27 March 2017

Hello, Darkness. . .

Hello, Darkness (18x24, acrylic, canvas board)

This is an experiment with chromatic black. The foundation layer is composed of Mars Black, Primary Blue, Burnt Siena, and Phyto Green. The "colored" portions are (top to bottom) green, black, blue.

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26 March 2017

Healing thru Obedience

4th Sunday of Lent (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

How does a little bit of dirt and spit smeared on the eyes heal blindness? It doesn't. The Man Born Blind isn't healed by Jesus' rather unsanitary ad hoc remedy. He isn't healed by the magical waters of the Pool of Siloam either. Nor is he healed through his faith in Christ. So, what heals him? The man's disability is healed by his obedience to Christ's Word, by his willingness to listen to and comply with Jesus' order: “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam,” Jesus tells him. The result? “So he went and washed, and came back able to see.” Notice that there's no declaration of belief or faith by the man, no proclamation or confession, nothing that would indicate that he even knows who Jesus is before he is healed. As far as we can know from John's account, the man doesn't speak until after the miracle occurs. Jesus heals the man as a gift, out of abundant generosity and as a sign of his Sonship. The man's subsequent testimony to the religious authorities bears out Christ's wisdom in choosing this man as a witness to his power. Later Jesus catches up to the man and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man says, “I do believe, Lord.” 
Belief comes easy; obedience, not so much. We can believe all sorts of things – sensible and nonsensical – without much effort, without worrying too much that we may be proven wrong. We've come to accept that one's beliefs are an intensely personal/private matter that no one can justly dispute or deny. If I were to tell you that I believe that the Earth is flat, you would probably think I'm just being eccentric and ignore me. Well, it's his right to believe that nonsense if he wants! So long as my beliefs don't hurt anyone – what's the big deal? Like I said, belief is easy. Obedience is an entirely different matter. Obedience is about listening to and complying with something someone else says. Obedience necessarily involves another person. Belief is personal and private. Obedience is communal and public. For me to obey my religious superiors means listening to them and complying with their requests. I'm told to move back to Rome, or given job within my province, or asked to take another ministry site. I don't want to do any of these things, but obedience requires me to listen and comply. That's hard. Being obedient can change my job, my living arrangements, my personal comfort; it can challenge my gifts, and require me to be open to all sorts of potentially unpleasant outcomes. Believing is easy; obeying is not.

And maybe this is why the story of the Man Born Blind is told the way it is. Jesus healed some according to their belief. He healed others b/c of the faith of family and friends. But the Man Born Blind is the only person to be healed according to his obedience. And this is good news for us! Belief and faith can often seem difficult to conjure. All sorts of sins can interfere with our natural desire to come closer to God. When we focus too much on the emotional effects of believing, we sometimes come away empty. We expect that believing will necessarily erupt in us like a whirlwind. Taking us to heights of spiritual ecstasy and mystical union with God. When we don't feel those effects, we imagine that our faith is lacking. That our belief is somehow weak. But if we can be healed – like the Man Born Blind – by obedience, by listening to and complying with Christ's Word, then there is another way to seeing his light in our life. There's another way for us to come closer to God that can get us through those times when faith and belief seem distant and sore. We can be children of the light through obedience. 
Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Brothers and sisters. . .try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them. . .” Paul describes the work of Lent. Learn to please God. Do nothing to assist the work of darkness. Expose the shameful works of evil. We learn to please the Lord by hearing, listening to, and complying with His Word, Jesus Christ. We do this not for His sake but our own. God doesn't need our obedience; we do. We are obedient for our healing, so that we might come out of the blindness of sin and into the light of our salvation. We avoid participating in the fruitless works of darkness by knowing always doing, saying, and thinking only what is good for the Gospel. As long as we put the Gospel before our thoughts, words, and deeds and act only through the Gospel, we can avoid helping those who preach the sin and death. And the only way to expose the works of darkness is to always and everywhere live, breath, eat, sleep, and work in the Truth of Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We have two weeks left in this Lent. It's time to work harder at our God-given mission of being Christ's light to the darkening world. “You are light in the Lord. Live as children of light”!

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22 March 2017

Making good on our deal

3rd Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Back in the Dark Ages, music-lovers could join the Columbia House Record Club. Join up to buy just one cassette tape for $9.99 and you would receive ten free cassettes of your choosing! Sounds like a great deal. . .until you realize that ninety percent of their stock consisted of third-rate 70's disco bands and glam hair bands from the 80's. Of course, I signed up. Many, many times. Each month – for years – I'd receive a catalog in the mail with a reminder that I had to buy just one more cassette to fulfill my obligation. Just one more. On occasion I'd break down and buy something. Hoobastanks' They Sure Don't Make Basketball Shorts Like They Used To, or Twisted Sisters' Love is for Suckers. Anything to stop the catalogs. Anything to get out from under the obligation. I discovered, however, that once you're member of the Columbia House Record Club, you are always a member. The catalogs don't stop. The pre-paid return envelopes don't stop. The glitter-glam bad hair guitar bands haunt your dreams. Forever. You make a deal under legal obligation, and there's no one to save you. 
The Jews made a deal with some legal obligations – though none of these involved monthly catalogs. As time moved away from the Original Deal, the terms of the contract began to grow, layer upon layer; the obligations piled up and the procedures for meeting one's obligations became more intricate. Underneath the desiccated barnacles of interpretation, application, amendment, and nuance the heart of the Original Deal still beat. Love God. Love self. Love neighbor. In order to expose the still beating heart of the Original Deal, God sent His only Son to become one of us, to assume – as his own – our inability to carry out of our end of the bargain, and to teach us how to live freely as children of the Original Deal Maker. In other words, Christ came to fulfill the terms of our deal, to meet all of our obligations under the Law. He did not accomplish this feat of mercy by sweeping away the Original Deal. He did it by bringing together in one divine person the perfection of God and the imperfections of man; by dying so that our imperfections might be made perfect; and by rising back to the Father, carrying with him everything that makes us prone to the sickness of sin and the permanency of death. The Law he fulfilled remains. 
The Original Deal still stands. Love God. Love self. Love neighbor. And do so knowing that your failures have already been forgiven.

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19 March 2017

Confession Advice

NB. A repost by request. . .

1).  Confession is all about receiving the forgiveness we have all already been given.   We cannot earn forgiveness by works, attitude, or even confession itself; if we could, it would be a wage not a grace (i.e. a gift).

2).  Penance is not a punishment for sin.  Completing the penance you've been given is a sign that you have received God's forgiveness and resolved not to sin again.  This is why I always assign sin-appropriate psalms as penance.

3).  Priests rarely remember the sins of individual penitents.  Some believe that this is a grace from God given so that the confessor is spared the difficulty of carrying around the memories of sin.  Sounds good to me.  Frankly, I think the explanation is more mundane: priests have heard it all and sin is boring.

4). Explaining your sins in the confessional is unnecessary and time-consuming.  Just say what you did and leave it at that.  If more info is needed, your confessor will ask.  Explanations generally come across as attempts to excuse the sin.

5).  Ask for counsel if you need it.  Most experienced confessors will know when counsel is needed, but it never hurts to ask.  Just keep in mind that there are others waiting to confess!

6).  This is your confession, so stick to your sins.  You cannot confess for your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc.  And please avoid using your confession time to complain about your kids, your spouse, your neighbors, etc.

7).  Faithfully assisting at Mass (actually participating) absolves venial sins.  Why else would we recite the Confiteor and the celebrant pray for our absolution?

8).  If you are unsure about whether or not X is a sin, ask.  Remember:  mortal sins are acts of disobedience that "kill charity" in your heart.  You cannot sin mortally through accident or ignorance. Don't turn a venial sin into a mortal "just in case."  

9).  Keep your eye on the clock and the line.  Make a thorough confession but balance your thoroughness with economy.  Others are waiting.  One way to do this (if there's a long line) is to stick to your mortal sins and save the venial sins for Mass.

10).  Tell your confessor that you will pray for him. . .and then go out there and pray for him! 
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Coffee Cup Browsing

Time to shake up the judges

More bad news for the Church of Climate Change. . .Pope Gore unavailable for comment.

Snowflakes take classes on how to be adults. Geez. I had my first job at 15.

Victims can sue San Jose for not protecting them from "protesters." Discovery should be very interesting.

If B.O. had issued Trump's travel ban, would it be constitutional? Of course it would.

The infantilization of academia continues. . .OUCH! 


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16 March 2017

To Whom do you return?

NB. The priests of the Archdiocese of New Orleans gathered this morning for Daytime Prayer with the Archbishop. I was invited to preach. . .

Thursday of the 2nd Week of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Daytime Prayer for Archdiocesan Clergy

We are in the season of return. After a season of waiting and another of rejoicing, we stepped into that time between birth and rebirth, btw the birth of Christ and our rebirth in him. But before we can be reborn, we must return. That's what we do in Lent. We return. We bring ourselves back to the Lord – triumphs, wounds, failures, modest victories – we bring it all back to him. And we lay it all out for his judgment. If we were to rely on ourselves alone to accomplish this necessary return, we would be forever lost in the humiliating grind of gathering and packing all that we have done and left undone. Even with a little help from our friends, we'd forget a thing or two. Leave behind some fault or drop a sin or two along the way. But b/c we are heirs to the Kingdom, the adopted sons of the Father, we never truly do anything alone. We can only bring ourselves back to the Lord with His help, with His mercy. There can be no question about whether or not we can do any good w/o Him. We can't. The question is: when we return – loaded with all we have to sacrifice – to whom do we return? When you return to the Lord in His mercy, who do you see?
Who do you see when you return to the Lord?! That's a bizarre question for a church filled with Catholic priests! Maybe. Think for a moment about your failures. Your faults. Your omissions. Think for a moment about your idols. What lesser goods have you worshiped instead of your Greatest Good? (I could list mine, but I only have seven minutes!) We could all probably list a few – popularity (or an aversion to controversy); a need to be right, to be vindicated; a need to be seen as holy (as opposed to actually being holy); a need to be revered, to be honored; a need to be thought particularly intelligent or pastoral or relevant; a need to be innovative or precise; a need to be sought after, followed, listened to. All of these are goods, lesser goods, and all of these are perfectly human needs. But to lift them up and place them along side the Greatest Good, or to use them as replacements for the Greatest Good, threatens not only our vocation as ministers of the Gospel, it threatens our access to the only One who can save us. We become who or what we love. Idols of silver and gold cannot see. They cannot breathe. Idols of popularity and comfort cannot hear. They cannot speak. If we will return to God with all we have to sacrifice, we will return to the only God capable of receiving and blessing all that we have and all that we truly are. 
Scripture urges us: “. . .heed [the Lord's] voice all your heart and with all your soul.” All my heart and all my soul. This is the Lord's way of admonishing me to leave nothing behind in my return to Him. I cannot hide a favorite sin, or stash away just one well-loved idol and expect that my return to the Lord will anything but futile. I cannot serve God in spirit and in truth if I am spiritually half-blind, mostly deaf, struggling to breathe, and stuttering. Our work for God's people – the preaching of the Gospel and the care of souls – is too important to be done in half-measures. Priestly service in His name requires the discipline of a well-trained soldier; the zeal of a prophet; the authenticity of a saint; and, most importantly, the love of a father for his family. We're not talking about moral perfection or human impeccability here. We're talking about desire. Wanting what we lack. It's one thing to lack zeal or strength or even love. It's quite another to lack these essentials and never desire them. What we lack – all that we lack – we can receive when we turn again to the Lord and ask. 
“The Lord, your God, will change your lot, and take pity on you.” We are in the season of return. After waiting and rejoicing, we step into the long season of turning again to God. Who, what do you see when you turn to your God? Ego? Disordered passion? Power? Or do you see the source and summit of your call to serve in sacrificial love? The source of your strength in hope? When you turn again to your God, do you see the summit of your end in perfect union with Him? What we lack to serve we are given in abundance when we open our hearts and minds to receive the gift that only God can give us – Himself. There is room in the human heart for only one god, one ruler, one source and motivator for loving perfectly. Everything else, everyone else must be sacrificed – made holy through surrender – so that All that He Is is free to equip us for service. Scripture teaches us that the Lord provides. Our task is to receive His provision with praise and thanksgiving so that we can get on with the work we have been given to accomplish. Ask for what you lack to serve and receive from the Lord all that you need.


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05 March 2017

One foot in front of the other. . .

NB. I'm not preaching today, so here's a Vintage Homily from 2007. . .

1st Sunday of Lent(A): Gen 2.7-9, 3.1-7; Rom 5.12, 17-19, Matt 4.1-11
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

John baptizes Jesus. Coming up out of the Jordan River, Jesus sees the Spirit as a dove and hears the voice of his Father, “This is my beloved Son…” Stepping onto the bank of the river, Jesus is seized by the Spirit and lead into the desert “to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus fasts for forty days and forty nights. When he is weak from hunger, possibly addled from lack of sleep, and vulnerable to attack, the Tempter comes to offer him what we all would imagine is foremost in his mind right that moment: food! Jesus refuses food. The Tempter then offers him two more enticements: one of pride (to exploit his status as the Son of God) and another of avarice and power (to become the ruler of the world). Jesus deftly turns both away, leaving the Devil to flee in order to make room for the Father’s ministering angels. Though we are no doubt delighted that Jesus won his battle of wills with the Devil, we may wonder why the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, is “lead by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” in the first place? Does the Father need to test His Son? Does the Spirit suspect a weakness in the resolve of the Lamb to be sacrificed? Why is Jesus tempted in the desert? And how do these temptations lead him and us with him to Jerusalem and the Cross?

With a smudge of ash on the forehead and the solemn greeting on Ash Wednesday, “From dust you were made, to dust you will return,” we begin in earnest another Lenten trek with Christ to Jerusalem and his Cross. What are we marking with these ashes? What does that frightful greeting bring to mind? First, we are beckoned by an undeniable reality: our mortality, our frailty as creatures: the inevitability of death. Ash Wednesday is a crowded day at Church because we know we are dust and breath and that eventually we will die. Those ashes mark us as impermanent things…and they are a blessing on our transience. Second, we are summoned on Ash Wednesday to commit ourselves to the forty day/forty night trek across the Lenten desert with Christ. Nowhere else will our frailty, our weakness be tested so completely. Random chance, freak accident may surprise us with a test of faith and courage, but at no other time in the year do we knowingly step up, stare the Devil in the eye, and dare him to tempt us. Lent is our bravest Christian adventure. Finally, third, we are reminded again that though we are frail creatures subject to devilish temptation and the chaos of nature’s chance, we are Creatures—Made Beings, beings made, created in the image and likeness of a loving Creator! And what’s more, we are Redeemed Creatures—finally, mercifully saved creatures, loved into the Father through His Son by the Spirit. This is who we are as we touch the first tempting grains of Lenten sand.

Now that we are reminded of who we are, let’s go back to my first questions: why is Jesus tempted in the desert? And how do these temptations lead him and us with him to Jerusalem and the Cross? We have already run into the question, or one almost exactly like it: why must Jesus, the sinless Son of God, be baptized? Jesus is tempted for the same reason that he is baptized. For us. Jesus is brought through the desert to Jerusalem and his Cross for us as one of us. Fully human. A man like us in every way but one: he was without his own sin. With needs, passions, hurts, loves, and temptations, the Son of God was made flesh by the Spirit through his mother and ours, the virginal Mary. Why? So that every human wound, every human frailty, every human sin could be healed. His Cross—the tool of his torture and death—is our medicinal tool of salvation. Fully human, fully divine, he was baptized to baptize human flesh. He was tempted to temper human flesh against temptation. And he died so that we might live.
The story of the Fall told to us in Genesis tell us that our first father, Adam, was tempted to become a god in disobedience to God. He failed. Our first mother, Eve, was tempted to become a god in disobedience to God. She failed. Mary, the new Eve, was tempted by the Spirit to give flesh and birth to God, Jesus the new Adam, the Christ. She said YES! And as Paul teaches the Romans, “For if, by the transgression of [ the one Adam], death came to reign in life through [him], how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of [salvation] come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” Through the living and dying of Christ then we come to “reign in life” as Christs, New Adams and New Eves. And because of our baptism into the Body of Christ and because we eat his body and drink his blood at the eucharistic altar, we march through the desert of Lent guarded against the wiles of disobedience, protected against the lie that brings us constantly to the brink of damnation, the lie that we can become gods without God.
We have forty days and forty nights to confront head on the One Sin that all sins call “Father”—the single sin of believing that we are our own gods. Every sin we assent to, every sin we give flesh and blood to gives life to the serpent’s temptation: disobey God so that you might know what it is to be God. There is no thornier path, no road so crooked as the one that starts with disobedience and travels through the arrogance of believing that we save ourselves from ourselves, that we are able to lift ourselves to heaven and accomplish reconciliation with God without God. Such a belief, and the daily habits that result from believing so, are the deadly vices that kill us over and over again, that punch us in the heart and throw us back again and again into the serpent’s company. The stripped bare audacity of the Lenten desert is our training ground, our yearly boot camp for exercising the gifts of love and mercy that always bring us, again and again, brings us back to the Father. A successful Lenten trek will bring us to Jerusalem and the Cross bare and ready to walk the passionate way with our Lord, bare and ready to die among the trash of Golgotha, and rise with him on that Last Day.

We are able to put one foot in front of the another all the way to Easter morning because Jesus did it first. Along the way we will be shown the glories of power, the majesties of celebrity and infamy, we will be offered all that the Devil has in his kingdom. We do not need to resist temptation, to fight against the black jewels of the devil’s chain, we need only remember that Jesus met the devil first, always before us, and said, “Get away, Satan!” There are no battles left for us to plan, no wars against temptation for us to fight. The last battle was fought and the war won on the Cross in Jerusalem. All that we need do is follow Christ. One foot in front of the other, walking lightly on the sand in the shadow of his healing presence.

"Quod non assumpsit, non redemit." (Gregory Nazianzen, Letter to Cledonius) H/T: Fr. Dominic Holtz, OP


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02 March 2017

"Ave, Maria. . ." (a new painting)

 AMGP, (18x24, acrylic, ink, oil pastel, canvas board)


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Coffee Cup Browsing

Yeah. . .this is probably not a good idea. . .for them

Just a reminder: the Medjugorje controversy was settled in 1984.

A Dominican response to Jesuit modernism. . .

Social Justice Warrior-ism explained. . .hint: overcompensation for moral weakness.

Deconstructing the Nanny State. . .faster, please.

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26 February 2017

Have you forgotten God?

NB. I'm preaching this morning at St D.'s but not presiding. The knee is gimpy again (sigh).

8th Sunday OT (A)
St. Dominic, NOLA
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

O Lord! Why have you forsaken me? “Rest in God alone, my soul.” O God! Why have you forgotten me? Rest in God alone, my soul.” O Lord! Why have you abandoned me? “Get a grip already! I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” So says the Lord to His anxious people. Pour out your heart before the Lord. And nothing will ever disturb you. At the center of your love for God and one another – your heart – who or what takes up the most time and space? That is, when you carefully consider the source and summit, the foundation and center of your day-to-day existence, who or what directs your heart and mind? If that who or what is anyone or anything but Christ himself, then pour out your heart before the Father, pour out whatever or whoever it is that directs you, and surrender yourself once again to Christ. If you are worried that God has forgotten you, ask yourself: have I forgotten God?

God's people are anxious. They are afraid that He has forgotten them. So, He asks Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Lay to rest then any worry that God will forget us. If we are going to worry, why not worry about a very real and dangerous possibility: that we will forget God? That we will abandon the Lord and His covenant with us in Christ. Pushed and pulled from every side by the seductive forces of an increasingly secular culture, it is all too easy to give up on the Father and His Christ. He promises that nothing and no one will ever disturb us. True. But He doesn't promise that nothing or no one will never try. Whether or not we will be disturbed by this world's seductions is predictable. Whether or not we will be seduced is also predictable. How? Ask yourself: who or what sits on the throne of my heart? Who or what rules you? To put it in gospel terms: whom do you serve? Whose call do you answer? If Christ rules your heart; if you serve Christ and his Church, then there is only one call to answer, one voice that gets your attention and obedience: “Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out your hearts before Him. . .and serve Him alone.

Jesus says it plainly: “No one can serve two masters. . .You cannot serve God and mammon.” God cannot rule your heart if your heart is already ruled by a foreign god; or a disordered passion; or an alien creed; or your own ego. The throne of your heart has room enough for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal preferences? Social prestige? Jesus urges his disciples, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Then he asks, “Are not you more important than they? Can any of you – by worrying – add a single moment to your life-span?” If the Father feeds the birds of the sky so that they do not worry about food, and if we are more important than they, then it follows that the Father will care for us as well. When you place the Father on the throne of your heart, you do not worry. Why? B/c nothing bad will ever happen to you? No. B/c you will never again feel want or need? No. Well, why? B/c you will know that whatever comes will never be, can never be more anxiety-producing than forgetting the One you serve. With Christ as the source and summit, the center and foundation of our day-to-day living, nothing and no one can disturb you.

There's room enough on the throne of your heart for just one Master. Who will it be? Financial security? Personal preferences? Social prestige? A job can be lost, money stolen. Works can be destroyed or bettered by another. And there's always someone ready to take your place as king of the social hill. It's all just more junk to worry about. Jesus reminds us, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’” And then, sounding very much like he did last week, he adds, “All these things the pagans seek.” Who are these pagans? They're the ones who serve Money, Popularity, Vengeance, the Thing of This World – all passing away as fast as an empty heart can grab them and give them a crown. This is not who we are made to be. We are not made to be temples to house the temporary gods of a failing world. We are made – pagans and Christians alike – we are made for eternity, built to endure the purifying Love of the One Who makes us. But such endurance is only made real by a decision, a decision to serve the One Who makes us, to serve Him alone. “No one can serve two masters. . .” No one can survive with a heart divided in two.

Nor can one with a divided heart be trusted. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, describes himself and his fellow apostles, “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” A steward holds the keys to the castle and the treasury, so he must be trustworthy, a servant deserving of his master's trust. Since we can do nothing good w/o Christ, whatever trust we deserve as servants is his before it is ours. And given our very human tendency to fail his trust, it's a good thing that we do not have to rely on our trust alone! Paul notes that when the Lord returns to judge his stewards' care of his kingdom, “. . .he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts. . .” What will he see when the light shines inside? What disordered motives will wiggle into view? If Christ rules our hearts, he will see his serene reflection – perfect love, hope, and faith. If Christ rules, he will see what the Father sees when He looks at Christ – a beloved child, a pure soul, perfect trust. However, if some foreign god or disordered passion or bloated ego rules. . .well, all he will see is a heart that has chosen to rule itself, a heart that has chosen to spend eternity primping in a cracked mirror. If we want Christ to see himself reflected in us at the judgment, then he must be the one we serve.

As Lent fast approaches and we set ourselves on the 40 day trek, remember all that the Father said to Isaiah, “I haven't forsaken, forgotten, or abandoned you. Remember, my soul, I AM your rock, your salvation, your refuge and your strength. I AM your stronghold and your hope. Trust in Me at all times, O my people! Pour out your hearts before Me, and nothing will ever disturb you.” Pour out from your heart whatever or whoever it is that takes you away from your salvation. Pour out the foreign gods, the disordered passions, the causal idols of deceit and gossip; pour out anything that stands btw you and Christ, anyone who threatens Christ's trust in you. Lest we forget, the Psalmist sings over and over again, “Rest in God alone, my soul. Rest in God alone.” There is no rest, no eternal rest, in anyone but Christ.

19 February 2017

As a Temple of the Holy Spirit. . .how are you doing?

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I want you to fill in the blank: “My salvation through Christ is like ________.” Like Christ the Lifeguard saving me from drowning in sin. Like Jesus the Physician curing me from the terminal illness called death. Like Christ the SWAT team member rescuing me the kidnapper, Satan. All of these images and the ones you could invent yourselves are fine as far as they go. No image of our salvation is ever going to be perfect. But there is one element of our salvation that even some of our oldest images leave out. When Christ the Lifeguard saves me from drowning, I do not become the Lifeguard. When Jesus the Physician cures my death, I don't become the Physician. Same goes for the Christ the SWAT team member. When he rescues me from Satan, I do not become a SWAT team member. However, in the Church's oldest understanding of how we are saved by Christ, we become Christ when we are saved. Or rather, we are put on the path to becoming Christ. Paul hints at this when he writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” So, I'll ask you: how are you doing – out there in the world – as the temple of the Spirit of God?

And not only as the temple of the Spirit of God but also as a child of God who is becoming Christ for others! How's that going for you? If you want to object and say that we've upped the ante on entering the spiritual game. . .well, you're right. Maybe we've become a bit lazy about how we evaluate our growth in holiness? Maybe your measure is something like: “Well, I didn't kill anyone today. I'm doing great!” Or maybe your measure goes like this: “I made it to Mass before the gospel three Sundays in a row. I'm doing great!” Don't get me wrong here. Not killing someone and getting to the Sunday Mass before the gospel are good things. But they do not measure your growth in holiness. The measure we must use is a bit more. . .complicated than that. Jesus teaches us the proper measure by exposing the foundation of the Law, saying, “You have heard it said. . .but I say to you. . .” He says that the foundation of the Law is the law of love, sacrificial love – giving what you have, giving who you are to another in need. Holiness is not about not sinning. Holiness is not about finding the loopholes in the rules and playing lawyerly tricks with them. Holiness is about living in the world as the temple of the Spirit of God, as one who is becoming Christ for others. 
Has anyone here seen the new movie, Silence? It's about a Jesuit missionary to Japan in the 16th century. Long story short. . .the missionary is eventually convinced by a gov't official to denounce his faith and become a Buddhist. How is this accomplished? Not by torture or deprivation. Basically, the official comforts the Jesuit priest into apostasy; that is, the priest is given a nice house, plenty of clean clothes, a beautiful wife, and a prestigious position in the gov't. The official also tortures the priest's followers in front of him, telling him that only he can stop their pain. How? By denouncing Christ and converting to the Buddha. In other words, the official does everything 21stc. secular culture does to the American Christian. We have plenty of food, clothes, shelter, gadgets, cars, medical care, heat in the winter, A/C in the summer, near limitless entertainment choices, and even the illusion of political freedom. We can continue having all these. . .if we attach ourselves to them and let them tell us who we are. If we let them attach themselves to us and tell us that they alone can save us, they alone can make us happy. 

Secular culture doesn't need to throw us to the lions or put us in jail to convince us to deny Christ. It's perfectly content to allow us to keep our shallow measures of Christian holiness so long as we leave Christ in his gilded box inside the church. But our Lord did not die on the cross so that we might have somewhere to go at 6.00pm on a Sunday. He did not die for us so that we might be part of a weird little religious club that meets in secret. Christ died on the cross so that we might be saved from sin and death. So that we might be made heirs to his Father's kingdom. So that we might be baptized in water and fire and rise again to take the Good News into the world and let the world know that the Father has forgiven every sin and wants every man, woman, and child ever born to be His adopted sons and daughters. Christ died on the cross so that you and I might become Christ in this age and build the kingdom for his return. The measure of our holiness can never be how much we have or how well we are known. It can never be how little we have or how obscure we are. We measure our holiness by how far we are from the standards of the world in our love for one another and for the least among us. In other words, our measure of holiness is Christ himself, the one who loved so perfectly, so fully that he died on a cross for the salvation of the world, a world that hated and feared him. 
So, how are you doing – out there in the world – as the temple of the Spirit of God, as one who is becoming Christ for others?

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14 February 2017

New paintings

A new bunch of paintings. . .all 18x24, acrylic, canvas board

 The Spirit scrutinizes everything

 Immense is His wisdom

 He stationed the Cherubim

 The Serpent tricked me

 All they had done and taught

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12 February 2017

Coffee Cup Browsing (Sunday Edition)

Sentimental Catholicism. . .we are most like God in that we are rational not that we experience emotions.

Letting East and West enrich one another liturgically. . .not sure about all those vestments. . .got to be hot under there!

Good book for Lent: Literary Converts. . .read this for my ordination retreat back in 2005.

Some moral considerations on The Wall. . .not a good idea from a CST perspective.

Combating the nonsense of relativism. . .

Fr. Z.'s suggestions for Lenten reading. . .

DOJ drops B.O.'s transgender policies. . .good. Now, we need a charitable approach to helping these people.

This is a dead question that -- like a bad movie zombie -- keeps getting dug up.


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11 February 2017

Coffee Cup Browsing

Apologies for the absence of CCB! I recently received a comment on the blog that prompted me to reboot this HA feature. Thanks, Anonymous!

Apparently, nominalism has its limits. . .even for collegiate snowflakes. 

Suddenly! Unexpectedly! Freedom of association is HOT on the Left. . .but Christian bakers still have to bake gay wedding cakes.

History Repeats: Democrats attempt to block Republican official from entering public school. George Wallace (D), call your office!

Fascinating video. . .if I had watched this in 1985 I would have never been a leftie.

Mandatory "diversity training" is just re-education under another name.

Anti-Catholic extortion group, SNAP sued for taking kickbacks from lawyers. Top officials resign.

Catholic inculturation done right. . .

My new favorite Youtube channel: Food Wishes.

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Jesus & Zombies

NB. Last Sunday I celebrated the 8.00am Mass at St Dominic's and the deacon preached. Today I'm celebrating at Our Lady of the Rosary, and the deacon is preaching. So, here's one from 2011.
6th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

A comet slams into the earth, causing massive earthquakes, tidal waves, firestorms: the comprehensive collapse of human civilization and the beginning of a new Ice Age. A few, small pockets of humanity manage to survive—those living on mountain ranges and far from the coasts. Each community fights to survive. They must find food, clean water, medical care. There is no law, no church, no military, nothing left to guide the survivors but raw, individual instinct and the will of the strongest among them. Some few still talk about right and wrong, some few still invoke the name of God, or the authority of the Bible, and some even appeal to reason when the more savage choices have to be made. But who is God? What is the Bible? Where is reason? Six billion people have been reduced to a few hundred scattered across the world. The choice is live or die. What I have just described is the plot of one of the very first novels I read as a kid, Lucifer's Hammer, published in 1977. From the moment I opened the cover of this book, I was hooked on Doomsday fiction, apocalyptic literature. Of course, what I described could be the plot of just about every disaster movie made since the 1950's. Hollywood is still making Doomsday movies—2012, The Road, Independence Day—and they've been diligent in producing my favorite Doomsday sub-genre, the Zombie Apocalypse movie! Why do these sorts of stories fascinate us? What is it about the collapse of civilization and the destruction of humanity that appeals to us? Here's a guess: we want to know what might happen if there were no rules, no law, no consequences. Could we be moral without the threat of punishment?

Now, you have to be wondering what zombie movies and novels about comets have to do with the gospel. Besides the fact that Jesus is talking about Judgment Day—who enters the Kingdom and who doesn't—we have in the gospel a lengthy lesson on what it means to be a moral person. Jesus is teaching on the Law: how he has come not to abolish it but to fulfill it. In the longer version of the reading, he says, “. . .until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law. . .” He goes on to warn that anyone who breaks the commandments will not enter the Kingdom. However, those who obey the Law will be the greatest in the Kingdom. So, to be a moral person, a person held in high esteem among the hosts of Heaven, you must obey the Law. Sounds straightforward enough. But then Jesus does what he does best. He throws a curve, adding, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” You should understand immediately that the scribes and Pharisees were renowned for their obedience of the Law. But here Jesus tells his disciples that their righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Mere compliance is not enough. Something more is required.

In the shorter version of the reading, we have three examples of how our righteousness can surpass the righteousness of mere compliance. Jesus uses murder, adultery, and oath-breaking to illustrate his point. Under the Law, killing another person, sex with someone who isn't your spouse, and swearing a false oath are all grave sins. The Law outlaws these behaviors. The act of murder, the act of adultery, the act of swearing a false oath are all forbidden. Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, he teaches the disciples that these behaviors remain sinful. However, good behavior does not produce surpassing righteousness. Something more is required. He says, “You have heard it said, 'You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; Do not take a false oath.' But I say to you, do not be angry; do not lust after another' and let your 'yes' mean yes and your 'no' mean no.” Surpassing righteousness springs from a clean heart as well as clean hands, from both a pure spirit and a pure body. You refrain from murdering your neighbors. . .but do you refrain from hating them? You refrain from committing adultery. . .but do you refrain from lust? You refrain from swearing false oaths. . .but is your word alone honorable? Actions are born from intentions. And pure intent is the mother of righteousness.

For all that he teaches us about living in right relationship with God, Jesus has nothing at all to say about living through the Coming Zombie Apocalypse. He really doesn't say much about Global Warming—er, I mean “climate change”—or nuclear annihilation, or the devastation of a global virus outbreak. All he has to say about the End Times is that on the Day of Judgment, the goats and sheep will be divided. The goats will be tossed into the fire, the sheep raised up to heaven. If you want to be among the sheep, live now in surpassing righteousness. If you prefer to be a goat, then revel in hatred, anger, lust, adultery; worship false gods, refuse to help those in need; basically, believe and behave as though the only thing that matters to you is your survival. Given the choice to live or die, what won't you do? In the movie, The Road, a man and his son travel the roads of an unnamed country after the world has been more or less destroyed. There are no animals, very little clean water, no plant life; nothing resembling the rule of law except the sort of rule that comes from the barrel of a gun. The man and the boy spend their time scrounging for canned food, bottled water, and sleeping under pieces of plastic. When they are awake, they have to run and hide from gangs of roving cannibals. Along the way, the man tries to teach the boy about hope. The boy listens and learns. But every time their lives are threatened, the man abandons hope and resorts to surviving by any means necessary. The boy notices the contradiction and wonders if his father genuinely nurtures any hope at all. This movie (and the novel it's based on) provide us with an opportunity to see what happens when the power of the law to rule humanity is destroyed. How do we behave when there is no law, no church, no military, nothing to guide us, nothing to reward or punish us? If our movies and novels are any indication of what most of us would do, then we are in deep trouble. A life of surpassing righteousness can never be about mere survival; it is a life lived in constant hope.

And hope—like faith and love—is a virtue, a good habit. If hope is to be a constant in your life, a rock-solid, bottom-line reality, then your answer to God's call to holiness is going to have to be Yes. Let that “Yes” mean yes. If your “Yes” means “Maybe,” or “When I can,” or “If it's convenient at the moment,” or “When things are good,” then your “Yes” means No and that is from the Evil One. Hope is a choice. Sirach says, “If you choose you can keep the commandments. . .if you trust in God. . .He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose. . .Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” Choose to listen and obey. Choose to trust and love. Choose life and goodness. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord! Choose His surpassing righteousness as your own and live in constant hope. Let your “Yes” to His invitation mean Yes. In the face of unemployment, sickness, a death in the family, comets, zombies, nuclear annihilation, whatever comes, let your “Yes” mean yes. Whether you are preparing your taxes, walking on the beach, dating your high school sweetheart, or trying to save your marriage, let your “Yes” to God's righteousness mean Yes. Anything else is from Evil One.

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29 January 2017

Blessed are the Weirdos!

4th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

It wasn't until I got into seminary that I realized just how strange Catholicism really is. When I go home for the holidays – to my Baptist family – I am reminded just how odd we Catholics are. I wore my full habit to my niece's non-denominational wedding. I'm pretty sure I heard the word “Jedi?” whispered. John Zmirak, a Catholic layman, describes our faith well. He writes: “The Catholic faith is neither [simply bland nor inoffensive]. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war. . .” As an example of the “sheer weirdness” of our faith, we need look further than the Sermon on the Mount. Just about everything Jesus says in this sermon is “pungent and offensive” to just about everything our culture wants us to believe to be true, good, and beautiful. Living as faithful Catholics in this world is an exercise in contradiction and opposition. Our witness to Christ is itself a kind of weirdness.

It's pretty clear that Paul understands just how weird our commitment to Christ can be. Who does God call into His Church? Paul answers, “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing. . .” Rather than picking the wise, the strong, the highly placed and well-loved of the world, God chooses the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised. Imagine pitching this enterprise to a group of American investors. Do you think the investors would jump at the chance to buy into this project operated by the dregs of society? Or would they tell you that your plan was “sheer weirdness” and walk out? To the modern American sense of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, everything about the Church God has given us reeks of weirdness, laxity, pomposity, and backward superstition. The Catholic Church even takes in fallen-away Baptists and lets them become priests! How absurd! 
Of course, we don't have to imagine that God planned a Church like the one presented to the investors. He, in fact, established just such a Church, and we are it. Christ tells us who we are. The poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger for righteousness; the merciful and the clean of heart; the peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness' sake. Find a wretched soul, broken and beaten by the world, persecuted for his or her trust in God, a soul steeped in mourning, yet thirsting for justice, and you have found the Church God established. Everything about this picture of our faith is just weird, simply bizarre. What could be more offensive and pungent to the world than an organization that prizes above all else the blessedness of mercy, forgiveness, meekness, poverty of spirit, self-sacrifice, obedience, moral restraint, charity, and life-long fidelity? That Christians are the single most persecuted group of religious believers on the planet tells us that there is little about our strange faith that pleases the powers of this world. That Christians – especially Catholics – are safely ridiculed, discriminated against, and openly slandered tells us that the Church sits in the midst of our culture like a pungent, offensive prophet – a living sign of contradiction, a witness against the vanities of the world and the futility of trying to be wise without God.

The Sermon on the Mount is both a prediction and a promise. Jesus predicts our persecution and promises us blessedness. He makes it perfectly clear that following him back to the Father will be not only difficult but dangerous as well, potentially deadly and most definitely discomforting. And even if we weren't persecuted for standing against the demands of a culture without God, the outrageous demands of the Church herself would be difficult enough. Think for a moment about what it is that we are asked to believe. We are asked to believe that there is an all-good, all-knowing, ever-present god who loves us. Yet, evil seems to flourish. Disease, violence, unimaginable suffering, natural and man-made disasters. We are asked to believe that this god took on human flesh and sacrificed himself for our benefit. We are asked to restrain perfectly naturally passions and desires so that we might imitate the goodness of this god. Perhaps the most outrageous demand for modern Americans is that we are asked to sacrifice in order that others might flourish, to set aside our own needs, our own wants and work diligently for the benefit of strangers and for our enemies. What sane person helps those who would see him dead? But therein lies blessedness. That's not just a promise made by a crackpot preacher 2,000 years ago. That's a promise made by the Word made flesh, God Himself, a promise already fulfilled and waiting for us to claim.

Living in this world as faithful Catholics is an exercise contradiction and opposition. We stand against a culture that promotes death as a solution to unwanted pregnancies, terminal illnesses, and inconvenient suffering. We stand against a culture that promotes the goodness of satisfying every base desire regardless of the consequences. A culture that rewards lying, self-promotion, greed. But while standing against the tides of this world, we stand with the blessed: the poor, the diseased, the oppressed, those persecuted for the faith. We stand with self-sacrifice, unconditional mercy, boundless hope, and the promise of freedom from the slavery of sin. Most importantly: we do not stand alone, as individuals but together as one Body in Christ. With all of our weirdnesses, all of our outrageous demands, with all of our pungent and offensive beliefs, we are of one heart, one mind, and we give God thanks and praise with one voice. Our hope lies in a single truth. Though we are engaged on the frontlines of a spiritual battle, the war has already been won. God is victorious. Our work—as His faithful sons and daughters—is to make sure that His victory shines through everything we do, everything we think, everything we say. As living, breathing testimonies to His redeeming love, we stand—as weird and offensive as we can sometimes be—we stand always as witnesses for His will that all of creation return to Him, whole, pure, and perfected in Christ.

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