09 August 2014

Exercise faith, don't measure it. . .

18th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

How embarrassing for the disciples! Imagine their chagrin. Despite their time with Jesus and their love for him, they can't manage a simple exorcism. While they blush and shuffle their feet, our Lord, sounding disappointed and out-of-sorts, rails at them, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” Faithless and perverse?! Well, that's hardly pastoral. Not very shepherd-like, is it? And then we have that sarcastic rhetorical question: how long will he endure us? Seriously, who's “enduring” whom here? We're trying to learn, so we ask, “Why couldn't we exorcise this guy?” After yelling at us for the ineffectiveness of our “little faith,” he tells us that all it takes to move mountains is to “have faith the size of a mustard seed.” Those things are tiny! Again, seriously, who's enduring whom? Cryptic parables, weird prophecies, inconsistent proverbs, novel prayers. And he expects us to get all this – snap! – like that. Tell us, Lord, what's the difference btw “having little faith” and “having faith the size of a mustard seed”? The problem isn't the size of our faith. The problem is that we don't know what faith is. 

Consider the mustard seed. About 2mm in diameter. Barely larger than a single grain of sand. Less than half of cup of these seeds contains 25g of protein. That's more protein than we find in a 3oz steak. That same half cup contains almost 20g of monounsaturated fat – the good fat that reduces bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol. Rich in B vitamins and trace metals like iron, calcium, and zinc, that half cup provides nearly 15g of dietary fiber. The mustard seed is a powerhouse of excellent nutrition! So, what do these fascinating nutritional facts have to do with our faith? The size of our faith – big, small, long, or short – has nothing to do with the power of our faith, the ability of our faith to accomplish great things. Faith is not measurable in ounces, feet, pounds, or grams. “More faith” does not mean “better faith.” When Jesus tells us that “faith the size of a mustard seed” can move mountains, he's not measuring the diameter of faith and telling us to collect more seeds. A gallon jug of mustard seeds sitting idly in a pantry can do nothing for high cholesterol, or protein deficiency, or constipation. For those seeds to unleash their full nutritional potential, they must be consumed and allowed to do their natural best. And so it is with faith. 

The supernatural gift of trusting in God is not a thing to be possessed. Like a watch or a pair of shoes. Faith* is a disposition, a temperament; it's a good habit, an instilled inclination to turn ourselves toward God and rely on His love for us to do the work He's given us to do. Our tendency to think of faith in terms of measurable amounts is understandable. We say things like “my faith isn't strong enough,” or “I need a larger faith.” But this way of speaking about faith pushes us into the same problem the disciples encounter this morning. If we rely on the size or weight of our faith to accomplish great things, then we will end in failure every time. If, however, we rely solely on the love of the Father to provide and care for us; if we surrender entirely to His will; if we receive the gift of trusting in Him and exercise this gift like a triathlete at an Olympic gym, mountains will be the smallest things we can move. We can be moved from our fallen human nature, from our inclinations towards disobedience and death and onto our graced end – eternal life. Exercise faith like a vital muscle. Tend it like a prize-winning orchid. And refuse to measure it by the ounces and inches of this world. 

* For those with a more analytical mind, here's a definition of faith from the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909. "The foregoing analyses will enable us to define an act of Divine supernatural faith as "the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God" (St. Thomas, II-II, Q. iv, a. 2). And just as the light of faith is a gift supernaturally bestowed upon the understanding, so also this Divine grace moving the will is, as its name implies, an equally supernatural and an absolutely gratuitous gift. Neither gift is due to previous study neither of them can be acquired by human efforts, but "Ask and ye shall receive."

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08 August 2014

Praising, blessing, preaching

Laudare + Benedicere + Praedicare

A Blessed Feast Day to all my Dominican 
brothers and sisters! 

How beautiful are your feet?

NB. Deacon John is preaching at this morning's Mass. . .so, here's a 2010 homily for Dominic's feast day.

Solemnity of St. Dominic
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Brothers and sisters, I would begin this morning with a question: are your feet beautiful? Up and down the mountains, do you walk with beautiful feet? If you bring glad tidings; announce the Lord's peace; bear his good news; and proclaim salvation through his mercy; if you raise a cry of joy; break into song; rejoice at his marvelous deeds; and give witness to the Lord restoring his people, then your feet are indeed beautiful. Your feet are beautiful b/c they bring you among us as a preacher of the Good News! A prophet of the Lord's salt and light, his blessing and fire. Are your feet beautiful? In word and deed, do you bring his Good News to the world? Do you rejoice, sing, give witness, bear his glad tidings? Are you Christ-for-others out there? We collect ourselves together this morning for one purpose: to become more like Christ than we were yesterday. To accomplish this, we will pray in thanksgiving; hear his Word proclaimed and preached; and we will eat and drink his Body and Blood from the altar. Then we will go out there and present ourselves to the world as evidence, as living, breathing testimony to the truth of the Gospel. We are sons and daughters of the Father. Brothers and sisters to Christ. And with St. Dominic, we are preachers of the Good News! 

Whether we know it or not, we are all preachers. Through baptism, we were all made priests, prophets, and kings along with Christ. Now, let's be honest: some of us are better at preaching than others; all of us have good preaching days and bad ones. There are times when being a witness for the mercy of God is more aggravating than it is delightful. The burden of forgiving those who hate us can be crushing. Most of the time, the temptation to dive into the flow of the world and revel in passion is overwhelming. No Christian who wakes up to an ordinary day can deny that following Christ out there can test one's patience, endurance, and resolve. It would be easier not to bother, safer to just walk away. Jesus knows this, and this is why he says to us, “You are the salt of the earth. . .You are the light of the world.” Salt preserves, enlivens, seasons. Light shines through the darkness, reveals what's hidden. As his disciples, his students, we are charged with being salt and light for one another and for the world. So, not only are we to be preachers, we're to be bright, salty preachers of the Good News! 

Jesus knows all too well the realities of being a faithful servant of the Father in this world. His life and death provide us with ample evidence that preaching the Father's word of mercy is a dangerous gamble for the preacher. Just being a Christian these days, even a bad Christian, invites persecution and death. Look at the mass murder of Christians in Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Afghanistan. There have been no car bombs exploding outside American churches yet; however, militant secular humanism, disguised as a human rights movement is building its case against Christ and his Church in the U.S. Through bureaucratic regulations, employment anti-discrimination laws, “hate speech” codes, social engineering in the military, and the redefinition of marriage through judicial fiat, the Church is being bullied out of the public square and silenced as a voice for the least among us. Facing this secular challenge as preachers of the Good News requires more than political savvy and good media skills. It requires courage, strength, perseverance, and, most of all, an absolute trust in God. Given all this, Jesus warns us that though we are the salt of the earth and light for the world, salt can lose its power to season, and a light can be extinguished. How does this happen? How does salt become tasteless and light become darkness? 

To put the question more directly: how do we as faithful preachers of the Good News become “go along to get along” pewsitters? The answer lies in our reading this morning from Isaiah. If we fail to bring glad tidings; fail to announce the Lord's peace; hide his good news under a bushel basket; and only whisper about our salvation through his mercy; if we stifle our cries of joy; break into griping, whining instead of song; begrudge his marvelous deeds; and give witness to only to our disappointment and despair, then our feet, the feet of Christ's preachers, become anything but beautiful. Salt loses its taste when it is stored too long, never used. The fire of the Spirit, its light will dim and go dark unless it is fed. Like any normal human person, we are all prone to being intimidated into silence by ideological opposition, threats of violence and protests, ridicule, and public bullying. And our courage and faithfulness are easily compromised by our sin. Whatever joy we have, whatever elation we may want to express with Christ can be beaten into hushed and private words. Being all too aware of our own sinfulness, our own failings, we can easily be shamed into taking our faith indoors, away from those who are all-too-ready to be offended by it. We can find ways to accept the division of our public and private selves and only show our acceptable faces outside these walls. But when we do these things, we cease being preachers of the Good News. We become dim lights and tasteless salt. 

 Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He also says that salt can lose its power to season and light its power to shine. What happens to the preacher who become tasteless and dim? Jesus says, “. . .if salt loses its taste. . .It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” When we are confronted by opposition to our preaching, to the proclamation of the Good News with our words and deeds, we must remember that this world passes away; it's nature is change. The kingdom of God is eternal, unchanging. And if we hope at all upon the promises of God, we trust, have full faith in the Spirit's guarantee that we will given what to say, shown what to show when the Enemy sends for us. What we cannot do, as preachers, is run after weak compromises, faithless accommodations, and hope upon the temporary promises of this world's princes. Paul encourages Timothy, “. . .proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” Paul knows what Christ himself knew: that when made to feel the heat of opposition, we are likely to ask for relief from those who are stoking the fires. Paul writes, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine. . .and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.” 21st century myths abound! How tolerant are we of sound doctrine? Do we listen to God's truth and preach it? Or do we beg for negotiation, hoping to just be left alone? 

Do you have the beautiful feet of a preacher? In word and deed, do you bring his Good News to the world? Do you rejoice, sing, give witness, bear his glad tidings? Are you Christ-for-others out there? We are sons and daughters of the Father. Brothers and sisters to Christ. And with St. Dominic, we are preachers of the Good News! In season and out, convenient or inconvenient, shout it out: The Lord is king! And there is no other!

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07 August 2014

Are you skilled in love?

NB. The annual repost of my St Dominic homily from 2007.

Solemnity of St. Dominic, Vespers: Phil 1.3-8
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

We begin with an innocent question: are you skilled in love? Do you possess the distinguishing talents, the connoisseur’s gifts for hunting, finding, and cultivating love? If so, Paul is writing to you on this evening feast of St. Dominic, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion…” In fact, he is writing to all of us who are skilled in love, promising us the achievement of the Good Work, a sterling finish to the gospel race we have vowed to run. If we are to be graced love-makers, committed craftsman of our Lord’s saving charity—looking to our Dominican brothers and sisters: Jordan, Thomas, Catherine, Rose, Martin, fra. Angelico, Margaret, Lacordaire—if we are to light even the smallest fire among the wet woods of this wearying world, we will imprison our hearts and minds in the gracious, re-creating Word, defending and confirming with every word we speak the Good News of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no joy for us in anything less. Our fiery brother, Savonarola, preached the Lord’s Passion, saying, “Our preaching will be refined and not refined, yet everyone can receive it, particularly those skilled in love. Those who are not skilled will know their distance from Love.” And that distance we must make our own and then travel to those who do not yet know Love. Our sister, Catherine of Siena, preached this ministry, saying, “The soul in love with [the Lord’s] truth never ceases to be of service in a small enough way to all the world…” Surely, it is a small enough way for us to walk, gifted as we are with the work of preaching Christ Jesus and skilled in nothing less than giving voice and volume to the advent of our Father’s Kingdom! We can find those who do not yet know Love even when we ourselves forget to love, forget to be Love. From our long history, we Dominicans know that it is never enough for us merely to preach. We must be the preaching—with all our anxieties, human quirks, tongue-tied failures, and even the occasional cold heart. The sacred preaching is never just an imitation of Dominic. We do not channel Hyacinth or Peter of Verona from the pulpit. Love shapes each voice of the Word given the nature of the tongue that speaks it, so that all the syllables of the Gospel will find their artful expression. And all those skilled in love will hear One Word, One Voice, One Herald of the Good News. 

Lord, on this solemn feast of our Holy Father, Dominic, free us from the silent death of fear and worry and jail us in your saving Word. Bring to perfection the Good Work you have begun in us and take us with ready hands and hearts to serve those who are not yet skilled in your Love. Amen.
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Peter's failure is our warning. . .

18th Week OT (Th) 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic, NOLA 

The Lord says to Jeremiah that He will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. He says that this new covenant will not be like the covenant He made with their fathers. This new covenant, He says, will be written upon their hearts, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is the covenant that Christ comes to establish, the covenant established in the heart of any man, woman, or child who confesses to him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

To confess that Jesus is the Christ is to be established as a partaker in the new covenant. That's how the covenant is established. But what does this new covenant look like in action? Jesus gives us a disturbing glimpse into the future of those of confess his name. He tells the disciples that he will go to Jerusalem, suffer greatly, get killed, and rise from the tomb on the third day. Understandably upset by this piece of news, Peter, blurts out, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” We might expect Jesus to smile knowingly at Peter's expression of distressed love. Or maybe reassure him that all will be well. What we don't expect is Jesus' actual response: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as men do.” 

Why does Jesus rebuke Peter so callously? Jesus knows two truths about his own end that Peter does not. His death and resurrection will seal the new covenant, freeing all of creation from the death of sin; and, anyone who partakes in the new covenant will serve, suffer, and end their lives on a cross. Peter's outburst tells us that he has yet to grasp the necessity of the cross, the absolute value of dying for the love of one's friends. To confess – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – is to make oneself a sacrifice for love. Peter is Satan b/c he tempts Jesus to forsake his sacrificial mission. Peter is an obstacle, a scandal b/c he places his love for Jesus in the way of God's love for all of creation. Peter is thinking as men do rather than as God does by clutching what he has on earth and forsaking what he has to gain in heaven. 

But despite his miserable failure to see and understand the necessity of the cross, Peter is given is keys to the kingdom and made the rock of the Church. His confession that Jesus is the Christ is the foundation stone, the starting place for building the Body. Coming to know and accept that the cross, and Christ's death on the cross, is the event that swings the world back to the Father – that revelation comes with suffering while preaching His word. Until Peter ceases to tempt others with a worldly love, he is Satan. Until he stops loving Christ as his personal possession, he is an obstacle. Until, he starts thinking with God, he is a man living outside the Word. 

Peter's failure is our warning. If we confess the Sonship of Christ and accept the burdens and freedoms of the new covenant, our love, our eagerness to sacrifice, cannot be stingy, half-hearted, or limited to our earthly loves. Our willingness to serve cannot be restricted to the deserving, or to those who can repay our service. And our thinking – how we deliberate about our choices – cannot be dictated by the customs and conventions of men. We are free in the new covenant to take on the salvation of the world b/c God Himself has freed us in Christ. In Christ, we are Christ, sons of the living God.

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06 August 2014

Neither terrorists nor viruses. . .

Feast of the Transfiguration
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

I'll be the first to confess: I can be a bit jaded, world-weary. That is, when it comes to watching the world and the problems we humans create for ourselves, I am more likely than not to think, “Well, that's hardly surprising.” When the news broke about the Ebola virus in Africa, I was concerned but not surprised. When that Malaysian plane was shot down over the Ukraine on the same day that Israel starting blowing up terrorist tunnels in Gaza – not surprised. This morning I read that the federal database for tracking terrorists in the US contains 1.1 million names and that almost 80% of American parents think that their children's lives will be worse than theirs – not surprised. One of the advantages of being a Catholic in this day and age is that very little shocks us. Why? B/c we have an excellent understanding of what it means to be part of the fallen human race. We know sin. Evil is no stranger. If we stopped there – at our fallen, sinful nature – we would be despairing as well as jaded and world-weary. 

Thankfully, right on time, Christ shows us our gifted end; he shows us where we can end up if we trust in God and surrender ourselves to His will. That's the whole reason for the dramatic revelation on Mt. Tabor – to show us our gifted end, to show us where we can end up if we trust in God and surrender ourselves to His will. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the mountain top to show them what they can become – transfigured, changed in such a way that they become unflinching beacons of God's living glory. As witnesses to this truth of the faith, Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah – prophets of the Law. The Father sends these two prophets to bear up under the truth that Christ is not only His beloved Son but the literal flesh and blood of His promise of eternal life as well. His promise – to keep us with Him always – is given a figure; it's illustrated, changed into a shape, a form, a person. . .the person of Christ. Radiating His Father's glory, Jesus sees the growing despair of his disciples – our worry and dread – and he injects our flagging hope with a simple tonic, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Rise. And do not be afraid. Our end, our gifted goal is the glory of the Father. And nothing He has planted will ever be uprooted.

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05 August 2014

Well-planted, or uprooted?

NB. Fr. John Dominic is off on a medical mission. Fr. Mike asked me to take the morning Masses this week.

NB 2.0: Didn't preach this homily at the 8.30am Mass b/c Deacon Lloyd was on duty. I'd forgotten that our deacons preach on Tues and Fri. Oh well. 

18th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

In revealing a truth of the faith, our Lord undermines a centuries-old religious tradition. At one point, the religious tradition he undermines, washing hands before eating, revealed a truth of the faith. But over time, the act became Its Own Thing. Handwashing before meals became an empty ritual, an almost-complusive, superstitious motion that obscured the truth it once revealed. When Jesus points out that uncleanliness is about what comes out of one's mouth rather than what goes in it, he dumps centuries of tradition and sets the nerves of friend and foe alike to buzzing. You don't have to be a scholar of the Law or a even a particularly religious soul to see the implications of Jesus' rough treatment of religious tradition: if handwashing is a pointless ritual, what other centuries-old traditions are pointless as well? To soothe the scrupulous and instruct the ignorant, our Lord says, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” In other words, if God built it, willed it, wanted it. . .it – whatever It is – it will endure. And everything and anything planted by something or someone other than the Father. . .will be destroyed. 
So, the obvious question arises: are you planted by the Father? More specifically, is your faith planted in the Father's will? Or, is your faith planted in something or someone that will inevitably be uprooted? Something like financial security, or religious ritual? Or someone like a favorite politician, or a pastor or a celebrity or a pope? Jesus tells his disciples not to follow the Pharisees b/c when the blind lead the blind they all end up at the bottom of a pit. What makes the Pharisees blind? They are reasonably well-off. Educated. Religious. Politically connected. More popular with the crowds than the Sadducees. They are serious men seeking God's will. But they are blind. Their eyes cannot see b/c they will not to see. They will not see the truth that gives the Law its authority; the goodness that makes the Law holy; or the beauty that graces the Law with its allure. If the Pharisees are blind, then what about the pastors and the celebrities and the popes and anyone else we might be tempted to trust before we trust the Father? If they do not trust the Father, then they too are blind! Go to the Father first; trust Him; then, follow those whose faith manifests the good fruits of the Spirit.


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03 August 2014


The Dominican Province of St. Martin de Porres 

If you have enjoyed this blog over the years, please consider giving to the province's 1216 Campaign. This money is used primarily for initial formation -- training our novices and educating our student brothers -- but it also helps with our operating expenses.  

The on-line form allows you to make prayer intentions, which we then take and add to our conventual Masses and hours.


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