, a sin-offering made once for all. And when we are commanded to remember this sacrifice, to participate in it by taking into our own bodies the Body and Blood of the one sacrificed for us. Holy Thursday teaches us that Jesus the Christ has fulfilled the promises and obligations of the Covenant made btw Abraham and God the Father, establishing for us a New Covenant of grace, of freely offered forgiveness for all of our offenses. Knowing this, “. . .let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in time of need.”
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22 March 2015

Where He is, so will His servants be. . .

5th Sunday of Lent 2015
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Three weeks into our Lenten fast and just two weeks away from Easter, can you hear this difficult teaching: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces good fruit.” You must change. We must change. We must move from seed to fruit, from kernel to harvest. We must move from what we are to what the Father made us to be at the first breath of creation. How? There is that moment, that instant when you surrender, when you truly say yes to God, that single breath, that single catch in your throat when the clarity and depth of a foundation-shaking decision dawns in your soul and you say with flesh and bone and heart, “Father, glorify your name in me!” The you are truly born. Then you will truly suffer. You will die. And then you will rise again. Christmas. Lent. Good Friday. Easter. 
 
Surrender. Suffer. Die. Rise again. This road of redemption is open to us because Jesus walked it first. “Whoever serves me must follow me.” This road is open to you because our Father will have you back. Our Father will love us into our perfection. He will have you again, whole, complete. He loves us not b/c we deserve love, not b/c we've earned love, not b/c He cannot see our sin. He loves us in order to change us. . .from who we are right now into who He wills us to be forever.

We are the seed of His glory!

Holy Week approaches. Here are the hard questions: will you die today? Will you surrender to Christ and follow him? Will you suffer to be with him at the cross? To be with him on the cross? Can we move beyond pride, anger, envy, lust, and hear this difficult teaching: Jesus says, “Where I am, there also will my servant be.”

The Greek converts to Judaism come to Jesus seeking an audience. They approach Philip and say, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip and Andrew go to Jesus with the request and Jesus, in a moment of bleak clarity, knows. Knowing all along that his life will end in pain and blood, Jesus whispers what has shouted in his heart since his baptism: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” His voice a sigh, resigned and determined, he warns Philip and Andrew that to follow him to glory requires that they do what he does. Surrender. Suffer. Die. Rise again.

Can we hear this difficult teaching? Are we prepared to hear it? We are prepared to hear that we are loved. We are prepared to hear that we are forgiven. Are we prepared to hear that we must surrender, suffer, and die to be with him forever? This is a road that we watch him travel every Lent, every Holy Week. We watch him, in the last days before Golgotha. We watch him take our licks, bleed our blood, cry out our pain. We watch his flesh tear against the nails and this blood seep out of his wounds. We hear his last words. And feel the ground shake as the temple veil rips apart.

We travel with him in our own way. But does it seem second-hand to you? Does it seem that we suffer and die with him three or four steps away? Behind the barricade, across the street, and around the corner? We can’t be there, literally. Not historically speaking, we can’t. We can enact, of course. Dramatize. We can recreate in gesture, symbol, word. Third person participation in a First Person act of vicarious sacrifice. But the whole thing can taste. . .plastic, made up, and weak.

But does it have to? No, it doesn’t. The chances that any of us here will find ourselves scourged and nailed to a cross for the faith are right at zero. Less than zero. This is a fact of historical circumstance; it is where we are in time and the place we live. We might suffer humiliation in the media or a kind of death in scandal. We might even act in such a way that we find ourselves jailed for our beliefs. I suppose we could find ourselves martyred in the right part of the world: Islamic Africa, the Middle East, communist Asia, killed just for being the voice of Christ, a witness to his freedom.

But I don’t think we have to be jailed, beaten, and killed to find a way to surrender, suffering, death, and resurrection. Will you hear this difficult teaching: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” If you cling desperately to who you are right now, with no other purpose, no end beyond living the next minute, the next hour, you will lose the life you have been given. Why? Your life has purpose, meaning—to live with God in holiness now and in beatitude forever! If you turn that goal into mere living, dumb existence, then the point of your being here is destroyed. If you hate the life the world tells you to live – the life of momentary pleasure, easy sin, temporary happiness – then you will see beyond the illusion of the Lie and serve what is permanent and life-giving, liberating and eternal. You will serve him, the one who has given your life to our Father for His glory.

To do this, to serve him, we must give ourselves to Christ. Surrender completely. No reservations. Nothing held back. This means that what God wants for you must become your first concern. His will for you must come before your politics, your “needs,” your self-control, your anger, your grudges, your debts, your hatreds, your loves, anything and everything must be heard and seen through the Father’s will for you. We must be subject to the Father. Perfected in obedience. And nearly ready to explode with the need to serve! We must be ready at any moment, at every hour to repeat Christ’s prayer: “It was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name in me.”

That’s surrender. What of suffering? We suffer well if we feel our pain with a purpose. Having surrendered everything to Christ, even our pain, everything of ours now belongs to Christ and perfects his work in us. We can experience pain like an animal. Or we can suffer, experience pain with a purpose, use it to perfect our obedience, our permanent openness to hearing the Father’s will for us. There is a stark, white clarity to suffering; a way that it has of focusing the spirit, tightening the will. Put it to work serving others. Give it to Christ for them. To what he did and suffer for them.

That’s suffering, what of dying and rising again? Not yet. Two more weeks. Death and resurrection in two more weeks.  Until then, remember: you are the seed of His glory. And you have some hard questions to answer before and during Holy Week: will you die today? Will you surrender to Christ and follow him? Will you suffer to be with him at the cross? To be with him on the cross?
 
Will you hear this difficult teaching: “Where I am, there also will my servant be.”
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15 March 2015

He loved us SO much. . .

Audio file for 4th Sunday of Lent. . .

NB. No text for this homily. 

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08 March 2015

Our Faith Cannot Be Bought or Sold

3rd Sunday of Lent (2015)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
How many here have been to a flea market? I went to one for the first time in the early 80's with my paternal grandmother. We drove to Belzoni, MS to the annual Catfish Festival. We had a carload of her crafts to sell—ceramics, painting, knitting. Every item had a small white price sticker. But I learned that that sticker was just a suggestion, the opening bid for the item. Through the day, I watched my grandmother dicker over the prices. Sometimes she came out on top and sometimes she didn't. When the catfish frying started, I wandered around the stalls to see what I could see. It didn't take me long to find the comic book booths. All those wadded up dollar bills in my pocket—all ten of them—started burning and itching to be spent. I returned to my grandmother's booth with a handful of comics and nothing left in my pocket. That day I learned two rules about bargaining for what you want: 1). always assume that the price is too high; 2). be prepared to walk away. Since then, I've learned another rule of the marketplace: some things are too valuable to negotiate over. Jesus clearly demonstrates that there is no place for the marketplace in the business of faith. Our faith is priceless and God never bargains. 

Jesus is angry, very angry. He's angry enough to take a whip to the money changers doing business in the temple courtyard. It might not be obvious why he's so angry, so let's look at that for a moment. The money changers have a job to do. They are the first century equivalent of our modern currency exchanges. They take a wide variety of currency and change it—for a fee—into currency acceptable to the temple. The faithful visiting the temple then use their new currency to buy sacrificial animals or donate their tithe to the temple coffers. Seems innocent enough, so why does this practical business upset Jesus? He shouts at the money changers, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.” He's angry b/c these businessmen have turned his Father's house into a marketplace. OK. But why would that make him angry? The money changers are helping the faithful fulfill their legal and ritual obligations. . .for a modest profit, of course. Without the money changers, most probably wouldn't be able to offer the required sacrifices or make their tithe donations. They are providing an invaluable service. If CCN or the NYT had been around in those days, the headlines would've read: CHRISTIAN TERRORIST TRASHES TEMPLE! Or something equally inflammatory. Is Jesus just being unreasonable here? Is he pushing an extremist agenda? No. Jesus knows that what his Father truly wants, truly values is the sacrifice of a contrite heart. The money changers have turned a deeply religious duty into a flea market negotiation.

Taken on its own, there's nothing inherently wrong with the marketplace. We buy what we want and need; sell what we can no longer use; and trade one thing for another based on mutual agreement. Nothing could be more democratic or fair. No one is forced to buy, sell, or trade and prices are set only after both parties are satisfied. But there are some things so valuable that they cannot be priced, cannot be bought, sold, or traded. There are some things that have worth beyond our ability to negotiate them away. One of those things is our faith, the infused habit of trusting in the loving-care of our Father. How much is the freely given gift of faith worth? What would you trade it for? What amount of money could you spend to buy a gift given only by God? Jesus is angry at the money changers because they have turned the faithfuls' love for God, their worship, their adoration into a mercantile exchange, a mechanical transaction from which they benefit by charging a fee. Where is the faithfuls' contrite heart? Where is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? Where is repentance, mercy, and the longing for holiness? Do they believe that the their worship of the Most High is accomplished by jingling a few coins? That their duty to revere the Creator is discharged by slipping a quarter or two into a temple vending machine? Apparently, they do and that's why Jesus grabs a whip, flips over their booths, and drives them out of his Father's house.

Now, what does this raucous gospel episode have to do with us? While Jesus rested in Jerusalem, many came to believe in his name. However, John reports, “Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” Jesus understands the human heart, its strengths, weaknesses, temptations, and failures. He understands that we are often all too ready, willing, and able to overthrow his Father as Lord of our lives and negotiate away the gift of faith. He understands that we are often tempted to allow the demons of fear and worry to set up shop among the better spirits of joy and trust. That we love a good deal and often fail to see beyond the next bargain, beyond the next chance to get something we want. Jesus hesitates to reveal himself to those who have come to believe on his name b/c he knows that it is our nature to take the easiest path, to lift the lightest burden, and to make the most popular choice. He will not give his revelation to a heart prepared to swap it for money, power, celebrity, or approval. He's waiting to reveal himself to those who will sacrifice a heart made contrite in repentance, a heart made pure by honestly discharging its duty to love. The freely given gift of faith cannot be bought, sold, or traded; it cannot be negotiated away or bargained for. It can only be nurtured and lived, or left to wither and die. 

During the next few years, the heart of the faithful in the U.S. will be tested by a variety of money changers seeking to buy the faith outright or to at least bargain over its price. We'll be tempted with promises of political influence, protection, increased gov't funding, and all sorts of apparently approving cultural goodies. At the same time, from the other side of the bargaining table, we'll be threatened with political exile, cultural disapproval, de-funding, and even dire legal consequences up to and including jail time. These negotiations are already well underway in the U.K., Canada, and several states in our own country. [SanFran] Why is the Church being targeted? The well-lived life of faith is an irritating obstacle to those who imagine themselves freed from the slavery of sin. That anyone anywhere would cling to the idea that God's truth is knowable; His goodness obtainable; and His beauty enjoyable is. . .well, it's just ridiculous; or worse, it's oppressive, mean-spirited, hateful. That's what our faith is to some: an oppressive, mean-spirited, and hateful indictment of their rightful choices; thus, they must either negotiate the faith away or destroy it outright. But they cannot do that if we follow Jesus' example and keep the money changers out of his Father's house, keep our faith out of the buying and selling of the flea market, away from the bargaining table and where it belongs: thriving in a contrite heart ready for loving sacrifice. 

Some things cannot be bought, sold, or traded. One of those things—the single most important thing—is the free given gift of our faith. Nothing this world's money changers have to offer is worth the price of abandoning our God.



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02 March 2015

Teach the Faith and Vocations Will Bloom

Bishop Morlino of Madison, WI is doing something right!

There are now 33 seminarians, or priests-in-training, up from six in 2003 when Bishop Robert Morlino arrived.

[. . .]


Why the local success? Morlino has made priestly vocations — the spiritual call to serve — a priority. He increased the position of director of vocations to full time, and he routinely promotes the priesthood at functions.

[. . .]

Bishops who are unambiguous about church doctrine and don’t tolerate dissent [that's lefty mediaspeak for "teaching the faith"] tend to inspire the greatest number of vocations, said Hendershott, who references Morlino positively in her book.

Read the whole thing.

P.S. Comments on this article from a few local Catholics tell you all you need to know about the spiritual state of the Madison diocese. Sad. Pray for Bishop Morlino and his seminarians.

P.P.S. Note that Jim Green, quoted in the article whining about the money spent on formation, is not a Catholic. He belongs to something called the "Holy Wisdom Monastery." Apparently, he's the Go To Guy when the local lefty media need someone to say something nasty about the Church.
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01 March 2015

Practicing the fine art of being victors in Christ

2nd Sunday of Lent (2015)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/OLR, NOLA

Two mountains: Mt. Moriah and Mt. Tabor. Two fathers: Abraham and God the Father. Two only sons: Isaac and Jesus. And two stories of sacrificial obedience and the glory that obedience brings. Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac foreshadows the Father's coming-sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. Because Abraham obeys the Lord on Mt Moriah, God showers him with blessings, promising him “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.” Jesus brings three of his disciples to Mt. Tabor and shows them who he will be after his sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection. Abraham listened to God; he obeyed. Jesus is transfigured and the Father's voice calls out, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” When we obey – listen to – the Lord, we too are showered with blessings and transfigured, abundantly gifted and made new in Christ. If we will survive these forty days in the desert and arrive with Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then we will listen to him and claim as our own his victory over sin and death.

How do we survive the forty desert days? For that matter, how do we survive until Christ returns? Paul writes to the Romans with part of the answer, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?” Every year with begin Lent with the story of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. We know that Jesus cannot be truly tempted b/c everything Satan tempts him with already belongs to him. Jesus participates in this little desert side-show with the devil to show us that the fight against temptation is not a fight to be won. It is a fight already won. By him. For us. Paul grasps this truth when he writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?. . .Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?” Temptation is a test, a trial. We are the accused. The devil is the prosecuting attorney. Sounds bad until we remember that Christ is our defense attorney; and he's also the judge and jury. Temptation is never a fair trial – for the devil. We are acquitted by God before the trial even opens. How do we survive these 40 days and all the days until Christ returns? We listen to our defense attorney and give the devil no evidence against us! 
 
The first truth that Christ needs us to hear is that the trial against us is rigged – in our favor. There is nothing and no one for us to fight when Satan comes around with his accusations and lies. As children as God, we are already acquitted of all charges. The second truth that Christ needs us to hear is that if we believe in and live in that first truth – that we are already, always free – we will be changed, transformed as he himself is transfigured on Mt Tabor. Christ's transfiguration is a promise like the Father's promise to Abraham. Listen to me and the blessings will flow. We could think of these blessings are rewards for being good boys and girls, but there is a better way of understanding this truth: when we choose to align our wills with God's will for us, we see the obstacles to our freedom for what they really are – lies and illusions. Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we are with God, what lie or illusion has the power to lure us away? None! No lie or illusion has the power to lure us anywhere. . .unless we empower the lie with our sin. Lent is that time of year when we practice hardest at not giving life to the devil's lies and illusions, the temptations that bait us and attempt to lure us away from the verdict Christ has already reached and announced.

All this sounds wonderful in theory, right? How to put it into practice? First, you have recognize a temptation when you see one and treat it for what it is. Temptations are trials. Think of yourself as The Accused. You've been charged with a serious sin. If you actually committed the sin, then you throw yourself on the mercy of the judge – Christ – and receive his forgiveness through sacramental absolution. If the Accuser is truly testing you, dangling a sin before you to see if you will bite, remember: you are free in Christ Jesus! Tell the Accuser: “Christ the Just Judge has already acquitted me. You have no power to test me.” Never give the Accuser the power to test you. Recall Christ's transfiguring promise on Mt Tabor. That is your goal, your end. That's where we will all end up if we believe in and live in the transfiguring promise of Christ. And there is nothing – literally, nothing – the Accuser can do to prevent the fulfillment of that promise if we do not give him the power to do so. Be careful: “Fighting the Devil” is dangerous b/c it tempts us to imagine ourselves as mighty warriors fighting against a great evil. That's the Accuser testing us with Pride. There is no battle to fight. Christ won. Christ is winning. Christ will always win. On the Cross and through the Empty Tomb. As his brothers and sisters through baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are heirs to his victory.
 
So, spend your Lenten days practicing the fine art of being heirs to his victory!

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25 February 2015

Renewal within Tradition

For all those interested in the documents of Vatican Two and how to read them within the hermeneutic of continuity described by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, M. Lamb and M. Levering.

Indispensable for clergy, seminarians, and catechists!
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24 February 2015

OP Seminarians in need

Our Student Brothers (i.e., seminarians) in St Louis need to eat. They need books and heat and the occasional shower. . .give us money! (Please)


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Notre Dame Seminary on Issues & Faith

Notre Dame Seminary was recently featured on Issues and Faith! Check it out. . .



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20 February 2015

B.O. tries to force Catholic refugee agencies into mortal sin. . .again.

B.O.'s once again trying to force Catholics to commit mortal sin. . .

NEW YORK, February 20 (C-Fam) The Obama administration is getting ready to issue new rules requiring charities to provide abortions to child refugees entering the US without their parents. Faith-based groups say this is a contravention of the rights of parents and a violation of the conscience rights of faith-based groups helping resettle the children.

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19 February 2015

One: "figura transit in veritatem: Jesus' radical novum

Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Day of Recollection, Kenrick Seminary
St. Louis, MO
April 24, 2008

I. from figura to veritatem through the cross

On the cross, as he breathes his last, our Lord says, “…it is finished.” He dies. And it is finished. We should wonder though, what is finished? It is clear from the events that follows his death that what the Lord came to do is not finished. And it should be ever more starkly clear that the work he has given us to do is unfinished. Though we have work left undone, we are not left undone by the work remaining. In fact, what is finished on the cross is precisely that relationship between God and His creatures that makes what we have left to do here not only possible but complete; that is, the work of evangelization, of preaching and teaching the Word is made possible for us because Christ himself has already finished the job. This leaves for us then the work of catching up, of “living through to” what Christ has already accomplished on the Cross and out of the Empty Tomb. If this is true, then can we say that as preachers and teachers of the Word, we ourselves are “figures transforming into truth”? Pope Benedict XVI teaches in his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, that the radical novum of Jesus, initiated by our Blessed Mother’s fiat and finished on the Cross, is the transformation of the figura of the Passover meal into the veritatem of the Eucharist. For your reflection today, let me put it to you that there is a parallel between this transformation and the transformation of the human person from being a figura of Christ among us to being the veritatem of Christ for us—from the mere foreshadowing of who is to come to he who is with us and for us.

Our Holy Father, writes in his apostolic exhortation, “The mission for which Jesus came among us was accomplished [finished] in the Paschal Mystery. On the Cross from which he draws all people to himself, just before ‘giving up the Spirit,’ he utters the words: ‘it is finished.’ In the mystery of Christ's obedience unto death, even death on a Cross, the new and eternal covenant was brought about”(SC 9). In one act of surrender, Christ accomplishes two, apparently contradictory tasks: he ends his public ministry by dying publicly and by dying he makes the continuation of his ministry possible. His “obedience to death” on the Cross is the act that moves his ministry out of history, into the eternal with the Father, and back into history through his Spirit and with the Church. With the divine breath of Pentecost, the apostles and disciples are shaped into the Church, charged with setting the world on fire with the Word, and sent out to free all of creation from the slavery to sin. Our Holy Father writes, “In [Christ’s] crucified flesh, God’s freedom and our human freedom met definitively in an inviolable, eternally valid pact.” We can conclude from this that the transformation of the human person from the figura of Christ to the vertitatem of Christ for others is the transformation of that person in perfect freedom. Each of us then is a project of the Lamb, each of us an object of his mission, a focal point for the “taking away of sins.” And, since we are happy to be called to his supper, we eat and drink and take our fill before moving out, eagerly setting out again, into the world, to not only preach and teach the Word, to tell others about Christ, but to be Christ for others, to practice the fine art of being the Lamb, of being the sacrifice, of being the sacramental sign that points to and makes possible the transfiguration of the world.

II. from ritual commemoration to definitive liberation

With his dying breath on the cross, Christ pronounced, for the ears of history to hear, his signature, his seal on the last covenant between Creator and creature: “It is finished.” As Benedict notes in his exhortation, the covenant meal that foreshadows the Eucharist is the Passover meal. He writes: “This ritual meal, which called for the sacrifice of lambs, was a remembrance of the past, but at the same time a prophetic remembrance of a deliverance yet to come. The people had come to realize that their earlier liberation was not definitive, for their history continued to be marked by slavery and sin” (SC 10). The insufficiency of animal sacrifice to fulfill the prophetic promise of the Passover marks for the people of God an incomplete revelation of their salvation history; that is, though the Passover meal is more than sufficient to mark the past, to celebrate the theophanies of God in Egypt and in the desert, no amount of animal sacrifice could bring them to the “deliverance yet to come.” Merely remembering the past fails to enlighten the present in a way that transforms the future. More is needed; therefore, our Holy Father writes: “The remembrance of their ancient liberation [was] expanded to the invocation and expectation of a yet more profound, radical, universal and definitive salvation”(SC 10).

Embodying this “invocation and expectation,” Christ with his last words on the cross, his spirit commended and released to the Father, introduces a radical gift into the salvation history of God’s people. At the Last Supper, Jesus transforms the Passover meal into the Eucharist. Benedict writes: “In the prayer of praise, the Berakah, [Jesus] does not simply thank the Father for the great events of past history, but also for his own ‘exhalation.’ In instituting the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus anticipates and makes present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection”(SC 10). Sitting at table and eating with his friends, Jesus takes the familiar meal of his people and makes it into something else entirely. He reveals himself to be the sacrificial lamb, the one who will take away the sins of the world. This is the beginning of the promise, just the start of a new and final covenant that will seal the salvific history of all humanity and deliver us whole and secure into the hands of the Father. We will no longer merely remember God’s mighty deeds nor will we wait in anticipation of His mighty deeds. We are now and will always be God’s mighty deeds; we are divine acts set loose to do what Christ did: “…whoever believes in me will do the works that I do AND will do greater ones than these (John 14.12). That this is possible at all is a gift.

III. from gift to giving

What exactly is Christ’s gift to us? Quickly, we might say “salvation” or “God’s love” or “forgiveness.” We could say that he donates himself as our connection between memory and What Is To Come. He forms the bridge between God and Man. Christ, as fully divine and fully human, unites Creator and creature in a relationship that binds for eternity. All true. But all of these are the result of his gift, happy products of his donation and our reception of his donation. What is donated?

Remembering again by looking back to God’s rescue of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, we can see a “figure” of what is to come for us all—Jew and Gentile alike. We can anticipate our delivery from the slavery to sin. We do this as a Church who embodies in her liturgy that very rescue: the liturgical year compresses our salvation history into a series of public works that mark in time the progress of our trek from chains to freedom. Even more profound, the Church takes this liturgical year and concentrates this series of public works into one work of praise and thanksgiving: the Eucharist. While we look a little closer at the liturgy, let’s not lose sight of the fundamental question: what is it that Christ donates on the cross?

We can say that the Church’s liturgy (especially the Eucharist) is more than an opportunity to teach Christian morality, more than a moment of spiritual refreshment, and more than exhortation to be socially just. Our public work as the Church is the Christian life concentrated, highly focused, and distilled into a moment of intense clarity, an instant where God meets the human need for transformation. In our liturgies, as the Body of Christ, we perform acts of sacrifice, acts of sanctification by assenting to, surrendering to the salvific history that Christ embodies; in other words, the Church’s liturgy (again, most especially the Eucharist) is that moment and that place where the human person meets his/her final end: the transfiguration of the merely human into the perfectly human through Christ. 

We are not simply reorienting the Christian moral life toward “being good” behaviorally. Nor are we simply restoring a broken down but salvageable spiritual life. If we take seriously the prayer of the Church’s liturgy, we cannot help but come away from its celebration stunned by what we have experienced and overwhelmed by what we have committed ourselves to: the satisfaction of an ecstatic desire for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, a desire to be Truth, Goodness and Beauty in the world and for the world. Benedict writes: “The institution of the Eucharist demonstrates how Jesus’ death, for all its violence and absurdity, become in him a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil”(SC 10). Yes, we are delivered from evil and death to goodness and life, but even more: Jesus’ supreme act of love, his kenosis on the Cross, makes us Christ.

Traditionally called “theosis” or “divinization,” our being made into Christ is the graced process whereby the believer is transformed into He Who Is Believed. The imperfect creature who loves imperfectly is perfected by the perfect Creator who is Love. And there is only one way to accomplish this act of divine mercy: the giver of all good gifts must make of Himself a good gift and give Himself freely to us. Christ’s death on the Cross is a sacrifice, made present in the Eucharist, carried forward into the world by those who receive him as gift in communion; but that sacrifice on the cross is an act of vanity unless it is God who dies there, God who is donated, given up.

IV. Now what?

I said earlier that there is a parallel between Jesus’ transformation of the Passover meal into the Eucharist and the transformation of the human person from the figura of Christ among us to the veritatem of Christ for us. Just as Christ’s death on the cross is foreshadowed in the Passover meal, so his death is presented again in the Eucharistic sacrifice. The moment that binds the two, that moves his death for us from figure to truth, from foreshadow to fact is completed on the cross, Jesus breathes his last, “It is finished.” It is now possible for us to become Christ; it is possible for us—each of us—to move from being a figure of Christ, an outline of Christ, to being Christ in truth. And though we may think that this is an occasion of joy—and it is—it is most fundamentally a somber occasion as we take in all that this move means for us. Having been “fleshed out” as Christ for others in the sacrifice of the Mass, we are now flesh and blood and bone for the world; our hearts and minds and spirits sacrificed—literally, made holy in surrender—by our repeated “amens” and our bold communion. With every “amen,” and most especially in the eating of his Body and the drinking of his Blood, you become a little less your own, a little more His, and every bit ours. Remember: the celebration of the Mass is not about strength for moral fortitude or righteous energy for social justice or even a chance to be truly pious. The Mass brings into the presence of the divine so that we might see our end, taste what is coming for us, and clearly see that the road from here to there is paved with the works Christ has left undone for us for finish. The Mass is not about the Church. It is the Church. The Mass is not about Christ. It is Christ. The Mass is not about our salvation. It is our salvation. We are not waiting on the coming of the Lord. He is here. We are not remembering our liberation. We are free. We are not gambling on a future in heaven. We have something far better than the odds: we have hope, the guarantee that our Father keeps His promises.

For your reflection: what do you need to do to move from being a figura of Christ to being Christ in veritatem? In other words, what do you need to do to move from being ABOUT Christ to BEING Christ?

Question for Mass: what are you doing when you say “amen”? Rather than routinely mumble “amen” on cue, listen very carefully to what it is that you are saying “amen” to. Why? Because you are committing yourself—heart and soul—to that prayer.

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Two: "Penetrating the hearts of all things": Eucharist as Moral Fission

For your Lenten reflection. . .

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Day of Reflection, Kenrick Seminary
St Louis, MO
April 24, 2008

I. Pulled in, sent out

This morning I attempted to draw a parallel between the transformation of the Passover meal into the Eucharist and the individual Christian’s transformation from being a person “about Christ” to being Christ. Pope Benedict sees the latter transformation into terms of Jesus transfiguring the foreshadowing of the Passover (the figura) into the truth of the Eucharist (the veritatem). Our Holy Father goes on to note that this transfiguration occurs through the Cross, bringing the promise of the Passover meal into completion, fulfilling the prophetic history of God’s people, and changing our memory of liberation into our liberation in truth. Picking up his mediation on the Eucharist in Sacramentum caritatis, I want to offer for your reflection this afternoon the following question: having shown us our final end with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and having accepted this end with our repeated “amen’s” at prayer, what are the moral implications of celebrating the Eucharist; in other words, now that Mass is over and we have been sent out, what do we do and how? Our Holy Father, in the most striking passage I’ve ever read in a papal document, writes that we are to become graced agents of a cosmic moral transfiguration, “a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(SC 11). The catalyst and the fuel for this radical change is to be found in the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

II. Renewing history & cosmos

At the precise moment that Jesus identifies himself as the lamb of sacrifice in the Passover meal, “[he] shows the salvific meaning of his death and resurrection, a mystery which renews history and the whole cosmos”(SC 10). It is very important to note here that this is not just the renewal of a single people or a single tribe or race, but the re-creation of the cosmos and the re-vision of our history as prophecy fulfilled. We must be very cautious about giving a stingy interpretation to the revelation Jesus makes here. It is tempting to see this revelation as a metaphor, or as a clever way of warning his friends about his fate. Metaphors and clever warnings cannot serve as the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice, what our Holy Father describes as “a supreme act of love and mankind’s definitive deliverance from evil.” I’ve come across a lot of metaphors in my 22 years of teaching English. Never met one that delivered me from evil! Jesus means precisely what Jesus says here. He is the lamb. The sacrifice. And he is the priest and the altar. He is the giver and the gift. When we receive what he offers—himself—we are transformed into a giver and a gift. So, in our service to others, we are not simply “using our talents” or “exercising our graces.” We are, literally, sacrificing self—making the self holy by surrendering the self to service. Remember: we are not baptized to be “about Jesus” nor are we called to be a Body of those who are “about Christ.” It is our re-created nature now to be Christ per se. For this to happen, Christ had to die on the cross.

Now, by taking such a sharp focus on the saving act of the cross and then expanding our view to include the whole of creation, Pope Benedict is both pulling us in and sending us out, pulling us toward the cross and Christ, and sending us out toward the world with Christ. Between being pulled in and sent out there is a space for growth and development. Our Holy Father says about this space: “By [Christ’s] command to ‘do this in remembrance of me,’ he asks us to respond to his gift and to make it sacramentally present. In these words the Lord expresses…his expectation that the Church, born of sacrifice, will receive this gift, developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the liturgical form of the sacrament”(SC 11). And it is the liturgical form of the sacrament of remembrance and thanksgiving that fills the space between being called to the cross and sent out from the cross. In other words, the Mass seduces us in, transforms us in sacrifice and communion, and sends us out to do the same to the world.

III. Offering

Now, we know that it is Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb makes it possible for us to participate in the divine re-creation of the world. But how do we, right here and now, actually participate in this divine work? Sure, we can run out to feed the homeless at the shelter, or protest in front of the abortion clinics, or help sort donations at St Vincent de Paul. These are certainly acts of charity. But even these acts of charity as “acts of charity” participate in a pre-existing habit of willing the good for others. Where do we get that will, that habit of loving?

First, our Holy Father notes that we, as the Church, must receive the gift of Christ’s death and resurrection. This only makes sense. Something given to you only becomes a gift once you have received it as a gift. Sacramentally, we receive this gift in the Mass every time we say “amen.” Second, it is not enough that we remember Christ’s perfect gift of himself for us. The Passover meal was a remembrance. We have been delivered from slavery; so, though we may remember our liberation, who we are is free, looking out and forward. Benedict writes, “The remembrance of his perfect gift consists not in the mere repetition of the Last Supper, but in the Eucharist itself, that is, in the radical newness of Christian worship. In this way, Jesus left us the task of entering into his ‘hour’”(SC 11). We enter into Jesus’ hour through the Eucharist. Quoting his own encyclical, Deus caritatis est, Benedict says, “The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation. More than statically receive the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving”(SC 11).

As followers of Christ, we go where he goes. If he goes to the cross and the tomb, so do we. If he gives himself in sacrifice for others, so do we. If he empties himself out in an act of selfless oblation, so do we. And when we do these things, these acts of selfless oblation, we are doing more than just “serving others;” we are connecting ourselves to the “dynamic of [Christ’s] self-giving.” We are also participating in setting the stage for the dramatic re-creation of the cosmos. Having accomplished the possibility of our salvation and having brought to consummation the prophetic history of God’s people and having drawn the Body, the Church into his service, Christ prepares us to do the most extraordinary thing: transfigure the entire world!

IV. Transfiguring the world 

Our Holy Father’s focus in Sacarmentum caritatis is the Eucharist as the “sacrament of love.” For us, the Eucharist is a sign of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, pointing to and making present the once-for-all self-oblation of Jesus on the cross. When we step into the Eucharist as those redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, we step out of history and into eternity. The Mass is not a re-sacrifice of Christ. Such a thing is wholly unnecessary because the man on those wooden beams is God. And since it is God incarnate who died for us, our flesh, our human nature, is “taken up” into his death and resurrection. Everything he healed, he assumed; which means everything about us is healed! Every injury, every disease, every breach of the covenant since the garden, every sin we have ever committed or will commit is cured, closed-up, made fresh and new. And not only that—yes, there is more!—the whole of creation is brought back into “right relationship” with God’s plan.

The liturgical celebration of Christ’s sacrifice is not just a pageant that forces us to remember. Of course, we remember; but we also re-collect, re-store, re-new that which makes us perfect in Him—His likeness and image that makes us His sons. The work of the Eucharist is to make us God, to bring us into the perfected participation of the divine, to share His life intimately, passionately. Aquinas teaches us that we come to be “deiformed.” He says that “God become man so that man might become God.” Cyril of Alexandria says that we “become Christs,” we live the life of Christ. And as such, we are agents of a creaturely transfiguration. How?

Benedict, in a highly underappreciated passage in SC writes, “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into [Christ’s] body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of ‘nuclear fission’…which penetrates to the heart of all being…” As we are pulled into Christ’s self-oblation as members of his Body, we are transformed; then our transformed hearts and minds and bodies, once we are sent out, spreads out to all of creation. Literally, we take Christ to the world in our bodies. The principle of radical change introduced to creation is this: God is love, He is the Will that wills the Good, and we are His transfiguring instruments. However, we are not merely human instruments, merely agents of social change or cultural revolution, we are His Christs sent to offer ourselves in sacrifice for others. There is no half-participation, no means of simply playing along to play along. We change the world or we stay at home.

Benedict uses the phrase “nuclear fission” to describe what happens at the prayer of consecration. At that moment, the divine touches the human most intimately, and we are forever altered. The purpose of this transubstantiation is not merely ritualistic or symbolic or something akin to changing the meaning of the bread and wine for us. All of there are forms of weak participation, pale imitations of a wholly beautiful reality. Think for a moment: if all we are going in the Mass is redirecting our attention to our final goal or shifting the meaning of food and drink in order to build up community with a shared meal, then we have tragically limited the work of the cross and the empty tomb! In the same way, if we believe that what we are doing is simply remembering his sacrifice, recalling again his confession to being the sacrificial Lamb of Passover, then nothing substantial has taken place. We have jogged our memories, soothed our immediate need for comfort, and ignored the most powerful means we have for transfiguring the world.

Note again that Benedict describes the Eucharist as a “process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all”(SC 11). Do we want God to be all in all as a symbol? As a shift in definition? As a re-set goal post? No! That’s not why Christ died. These are not worth the Passion and the blood of the cross. And what’s more, none of these sparks us out into the world like a nuclear fission. From the altar at the prayer of consecration the body and blood of Christ from the cross on Calvary splashes out, flies out to the “heart of being” and readies all of creation to receive its Creator. The sacrament of love—Who Is God Himself—can do nothing less!

 
V. Now what?

If everything said here is true, then we have only one Path to walk, one Work to complete: we follow Christ doing what he did—preaching the Good News, teaching sound doctrine, admonishing the sinner, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, honoring the poor, and loving, loving, loving. And because the world is ruled for now by a dark spirit, we prepare ourselves for resistance, for enmity, and dissent. But because the world is a gift from Goodness Himself, we do not despair rather we work in joy and hope.

For your reflection: how am I a spark of the nuclear fission that flies from the altar of sacrifice? How do I contribute to the transfiguration of the world? Am I prepared to live in creation where God will be all in all?_____________________

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