25 November 2015

Are you in danger of being persecuted for the faith?

NB. from 2012. . .

34th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We can tell from this evening's reading that Jesus doesn't go out of his way to make Christianity a real attractive option. Can you imagine trying to get him elected to public office? Imagine having to go on FOXNews and explain away this campaign promise: “Vote for me and they will seize and persecute you. . .You will even be handed over by . . .relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. . .” Guess whose bumper sticker isn't going on my car! What's not entirely clear here is why we—as followers of Christ—will be persecuted. All Jesus says is that we'll be persecuted because of his name. St. John helps us out here a bit. He writes, “All the nations will come and worship before you, [Lord], for your righteous acts have been revealed.” When we live as followers of Christ, doing all that we have been commanded to do, we do all that we have been commanded to do in his name. For his sake. In other words, we work to reveal God's righteous deeds so that He gets the glory. For a world ruled by the Enemy, this sort of thing is bound to draw some negative attention. So, are you in any danger of being persecuted for revealing God's righteous acts to the world? 

We can narrow that question down a bit by focusing on just one of God's righteous acts: are you in any danger of persecuted for revealing God's righteous act of loving and forgiving His human children despite their obstinate rebelliousness and sin? You might think that our creation in love is the number one righteous act of God. But it is far more merciful to re-create than create, especially when your creatures fail so often in showing gratitude through humility. Our salvation through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is God's most righteous act b/c it involves our Creator in more than just bringing together dust and breath to create us. Once made by God in His image and likeness, and fallen into disobedience through pride, we are rescued by the flesh and blood of His Son. We are freely offered the chance to be re-made in the image and likeness of the Christ and to rise higher than the angels as His adopted heirs. It is the righteous act of our re-creation as Children of God in Christ that we are most obligated to reveal to the world. And it is evidence of this infinitely merciful act that the rulers of this world will kill to keep from being brought into the public square. 

So, let's change up the question: do you live in a such a way that your life would be recognized as evidence that God's infinite mercy is freely available to anyone who longs to be re-made in the image and likeness of Christ? If so, then Jesus' warning of persecution in tonight's gospel is for you. If not, why bother with this difficult path? What drew you to Christ in the first place? Did someone reveal a righteous act of God to you and entice you to follow along? It can't be the promise of eternal life b/c that promise is kept for those who are unashamed of Christ. Maybe you were responding to that gnawing emptiness that living without purpose feeds. Or maybe you recognized in yourself the capacity to love sacrificially and now find yourself struggling along with the rest of us to take baby steps along the Way. How about this: the further away from God you got, the harder you ran, the tighter He held on and you just decided that all those mushy ideas like love, mercy, forgiveness, hope, faith are all stronger than your desire to sin and so here you are? That too is a righteous act of God. Leave here tonight and reveal this deed to the world: here you are b/c God's love for you is always stronger than the Enemy's hatred of Him and of His.


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24 November 2015

Permanent renewal, persistent peace. . .

NB. A 2009 Roman homily preached at the Angelicum's English Mass.
St Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Anything that can be put together can be taken apart. Anything fixable is breakable. If it can be composed, formed, or united, it can be decomposed, unformed, and disunited. The material universe rises from the play of order and chaos, making and unmaking. You do not have to be a mystic to realize that impermanence is the way of all things. Visit a maternity ward. And then a graveyard. The two are inevitably bound together by the passage of time. Some of us find this truth to be a source of anxiety, a point for jumping off into the abyss of meaninglessness. Some are indifferent, challenged nonetheless by the competition to survive. And others are delighted at the prospect of death, rushing headlong to their end, encouraged by the possibility of immortality. Since humans started thinking about the purpose of their lives, each of these responses to impermanence—anxiety, indifference, and delight—each of these has had its philosophical and theological defenders. The gospel preached by Christ and his Church offers another alternative, another way to live the joys and pains of passing through God's creation: permanent renewal, persistent peace.

Pointing to the temple and its splendor, Jesus says to the crowd, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” For a people whose lives are centered on the worship of God, such a prediction must have shocked them. How can something as monumental, as stable as the temple crumble? How can our connection to God be thrown down? They want to know when this horror will occur and how will they know that it is coming? Jesus gives no date, no day and time. He doesn't even hint at a season. Instead, he points them to the impermanence of creation, the chaos of human life: earthquakes, famines, plagues, insurrections, wars, awesome signs from the sky. Had someone from the crowd yelled out to Jesus, “But these happen all the time!” Jesus would have answered, “Yes, they do.” Those with eyes to see and ears to hear would have taken his point. We are always in the midst of destruction, the failure of creation's fall. Therefore, put your love, your hope, your faith in the only place left untouched by the currents of chaos. Store up all you treasure in the promises of eternal life.

Does this mean then that we must abandon creation to its fate? Do we run for the hills with our guns and provisions, waiting for The End? No. Though we may be tempted to hide from the world while we hold out against the enemy, our charge as followers of Christ is to save the world not abandon it. Jesus doesn't predict the destruction of the temple in order to warn the crowd away from its fall. He warns them of its collapse so that they will know where they should store their treasured faith. Not in buildings or votive offerings or adornments. But in their humble and contrite hearts. What our Father wants from His children is that we should live as if the temple has already been destroyed, as if we were already in His presence—face-to-face—daily, even now. Then, like Christ, our trust in Him is lived in the world as a sign of His love and mercy. We are His temples; we are His tabernacles. And as such we are—ultimately—indestructible.

Christians do not have the luxury of anxiety, indifference, or a heroic delight in death. All of these abandon us to the currents of The Fall. All of these tell us that we have no purpose, no goal, that there is nothing more, nothing beyond the stones and mortar of a universe well-made to fall. Instead, we are vowed to travel through this world as living, breathing sanctuaries of His presence. Having placed all we love, all we hope for, all we trust in in the hands of the One Who brings us peace, we become His peace, the peace among wars and insurrections, tools for rescue and renewal.


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22 November 2015

Are you a king?

Christ the King
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Pilate wants to know. He wants to know whether or not Jesus is the King of the Jews. Or does he? He asks the question. But is he genuinely curious. . .or, is he simply doing his duty as governor? Pilate knows that a “king” pops up in Judea on a regular basis, vowing to run the hated Romans out of town. He knows these “kings” are always crazy on religion, and promising to re-establish the Davidic kingdom. But the “king” standing in front of him on this day is different. The rabble seem to hate him. That's unusual. The Jewish priests hate him. . .but they always hate the zealots. So, what's so different about this Jesus character? Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Expecting to hear some sort of religious mumbo-jumbo that only matters to the priests, Pilate must've been taken aback when Jesus replies, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Roman governors are accustomed to rebels and terrorists; they are used to having to mediate between local factions, warring over a throne. What they aren't used to – what Pilate cannot be used to – is hearing a royal prisoner say, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. . .For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. . . .”

To be a king he was born, and to be a king he came into the world. Not to rule from a throne in a palace, or from an office in a capitol but to announce and establish a kingdom founded on his Father's mercy, a kingdom ruled by the hearts and minds of repentant sinners and turned to the hard work of serving the least of God's people. Somewhat dumbfounded, Pilate asks, “Then you are a king?” But Jesus doesn't take the bait. Instead, he says, “You say I am a king.” Pilate wants to know whether or not Jesus is claiming to be one of those militant kings who rise up on occasion to challenge Rome. But Jesus isn't playing that game. He's teasing Pilate with the truth. But Pilate can't hear the truth. He can't see it standing right in front of him. So, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Those who belong to the truth belong to Christ, and he is their King. Not by right of election or conquest or inheritance. But as disciples, students of the truth, Truth Himself, the Christ. Pilate is no disciple, so he infamously asks, “What is truth?” You can almost see Jesus shaking his head in pity.

And it is a pitiful question – what is truth? We could believe that Pilate is asking a philosophical question, a question posed to uncover a bit of wisdom. Or we could believe that he is simply being cynical, asking the question rhetorically like he might at a dinner party. Or we could believe that Pilate – living 2,000 years ago – is a thoroughly modern man, one who uses the human tools of language, law, and logic to hold divine truth at bay. I hear despair in Pilate's question. I hear, “What's the point of asking these questions and answering them? Nothing matters in the long run. All we have is what's in front of us.” Pilate's question – asked as it is, when it is – is a coward's question. We know it's a coward's question b/c his decisions to release a criminal and execute the Savior are calculated, political acts made to quell the anger of the mob and deflect criticism from Rome. Asking “what is truth?” is a simpler way of asking “does the truth really matter?” Pilate – a hopeless bureaucrat stuck in a rebellious podunk province on the backside of the Empire – takes the coward's way out. He follows the King of This World and sends an innocent man to his gruesome death. He is modern man writ small, an emblem of despair when confronted by truth.

We celebrate Christ as King to be reminded that while we are citizens living in this world, we are not of this world. Our ultimate citizenship lies in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even while we live and die here on earth – doing all the things that people do – we know that our time here is short, that our time here will run out. What then? If we were to follow Pilate and his modern logic, we would simply cease to exist. We'd hang around in the memories of family and friends. There'd be photographs and other small monuments of our passing through. But we would be nothing, no-thing after death. Do we live now to die and disappear sometime later on? No, the disciples of truth do not; we do live in this world, but we do not die as its citizens. We live now as disciples of the King and live forever as his subjects! What passes for courage in this world is foolishness in heaven. What passes for strength and honor and intelligence in this world will be weakness, cowardice, and stupidity in the kingdom to come. Pilate was not an evil man. He was blind and deaf. He could not see nor hear the truth standing in front of him, offering him a way out of his despair. Are you a king? You say that I am.

Do you say that Christ is king? Do you believe that Christ is the king of your life, your death, and your resurrection? If so, do you live as his loyal subject, living in this world – as we all must – but knowing that your end is in heaven? When we live with Christ as King, we turn our hearts and minds to him when we speak and act; we take his teaching as truth before we decide; we hold his sacrifice on the cross as an example of supreme love when we serve; we look to him for advice, permission, to receive the gift of who we are for him; he is for us the center and the foundation of our lives. Day in and day out. The cornerstone of all that we do in this world. Opposition, persecution, temptation, and sin peck away at your loyalty to the King, but nothing and no one can topple his rule in your life. . .unless you yourself renounce his kingship and give yourself back to the darkness of this world. You can live in Pilate's world: power, wealth, oppression of the weak, violence, despair. You can be of his world: popularity, compromise, betrayal, cowardice. Or, you can live under the rule of Christ the King and see through the impermanence of the Enemy's power and look on the glory of God, face-to-face. . .when His kingdom is fulfilled.

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