25 June 2017

Fear No One

12th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

“Fear no one,” Jesus says. Fear is an enemy of faith, a first-cousin to anxiety and one step away from despair. He's not talking about the sort of fear we experience when the movie-monster jumps out from behind the cellar door. Or when we're startled by a loud noise. He's talking about that sort of fear that paralyzes, the sort of fear that prevents us from doing what is true, good, and beautiful b/c we cannot see beyond our words or actions. We don't know what's going to happen to us if we speak up or take action in our pursuit of the truth. We know we should speak the truth, but speaking the truth might get us fired, or unfriended, or cause a stink. Acting to bring about the good might stir up trouble or offend someone. Jesus is reminding his disciples and us that we are obligated to speak the truth and work diligently to bring about the good. It's not enough to think true thoughts and imagine good works. As followers of Christ we are heralds – like John the Baptist – heralds of the Good News in this world. When the truth must be spoken and the good done, “fear no one. . .What [Christ says] to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Fear is a paralyzing silence that no follower of Christ can tolerate.

As I've said, fear is an enemy of faith, a first-cousin to anxiety and one step away from despair. Those who lie for power, do evil for their own good, and destroy what is beautiful depend on the paralyzing silence of those who have seen and heard the truth. What better way for evil to flourish than for Christians to stand silent, surrendering their faith to fear and giving their persecutors the satisfaction of seeing the Good News of Jesus Christ die on our lips? Our Lord tells us to fear no one NOT b/c he's going to strike them down for opposing us. Not b/c he's going to deny them the occasional victory. But b/c – in the end – the Father's will rules all. In the end, and the beginning and the middle, the cross wins. Divine love, Christ's sacrifice wins. We do not need to fear those who oppose the Gospel b/c the Gospel has already won. We do need to bear constant and consistent witness to the Gospel b/c its good news is fresh daily, and not everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear has seen and heard it. And not only that – but the principal beneficiary of bearing witness to the Good News is the witness him or herself. What better conditions the muscles of faith than lifting the Gospel up for all to see and hear?

Look for a moment at Jeremiah. When his friends betray him and seek to destroy him, he bears witness to the Lord's help, “. . .the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.” Now, Jeremiah may be boasting a bit here, but we cannot accuse him of faithlessness or fearfulness. He trusts the Lord absolutely and is unashamed to proclaim it! Can you and I say the same? When presented with an opportunity – public or private – to speak the truth of the faith to others, do we fulfill our baptismal vows, or do we sit in paralyzed silence, afraid that we might offend or cause trouble? If we choose silence, why? In that moment, who or what causes our silence? Whoever or whatever causes us to fail is more important to us than our faith in Christ Jesus. Here we listen again to our Lord say, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” 
Fear no one, and speak the truth. Without squeamishness, without waffling or equivocation, speak the truth. In-fashion, out-of-fashion, trendy or not, speak the truth. Whatever the consequences, when called upon to do so, regardless of the circumstances, speak the truth of the Good News. There is nothing and no one – in this world – to fear. The Enemy thrives on our silence and inactivity. When we are complacent, he is working hardest. When we have given up, he is just getting started. If you think your words and deeds are useless against the world, remember for whom you speak – the one whose victory on the cross brought eternal life from death by the forgiveness of sin. “What [Christ says] to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

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20 June 2017

Reading List for Fall Semester 2017

In case anyone is interested in what Notre Dame pre-theologians and theologians are reading in my classes next fall. . .

HP 201: Intro to Homiletics

Dante, A., The Divine Comedy: Purgatory. 

Lewis, C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Milosz, Czeslaw, New and Collected Poems, 1931-2001

O'Connor, Flannery, The Complete Stories

Percy, Walker, The Last Gentleman

HP505 (Homiletic Practicum II)

Cameron, Peter John. Why Preach?

Carl, Scott. Verbum Domini and the Complementarity of Exegesis and Theology

Schall, James. A Line Through the Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven.

PH202 (Philosophy of God) 

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa theologiae, Prima Pars, Q. 1-26 (text available on-line)

Davies, Brian. Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil.

Gilson, Etienne. God & Philosophy.

PH506 (Philosophical Theology) 

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa theologiae, Prima Pars, Q. 1-26 (text available on-line)

Davies, Brian. Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil.

Gilson, Etienne. God & Philosophy.

Leslie, J. The Mystery of Existence: Why is There Anything at All?


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18 June 2017


I've been away for three weeks!

Now I'm back.

Spent two weeks amongst the Squirrels of Mississippi.

Yesterday, I drove with another OP friar to Houston where my former U.D. student, Thomas More (Rudy) Barba, OP was ordained a priest.  Our brother, Carl Paustian was also ordained a deacon. 

The arthritis in my knees is getting steadily worse. Oy.

At the end of July I'm giving a retreat to a group of lay OP's in Birmingham, AL at the Sister Servants place. The retreat is titled, Prayer: You're Doing It Wrong (and how to do it right).

Mendicant Thanks to E.M. for the books! E.M., shoot me an email and update me on how things are going for you discernment-wise.

One of the philosophers at Notre Dame Seminary is on sabbatical next year, so I'm taking on some of his classes. In the fall I'm teaching Philosophy of God/Philosophical Theology. Should be fun.

That's all for now. I'm be back on my regular preaching rotation at Our Lady of the Rosary starting next Sunday (June 25th).


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28 May 2017

No time for doubt. . .there's work to do!

The Ascension of the Lord
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
His disciples abandon him in the garden. They betray him in fear. They question his resurrection, and his appearances after the resurrection. And yet, they find themselves again and again in his company. After his resurrection, our Lord stays with his students, instructing them, comforting them, promising them his constant company. And yet, they doubt. They obey, but they doubt. They worship, but they doubt. Jesus lays out for them their mission as apostles, their duties as men who will receive from him his Holy Spirit. And he gives them these final instructions just before he departs to sit at the Father’s right hand in heaven. Fully God and fully man, Jesus rises to the Father, body and soul, and leaves his friends to do what he has ordered. Even as they stand there, hearing his words, watching him rise, they doubt. Nothing he has done has moved them to fully believe, to accept, completely, with whole hearts who and what he is. They worship, but they doubt. And so, they stand there looking at the sky.

It's easy for us on this side of Pentecost’s history. We know that whatever hesitations, whatever reservations they might have had about Christ and his mission are set on fire and turned to ash with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. But we are on this side of history, looking back. We read in Acts, Jesus says to the disciples, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We read in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “…[God] put all things beneath [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” This is not the witness of timid men, men who doubt yet worship. These are men who worship in spirit and in truth! We can easily understand how such faith and passion is possible, looking back as we do, standing here after the coming of the Holy Spirit. But then, way back then, as they stand on that mountain in Galilee, looking at the sky, they doubt.

And how does Jesus treat their doubt? Before his ascension he indulges their need for evidence, presenting his glorified body for their inspection. He chastises them, “Do you still not believe!?” He teaches them again where to find him in the prophecies of scripture. And they still doubt. Do we find this doubt so difficult to understand? Probably not. How often do we find ourselves questioning our faith, struggling with answers to questions we barely understand? How often, when evil seems to defeat us, do we question God’s promises? Question His love for us? More often than we would like admit? And yet, we worship. We pray. We come to praise His name and Him thanks. We do what they did and will likely do so again. How does Jesus handle our misgivings about his witness? He us, his Church, a monumental job to do.

It makes no sense at all for you to give a job to someone you do not trust. And it makes no sense for you to be given a job, which left undone, leaves you and the one who has given you the job defeated. We entrust important jobs to those we know will do what needs to be done. We are given jobs because we are trusted. And yet, there Jesus stands, on the mountain in Galilee, in front of his doubting disciples, saying to them and us, “Go…and make disciples of the nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Why does he trust us? Why, knowing our hearts to be brimming over with fear and hesitation, why does he give us this monumental task? Because he knows that the work he is giving us to do is his work and that because he is ascending to the Father, he will send them the Holy Spirit, thus fulfilling his final promise to us: “And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The ascension of our Lord is the fulfillment of his promise to be with us always. By leaving us back then, he remains with us even now. By going to the Father, he sends his Spirit, who abides, always, forever with us. This solemnity is not about celebrating another miracle or recalling another sign of his heavenly power. Do we really need such a thing? This solemnity is about teaching us again that Christ’s work is our work and the job we have to do, we do not do alone. Even together, as the body the Church, we cannot witness, cannot teach, cannot preach, cannot do justice, cannot pray without his company. Without his company, we are nothing. With him, we are Christ, baptizing, teaching, observing his commandments. With him, we are his heirs among the holy ones; we are the very revelation of the Father to the world; we are this world’s hope, this world’s sacrament, this world’s salvation. Without him, we are nothing. With all of our doubts on full display – our flaws, our failures, our sad little sins – we are everything with him. And everything we are is Christ. How? He is with us always!

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21 May 2017

The Dominican Option

6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel/OLR, NOLA

The world cannot accept the Spirit of Truth b/c the world does not see or know the Father. The world does not see or know the Father b/c the world rejected His Christ – the only Way of seeing and knowing the Father. The world, those in the world, are orphans – bereft of mother and father, left without a family, a home, a place to be at peace. They call the world their home, but the world is home to no one. It lives and moves to serve its own perverse purposes, and eats alive anyone who makes it their god. You see, the world isn't a person or a place; it's a spirit, the living principle of rebellion and disease, the anti-Christ – the opposite of Christ. For us, Christ lived and died in love so that we might be made heirs to the Father's kingdom in the Spirit, so that we might dwell in the Spirit of Truth and find eternal life. The world offers false promises, dead-end deals, and baits us with the temptation of becoming gods without God. Christ frees us from sin and death, making us orphans of the world but not orphans in the world. When we abide in the Spirit of Truth, dwelling fully in the love of the Father and Son for one another, we come to know the freedom of the children of God. That freedom compels us – in word and deed – to bear witness to Christ and his works.

Now, we might be tempted to rest on our redeemed laurels and just wait out the end of the world. We might be tempted to sit pretty atop our pillar of righteousness and watch the world burn. We could say to the world, “We got ours. If you want yours. . .come to us.” This attitude is a recipe for whipping up a big bowl of arrogant pride. Christ did not command us to find our salvation in him and then sit back and wait for others to make their way to us hat-in-hand. His command – “Go out to all the world” – is unambiguous and final. There is no rest for us if we will be obedient to our Lord and remain in his love. Divine Love is diffusive by nature; that is, what Love is spreads around to all as a matter of Who Love Is. Our salvation through Christ is not a secret. It's not a treasure to be hoarded. It's not a priceless commodity to be dribbled out only to the truly deserving. We are left in this world as children of the Father so that we might be the living lights of His boundless mercy and love. We are not here to survive. We're here to thrive – to thrive as vocal, active, unrelenting witnesses to the power of the Father's offer of forgiveness to all sinners. Anyone who hears should hear. Anyone who sees should see. Our job is make sure that those who are of this world see and hear – from us – all that they need to come to the Christ. 
There's been a lot in the Catholic news lately about how we should prepare ourselves to become a cultural minority in the U.S. One option – called The Benedict Option from the founder of monasticism, St. Benedict – suggests that we should remove ourselves to culturally and religiously pure enclaves and ride out the secular storm. In this model, our task would be to preserve Christian culture as a sort of seed-plot, a remnant of true-believers who will emerge into a devastated world to begin again. Our communities will be something like the Benedictine monasteries of 9th and 10th century Europe – bastions of learning, culture, and religious practice. I understand the impulse behind his idea. We're losing battle after battle in the world, and our once stalwart Catholic institutions – universities, religious orders, hospitals – have surrendered to the Spirit of the Age. Renewal and reform from the ground up is beyond necessary at this point – we're teetering on the edge of cultural irrelevance and outright persecution. In some parts of the world, being a Christian is enough to have your head put on a spike. Retreating and regrouping is not only attractive but it might our only option in the years to come.

However, as you might guess, I'm inclined toward another option. Let's call it The Dominican Option. The Order of Preachers was found in 1216 by St. Dominic de Guzman to preach the Good News and care for souls. He founded the Dominicans as a hybrid order – part monastic, part diocesan – so that the friars might live in community like monks but serve in the world like diocesan priests. The Dominican option is faithful to Christ's command that we “go out to all the world” and at the same time allows us to maintain the boundaries of our Catholic identity without compromise. In effect, we come to see ourselves as Christ's Viruses, inflecting the world body with the Good News of the Father's grace and mercy. Viruses are adaptable when attacked. They evolve with the environment without ceasing to be what they are. Viruses are even capable of altering their environment when they reach a critical mass. What we bring to the world as Christ's Viruses is a 2,000 year old intellectual, spiritual, pastoral, and humane tradition of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The Church is not charged with preserving our tradition for the sake of tradition; we're charged with using our tradition for the sake of preaching of the Good News and the care of souls.

The Dominican Option for the Church takes Peter's admonition seriously, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. . .” It's not clear to me how we can give an explanation for our hope from behind a wall. The Christian's explanation for his/her hope must be given in the public square – at work, the mall, the bank, in the schools, at home, wherever a Christian happens to be, there the explanation must be given. If you abide in the love of Christ, your explanation will be the words and deeds of your daily life. The Spirit of Truth will abide with you and see that you are not troubled.
NB. I want to be absolutely clear here that I am in no way denigrating the monastic life. Dominic founded the nuns before he founded the friars b/c he knew that the friars would need some powerful spiritual support in their ministry. The options being discussed in the media are suggesting various ways that the whole Church might be reconfigured for reform. Turning the whole Church into a monastery is my target here.

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14 May 2017

Among Yet Set Apart

5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

During their last supper together, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him to the authorities. Peter balks, swearing up and down that he would never betray his Master. Jesus says Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” Here's where our gospel scene this evening picks up, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Christ's three-year ministry among God's people is unraveling. The Romans are paying way too much attention to them. The High Priest is definitely looking for a way to crush them. Jesus himself just told them a member of their little family is going to sell him out. And now, Jesus reveals that Peter – the Rock! – is going to deny even knowing Christ. And what's Jesus' advice? “Do not let your hearts be troubled”! If there were ever a time for the disciples to let their hearts be troubled, it's now! They're plucked chickens about to be thrown to the gators. The feeding frenzy of Roman justice and Jewish revenge they're facing is going to be brutal. And all Jesus can say is: “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”

Had I been there with the disciples, listening to Jesus' words with my own ears, I would've been tempted to blurt out: “How is faith alone gonna protect us from our enemies?!” And I imagine Jesus would've said something like, “When did I promise you that having faith in me would keep you safe from the world?” Hearing this, my mind would rewind back over the three years of sermons and lectures, looking for a loophole. Alas! No such promise – I'd have to confess – was ever made. In fact, Jesus promised that believing in him would make us enemies of the world, targets for the Enemy's deviltry. So why then does Jesus attempt to calm his disciples by exhorting them to greater faith if faith isn't going to protect them from the world? Simply put: faith in Christ isn't about protection from hurt, loss, the world, or evil; it's about receiving that which is necessary for growing in holiness. From God Himself we receive the desire and ability to trust Him, the desire and ability to live our lives rooted in the reality of His promises. Faith doesn't make the bad things go away. Faith makes it possible for us to live with the bad things and come out the other side holier for having done so.
So, how does living with the bad things in faith make us holier? First, we have to understand holiness as “being set apart for a purpose.” The BVM is holy b/c is she was set apart to be the Mother of God. An altar is holy b/c it is set apart for the celebration of the Eucharist. A Bible is holy b/c it is set apart as a means of delivering the Word of God. We are made holy at baptism – set apart from the world in order to serve as living, breathing witnesses to the Good News. Next, we have to understand that the things of this world – the powers, the principalities, the temptations, sin and death – are ever-present, all-consuming, and always ready to make us slaves again. We must live among these things to live in the world, but we do not have to be subject to them. Remember: we are set apart. We belong to Christ. Then, lastly, knowing that we belong to Christ, and that we have a mission to bear witness to his Good News, we live among yet set apart from the things of this world. Not above nor beyond. (That's a temptation to pride and arrogance). But among yet set apart. When we live as Christ teaches us to live – with faith, hope, love, mercy – we grow in holiness; we grow more and more Among Yet Set Apart. And this growth settles our troubled hearts.

You see, as priests, prophets, and kings in Christ we have no reason to be troubled. There is – literally – nothing in or on this world that can trouble us b/c we know that our lives belong to him. Of course – we get sick. We die. We suffer. We lose our jobs, our family members. We have strange accidents that sometimes cripple us. All the horrible things that can happen to non-believers can and do happen to us. Faith in Christ is not a magical amulet that prevents these things from happening. Faith in Christ is a fortitude, a bulwark that allows us to see the holy work of God, His plan for us, and to understand our everyday joys and miseries as opportunities to be Christ for others. We turn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We turn to our Blessed Mother and beg her intercession. We turn to Christ in the Holy Sacrament. We turn to one another in the Church so that the face of Christ might be closer and clearer. We do not entertain despair, revenge, anger, injustice, nor do we hold ourselves above the ordinary mourning of those left behind. When our hearts are troubled – and they will be – we turn to the only source of consolation that can truly bring us life. We turn to Christ.

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10 May 2017


Many thanks to M.R. for the blue paint. . .and to E.M. for the acrylic ink! E.M., I hope all is well with your vocation plans. . .


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23 April 2017

Truly Awe-some Mercy

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Luke tells us in Acts that when the disciples devoted themselves to the apostolic teachings and gave themselves to a communal life in Christ, that when they broke bread together in prayer, “Awe came upon everyone.” Awe came upon everyone. Awe is a powerful passion. It's an overwhelming feeling of reverence, of worship, and sometimes dreadful fear. The disciples – while living as Christ taught them – experience the sublime presence of God. They experience His presence as Mercy. The apostle Thomas could tell them a thing or two about mercy. Without the divine mercy he would've been left with his refusal to believe in the Risen Lord. He would've abandoned by his need for material proof, bereft of the Spirit that binds us all to Christ. In his mercy, Christ invites Thomas to test his doubt. And Thomas comes to believe b/c Christ is merciful. What is divine mercy? What does it do for us? To us? And most importantly, what can divine mercy achieve with our cooperation?

To answer these questions, you will have to show me a bit of mercy of your own, and allow me to put on my professor's hat. We cannot understand divine mercy if we do not understand who and what God is. The classical Catholic tradition teaches us that God is simple and eternal; that is, God is not composed of parts, and He is outside time. Human persons are composed of a body and a soul. Each part has several parts. Each of these parts has a specific purpose and function. My intellect and will can be at odds b/c they are different parts. I know the Good but I do not always do the Good. Sound familiar? God is simple. And eternal. No parts. No conflicts. God's intellect and will are one. God's love is His truth and His truth is His goodness. These are not separated parts, struggling to work together but one and the same God Who is Love. Because we are limited creatures (composed), we experience God as having parts. So, we talk about God's will as if it were somehow different than God's love. However, God cannot will what is unloving. He cannot will what is untrue. His nature is Love; He is Love. So, when the disciples in Acts and Thomas in the gospel experience the presence of God, they experience Him as the limited, composed creatures that they are. They experience God as Mercy. For them, and for us, God's overwhelming and eternal love for us feels and behaves like mercy – unearned, abundant, never-ending forgiveness. In light of this reality, “awe” seems like a pitiful reaction. But awe is what we need to receive His mercy.

Now, why spend so much time on the philosophy of God? Simply put: b/c God is simple (not composed of parts like we are) and eternal (outside time) every truth He has ever willed, is willing, or will in the future will has already been willed from all eternity. He has willed, is willing, and will continue to will that we be forgiven our sins. In other words, every sin you and I have ever committed, are committing, and will ever commit has always, already been forgiven. Christ death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb are two historical events with eternal consequences. Because Christ died and rose, human nature is healed. We've done nothing to earn this healing. God didn't owe us this healing. A healed human nature is God's gift to us from all eternity. This is what we mean by Divine Mercy – the always, already present forgiveness of our sins. Sin is part and parcel of our damaged human nature. When that nature is healed, we are freed from sin and death. All that is left for us to do is to receive or to reject His mercy. 
Luke tells us that the disciples are in awe of God b/c they were living as Christ taught them. Thomas is in awe of Christ b/c Christ forgives his rejection and allows him to satisfy his doubt. These are both examples of receiving and living out the Divine Mercy we have given from all eternity. How do we receive His mercy now? First, we must stop thinking that God loves us more or less based on our behavior. God is Love. He cannot not Love us. Our good behavior makes it possible for us to better receive His mercy, and our bad behavior makes it more likely that we will not receive His mercy. Second, we must stop thinking of His mercy as something we earn through prayer or devotions or the sacraments. Mercy is a gift. It's free. It's not a wage or a reward or a debt that God pays us. All we need to do is receive it. Third, and most importantly, we must show mercy to others. We cannot give what we do not have. Receive God's mercy and show mercy to those who have wronged you – friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers, enemies. Showing mercy to those closest to you – family – is vital to your relationship with God. Husbands, wives, children, in-law's need your mercy most. And lastly, show yourself mercy. Holding yourself to a high moral standard is praiseworthy and right. Right and wrong don't change just b/c we find it difficult to be morally good. However, Christ died on the cross and rose from the tomb so that you and I might live in this world free from sin and death. When you fail – and you will – receive the mercy that Christ died to give you.

In the Church, our ordinary means of receiving mercy is through the sacrament of confession. We confess our sins, resolve to sin no more, and the priest absolves us. That absolution is our guarantee that we have received God's mercy. Because we all need His mercy to function as powerful witnesses to the Good News, I urge you to go to confession. Beyond your once a year obligation to go to confession, I urge you to make frequent use of the sacrament. Once a month, once a week. The more often you receive the Divine Mercy, the likely you are to show mercy to others; thus, growing more and more in holiness. The disciples are in awe of Christ's life among them. Thomas is in awe of Christ's presence among the apostles after the crucifixion. What could be more awesome for us in 2017 than to be instruments of the Divine Mercy in our families, among our friends, and for the whole world?!

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16 April 2017

Are you firmly in his grasp?

Easter Morning 2017
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

Mary of Magdala sees that the stone has been moved, and she is confused. Peter and the other disciples race to the tomb to see for themselves. They do not understand either. The tomb is empty. Nothing is left behind but his burial cloths. One believes but the others remain perplexed. Despite having spent three years with Jesus as his disciples, most of them do not yet understand the bare reality of Christ's resurrection, much less do they comprehend the radical transformation of human history that his resurrection initiates. Mary and the other disciples are standing on the ground, the very spot where Divine Love and human nature meet – in person – to heal the ancient rift btw God and Man. It all starts in a manger and comes to its climax some thirty years later in a grave. Though the salvation of all creation is not yet complete, everything necessary is firmly in place. When we do our small part, when we come to “understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead,” we arrive at that very spot and begin our own participation in what's to come. What's coming? Paul says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” 
Christ's resurrection from the tomb and his eventual ascension is the promised sign to us that we too will be given new life after death. Pope Benedict gives us a clue how this will happen, “. . .[his] Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak.” The whole purpose of the resurrection is to bring all of creation back to the Father. What does that mean for us now? BXVI says, “We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another’s hands, and we become one single subject. . .” All that grasping and hand-holding, all the following along and behind, the “one single subject” is the Church, the Body of Christ – here on Earth now but heading toward resurrection and ascension. Our minute-by-minute task is to stay resolutely within the Body of Christ, doing, saying, thinking with the Church so that we do not let go of his hand. If you will be raised with Christ, then seek always what is above. Live now with Christ. He has you firmly in his grasp!

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15 April 2017

There's an empty tomb waiting for us all

The Easter Vigil 2017
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

In a homily for Holy Saturday, St. John Chrysostom asks the catechumens, “How can I lay open before you the mystery of the Lord's resurrection, the saving grace of his cross and of his three days' death?” Explaining a mystery is a fool's errand. What makes such an explanation foolish isn't the inevitable failure of intelligence or will, rather explaining a mystery – especially one foundational to the apostolic faith – requires an understanding of salvation history that God alone possesses. We get bits and pieces throughout the liturgical year, and tonight we got much larger bits – but it was bits nonetheless. The mysteries of our faith must be lived 'til death and even then our understanding is limited to the perfectly human. How we react to these mysteries and what we do with what we do understand sets our course toward (or away from) holiness. Is one reaction better than another? When Mary of Magdala arrives at the empty tomb, the angel says to her, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.” Seeking the crucified Christ after his resurrection requires courage; it requires a willingness to tell the truth about the empty tomb, and what that empty tomb means.

The truth is: there's an empty tomb waiting for us all. True, it's empty right now b/c we're not dead yet, but it is also empty b/c the finality of death itself is dead. The Resurrection brings us back to the ever-living God Who is life eternal. So, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of dying, of getting old, of becoming infirmed; do not be afraid of losing your dignity, your intellectual prowess, your creative gifts. Do not be afraid of anything that could threaten your faith in the reality of the Resurrection, the promise of God the Father to you back to Him in glory. The empty tomb of Easter morning is the enduring witness of this promise, the Lord's testimony to His faithfulness and love. 
When the risen Christ meets his disciples on the road, he says to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Whatever anxiety, whatever apprehension the disciples must feel at their teacher's death, it all melts away when they see him again. They approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. That's the courage of holiness.

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14 April 2017

Small mercies and large

Good Friday 2017
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

Brothers, recall for a moment all the small mercies you have enjoyed through the years. I don't mean the really big stuff like sacramental absolution from mortal sin, or a last-minute reprieve from a serious accident or a deadly disease. I mean the truly smallish mercies; the everyday mercies of living and working with our fellow sinners – here at the priory, in the parish, at your ministry site, or just strolling around WalMart! What sort of lives would we lead if we couldn't give and receive mercy, especially the little mercies we need just to be up and moving around w/o constantly finding ourselves in furious arguments or fist-fights? 
What I'm calling small mercies flow unimpeded from the one Big Mercy we celebrate this afternoon – the death of Christ on the cross. Over the centuries, the Church has preached a consistent message about the consequences of his crucifixion – we are freed from sin and death and made heirs to His Kingdom. But there's one other element that doesn't get as much attention. Without Christ's death on the cross, mercy would have no eternal weight, no transcendental worth. Without his final proof of divine love at Golgotha, mercy would be mere courtesy, and our struggle would be with civility not holiness. But b/c he took on sin and healed our human nature, we are able to see well-beyond the limits of the here and now and look forward to a time and place where being merciful is no longer necessary b/c being sinful is no longer an option.

This Friday is a Good Friday b/c Christ's death on the cross elevates our human virtues, giving them immeasurable weight and worth. Because his suffering and death on the cross makes our return to the Father not only possible but all the more desirable. And because – left to ourselves – patience, forgiveness, even love would be impossible to empty of self-regard and self-preservation. Thanks to be God, that Christ's self-sacrifice on the cross is the still running-engine of mercy that gives life to the possibility of our conversion and the reality of our hope in the resurrection. While we commemorate the bloody cross this afternoon, we keep our hearts and minds clearly and fiercely focused on a divine horizon – the empty tomb and the promise of Easter morning.

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13 April 2017

What Holy Thursday teaches us. . .

Mass of the Last Supper
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA

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

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


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09 April 2017

Knowing he will die. . .

Palm Sunday (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Between today and next Sunday we will hear again and again how Christ emptied himself out for our sake. How he took on the form of a slave for us. How he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Palm Sunday remembers the day he entered Jerusalem in triumph, hailed as a conquering king. What a difference one week can make. From King to Criminal, from Conqueror to Crook. He will be celebrated and honored, betrayed and falsely accused, wrongly convicted and executed. . .all this week. . .and for no other reason than to free you and me from the bonds from sin and death. He goes to Jerusalem – knowing he will die – he goes to Jerusalem b/c it is in Jerusalem that every righteous sacrifice must be made. He dies in this one place so that every place from then on will be made right for offering the Father worthy praise and thanksgiving. Spend this week before his death giving God thanks and praise for making His mercy freely available. For making His Son the means of your freedom from the darkness of sin and death. For making us His children again.
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04 April 2017

Survey on Preaching the Homily

St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called the Church to engage the New Evangelization at the beginning of this new millennium. 

One of the areas most often cited for improvement is preaching. 

Tell me:

1). What does "effective preaching" look and sound like?

2). What have you heard and seen from the pulpit that didn't work, or actually made it more difficult for you to participate in the Mass?

3). If you could sit down with a class of third year seminarians and transitional deacons, what would you tell them about preaching? 
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02 April 2017

Untie him. . .let him go!

5th Sunday of Lent (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

John twice tells us that Jesus is “angry within himself.” Once when Mary falls at Jesus' feet crying. And again after the Jews wonder why he couldn't save Lazarus' life. So, why is Jesus angry? What's more, why start a homily on the last Sunday of Lent by pointing out Jesus' anger? All of the Lenten Sunday readings build to this Sunday. Jesus is tempted in the desert for 40 days. He is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. He meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. Then he heals the Man Born Blind. The 5th Sunday Lenten readings reveal the theme: Jesus' humanity – his consistent, undeniable humanity. And the interaction between his humanity and the physical world he inhabits. As we rapidly approach the solemn celebration of his resurrection from the dead, the gospel writers want to point us back again and again to Christ's human nature, back to his body and bones and blood. Lest we forget that Christ's resurrection was a physical, historical event, we are reminded – by his anger – that is he one of us, like us in all ways but sin. And like him, we too will be resurrected.

Now, it's a bit odd to think of Jesus as an angry man. It is even odder to think that he allows Lazarus to die in order to raise him to live again. But it appears that this is exactly what happened. Jesus waits two days after hearing about Lazarus' deadly illness before he leaves for Bethany. That two day delay plus two days of travel and our Lord arrives four days after his friend has died. When Jesus arrives, Martha says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Her words may sound confrontational, so she quickly adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Imagine Martha's emotional state. Grieving her brother's death. Angry with Jesus for not arriving sooner. Relieved that he is there. And believing that he will be able to do something miraculous. Riding this roller-coaster of pain and barely suppressed joy, Martha believes. And Jesus chooses this moment to reveal a mystery. To the mourning sister he says, “Your brother will rise.” This is why our Lord waited to attend Lazarus: to uncover the mystery of faith, to reveal an eternal consequence of believing that he is the Christ – new life out of death.

Jesus lays it out: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he turns to Martha and asks the fundamental question of faith, “Do you believe this?” Martha's answer is exemplary. Is ours? I mean, do you believe that Jesus Christ is the resurrection and life? Do you believe in him? Do you believe that by believing in him you will rise again to new life? And let's not piddle with spiritualized metaphors or psychological interpretations here. Jesus means exactly what he says. Do you believe that you – body and soul – will be given an eternal life after you physically die? The whole point of waiting for Lazarus' death is to reveal the mystery of life after death. The whole point of showing Jesus at the tomb with a four-day old corpse is to reveal the mystery of life after death. Martha warns Jesus when he orders the tomb opened, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Spiritualized or psychologized metaphors do not emit a stench, much less a stench that deserves a warning! We're talking about a corpse. A dead human body. No embalming. No refrigeration. Martha's warning about the smell is not just a courtesy to Jesus. She deadly serious.

And so is Jesus when he answers her warning, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” He did tell her that. Martha believes. So, she sees the glory of God. Lazarus walks out of the tomb when Jesus calls his name. Lazarus risen from a four-day old death is the glory of God that Jesus promises. That's the same promise he makes to us: believe and be raised. And not just on the last day either. But raised again and again from the little deaths that sin inflicts on us daily. Yes, there will be one, final resurrection – some into eternal life and some into an eternal death – but there is also an ongoing, daily resurrection that we experience along the way to perfection. As our joy is being completed along the Way, we experience everything that Martha and Mary experience after Lazarus' dies – joy, anger, disappointment, wonder, grief. And with Christ among us we experience each one of these passions as a whole human person, a complete creation made complete by Christ's miraculous resurrection from his tomb. But our perfection in him must wait until the last day and our job 'til then is to do as Martha does – to believe that Christ, the Son of God, “the one who is coming into the world.”

Our Sunday readings in the season of Lent draw us toward Lazarus' emergence from his tomb in order to prepare us for Christ's resurrection on Easter morning. Each Sunday reading pounds on the theme of Christ's humanity so that the glory of his miraculous resurrection doesn't outshine the truth that he is one of us in all but sin. He cries. He bleeds. He feels and expresses anger. He mourns and believes. And he loves. Just like we do. And if we place our trust in him, believing in his Lordship and acting on that belief in our lives, we will rise as he rose. With just one week of Lent left before we begin the Easter season, you ask yourself all day everyday: do I believe? Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, risen – body and soul – from the dead on the third day? If you say yes to this question, our Lord will say, “Untie him, untie her and let them go.”


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