10 February 2016

Ash Wednesday: humility & mercy

Ash Wednesday 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Remember that you are dust! Remember that we are impermanent, transient, just passing through and passing away. From the moment we are conceived, we are dying. And the time in between is our time to receive the gift of eternal life -- a permanent, imperishable life lived in the presence of God. Catholics have never shied away from the truth of mortality: we are here temporarily. But also know that dying is not our purpose, our reason for living. We are given breath so that we might give to God the praise and glory due His name; so that we might sow and harvest the fruits of His Word among His people. Our mortal task is to give our hearts, minds, and hands to the cultivation of our Lord's love. Remembering that we are dust, remembering that we are passing through and passing away is at once a call to pay attention to the work we've been given and a reminder that each of us works on a deadline. While you pray, fast and give alms during the next 40 days, rise and rest giving God thanks for everything He has given you, for everything that you are, and for everything you can become with His mercy.
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06 February 2016

Do not be afraid of The Deep!

NB. Not preaching tomorrow. . .so, here's one from 2013.

5th Sunday OT 2013
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church/Our Lady of the Rosary

When it comes to doing His will, God pays careful attention to our faithfulness, our strength, our perseverance. He smiles on our hope, our humility, and our willingness to sacrifice for others in love. These He nurtures toward excellence and rewards with perfecting graces. When we fall short of being faithful, strong, hopeful, or humble, He hears our petitions for assistance and help will arrive. However, when we try to excuse our failures, or justify our unwillingness to serve, or claim some sort of debilitating brokenness, we get the booming chirping of celestial crickets. Nothing. Or, if we are being particularly stubborn, we get the kind of help that Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter get. We get all of our excuses handled by divine intervention, and our mission as apostles grows in proportion to the intervention required to fix us. Our Lord says to his Church, “Put out into the deep!” Do we obey and plead for his help? Or do we wail excuses? Are we fearful and plead helplessness? Or are we faithful? Jesus says to Simon Peter, and to us, “Do not be afraid.” Leave everything and follow him. 

Our readings this morning/evening bear witness to three biblical legends: Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter. All three find themselves confronted by the glory of the Lord; all three hear His call to service; and all three serve up pitiful excuses for their initial failure to receive God's commission. Isaiah, upon seeing the glory of God, wails and whines in fear of death b/c no sinful man may see God and live. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he was “born abnormally” as an apostle and is not fit to be an apostle b/c he persecuted the Church. And Simon Peter fails to believe that Jesus will be able to help him with the catch. When he pulls up his full-to-bursting nets, he falls at Christ's feet, wailing, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Each of these men starts out as a pitiful sinner—a coward, an enemy of the Church, and a weary unbeliever. However, having wailed their excuses, God takes all that they are and graces them with all that they need to become a prophet, a preacher, and an apostle. The Lord wills that they “put out into the deep” of this world and fish for souls. He fixes their brokenness and multiplies the gravity of their mission in proportion to the blessings they require. Each one is astonished by the Lord's generosity. And in gratitude receives his godly commission. 

Christ says to his Church, “Put out into the deep!” Do we obey and ask for his help? Or do we wail excuses? We could, like Isaiah, spend copious amounts of time and energy nursing our sins, crying over our failures, and raising these up to God as excuses for our inability to go out into the world as apostles for the Good News. How can we bear witness to God's mercy when we ourselves are so dirty with sin? Or, we could, like Paul, see ourselves as “abnormally born,” that is, brought into the family of God from another church or another faith, and then claim that our unusual entrance into Christ's body disqualifies us from being proper preachers of the Gospel. I wasn't raised in the Church, what can I do for the faith? Or, we could, like Simon Peter, live as weary unbelievers, ever doubtful of Christ's power, and then ashamed of our unbelief when he shows us what he can do. I denied Christ too many times, I'm unworthy of serving him as an apostle! We could refuse, deny, demur, disbelieve, and beat ourselves up. But Christ says, “Do not be afraid! Leave everything and follow me.” Leave doubt, leave self, leave sin, leave the past. Leave it all and follow me. 

Isaiah leaves his history of sin behind when the seraphim purges his mouth with the ember from God's altar. Paul leaves his history of vengeful persecution of the Church behind when Christ appears to him on the Damascus Road. Simon Peter leaves his long and stubborn history of faithlessness and betrayal behind when he is consumed in the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Purged of his sin, Isaiah shouts like a schoolboy, “Here I am, send me!” Paul sheds the scales from his eyes and receives his commission to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, confessing, “. . .by the grace of God I am what I am.” And Simon Peter, upon seeing the haul in his nets, confesses his unbelief, and receives from Christ himself an encouraged heart that will grow large enough to receive the love of the Holy Spirit. Each abandoned his history of disobedience; each leaves behind every obstacle, every trial, every excuse; and each follows the Lord in His will to become prophetic and preaching legends for God's people. They put out into the deep, and brought to the Lord a great haul of souls. 

Time and physical distance are no measures for Christ. His words to Peter on the boat are spoken directly to us, each one of us: “Put out into the deep. . .do not be afraid.” As this world grows older and its spiritual and moral foundations become more and more fragile, our hold on things true, good, and beautiful seems to grow more and more precarious. We don't need to recite the litany of sins our culture of death revels in. It's the same list Isaiah, Paul, and Peter knew so well. It's the same list that ancient Israel and Judah knew. It's the same list the serpent wrote in the Garden and the same list men have been carrying around for millennia. That list tells us how to degrade and destroy the dignity of the human person, the image and likeness of God that each one us shares in, the imago Dei that makes us perfectable in Christ. It is the mission of the Enemy to tempt us into racial suicide, to kill ourselves as the human race by separating ourselves—one soul at a time—from our inheritance in the Kingdom. The Deep that we are commanded to evangelize is at once both the individual human heart and the whole human community. And lurking in that Deepness is both Eden's serpent and Christ's cross, both the voice of rebellion against God and the instrument of sacrifice for God. Christ says, “Do not be afraid.” 

Whether we find the serpent or the cross or both dwelling in the Deep, we must not be afraid. The serpent was defeated the moment he chose to rebel. Sin and death were crushed from eternity before the first human walked upright. So, we can meet the serpent without fear. We can also meet the cross without fear b/c it is through the cross that the serpent is defeated. When we put out into the Deep of the human heart and the human community, there is nothing there for us to fear. Our job is a simple one: fish. Cast nets with service, humility, mercy, and joy. Bait our hooks with all the gifts we have been given to use for the greater glory of God. Leave behind bitterness, resentment, jealousy, and wrath. Follow Christ in strength, persistence, faithfulness, gladness, and sacrifice. Leave behind worry, doubt, fear, and hostility. Follow Christ in thanksgiving, rejoicing, praise, and courage. Now is not the time for cowardice. Now is not the time for waffling or compromise. We have our orders: put out into the deep! Risk, challenge, venture out. Hold fast to Peter's boat and cast your net wide and deep. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter made their excuses before God. He smiled and made them into prophets and preachers. So, go ahead: make your excuses. And watch God do His marvelous work through you.

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05 February 2016

On carrying a cross

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

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise…” and so here we are – the Foolish – to listen to Jesus say to us just a few days before the start of Lent: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Fools, indeed. But Happy Fools. IF we are foolish in the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom what it means to haul such a grotesque thing onto our backs and carry it about. Our Crosses are not daily burdens, large or small; they are death, the always closing up of one’s life in sacrifice. To carry your Cross daily is to daily carry the cross of your transience, your impermanence; your cross is sign of surrender to mortal being and a spit in the face of despair – one final foolish loogie spat in the Devil’s eye! Our crosses make us both victim and king. At what point in Jesus’ life is he both Suffering Victim and Conquering King?

Carrying your cross is not a task like washing the car or doing the laundry. It is not a burden like taxes or daily reading quizzes. Nor is the cross meant to be a sign of pride or shame, something we find a way to excuse or explain, or something to brag about. A properly carried cross rests on the shoulder and pinches the skin just enough, rubs the bone just enough to keep vivid in our hearts and minds the ministry we do as we trudge along behind our Lord. We follow. That’s what we do: we follow. Doing as he does, preaching as he preaches, teaching as he teaches, healing as he heals. . .dying when he dies. This is not a job. It is a love. Paul reminds us, “Consider your calling, brothers and sisters. . .It is due to [God] that you are in Christ Jesus…” It is because we asked to carry our cross with Christ that we are allowed to do so. 
What do we carry when we carry our Cross with Christ? Variously, “the cross” has been described as sin or physical disabilities or a bad marriage or some sort of addiction, something that unavoidably weighs on us, makes it difficult for us to walk a straightened path. This is too small. How will shouldering the “burden” of an addiction or a mental illness save my life for eternal life? How do I lose my life to save it if my cross is an inordinate love of Krispy Kreme Chocolate Filled Chocolate Covered doughnuts!? Our inordinate desires, illnesses, sins, disabilities – all of that and more attach to the Cross when we lift it to our shoulders. But they will all die with us. None, however, will survive our transformation into the Christ – perfect God, perfect Man.

Jesus reveals four steps or movements in joining oneself to the Saving Cross. He says, first, “If anyone wishes to come after me;” second, “he must deny himself;” third, “and take up his cross daily;” and, fourth, “follow me.” Knowing what you know about the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, do you wish to go after him? If you do, then you deny yourself, renounce yourself; that is, surrender to an inevitable, mortal death; cease flirting with the temptation to become God without God. Now, pick up your death as a Cross like Christ’s and live daily with no fear of dying alone or without purpose. Freed from the suffocating burden of dreading death and what comes after, follow Christ! You have lost your life by embracing daily a sacrificial death. And whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will save it.


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31 January 2016

Confrontation: sacrificial love

NB. Composed most of this one in 2010 in Rome. Never preached it before tonight. . .

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

So, Jesus is busy making friends again! Like prophets before him, he tells people what they don't want to hear. By proclaiming that Isaiah's prophecy of the coming of the Messiah has been fulfilled in their hearing, Jesus challenges those gathered in the temple to believe that he is the Messiah. Instead, after he insults them, the crowd tries to lynch him and then runs him out of town. He walks unharmed through the riot and goes away. Why do these people reject Jesus' claim to be the fulfillment of God's promise to send a Messiah? Two reasons: 1) Jesus is a local boy, and we all know that “no prophet is accepted in his native place;” and 2) Jesus' use of proverb, “Physician, cure yourself,” indicates his refusal to perform a showy miracle to confirm his identity. What does he do instead? He throws down a challenge and a rebuke. In essence, he says, “God's own people have always rejected His prophets, and look at the results. He graces Gentiles before Jews and you people never learn.” Ouch. BUT Jesus is a uniter not a divider; he's a peace-bringer not a trouble-maker He's all about harmony and consensus and living within the tensions of difference. Well, tell that to the screaming lynch mob. They might disagree. So, should we look to him and his prophetic style as a model for our own witness of the gospel?

Confrontation has its place in speaking the truth. The prophets of the Old Testament were known and feared for their unwavering commitment to speaking God's message even in the face of torture and execution. Kings dodged them when possible, summoning them to court to answer for their alleged treason only when necessary. Prophets were notoriously stubborn and seemingly self-righteous. Add to this the fact that prophets tended to be well-known local boys and you have the makings of a good sitcom. Is it any wonder then that the prophets of old resorted to confrontation when dealing with the cold-hearts and closed-minds of a nation's rulers? Sometimes the shock of hearing the truth spoken aloud is enough to cure the deafness of the worst sinner. And sometimes it isn't. Sometimes you have to smash through a wall when the door is barred. On these occasions, it's wise to get as far away from the condemned nation as possible. Why? Because quite possibly the scariest thing a prophet can say is: “Behold, you will suffer the consequences of your hard heart!” It's time to run.

Unfortunately, these days, it seems that every corner, every cable channel, every church/mosque/temple has its own prophet proclaiming the coming apocalypse. Like a flock of squawking crows, these folks fly around the world squeaking and squealing warning us of imminent local destruction and the inevitability of global disaster if we don't change our ways. They have adopted the confrontational rhetoric of the wildest biblical prophet. Do we listen? Some certainly do. Most don't. Confrontation oft repeated quickly becomes annoying harassment. Those ominous crows start to look and sound like Chicken Little's. What's missing from their squealy prophesying is Godly love, a sincere concern for the common good. What's missing is the divine authority that Jesus himself uses in the temple to announce his arrival as the Messiah. His authority is the power and glory of the most excellent way, the way of sacrificial love.

This leads us to the big question: can sacrificial love be confrontational? Take an example. Anyone who has ever marched in a pro-life demonstration or prayed outside an abortion clinic will tell you that the counter-protesters and the escorts can be vicious. For them this isn't just about freedom of choice and left/right politics. They hate us. Passionately hate us. You can expect that groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum to get feisty, maybe even a little rowdy, in the midst of a march. But the bile and venom spewed by pro-abortion activists at pro-life folks goes well beyond the kind of anger that normal politics generates. Why? The choice to have an abortion is intensely personal; it goes to the very core what most Americans think of us their untouchable autonomy in deciding what's best for them. An unwanted pregnancy attaches unwanted responsibilities and necessarily limits a woman's choice of options. But even more than this, pregnancy places a woman in the natural mode of motherhood and all that that implies. At the very core of motherhood is sacrificial love, giving oneself wholly to another. When pro-life marchers remind abortion advocates that the fetus is a person, a being deserving of love, those who would call the killing of this person a moral good react with unadulterated rage. They know the Church is right. And they must cultivate a self-righteous wrath in order to drown out their guilt. The gospel message of love used by the pro-life movement to stubbornly resist compromising with the culture of death shames them into hatred. Denied a convenient salve for their seared consciences, the venom flows and they fall more securely into the Enemy's hands.

It should be shockingly clear to the Church by now that our best witness to the culture of death is sacrificial love. Paul writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. . .it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” With some we can reason. With others we can demonstrate. But some we must simply love. Bearing up under the burden of hatred, believing solely in the power of mercy, hoping in the promises of the Father, and enduring insult, persecution, and trial, we must not be satisfied with merely presenting the truth of the gospel, flashing cue cards and murmuring sound bites. What will heal a seared conscience cannot be logically deduced and crammed onto a bumper sticker. Slogans on placards are easily refuted by other slogans on placards. What cannot be refuted is an act of love done in sacrifice, a willing act of surrender done so that another might be see the truth. Paul reminds us what we know by faith, “Love never fails.” Even as the prophet feels the sword cut into his flesh, he knows that he has succeeded in touching a conscience burned by hatred and malice. His persistence in telling the truth is not ended by death but rather vindicated by it, shown to be the undeniably divine power it truly is.

When he proclaims to the people in the temple that Isaiah's messanic prophecy has been fulfilled in their hearing and subsequently chastises the crowd for their unbelief, Jesus causes a riot. He holds up before the people their dishonesty, their faithlessness, their charred consciences. He shows them that they know he is telling the truth and yet still refuse to hear it spoken. For them to believe such a proclamation changes everything – uproots centuries of tradition and belief, revolutionizes everyday life, forces them to make a choice and live by it. Rather than surrender, they riot and pour out the hatred and malice of those who have seen the corrupted state of their souls. How does Jesus respond? He dies on the cross for them. If we will be his Church, we must be prepared to do nothing less. The march for life is a march to the cross, not for ourselves but for those who will not see, will not hear.

*Before I entered the Church in 1996, I volunteered as an abortion clinic escort. I can tell you -- they HATE us.

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28 January 2016

Preachers need wisdom and humility

Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, OP
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Thomas Aquinas: philosopher, theologian, scripture scholar, university professor, composer of hymns, jurist, consultant to Popes and councils, Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, and, of course, every seminarians' favorite title, Dumb Ox! Before he wrote the Summa contra gentiles and before he wrote the Summa theologiae, and before he composed the Tantum Ergo and the Pange Ligua, and before he was named a Doctor of the Church and gifted the Church with a theological foundation that still breathes 742 years after his death, before all of these and more. . .Thomas flourished as a Dominican friar, a preacher. And everything we wrote, taught, sang, and studied he did for the sake of preaching the Gospel. For the Dumb Ox, preaching endured as that without which his commentaries, hymns, treatises, and books turned to straw. For us, the fruits of his contemplation constitute a body of human wisdom unsurpassed in subtlety, complexity, and depth, and gift us with the means of both perfecting ourselves and our preaching. Underneath Thomas' preaching, supporting his mission and ministry, stands the slender straws of wisdom and humility.

On the nature of wisdom, Thomas writes, “According to [Aristotle] (Metaph. i: 2), it belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order…Accordingly, it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry…”(ST II-II.45.1-2). More simply put, wisdom is that habit of mind that seeks to discover and study the final causes of all things and put these things in their proper order given their final cause. Therefore, Wisdom does not enlighten us like some occult swamp-spirit that flits around waiting for the right moment to sting. Nor does Wisdom live among the tacky tomes of Retail Gnosticism that litter the shelves of B&N. These “wisdoms” – little more than leftover paganism muscled-up with psychobabble – these wisdoms gift the weak ego with a shot of faux courage and urges the newly self-anointed guru to adore him or herself. But from the wisest teacher of them all, we know that: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” 
When we acknowledge that we live and move and have our being in God, when we humble ourselves, we participate in His wisdom. When we participate in His wisdom – seeking the final causes of all things – we enter contemplation and prepare ourselves to share the fruits of our contemplation. And when we share the fruits of our contemplation, we preach the Good News. When we study, we prepare to preach. When we pray, we prepare to preach. When we minister, we prepare to preach. When we rest, we prepare to preach. For Thomas, and for us if we hope to grow in holiness, preaching endures as that without which our papers, our essays and presentations, our teaching and our research turns to straw. Whether we preach from the pulpit, the street corner, the dining room table, or the classroom lectern, our vowed task remains: to go ad gentes – among the peoples – and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our Father freely offers His mercy to sinners, seducing the sinner into salvation. If we will, we live and move and have our being as His mercy-filled instruments.


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25 January 2016

Just how hard-headed are you?

From 2008. . .

Conversion of St Paul
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great and Church of the Incarnation

I was hit in the head with a brick once. My brother threw it at me right after I threw two bricks at him. Once, while helping dad put up a barbed-wire fence, the tightly wound end unwound and smacked me across my face. I’ve been bitten several times by the emotionally unstable. Various bodily fluids thrown at me and on me. I’ve been in only one serious auto accident and numerous accidents with chainsaws, axes, lawnmowers, my ’69 Pontiac Executive, and a widely swung two x four to the jaw. I had to help physically restraint a police officer once while a psych nurse got a needle full of Haldol in his hip. I’ve watched patients in the trauma ward die. And then come back to life with a little help. I’ve seen beautiful black puppies slaughtered and dressed for food in a Chinese market. And I watched a Japanese family eat a raw fish while it still breathed. I even had to help a nurse suture a self-inflicted wound on a male patient. Let’s just say his “manhood” was telling him to do bad things, so he, well. . .snipsnip. Once, I was within days of dying from a blood-staph infection. Not once during any of these highly dangerous, highly emotional, deeply life-changing events, never did I hear a voice or see a light telling me to preach the Good News to the whole world. Then, again, I’m not (and have never been) Saul the infamous persecutor of the Church; nor Paul, the missionary apostle to the Gentiles. Maybe it is the case that Paul is a little less hard-headed than your average Mississippi farmboy.

Paul, well on his way to Damascus, is knocked to the ground by a flash of light and blinded. In his darkness, he is persecuting the Church—eyes and heart closed—; he arrests, jails, tries, and imprisons members of Christ’s Body. Ananias is told to go look for the blinded persecutor and teach him the faith. Ananias objects, saying that he has heard that Saul is an infamous enemy of the Church. But the Lord says to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles…” Ananias does as he is ordered, finding the blinded Saul and offering him the baptism of water and spirit. Once his sight is returned to me, his vision of the Church is radically changed. Now, he preaches Christ and him crucified.

All of this serious machination to get Paul on our side has a larger and better purpose than simply winning a hard one for the team. Without the benefit of Jesus’ one-on-one instruction that the other apostles received, Paul must do what the other Eleven were commissioned to do,”Go into the whole world an proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” That’s a good commission. But did it require being bodyslammed by a burst of light and then several days of blindness lived among Jewish strangers? It did. Why? Mark’s gospel is elegant in its simplicity and lack of subtly. Paul, like the other disciples and like ourselves, is charged with preaching the Good News. Whoever believes and is baptized is saved. Whoever refuses to believe or to be baptized is condemned.

At this point in the Christian narrative, this is not a happy-clappy message best delivered by recently scrubbed professors of theology or neatly styled media pastors. The weight of this choice is best delivered—in its stark, uncompromising simplicity—by someone who never believed it before but now, but because of a direct revelation from Christ himself, knows beyond the logic of language and speech that the Gospel message is terrifyingly true. Paul met the Message in the burst of light but he came to believe in Christ in his blindness. Blind, crippled, dependent on strangers for his daily care, and newly commissioned to abandon everything, everything he has ever known to the good, true, and beautiful, Paul sees with new eyes, stronger eyes and he is fortified against the lazy hearts and minds of those who would fall so easily back among their former ways, clouding the truth, burying the tough stuff under bushels of alien philosophies and favorites sin—all the foreign fruit that will rot too soon and soon enough.

All who heard him were astounded because he had been chosen from the world to go out, witness to the saving power of God, and bear through his witness the everlasting fruit of the Father’s Word.


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17 January 2016

Are you ready to believe. . .by Word and Deed?

2nd Sunday OT 2016
Fr. Philip Neri, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
The party's in full swing. The couple is properly married. The band is jamming away. The food is hot and plentiful. Then disaster strikes! They run out of wine. This is how we know this isn't a Catholic wedding. Mary, knowing what knows about her son, approaches him and says – probably in that tone that mothers use when they want you to do something but don't want to ask, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” [Every time I read this, I cringe. Being a good southern boy, if I called my mama “woman,” I'd regret it. . .after came to.] Bravely, Jesus continues, “My hour has not yet come.” What? That's a lame excuse not to help the host with his wine shortage. Except that it's not an excuse. Jesus' “hour” is the moment he reveals himself to be the Christ. The second he reveals his identity as the Christ, the countdown clock to Golgotha starts ticking. Is he ready to reveal himself just to keep the party going? Is he ready to start his long, painful walk to the Cross? What's more, are his disciples ready to follow him? Are we?

We know that Jesus is ready to reveal himself. He changes six jars of water into wine. The head waiter is impressed and compliments the groom for serving his best wine last. About this miracle, John writes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory. . .” Changing water into wine is just the beginning, the first among many signs that reveal the glory of Christ. Though this story seems straightforward enough, there are a few odd moments that deserve attention. If his hour had not yet come, why did he perform a sign that would start his clock ticking? A clue to answering this question comes in the last bit of the reading. John writes that Jesus performs this sign to reveal his glory and b/c of the sign “his disciples began to believe in him.” If his disciples “began to believe in him,” then we have to think that they didn't believe in him before he performed this miracle. Setting aside for a moment how you can be a disciple and not believe in your teacher, what does it say about the disciples that it takes a miracle to get their attention? Just how hardhearted are they? How closed minded do you have to be not to believe in a teacher you've freely chosen to follow? Maybe they believed him but were just not ready to follow him to the Cross. . .

Here's a question for you: how do you prove that you really believe something? For example, if you say that you believe in God, how do I know that you believe in God? If belief is just a matter of saying or thinking, “I believe X,” then I have to believe that you believe. But what if belief required more than just a matter-of-fact assertion? What if belief required both a matter-of-fact assertion about belief AND a demonstration of belief? In other words, when you say to me, “I believe in God,” my response would have to be, “Oh really? Show me.” What would you do? How do we act out a belief? I know this seems like a weird question to ask, but it's a question that Christians have been asking one another for centuries. During the Roman persecutions of the Church, Christians identified themselves by refusing to offer incense to the statues of the Emperor. Christians serving in the Roman legions were tortured and executed for treason b/c they would not pledge themselves to Caesar. Martyrdom is possible today in Nigeria, the Sudan, China, North Korea just by going to Mass. In the E.U. and increasingly in the US, you can lose your job, your children, and your business for living the Christian faith. What if belief required you to sacrifice everything, up to and including your life? Would you say you believed?

Jesus knew all too well where he was headed. And he knew what would happen to those who freely chose to follow him. He never made a secret of the consequences of believing in him and acting on that belief. He goes out of his way to detail the ugliness that awaits his followers. It's almost as if he wants to discourage people from becoming disciples! Maybe this is why he seems to reply to Mary so rudely, “My hour has not yet come.” Maybe his love for the disciples causes him to hesitate before showing them a sign of his glory as the Christ. Deep down, he wants to spare them the trials of living righteously in a world in rebellion against his Father's rule. Showing them a sign of his glory—like changing water to wine—means moving their hearts and minds from being devoted to him as a holy teacher to following him as their Savior. That's a big move, a Huge Move! A move that will eventually lead all of them to martyrdom in blood and fire. Mary seems to understand her son's hesitation, so she doesn't push him to reveal himself. Instead, she leaves the decision to him, saying to the servers only, “Do whatever he tells you.” And b/c he knows that the mission of the Christ is to die for the sins of the many, he tells them to bring him some water so that he might begin his ministry of signs in Cana.

Are the disciples ready to follow Christ to the Cross? Are we ready to follow him? That move from being devoted to Jesus as a holy teacher to following him as a Savior is a big move, a huge move. It's the difference btw being a hardworking student of a great teacher and being a fellow-worker in ministry eager to share both his glory and his tribulations. I think most of us are ready to say that we're ready to follow Christ. In theory, the whole scenario looks good, even healthy: repentance, forgiveness, penance, love, mercy, hope, good works, all tied together in the sacraments and supported by a vibrant religious culture. The disciples don't have this kind of external support. They are Jewish heretics. Their religious culture sees them as cultish, separated from family and friends, unclean. Thus they are nearly overwhelmed when the ascended Christ sends the Holy Spirit among them at Pentecost, flooding each one of them with His passionate fire for spreading the Word. In their darkest hour, they are given Divine Love, unmediated by law or prophets, undiluted by age or tradition. We are given this same Love: the Spirit to believe, trust, love, show mercy, do good works, to repent, and grow in righteousness. Like the disciples, we too come to believe and believe by word and deed.

Our challenge as faithful followers of Christ becomes clearer and clearer every day. It's not our mission to defeat the world with holiness. The world is already defeated. It's not our mission to save the world with prayer. The world is already saved. It's not our mission to bring justice and peace among the nations through our good works. That's done too. Our mission is to live our lives as witnesses to all that has already been done by Christ. To live holy lives b/c the world is defeated. To live prayerful lives b/c the world is saved. To live lives doing good deeds b/c Christ's justice and peace lives already in us. We live lives of holiness and prayer, and doing good works not to change the world but to show the world all that has already been done for it. Christ gives one sign after another that shows his glory and the glory of the Father among us. All we can do is point to that glory with word and deed, and urge the world, “Do whatever he tells you.” That's enough to get us close to the Cross. But to get all the way to the Cross, we must be ready and willing to sacrifice. . .everything. To show the world the glory of Christ, we must believe—by word and deed—and be ready to die for love.


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12 January 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing (Tues)

Ted Cruz is not a team-player. . .given the congressional GOP, that's a good thing!

Hillary under investigation for public corruption. . .

Is fracking making us greener?

Five common "facts" that aren't facts at all. . .

Francis explains "who am I to judge?" comment.

"That's what the other eleven people are for. . ."

Sweden caught covering up rapes by "refugees". . .


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10 January 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing (Sun)

When ideology trumps science. . .from the Left. 

Racial segregation making a come-back. . .with black support.

What B.O. doesn't cry about. . .

Sean Penn finally does something worthwhile for the world. . .

Is "objective knowledge" possible? (Hint: it's a loaded question!)

Anti-cop, anti-veteran, anti-Christian movie bombs at the box office.

B.O. forcing Little Sisters to choose btw their faith and their ministry.

The system itself is the problem. . .hmmmmmm. . .

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09 January 2016

With you I Am well pleased

The Baptism of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
All that the Old Covenant with Abraham promises, the New Covenant in Christ Jesus fulfills. God makes a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He repeats this promise to their children and their children's children for generations. The promise is delivered again and again by fire, cloud, water, blood; by war and prosperity; by disease and good health; in slavery and in freedom from slavery. And in the voices of the prophets He sends to warn and plead with His people, God speaks one final promise: I will send my Servant to suffer and die for My people; to free them from sin; to show them my mercy and love; and to bring them all back home to Me. The Lord says through Isaiah, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. . .” Eight hundred years after Isaiah records this prophecy, Jesus of Nazareth emerges from the River Jordan, baptized by John his herald, and hears a voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Thus begins the public ministry of the Christ among God's people and the ministry of God's people among the nations. 

Luke records the moment: “After. . .Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.” Recall Isaiah's 800 yr old prophecy, “Here is my servant. . .upon whom I have put my spirit.” As the Holy Spirit descends, Jesus hears a voice proclaim, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Again, recall Isaiah, “Here is my servant. . .my chosen one with whom I am pleased. . .” These parallels are striking b/c the New Covenant fulfills the Old. In Matthew's account of Jesus' baptism, John refuses to baptize Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus answers, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The phrase “to fulfill all righteousness” means “to make good on God's promises, to do all that is right in the sight of the Father.” John's public baptism of the Father's Son fulfills the 800 yr old prophecy given to Isaiah. The suffering servant upon whom the Lord places His holy spirit, the one He upholds, is among us, and his mission to save us is begun. What is his mission? How does he save us? And what is our part in this salvation drama? 

The first part of Isaiah's 800 yr old prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus' baptism, so we can argue that the second part is fulfilled in his public ministry. Isaiah prophesies: “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice. . .and set you as a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement. . .those who live in darkness. . .[you] shall bring forth justice to the nations. . .” Hearing this we might conclude that the savior the Lord sends among us is a warrior-king, a battle-prince, one trained to command armies and conquer nations in blood. And we would be right. However, as we all know, the sword Christ wields is not forged of steel but of light, the light of truth, and the blood he spills is his own. His justice is not a legal settlement, a constitutional amendment, or a defense of natural rights. His freedom is not a license to do as we please and then demand that the neighbors to pay the bill. The prisoners Christ frees are held captive by all the injustices born of from the womb of human disobedience. Therefore, his public ministry is the preaching and teaching of the Good News, the good news that our Father has forgiven our trespasses against Him and only waits for us to receive His freely given mercy. We are the freest we will ever be this side of heaven when we obey the law of divine love.

Jesus of Nazareth is baptized in the River Jordan so that he can fulfill all righteousness. In obedience to his example and explicit command, we too are baptized and set out on a mission identical to his. Paul writes to Titus, “[God] saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit [through Christ]. . .” Why? “. . .So that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” In the water of baptism, we are made right with God, and we receive as an inheritance the hope of life eternal. We are made righteous heirs to heaven as a gift, a freely given heritage as children of God. What do we do with this gift right now? His grace “train[s] us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly. . .as we await [Christ's return].” Jesus, baptized in water and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, “gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.” Are we his people, a people cleansed from lawlessness? Are we a people eager to do what is good? Do we live in the blessed hope of his return?

All that the Old Covenant with Abraham promises, the New Covenant in Christ Jesus fulfills. God makes a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob make their promises to God in turn: to live according to His laws, in peace with one another, always seeking justice, and honoring Him alone as their heavenly Father. God's promises are delivered again and again in flame, smoke, flood, and tears; through violence and peace; by injury and healing; in exile and deliverance from exile. And from the mouths of the prophets He sends to admonish and beg His people, God speaks one last promise: I will send my Servant to suffer and die for My people; to free them from sin; to show them my mercy and love; and to bring them all back home to Me. That servant, our Savior, has arrived. And though he has long ago ascended to the Father, his public ministry continues. . .in those who are baptized in his name, confirmed in the Holy Spirit, and grow holy on the food and drink of his body and blood. Twenty-eight hundred years after Isaiah records his prophecy; and two thousand years after John baptizes Jesus in the Jordan, we emerge from the waters of baptism and hear a voice say, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.”

Christ's mission among his Father's people is to preach and teach the good news that all is forgiven. Receive His forgiveness and come home. Christ gave himself to death so that we might know what divine love truly is: sacrifice for another. When we live in obedience to the law of divine love—sacrificing for one another—we are living our days in holy justice, and giving public witness to the power of God's mercy to repair ruined lives; to free souls from sin and death; to shine the light of truth in the darkness, and guide anyone who wants it to His peace. The history of our salvation is scarred with human failure and the ugly consequences of that failure. If we see history repeating itself—the cycle of laxity, licentiousness, debauchery, and exhausted collapse—then our blessed hope in life eternal becomes all the more blessed. But whatever history fires at us, whatever this world throws at us, our mission—baptized and confirmed—it never changes. We bless the Lord. Live in righteousness. Work for peace. Forgive one another. Love one another, especially those who call themselves our enemies. And we never cease in preaching and teaching the overwhelming mercy of God, freely given and waiting to be received. Christ died to cleanse for himself a people to be his own, a people eager to do only what is good.
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Coffee Bowl Browsing (Sat)

Remember: all they ever wanted was tolerance. . .yeah, right.

Mizzou paying the price for coddling lefty crybullies. . .

NYE perverts in Cologne: "largely asylum seekers." 

Apology from German media for not reporting sexual assaults: not enough.
Trump winning the war against P.C. culture. Well, I hope he wins that war. . .just not the White House.

Where is the Ark of the Covenant?

"13 Hours". . .I will definitely be seeing this!


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07 January 2016

Coffee Bowl Browsing (Thurs)

"Social justice" bumper-sticker phrases translated into English.

Cologne (et al) sexual assaults: ". . .there has been a widespread failure on the part of German authorities and elite institutions." Given the disease of P.C. culture. . .entirely predictable.

The inevitable consequences of the $15 minimum wage: Ronald McDonald is now a robot

The myth of "white privilege."

My favorite Youtube artist: Gerda Lipski from Germany.

Mom got me a bottle of this for Christmas: Guerlain L'Instant pour homme. Spicy cocoa, patchouli, and florals. Very nice!

Tom K. makes an interesting liturgical observation. . .


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06 January 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing (Wed)

FactCheck: B.O.'s latest attempt at "gun control" would not have stopped any of mass shooting.

"Taken at face value, the new ATF guidance is thus nothing more than a restatement of existing legal requirements." Meh.

Dozens of gang-rapes in Cologne over New Years. . .

Cops, politicians, pro-immigration activists keep the rapes quiet. . .

"Instead, we have a Democrat who is allowed by the press to fail quietly, discreetly, and off center stage."

Showdown btw the FBI and the DoJ over Hillary's classified emails.

How thoughtful. . .the bureaucrats plan on including you in the rearing of your children. Send them a Thank You note.

Abortion had a very bad 2015. . .Good!

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02 January 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing (Sat)

Nutty Feminist comes to her senses. . .rejoins reality. 

Another friar and I are going to see Star Wars today. . .is the movie gnostic?

Institute of Catholic Culture 

Evil has a face. . . 

Lefties hate science when it contradicts the tenets of their faith.

Hurling snakes at the enemy!

Chinese gov't repressing Christians. . .
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01 January 2016

Coffee Cup Browsing

NB. No classes until Jan 13th, so there's nothing stopping me from reviving Coffee Cup Browsing!

Media Corrections 2015: "Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as 'the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years'. This should, of course, have read 'non-Italian pope.'" —London Times.

Peer-reviewed survey of scientists: there is a "scientific consensus" on global warming -- it's fake.

NCR (Nasty Critical Rag) awards "Persons of the Year" to the gay couple who gave us same-sex "marriage." Do you need another reason to cancel your subscription?

It's All About MEEEEE!!! Fr. Hollywood suspended for his adolescent attention-seeking stunt during Mass.

Satanists perform adolescent attention-seeking stunt in OK. Oddly, this doesn't offend me. The BVM is bigger than their hatred.

My new favorite website. . .

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29 December 2015

Back in NOLA & Thanks

I made it back to NOLA safely!

Waiting upon me -- outside my door -- from the Wish List were several books and some paint. . .

Thanks to Matheus, Jenny K, and Shelly for your kind generosity!

One package of paint (medium magenta) didn't have a name on it, so. . .thanks to this Anon Benefactor.

Wedding on Dec 31st, Masses at Tulane Univ and OLR on Jan 3rd. . .and back to work at the seminary on Jan 12th.

God bless and Happy New Year!


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