15 September 2014

Listen: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Audio File for: homily on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

P.S. I was unjustly accused last week of sounding like a Bible-thumping Baptist preacher! 

I hope this one sounds more. . .Catholic.


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14 September 2014

I wish I had a breeze running down my leg. . .

First thing you need to know: I have a exceedingly strange sense of humor.

While watching this Bad Lip Reading episode, I nearly choked laughing.

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Who will see the Cross if we fail to lift it high?

Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

We know the plot of our salvation story: we are made by God, and we return to Him. And how do we return? Through the Cross. The cross of Christ Crucified is the Way, our way back to God. Being made by God and lost through sin, we cannot return to God without God. So, He sent into history – human events, the human story – the means for our return to Him: Christ on the Cross, crucified as one of us, fully human and fully divine—a bridge from here to there. Jesus explains to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.” And Paul explains further: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God. . .emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. . .he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Then we hear the familiar refrain of our salvation: “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.” And so we are saved from becoming nothing once more; we are made perfect as our Father is perfect; “being merciful, [He] forgave [our] sin and destroyed [us] not.” His mercy does not destroy us.

If we accept the gift of God's mercy, we say: Praise Him, give Him thanks! And then what do we do? Carry on as before? Do we as please? Live in constant regret that our sins killed Christ? Do we try to make a sacrifice worthy of the gift of Christ's life? The poet, Christian Wiman, asks the same question this way: “What words or harder gift/does the light require of me/carving from the dark/this difficult tree?” What words or gifts does the Cross require of us? Paul writes that the coming of the Christ and his obedient death on the Cross, moves God to exalt His Son and to “bestow on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend. . .and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” No other words will do. So, our tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And since there is no harder gift to give than the gift of Christ given on the Cross, we bend our knees at his name. And then what? What do we do next? With the Gift of the Cross in hand, we might worship it, take it around in procession, put it to work for our health and wealth; we might be embarrassed by its necessity or feel imposed upon and react with faint gratitude. Was there a better way to save us? Something less bloody, not quite so gruesome? Ever been angry with Pilate, the Jewish leadership, the mob that shouted, “Crucify him!”? Perhaps praying before a crucifix, you decide that you want nothing more to do with the cruelty of a god who needs blood to love? Or perhaps you felt a dark fear that once the gift of mercy is settled in your heart, you would never be the same again?

If we are afraid of the Cross, afraid of following Christ, maybe what we fear most is the inevitably of joining him on the Cross. Remember that Peter, in a fit of fear and false love, denied the inevitability of Christ’s defeat and, in this denial, denied the necessity of his own crucifixion. Jesus, knowing the certainty of his Father’s plan for our salvation, rebukes Peter's fear, “Get behind me, Satan!” Even then, Christ is emptied, obedient to death, and ready to die on the Cross. Perhaps we show our deepest gratitude to Christ by emptying ourselves, being obedient to death, and preparing ourselves to die in his name. Perhaps. But what does this mean for tomorrow? For today? Sitting in a room, cases packed, shoes neatly tied, waiting for martyrdom? Nothing so passive as all that! Paul says that we should bend our knees and confess Jesus as Lord. Walking this path of worshipful praise cannot be good exercise if we fail to do what Christ himself did: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Add to this: preach the Good News of God’s mercy and teach what Christ himself taught, and we have just the beginning of our gratitude, just the barest start to what must be our lives completely given over to the path of righteousness. There's much to fear in so much surrender. Especially when you know that the one you used to be will not be found again.

Look at Moses and God’s people in the desert. “With their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses…” Not only are we made and made to return to our Maker, but we are rescued from death by the death of Christ on the Cross and expected then to prepare ourselves for following him to the Cross, obedient to death, bending the knee, confessing his name, and waiting, waiting, waiting for his return to us so we can return to Him. Is your patience exhausted by the wait? Do we complain against God and His Church? Our desert is not getting smaller or cooler or less arid. Our days are no shorter. Our nights no brighter. Moses wanders and we follow. And our patience, already silk-thin already, rubs even thinner, waiting on the fulfillment of the promise the Cross made in God’s name.

While waiting, what do we do? Some of us persevere, walking the Way. Some of us withdraw to wait. Others walk off alone. Still others erect idols to new gods and find hope in different, alien promises. Some let the serpents bite and thrill in the poisonous moment before death. Perhaps most who were with us at first perish from hearts stiffened by apathy, what love they had exhausted by the tiresome demands of an obedience they never fully accepted. Not all the seeds will fall on smooth, fertile earth. If those who walked away or surrendered or succumbed to attacks on the heart, if they are out there and not here with us, what hope do we have of going forward, of continuing on to our own crosses in the city’s trash heap?

We exalt the Cross. And they are not lost. Unless they choose not to be found. We exalt the Cross. Lifted high enough and waved around vigorously enough, even the lost will find it. Even those who, for now, do not want to be found, may see it and be healed, if they will. But they will not see what they must to be healed if those of us who claim to walk the Way do so timidly, quietly. The Way of Christ to the Cross is not a rice paper path that we must tip-toe across in fear of tearing it. Or a shaky jungle bridge over a ravine that we must not sway for fear of falling. Or a bed of burning coals that we must hop across quickly so as to avoid blistering our feet. The Way of Christ to the Cross has been made smooth, straight, and downhill all the way but nonetheless dangerous for its ease. There’s still the jeering mob, the scourge, the spit and the garbage, and there’s still the three nails waiting at the end. But this is what we signed up for, right? It’s what we promised to do, to be.

Our help is in the name of the Lord. Bend the knee. Confess his name. Do so loudly, proudly and do so while doing what Christ himself did. Otherwise, who will find us among the jeering crowd, the spitting mob; who will see the Cross if we fail to lift it high?
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13 September 2014

Every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

NB. Preached this one back in 2007. . .it's a little more. . .robust. . .than my later homilies. Also of note: at the request of the CDF, the USCCB investigated Fr. Phan's bizarre theology of religious pluralism and issued a notification to the faithful, warning against the excesses of syncretism.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation

Much like the slaves recently freed from servitude in Egypt, “their patience worn out by the journey,” those called to research and teach the faith of the Church frequently give themselves over to complaining against God and “Moses”—those in authority over them. The freed slaves complain about being in the desert—no food, no water, no end to the sand and the long scorching days of wandering. Our more prominent theologians complain about a desert of sorts. They complain about the magisterium’s “version” of the faith, noting that rock-bottom fundamental doctrines, such as the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Blessed Trinity, are all excluding, rigid, authoritarian, privileged, and absolutist; and worse, these dogmas of faith of the Roman Catholic faith are white, European, and rational. Since these theologians are mostly slaves to fashion, they wander a desert of fleeting premises, trendy conclusions, and temporary commitments. 

These theologians believe one conclusion dogmatically: the shifting sands of culture triumph over the Rock of faith everyday, all day. And so we read paragraphs like this one from Fr. Peter Phan of Georgetown: “[The church would be very different] if the resources of other cultures are marshaled to reconceptualize the whole gamut of the church’s beliefs, liturgy, moral practices, and prayers. What if the God the church worships is depicted as a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-colored, gender-inclusive Deity? What if Jesus is presented as the Buddha, the Guru…?[. . .] What if Mary is seen in parallel with Kwan-Yin, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of compassion? What if the Bible is read and interpreted in the context of other sacred writings such as the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, or the [Buddha-Dharma], or the [Muslim] Qur’an?” (full article)**

Notice: we are to “reconceptualize the whole gamut of the Church’s beliefs, liturgy, moral practices,” etc. based not on any further revelation or a deeper understanding of the revelation we have—fulfilled and finished in Christ Jesus—no, we are to reconceive and alter the whole of our Christian faith based on the demands of alien gods, books of foreign theologies, and practices contrary to the faith. Listen again: You will have no other gods before me! Where is the uniqueness of Christ? Christ isn’t unique! There are hundreds of saviors, hordes of avatars! Where is Christ the final revelation of the Trinity? Christ is not the last word of an on-going, unfolding revelation! There are millions of unwritten bibles out there. Where is the exclusive claim that God the Father has on our allegiance as His children? Exclusive claims! We are inclusive, open, free…all the gods claim us! Are there differences in how various cultures live out their Christian faith? Of course there are! But the faith comes first. Culture is shaped by faith. Sand blows around the Rock. The Rock doesn’t shift and slide every time the wind blows!

Alright, enough of that. Why am I beating these theologians, er, I mean, dead horses? Today we celebrate the exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Triumph of the Holy Cross over sin and death. Oddly enough, we must be reminded on occasion that we owe our eternal lives to the single sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. He emptied himself. Son of God, emptied himself. Became a slave like us, for us. He humbled himself and made himself obedient to death. Even to death on a Cross—ignoble, criminal, unclean, despicable; he was executed. And because Christ did all of this freely—yes, with some anxiety, with some sense of having been betrayed…again—but because he commended his spirit to his Father for our sakes, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Open your eyes to see, open your ears to hear: God loved His creation so much that He sacrificed His only Son, Jesus, on the cross. He did this so that everyone who believes in Christ might not die but have eternal life with Him. God did not send His only Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save us all through His Son, Christ Jesus. The final triumph of the Cross will never be the serene Buddha nailed to the wood of the cross or the gruesome Kali Destroyer sitting on the cathedral altar waiting for blood or a “gospel reading” from the elegant Koran. Never. The Son of Man, the Son of God “must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus Christ—final, unique, singular, the one and only name given under heaven and on earth for our salvation.

With apologies to our impatient theologians who complain against God and Moses: to dispel any confusion, let’s hear it one more time: “God greatly exalted Christ and bestowed on Christ the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” 

* Pic is Kali, Mother-Destroyer 
** pages 11-12

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11 September 2014

The Magic Number: 500


HancAquam reached 500 subscribers today.

We've been sitting at 499 for months and months and months.

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Painting, reading, and looking for space. . .

A Humble Mendicant Thanks to Charity A. for the Bullivant book on atheism from the Wish List.

And another one to M.R. for the canvases! Now, I really have to get busy and do some painting. . .

Anyone got any free -- as in "rent-free" -- studio space???

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08 September 2014

Evil: really not that evil

Excellent article:

In the 21st century we are often lectured that such simplistic, one-dimensional evil is long gone. An ubiquitous civilization has so permeated the globe that even the worst sorts must absorb some mitigating popular culture from the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, as if the sheer speed of transmitting thoughts ensures their moral improvement.

Even where democracy is absent, the “world community” and a “global consciousness” are such that billions supposedly won’t let Attila, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan reappear in our postmodern lives. To deal with a Major Hasan, Americans cannot cite his environment as the cause, at least not poverty, racism, religious bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, or any of the more popular –isms and -ologies in our politically correct tool box that we customarily use to excuse and contextualize evil behavior. So exasperated, we shrug and call his murdering “workplace violence” — an apparent understandable psychological condition attributable to the boredom and monotony of the bleak, postmodern office.

But then suddenly along comes the limb-lopping, child-snatching, and mutilating Nigerian-based Boko Haram. What conceivable Dark Age atrocity have they omitted? Not suicide bombing, mass murder, or random torture. They are absolutely unapologetic for their barbarity. They are ready to convert or kill preteens as their mood determines for the crime of being Christian. In response, the Nigerian government is powerless, while the United States is reduced to our first lady holding up Twitter hashtags, begging for the release of the latest batch of girls.

P.C. stupidity has made it impossible for us to see Evil as such and to name it as such.

Read the whole thing. . .


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07 September 2014

23rd Sunday OT: audio file

Audio File: Breaking the Conspiracy of Silence (23rd Sunday OT)


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Breaking the conspiracy of silence

23rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

On truth-telling, Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz, said, “In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.”* To draw attention to yourself – fire a pistol in a silent room. Or, fire that pistol in a room full of noisy people but be prepared to face the angry consequences. Nowadays, anytime the Church speaks to a controversial social or moral issue – no matter how gentle or persuasive her words – it's as if she has pulled the trigger on a hand-cannon and her enemies run screaming as if fatally wounded. One word of truth spoken in a conspiracy of silence, or even to a conspiracy of racket and theater, just one word of truth can break that conspiracy's hold on it victims. Jesus tells his disciples to tell each other the truth, whatever that truth may be, tell it – one to another, one to many, and, finally, one to all. It is no easy thing to be the one who fires off the pistol of truth among those who want nothing more than to be left in silence. But if that silence is hiding a lie, a deadly lie, then the trigger must be pulled. The question for the one who would pull the trigger is this: why are you telling this truth to this person at this time? Fraternal correction – inside and outside the Church – must always be done in a spirit of love and mercy and with a eye keenly focused on one's own faults. 

Way back in the olden days, it was considered a work of mercy to “admonish the sinner.” Warning a sinner that he/she is sinning was thought to be a merciful act, an act of concern for the eternal salvation of another's soul. Admonishments from the pulpit were frequent and could be quite fiery. No pastor wanted to be thought of as “soft on sin.” The caricature of the blustery Irish pastor haranguing his poor flock on the evils of short skirts, rock music, and communist infiltrators is Hollywood stock and trade, an image that many fallen away Catholics of a certain age still use to excuse their distance from the Church. No doubt there were priestly excesses in naming and shaming sinners, but those excesses (such as they were) were replaced all too quickly with another excess – an excess of laxity that has left the Church in much of Europe and the U.S. with a pathetic moral legacy, up to and including the scandal of clerical sexual abuse and the on-going scandal of dissent from the apostolic faith. Our unwillingness to name and confront sin among our own has left us w/o the moral authority to speak to our culture, a culture that desperately needs to hear – in love and mercy – that there is a livelier Way, a truer Way of being a better human being. 

Like most successful cultural revolutions, the revolution the Church needs to restore her moral authority will come “from below,” from the pews not the pulpit or the bishop's chair or a balcony at the Vatican. The revolution we need is a revolution in holiness. Not just another diocesan program or weekend retreat scheme or a new religious order. The clear and unflinching message that Jesus delivers to his disciples is that we are all responsible to one another for one another for our individual and collective holiness, and it is a dereliction of our Christian duty to see or hear sin – our own or someone elses – and not work overtime to help the sinner find repentance. This is not a license to snoop, tattle-tale, gossip, or become a busy-body. It is a call to take seriously the truth that individual sins and collective sins can wreck utter devastation on a family, a parish, a city, or a nation. And that when one member of the body is sick or injured, the whole body suffers. If the Church is weak right now, it's not b/c God has failed to strengthen us; it's b/c we have failed – laity, clergy, religious – to receive His strength; we have failed to bear up under our responsibilities to fraternally correct our wayward brothers and sisters. And to be corrected in turn. 

The pistol shot that Miłosz spoke about, that startling crack of truth let loose among the conspirators of silence, it draws attention, scrunity. Maybe too much attention, the wrong kind of scrutiny. Speaking up to speak an unspoken or forgotten truth will turn heads and the investigation begins. Who are you to say such a thing? Why would you say that? Why do you hate me, us, them? Oh, so you're perfect? These are questions designed to silence the pistol shot of truth, questions that attempt to undermine the truth by undermining the truth-speaker. Firing that pistol takes courage and strength in abundance; it takes clarity in purpose and purity in motive. We cannot wags fingers at our neighbor's dirty house while our own house is filthy. When the pistol is fired and the noisy room drops into silence and all heads turn to you in anger ready to accuse, your holiness doesn't have to be perfect (it can't be yet), but your motive for firing – why you let that round go – needs to be as pure as a baby's baptismal gown. If you fire that pistol for any reason other than love and mercy, to show your love for the sinner and God's mercy, then do not be surprised to find yourself ignored, confronted, or even worse, abused. Hypocrisy is a nasty public sin.

So, how do we avoid hypocrisy while doing our Christian duty? Paul, as usual, gives us sound advice: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Owe nothing to anyone, meaning owe no one a debt in sin. The only debt we should owe one another is the debt of love, the obligation to will the Good for one another. If all I owe you and you owe me nothing except love, then offering one another fraternal correction is the gift of holiness, the gift of drawing one another back onto the narrow Way of Christ. Knowing that you are wandering off the Way and letting you do so is not me just minding my own business; it's not who am I to judge?; it's not well, I'm not perfect either. It's standing by and watching a brother or sister in Christ slowly destroy themselves through disobedience. Sin blinds, it makes us stupid and reckless. Would you watch a child play in the middle of I-10 at rush hour? Or carry around a loaded gun in the Quarter during Madri Gras? Of course not! Why would we then watch a brother or sister carry on in sin, knowing the devastation barreling down upon them? We owe one another a debt of love, an obligation to do the Good (the Best) for one another: when one member of the body is sick, the whole body is sick. Correction is a cure. 

Fraternal correction is indeed a cure for what ails the Church. And I am under no illusion that fraternal correction is easy. Of all the tasks our Lord gives us, this one is among the hardest. It requires us to defy our cultural training to mind our own business. It makes us confront our own motivations for speaking up. It leaves us open to retaliation and scrutiny. It sounds like judgmentalism and moral finger-wagging. But the failure to fraternally correct a falling brother or sister would be far worse than the potential embarrassment of speaking up. We are responsible to one another for one another for our individual and collective holiness. With a heart made pure by genuine love, let loose that shot of truth. You may fail to provoke repentance, but you will have succeeded in breaking open the conspiracy of silence, the conspiracy of sin.


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Jesus speaking Cherokee. . .

The things you learn while preparing a homily. . .here's this Sunday's (23rd OT) Gospel reading in Cherokee:


Courtesy of BibleGateway.

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06 September 2014

Ridding ourselves of meaning

A longish post from Dr. Jeff Mirus at Catholic Culture: On Not Settling for Less: The Cognitive Guide to Happiness.

An excerpt from the first section:

1. The Denial of Transcendence

Modern man believes he has rid himself of mythology so that he can see reality clearly. The truth is that he wears blinders. Our culture is deeply afflicted by a simple decision to ignore the deepest aspects of reality, that is, everything that transcends the material surface of life. I am of course referring to “meaning”, which is inescapably spiritual. Modern man regards spirit as a myth, and so necessarily denies that there is ultimate meaning to anything. It is an astonishing rejection.

[. . .]

Dr. Mirus starts at exactly the right place -- our culture's denial of transcendence. If this sounds too abstract, too "other-worldly," then his point is made. We think of transcendence as mystical, mythological, ephemeral. Yet, our gifted ability to refer to what transcends the merely worldly is what makes it possible for us to seek out the good, true, and beautiful. 

Philosophers of the "enlightenment" worked overtime to "free" themselves from the cognitive categories handed down to them by their medieval predecessors. Believing that these categories were unnecessarily constraining, even to the point of being irrational, modern thinkers simply choose to discard the grand synthesis achieved by the scholastics. 

What happens when we dismiss transcendental reference as an impossibility? The meanings of words, concepts, ideas, etc. are no longer stable across cultures, ages, or even persons -- language is vacated and only power matters.

And now, we are paying the price for their hubris.

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04 September 2014

Preaching to Young Adults

[NB. For some reason a portion of this post was appearing imposed over the blog title. I deleted the earlier post.]

How can a pastor attract and keep Young Adults to and in the parish? 
Jennifer Fitz has a couple of suggestions.
My fav: 

3. Your homilies provide a substantial education in the business of serving God.   A good number of your Catholic young adults are down the street at Faith and Grace Evangelical, where the sermon runs 40 minutes of serious Bible study and exhortation to Christian service.  People who are showing up for Jesus don’t want to hear about how special they are. They want to understand the Bible, learn how to pray, and learn how to live.  They want instruction.  They want reminders.  They want to know what it takes to be a saint — like the canonized kind, not the slipped-in-via-purgatory kind — and they want to be pushed towards sainthood every day of the week.

Yes, this means you have to choose.  You can keep preaching the “You’re so wonderful!” message to the core group of pewsitters who’ve been coming for that message for the last forty years, or you can start preaching Jesus.  You’ll lose some of the I’m So Special crowd, because they’re just there for the affirmation and the doughnut hour.  Jesus comes to console, to cherish, to welcome, but all that welcoming doesn’t end with cocktails on the patio.  It ends with the Cross.  Until you are teaching your congregation how to get up on their cross daily, you aren’t teaching your congregation.

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Baiting the hook

22nd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

I taught literature in the late 80's and early 90's. And because my students tended to rely heavily on their classmates for vital information about my classes, I put on all of my syllabi a line from the New Order song, “Bizzare Love Triangle.” The line goes: “The wisdom of a fool won't set you free.” I'm delighted to report this morning that St. Paul agrees with one of the 80's premiere English bands: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” If you consider yourself wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God?

Consider this: a carpenter teaches a fisherman to fish. “Put out into deep water,” the carpenter commands, “and lower your nets for a catch.” The fisherman, suspecting foolishness but at the same time confessing his own earlier failure to catch a single fish, replies obediently, “Master. . .at your command I will lower the nets.” When the great haul of fish breaks the surface of the lake, the size of the catch tears at the nets, and the weight of their gift threatens to sink the fisherman's boats. Awe-struck, nearly dumbfounded by the abundance given in a single cast of his nets, the fisherman does the only thing a wise man would – he falls to his knees and confesses his unworthiness to the man whom he suspected of being a fool: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Sin makes us stupid. Sin also makes us foolish. But St. Thomas wants to know whether or not folly itself is a sin. He writes that folly is “a dullness of judgment” and this dullness can be contracted when a man “by plunging his sense into earthly things, [such that] his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things. . .even as sweet things have no [flavor] for a man whose taste is infected. . .such like folly is a sin” (ST II-II.46.2). IOW, If we stunt our taste for the Divine by over indulging in the crude flavors of the world, our ability to judge what is Good and what is Evil becomes dull and twisted. Folly is our judgment led astray by the baited wisdom of this world. 

So, if you are wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God? Following Peter the Fisherman's example, you obey (you listen) to those you sent to teach you and you reap the harvest of obedience, confessing your own sinful folly. You confess – with all humility and genuine gratitude – the depths of your ignorance and a deep desire for knowing the wisdom of God. When the Apparent Fool says to you, “Put out into the deep,” you put out into the deep, trusting that the deep obscures a divine abundance, and that it is only your feckless fear and lack of persistence that binds you in giftless folly. And after you obey the Apparent Fool and haul in your gifts, you fall to your knees awe-struck and nearly dumbfounded with gratitude and pray, “. . . everything belongs to you. . .[O Lord]. . .all belong to you!”

Peter may have suspected our Lord of being a fool. Even for just half a second. But he overcomes his doubt and fear with one word – “Master.” He calls Jesus “Master,” teacher. And places himself at Christ's feet to learn. Peter's docility – his eager willingness to be taught – reaps for him and his friends two gifts: boats nearly sinking from the weight of their catch and a proclamation from the Lord – “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” As heirs to these fishers of men, we best catch souls for God when he put out into the deep at His command and fish with humility, docility, penitence, and – always, always – praise and thanksgiving.

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03 September 2014

Nominalism: anathema sit!

Msgr. Charles Pope gives the Vile Error of Nominalism a relatively simple exposition:

How have we gotten into this mess wherein we have set aside reality in favor of what we think reality is? No longer do we go out to meet reality and accept the obligation of conforming to reality; now we sit back and claim the right to posit our own reality, to project reality and define it on our own terms. How did we get here?

Look to the nominalists, my friends.

A rather informative, though challenging, book on this matter is Journey to Modernity by Louis Dupré. In it he traces the medieval synthesis and rise of nominalism in the late 15th century, which in turn gave way to the Cartesian Revolution in the 17th century [and laid the groundwork for the Protestant schism].

I preached against Nominalism in my homiletics class this morning! In essence, nominalism is the de-sacralization of western language, the stripping from our most cherished concepts of any transcendental referent.

It's Evil. And it's the best reason we have for our future priests to learn Thomism.

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31 August 2014

Desire can be painful

NB. Didn't get to preach this one tonight at OLR. I'd forgotten that we had a mission-preacher scheduled. 

22nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Desiring God is not always a pleasant experience. Jeremiah wails b/c God has duped him into being His prophet. So forceful is Jeremiah's need to preach, it actually hurts him to do so: “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” The Psalmist is likewise stricken with desire, a desire for God: “. . .for you [O Lord] my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” And Paul, urging the church in Rome not to bend itself to the will of the age, demands a needful sacrifice, one bound to haunt Christians for centuries: “. . . offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. . .” Offer your bodies in sacrifice. Not animals or money. Offer your whole self to God. Then, Jesus rebukes Peter for his selfish love and teaches the disciples what it takes to walk with him: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Our desire for perfection in Divine Love can be painful. It can leave us thirsty. It can drive us to sacrifice. To self-denial. Whatever else our desire for God accomplishes, it empties us so that He might find a place with us.

Jeremiah's desire for God – the desire he regrets ever having noticed – causes him pain. Not just spiritual pain but actual physical pain. His love for God drives him out into the world to preach the Word and preaching His Word is costly. Jeremiah tells God, “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” He considers never preaching again, never again mentioning God's name. That doesn't work. Jeremiah cries out, “But then [your name] becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Imagine a desire trapped in your bones, a desire so powerful that you grow exhausted trying to keep it trapped. Now, imagine that desire set ablaze. Everything else you want, everything else you need, everything else, all of it, is burned and blown away, leaving you empty for nothing and no one else but God Himself. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself. . .” Denying yourself means desiring nothing and no one more than you desire God. Even if desiring Him is painful, even if desiring Him means giving yourself up to holiness.

The Psalmist feels Jeremiah's pain. These two share a need, a lack that only God can satisfy: “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” His flesh yearns, his soul thirsts – body and soul, he needs God like a drought-stricken land needs water. The God our Psalmist is yearning for is not Santa Claus – a cheery, once-a-year present-bringer. He's not the Cosmic Watchmaker – that distant, uncaring mechanic of the universe. Nor is his God the god of the therapist's couch – an affirming, well-meaning facilitator of human self-discovery. The Psalmist's God is the god of power and glory; the god of living and dying; a god worthy of praise and thanksgiving and shouts of joy! And the Psalmist's desire to give God praise and thanksgiving and shouts of joy is God's gift to the Psalmist. God gifts to us all the desire, the need to offer Him worship. Not b/c He needs our praise but b/c we need to praise Him so that we might grow in holiness and find ourselves – at the end – with Him forever. “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. . .and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.” When we pick up our cross, it's in praising God that our cross is made lighter; it's in the shadow of His wings that we follow Christ.

The first cross we pick up and carry as followers of Christ is the cross of bearing up under the pressures of this world to submit to the desires and needs that the world tells us are true and beautiful. Paul urges us, “Brothers and sisters. . .Do not conform yourselves to this age. . .” Do not bend to the Will of this age. Do not get caught in the Enemy's trap and come to believe that there is nothing more to creation than what we see and hear and touch. Instead, Paul writes, “. . .be transformed by the renewal of your mind. . .” Be changed, be transfigured, get turned around by renewing the way you see and hear and touch the things of creation. By renewing your mind with the mind of Christ, be forever pointed – body and soul – toward the only One Who can ever truly bring your needs to peace, your desires to completion. Why be renewed? If finding the ends of your desire is not enough, then be renewed so “that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Be renewed in Christ so that you may more clearly discern the will of your Father and come to know all that is good and pleasing to Him, all that is perfecting for your growth in holiness. The first cross we pick up and carry is the burden of being in this world but not of it; of living in this world but not for it. 

Paul understands this subtle distinction and urges us to resist the temptations of this age, to be transformed by renewing our minds in Christ, and to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. Here is the second time we pick up the cross and carry it: being in the world but not of it, living in the world but not for it means that we are dependent on the world for our bodily needs. Never are we charged with hating creation, or hating our bodies, or our physical appetites. But when the world tempts us, it tempts us through our appetites, our disordered desires. With our minds renewed/reordered in Christ, our appetites are transformed from mere animal cravings into a means of sacrifice, a way for us to be holy by giving back to God all that He has given us. His first gift to each one of us is life. So, we make our bodies a living sacrifice by giving our lives back to Him – in service to others, in service to goodness and truth, in service to Christ's Body, the Church. By serving God in serving His people, we “make holy” the same world that tempts us with disorder and disobedience. We sacrifice ourselves in Christ in order to make the world holy for Christ. “Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross. . .”  

We must take up our cross once, twice, three times. Our service to the world sanctifies the world; we become servants in the world, living a life of constant “making holy,” sacrifice. Such a life of sacrificial service is not natural to the human animal. So, Christ calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. His way is the way of supernatural graces, divine gifts that poke and prod and lift and cajole us into seeing and hearing our supernatural end – eternal life. When Jeremiah cries out to God, “You duped me, O Lord!”, he is accusing God of seducing him. How else could God move His stubborn prophet to prophesy? How else would any of us deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ except by divine seduction? We were made by God to be seduced into a life of participation, a life of freely entered entanglement with His re-creating love. That hunger you feel, that thirst that plagues you, that gnawing sense of frustrated-perfection – all of that is your built-in longing for God. We need God. We desire God. Often that need hurts. Sometimes it torments. But you can ease that pain by turning to Christ, denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him. Turn to Christ and turn into Christ, offering yourself as a living sacrifice in praise and thanksgiving to God.


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Lou Jordan: New Orleans artist

Check out Lou Jordan!

She's a New Orleans artist and a lay Dominican. . .

Her latest works are my favorite. She uses alcohol inks.

"Treasure Cave," 13 x 10


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29 August 2014

Dominican Vocation Retreat

 The Dominican Experience Weekend   

+     +     +

Who?: Young men interested in learning more about Dominican life.

What?: A weekend to come and learn more about what it means to be a Dominican friar. There is no cost to participants. For more information check us out on Facebook - www.fb.com/opsouthvocations

When?: October 17 – 19, 2014.

Where?: St. Anthony of Padua Priory, New Orleans, Louisiana.

How?: Send email to Fr. Charles Johnson, O.P. at  vocations@opsouth.org

Why?: Because Christ calls men to be friars preachers and the world needs to hear His message.

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27 August 2014

Hypocrisy is vicious

St. Monica
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Our Lord is on a tear! Or rather, he's still on a tear. He's ripping into the Pharisees and scribes b/c their hypocrisy is making of God's children heirs to Gehenna. Calling down upon them the final Two Woes, our Lord breaks into their hearts – those white-washed tombs – and sees there the bones of dead men and “every kind of filth.” Bones and filth that nourish the rank hypocrisy of men who “strain at gnats and swallow camels,” who neglect “the weightier things of the law [like] judgment and mercy and fidelity,” and obstruct the way back to God. Jesus is angry. But his anger is righteous. And not simply b/c he's the Messiah but b/c those charged with making the way back to God straight and smooth are – out of their own need for glory – making God's way crooked and dangerous. All the while presenting themselves as pristine examples of holiness. Look at us. Listen to us. Follow us. We know the way. Imitate us. Jesus says of their hypocrisy, “You brood of vipers. . .you bear witness against yourselves.” Hypocrisy is not a uniquely Christian vice; however, our vow to bear witness to Christ and him alone makes Christian hypocrisy particularly vicious. 
Take a moment to just bask in the raw righteousness of Jesus' anger. Now take another moment to give God thanks that you are not like other men – those who pile up burdens on their people; those who create obstacles on the way back to God; those who demand obedience but rarely give it. Take a moment to praise God that you spend your days and nights bearing up under the gentle of yoke of Christ, gently but firmly preaching and teaching the Good News. Give thanks that your heart and your tongue never disagree. That your mind and your hands never fumble together. That your every thought, word, and deed plant in this world another seed of the Word. And pray that no one – especially Christ – may never rightly condemn you by saying, “You viper. . .you bear witness against yourself.” Why all this thanksgiving, prayer, and praise? B/c as men being made ready to show God's people the Way, you do not want to be credibly accused of hypocrisy, of bearing witness against yourself. 
Look at Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Paul tells the church in Thessalonica how the followers of Christ properly bear witness to Christ: “For you know how one must imitate us. . .in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. . .we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.” Those who lead God's people along the Way do not pile up burdens on others nor neglect the hard work of service nor put themselves first to be seen and applauded and praised. For the Christian, especially the Christian pastor, the surest way to avoid hypocrisy is to make sure that the only witness you bear is your witness to Christ. Act and give him praise. Speak and give him thanks. Think and make your thoughts a prayer. And never fail to grant to all the gift you yourself have received: God's mercy. There is no better way to bear witness against yourself than to refuse to another that which you have gratefully received from God.

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26 August 2014

Thanks (again). . .

I rec'd The Portal of Beauty today from the Wish List.

No name or return address. . .so, Thank You, Anonymous Benefactor!

I will be sharing this with the seminarians.


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25 August 2014


Rec'd Wm. A. Dyrness' Poetic Theology in the mail today from the Wish List.

No name or return address for my benefactor. . .

Regardless: Thank You!

And thanks to all of you who have been browsing the WL this week and sending me books. 

P.S. The book had a pop quiz tucked inside from the student who used it last.

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Good dream. . .

First Day of Class! Very excited!

I have my pencil box and erasers and a new pack of wide-ruled paper and two bottles of Elmer's and a pencil sharpener. . .

Then. . .I wake up and remember that I'm the teacher.



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24 August 2014

And so, we are never forsaken. . .

NB. Con-celebrating Mass at the seminary this morning. Here's another 2008 Roman homily that I've yet to preach. . .

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
We say to the Lord this morning: “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.” We do not say this because we believe that the Lord might forsake us. We do not say this because we doubt that we are the Lord’s handiwork. Nor do we say this because we believe that the Lord’s love is limited by the timepieces of His creation. We say “Lord, your love is eternal” because—though we know that this is true—we must hear it said with our own tongues for only by tasting the words will we come to live the truth that we speak! We beg the Lord, “Lord, do not forsake the work of your hands”—though we know He would never forsake His promise to us—we beg because we must feel the steel of His promise in our mouths, the cold, metallic resolve of the ordering Word, the First Breath, the finality of our Lord’s enduring guarantee. What we know, we pray: “We give thanks to you, O Lord, with all our heart, for you have heard the Words of our mouths”—the Word You Yourself placed on our tongues “because of Your kindness and your truth!” What we know, we pray: “When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.” Peter opens his mouth to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and when he shuts his mouth, the Lord opens his own to say, “Blessed are you…whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And so, we are loved forever. And so, we are never forsaken.

We should celebrate on this twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, the teaching office of the Church, embodied in and employed by he who sits in Peter’s Chair. After all, our Lord says to Peter that he is the rock of the Church, the foundation stone of the Body that will grow into history and produce the great saints (and sinners!) of our western civilization. Our Lord is not speaking metaphorically or symbolically when he says that he will be with us always. His promise to abide with us to the end is best understood as a promise to found, concretely and in perpetuity, a living organism; a breathing, growing entity capable of bringing to it constituent members the stuff of everlasting life, all that which nourishes, cherishes, and sustains holiness and hope. At the head of this Mystical Body is Christ himself, drawing all parts and pieces of creation to him, elements known to the Body and some unknown, seducing and attracting any and all who will perk up an ear to hear the gospel of mercy, or blink open a blearied eye to peek at the glory Christ reveals—the invitation to come to the feasting table is a broadcast not a telegraph, made on an open-mic not a secured line, directed to the milling crowds and not just the favored few, to bring all who will come and not only those who fit.

And all those who come in answer to our Lord’s open-handed, open-hearted broadcast of “come-one, come-all” flavor the Body with a distinctive diversity, an exciting assortment of faces, tongues, customs, rhythms, textures, and for this catholicity we are deeply grateful. As we watch the Lord’s face multiply in his Church, we see him come more sharply into focus as he reveals himself through his creatures. Each beautiful face exposes Beauty Himself. So, it is no wonder at all that we are tempted to celebrate this abundant diversity as a good end in itself, to raise up this bounty of variety and make it the point of the Church, the purpose of Christ’s Body in the world. But if we succumb to this temptation—to glorify the human diversity of the Church for the sake of diversity—we overlook entirely that which attracts and binds the diversity of the Church: the emphatic YES of each beautiful face, each rhythmic tongue, each soul, seduced and delivered to the perfecting love of Christ. It is the commitment of our YES to Christ that unites us as a Church, not the variety of our packaging, not the impermanent assortment of skin and hair and speech but our willed participation in the permanent unity of love, Love Himself.

How difficult would it be for us as creatures of body and soul to live together in the unity of Love Himself without a Body to ground our common spirit? In other words, given what we know to be the case about ourselves as sinful persons, how difficult would it be for us to live together without a concrete expression of God’s love for us? Surely, we have the historical events of the Passion and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. But none of us now were there then. We have the witness of scripture, the eyewitness accounts of what happened at the moment when the Father revealed His enduring love for us on the cross. Yes, of course, and surely scripture lives with us, but it with US that scripture lives. Our committed YES to the love of Christ is certainly given the gravity of history and the excitement of scripture, but concretely how do we live day-to-day with our YES? How do we make history now? How do we make scripture alive now? If our history is to be more than tall-tales and our scripture more than those tall-tales written down, there must be a living tradition, that is, a breathing, growing body of “that which is handed on.” That Body is the Church and the Church is where our committed YES is held in trust, unpacked in its fullness, suited up, put to work, and elaborated to be handed-on to the next set of beautiful faces and rhythmic tongues.

In handing Peter the keys to the kingdom, Christ not only makes Peter and his successors stewards of the heavenly household, he also founds the rock-bottom slab of the Church, the Body to be energized at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Christ establishes, institutes; he plants and provides nourishment and care for his emerging Body. At the proclamation made by Peter that Jesus is the only Son of the Living God, Christ reveals that the Father Himself has made Peter privy to what has until now been a secret. And now that the disciples know, and now that Peter has been confirmed in his office, Jesus assures his friends that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [my church]. Do you hear the psalmist singing, “Lord, your love is eternal”? Do you hear Isaiah prophesying, “When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open”?

Christ’s promise to be with us forever is not a symbol or a sign or a metaphor. His promise is a Church. Founded on Peter and the revelation the Father Himself gave to Peter. Binding and loosing, the Church, through the office of Peter, teaches the faith; that is, what it is to believe and what we are to believe. We know our God’s love is everlasting. And so, we are loved forever. And so, we are never forsaken.

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