30 September 2014

What Scripture is. . .

NB. A 2005 homily for the Feast of St. Jerome. I dedicate this one to Dr. Nathan Eubank, one of our two superb Scripture scholars at NDS. Dr. Eubank was recently appointed to the USCCB cmte to help revise the NAB. 

26th Week OT (Fri): 2 Tim 3.14-17; Matt 13.47-52
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

St Albert Priory & Church of the Incarnation 

Scripture is the family story. It is the story we are told and tell about how those who came before us struggled with the God—how they loved Him, served Him, challenged Him, railed against His apparent injustices, how they betrayed Him, and finally, killed Him as an enemy of the Empire and the Temple.

Scripture is the family story about what Jesus taught the disciples. About what he did in the crowds with the diseased, the outcast, those near death in sin. Scripture is the family story of what happens when we call on His name and ask Him to be with us; what happens when we pray in the spirit of righteousness and receive His grace to preserve, to grow, to triumph.

Scripture is our history, our story, our flight-plan and our road map. It is also a record of our failures in the faith, our surrenders to easy, alien doctrines; a record of those times when we scratched our itchy ears with whatever shiny new thing winked at us—Greek Stoicism or angel worship or Gnosticism or just the plain ole insistence on the Old Law and its requirements.

Scripture is a foundation, a framework, and a beautifully appointed castle. It stands against the fickle tides of fashion, fending off the modernist barbarians who would put us back in the desert wandering, back into the crowds disbelieving, leaving us at the foot of the cross gambling, standing at the empty tomb shaking our head at how clever those Christian thieves can be.

Scripture teaches us, refutes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. We are made students, penitents, disciples, and apostles. Belonging to God, we are fully equipped and competently trained to do every good work Christ has commanded us to do. And through Scripture we know not only where the family has been and where is it, but where it is going as well.

We also know Jesus Christ Himself; deep speaks to deep, Word to Word, the Word of God is flesh and spirit, one revelation of the Divine and another together: scripture and Christ, Word and Word, wisdom of salvation and Salvation Himself.

The celebration of St Jerome is a piercing call to the Church, all of us, to take up the hard work of reading scripture and opening our hearts and minds to the insistent knocking of the wisdom that the Word contains. Jerome, in a commentary on Isaiah, puts the matter plainly, “For if,” as Paul says, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” There’s a slap in the face! If you don’t know scripture, you don’t know Christ. Ignorance of the Word is ignorance of the Word.

Give yourself over to the Word to be taught in the wisdom of salvation, to be refuted in your error, to be corrected in your sin, and to be trained in righteousness. Give yourself over to Christ, submit to the wisdom of five millenia of witnesses who witness with one voice to the power, the love, the mercy, the constancy and the faithfulness of our God.

Come, everyone! Join the good fish in the bucket of the righteous!

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28 September 2014

Do you have a Heart Problem? (Audio File Updated)

26th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

God's people complain to the prophet Ezekiel, “The Lord is unfair! His rules are too rigid. His demands on us are burdensome. His ways are so unfair!” Through Ezekiel, the Lord turns the complaints around and asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord's obvious point is that when we complain about His “rules,” what we are really complaining about is our own refusal to see and hear the inevitable consequences of our own bad choices. It's not gravity's fault that we fall to the ground when we choose to jump out of a perfectly good tree. Nor is it God's fault when we persist in our sins, sowing disobedience and discord, and are then left to deal with the messy results. All of our favorite tricks for dodging responsibility are just that – tricks. Re-defining a sin so that it doesn't seem like a sin. Appealing to polls or science or other religions to wave away unpleasant “rules.” Putting God's will “into the proper context” in order to lighten any perceived burden. None of these work. Not ultimately. What works? What works every single time? Repentance and God's mercy. In that order: we repent – turn toward God – and His mercy freely flows.  
Here's one way to think about this: the Church – that's us – has a heart problem. Not just a troubled heart or a heavy heart, but a problem with how our hearts in Christ circulate the life-blood of the Church, the two key ingredients of our salvation: our repentance and God's mercy. This diagnosis of a heart problem arises for us at a time in the life of the Church when we are being challenged more than ever to examine and defend the basic truths of the faith, forced to consider and reconsider how we as followers of Christ understand ourselves as heirs to the Kingdom. What does it mean to be an heir to the Kingdom? Take Jesus' parable of the two sons. This is a parable about the Old and New Covenants, about unrepentant Israel under the Law of Moses and the obedient Church under the grace of Christ. The first son, at first disobedient, eventually repents and obeys his father's command to work the vineyards. The second son, pretending to be obedient, immediately agrees to work the vineyards but never gets around to it. Jesus asks the chief priests and elders, “Which son does the father's will?” They reply correctly, “The first.” Jesus then admonishes them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Notorious public sinners are becoming heirs to the Kingdom!  

How? How do these notorious public sinners enter the kingdom before God's chosen religious leaders? B/c the notorious public sinners heard John the Baptist preach repentance, and they repented of their sins. Like the first son, they turned themselves around and obeyed. The priests and elders heard John, but they never turned, relying instead on the illusion of obedience to save them. Like the second son, they believe that obedience is just words. God's mercy flows freely and abundantly to those who repent, those who truly turn themselves around and do the will of the Father. Notice: it's not the ones who complain and whine about the “rules” that end up repenting and inheriting the Kingdom. It's not the really super-religious people who follow all the rules who end up inheriting the Kingdom. Who inherits? Traitors, hookers, serial killers, child molesters, and thieves. They inherit. . .IF they repent, turn around toward God, and obey His will. If we will inherit the Kingdom, we will spend much less time complaining about the unfairness of God's ways and much, much more time and energy turning ourselves around to face the Him, the only One who can and will save us.

All of this is Christianity 101. So, where's the heart problem? Here's the problem: having received God's mercy by repenting of our own sins, do we allow our fellow sinners the chance to live out the mercy they themselves have received through repentance? Or, do we refuse to recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we tempted to assume the worse about notorious sinners and leave them out of the Kingdom? Look to your own experience with God's mercy. Instead of complaining about His “unfair ways,” you searched your conscience, found your sins, confessed and repented of them, then went on with your growth in holiness fed by His mercy. If you can do it, then why can't another? Maybe you suffer from a heart problem. Does repentance and mercy freely circulate in your body? If not, then they cannot freely circulate in the Body of Christ, the Church. And if these two key ingredients of our salvation cannot freely circulate, then the Church will grow weaker and weaker at a time when we need one another's strength and courage more and more. It is the Lord's Way that we must repent to receive mercy. It is also His Way that we must recognize repentance and allow His mercy to feed others.

How do we do this? How do we recognize repentance and allow God's mercy to feed others? As always, Paul comes to our aid. He pleads with us: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy. . .Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, if Christ strengthens your heart or comforts you in love; if you in any way take part in the life and work of the Holy Spirit, or receive from the Spirit any amount of compassion or mercy, then take on the mind of Christ – think with his sacrificial love, work with his dedication for the salvation of souls, and speak in the language of obedience and service. Paul challenges us to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of [vanity].” When we repent and lay claim to God's mercy for ourselves, yet refuse to recognize the repentance of another, thus refusing to see God's mercy at work in them, we put ourselves in the Judgment Seat, displacing Christ as the only true Judge. Then our heart problem becomes critical and the Church grows weaker. It is unfair that God forgives those we believe to be unrepentant sinners? Let Him answer: “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” 
Our Lord admonishes the priests and elders b/c they did not believe John the Baptist when he preached the baptist of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They were appalled when tax collectors and prostitutes lined the River Jordan for baptism, and they accused John of defiling God's ways. But they were really accusing God Himself. Jesus turns the accusing finger back on them, telling them that the worst of the worst among them were entering the Kingdom before they could. The difference btw the priests/elders and the notorious sinners is not their sin or their desire for mercy. Both groups are sinners; both want mercy. The difference is that the sinners turned toward God, repenting of their sins in all humility, asking for and receiving the forgiveness they need to become heirs to the Kingdom. The priests and elders complain to Jesus that God is being too lax, too easy on the sinners; He's encouraging more sin by letting them off w/o sufficient punishments. God says, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” If you have a heart problem, repent and let the Father's mercy heal you.


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Vocation Vids and Stories

NOLAPriest.com has produced an excellent vocations video, What Does It Mean To Be A Seminarian?  The vid was filmed at NDS and features NOLA seminarian, Colm Cahill.

The linked page also includes two other vids: one from Archbishop Aymond and one on this summer's priestly ordinations.

The site also has three vocation stories from seminarians. Andrew Ruddman, a student of mine, features in one of the stories.

Check them out!

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