23 November 2014

Subjects of the King

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

Kings judge. It's in their job description. They also tax and spend; wage war and make peace; they take counsel and give it. But more than anything else, a king's rule is defined by how well he passed judgment on his subjects. Is he fair-minded? Even-handed? Both just and merciful? When disputes arise among his nobles, does he think first of his people and their needs, or does he immediately think about how to take advantage of the chaos to increase his power? Kings embody the spirit of their land, the spirits of their people, and define for everyone under their rule what it means to be loyal and honest. Some rule wisely, with justice for their people. Others abuse their authority for personal gain and glory. When the king goes bad, so does his kingdom. If the source of authority and civil power is corrupted, then the whole kingdom is soon corrupted as well. Who can trust the judgment of a corrupt king? His eyes are focused on taking the prize for himself not for others, not for us. So, on this Solemnity of Christ the King, we are reminded that though we are citizens of this world, we are first subjects of His Majesty in heaven.
 
Paul writes to the Corinthians on the coming of the kingdom of God, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. . .” Christ is first. Then those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end when Christ hands the kingdom over to his Father. When does this happen? Paul answers, “. . .when [Christ] has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” Why destroy these authorities and powers? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” And that's why we honor and celebrate Christ as not only our Savior but as our King as well: he is the destroyer of death, the last tyrant to hold us in thrall. Death's destruction is not yet finished, not yet final on this earth. So, we live still under the rule of living and dying as flesh and bones creatures who hope in the resurrection. But in celebrating Christ as our King now, we anticipate death's end, we work toward and look forward to that time when Christ comes to establish a new heaven and a new earth. While still here – in the world – we subjects of His Divine Majesty live and breath the hope and loyalty that Christ inspires. His sacrificial love for us, his sacrifice for us is his judgment of us, and we are sworn to bring his judgment to this world.

Kings judge. It's in their job description. And as King of the Universe, Christ is our just judge. He says to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory. . .he will sit upon his glorious throne. . .and he will separate them one [Gentile nation] from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The sheep he will invite into their eternal inheritance, the kingdom of God. To the goats he will say, “'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” What distinguishes the sheep-nations from the goat-nations? Good intentions? Social entitlement spending? Religious freedom? Number of churches in the phone book? No, no, no, and no. Christ says to the condemned nations: “. . .what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” What distinguishes those nations bound for heaven and those nations condemned to hell is the difference btw how each nation treated the gospel messengers sent to them – the hungry, the imprisoned, the stranger, all those who went out with the Good News are among the least of Christ's brothers. Where we end up as a nation, a people is determined by how we choose to receive the Good News of the Father's mercy to sinners.

It might seem a bit strange that Christ, King of the Universe would take such a personal, one-on-one interest in the treatment of his messengers by the nations. But look again at the Lord's words to Ezekiel. Over and over again in that prophecy, the Lord uses a phrase that rings out: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. . .I will rescue them. . .I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. . .The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. . .I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” In the promises made to Ezekiel, the Lord does not delegate the work of kingship to another. He doesn't pawn the tough stuff off on a vicar or a steward. He Himself promises to heal, tend, shepherd, and judge. Our Savior, the one who died for us, is our King, our Judge and jury. Christ will – at his coming again in glory – look upon us and delve into our hearts and minds and weigh how we have received his Good News; how we treated the ones he sent out to bring us his gospel news. Individuals, groups, nations, whole continents will be held accountable to him for how his tender offer of mercy is received.
 
And b/c we are first subjects of His Divine Majesty, our wills are bent to his, and we are sworn to bring his justice to this world while we are still here. Christ's justice is the swift, terrible sword of mercy. He died so that our sins – past, present, and future – are forgiven. Justice was done – once for all – on the Cross, and now, we are bound by the blood of the Cross to be merciful ourselves, to show mercy one to another, and all of us as a Church to any and all who ask. Mercy is not a weakness nor is it a sign of approval or indifference to sin. Mercy comes after the conviction, after the plea of guilty. Mercy granted before confession or conviction is no mercy at all; it's a pitiful admission of spiritual laziness on our part, a sign of our own self-satisfaction. A sinner seeking mercy is like a starving man needing good food. Do you feed a starving man generic brand cat food? No. So, do not feed a mercy-seeking sinner cheap mercy. Our Just Judge will want to know upon his coming again in glory: did you feed, clothe, welcome the ones I sent you to receive my mercy? Did you house, bathe, visit the sinners I sent you for forgiveness and reconciliation? Or did you dismiss them in their misery b/c you no long care about the difference btw wickedness and righteousness?

If our Lord will personally see to our judgment in the Last Days, then we are well advised to see to his good work while we live. He sends among us the least of his brothers and sisters. Not to test us, but to give us every chance, every opportunity to be Christ-for-another. This is how we grow in holiness; it's how we come closer and closer to his perfection. As citizens of this world, we are rewarded for frugality, security, and wealth. As subjects of Christ the King, we are made perfect in love, one sacrifice at a time.
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First World Problem: my shopping entropy field

Anyone who's ever been shopping with me knows that I project an entropy field -- an area of energy that draws wacky customers, wackier cashiers, and causes machinery to break.

Yesterday, I went to WalMart to pick up a few things. I noticed that the register in the electronics department had one customer who was in the process of paying. . .so, I got behind her, thinking that I'd avoid the long lines at the front of the store. Little did I know that Ms Early Christmas Shopper was going to pay for her haul with cash, four gift cards, and a credit card. 

She received her receipt, checked it thoroughly, and then announced that she needed to pay for an item in lay-a-away. She spent a good five minutes digging around in her enormous purse looking for the paperwork. She paid -- again with an assortment of cards, cash, and coupons. 

FINALLY! She's done. No. The cashier stepped away from the register, looked at me sympathetically, and said, "I have to go in the back to get her lay-a-away. Be back in a sec." I nodded and walked to the front.

At the front, I got in the 20 Items or Less [sic] line behind a couple who were in the process of paying. They had eight items. And used six debit cards to pay! Each card was rejected a couple of times b/c the woman kept putting in the wrong PIN code for the card. Then the machine rebelled and wouldn't work. The cashier got it running again. . .and they had to start over. 

When this circus finally concluded, I dropped my items on the scanner. Just then, a manager walks up and begin changing out the cash drawer while chatting casually with the cashier. They hooted and giggled and talked about their upcoming lunch break, etc. The drawer swapped out, the cashier decides that she needs some change, so we have to wait for the manager to go get another drawer to make change.

By this time, I'd been waiting to check out twice as long as it took me to find my items.

Nine out of ten times, this is how my shopping experiences go. Penance for a multitude of sins, no doubt. 
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16 November 2014

No harvest, no feast

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Never having been pregnant myself, it’s difficult for me to imagine how a pregnant woman might be surprised by her labor pains. Surely after nine months of bloating, vomiting, hormonal surges, that maternal glow, and the all-too-popular weight gain, she is more or less ready for the inevitable cramping and inevitable pangs of birth. Oh sure, the exact moment—day, hour, minute—might be a surprise. Who would put real money on that bet?! But that she will experience the pain of pushing out a wet, screaming human watermelon really can’t come as much of a last minute shocker. All the more unusual then is Paul’s metaphor for the surprise that Christians will experience when the Lord returns. He writes to the Thessalonians: “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape…” So, in what way will our surprise at the return of the Lord be like the suddenness of “labor pains upon a pregnant woman”? Though the pain of childbirth is dreaded, the reward of a child is anticipated with great joy. Our surprise at the return of the Lord will be both dread and joy, trepidation and elation: the long anticipated relief of our tensed waiting.

Paul tells us that our Lord will return like a thief in the night. He also tells us that our surprise will come like labor pains—hard, clenching, sweaty, but not entirely unexpected. It makes sense to say then that though the thief comes in the night, we have been expecting his arrival for some time, waiting for him to pop the lock on the backdoor, to lift the latch of the window and sneak in. We don’t know the day, the hour, the minute of his break-in, but we know that he will arrive, and we know that what he has come to steal has been his all along. At baptism we make ourselves the Lord’s debtors, owing all we are and all we have to him, everything held in trust until he returns to claim the principal with accrued interest. What have you done with the Lord’s largess? With all the Lord has given you? What have you done with the person the Lord made you to be?

Jesus, ever the lover of a good parable, says to his disciples: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” The man gives talents to his servants according to their ability. Makes sense. Except that we have to ask: according to their ability to do what? This is the crux of the parable. Knowing his servants well, the man does not distribute his possessions uniformly, giving each servant the same number of talents. Rather, precisely because he knows the varying abilities of his servants, he distributes them equally; that is, he gives each the number of talents equal to the ability of each servant. The man is not foolish. He is not going to give those with little ability the chance to squander his talents on a grand scale. However, by giving them talents equal to their abilities, he is giving them the opportunity to show that they are worthy of more—an opportunity that they would not otherwise have.

Now, here’s the interesting part of the parable: by giving the servants talents equal to their abilities, the man is actually adding to their abilities. Presumably, without the responsibility of keeping the talents none of the servants would have the chance to move much beyond their given abilities. So, on top of their natural talents, the man adds some investment capital. He “invests” in each servant an excess of talents to supplement what they have received naturally. In theological terms, we can say that the man has used his grace to build on their natures, gifting them the chance and the tools necessary to grow well beyond their natural capacities.

What happens? The man returns and the servants line up for inspection. Who has taken advantage of their gift of talents? Jesus continues the parable: “The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.’” This servant, having received talents equal to his abilities, took his master’s principal investment and used it to double his worth. Any of the servants could have done the same. Not all of them did. Why not? Out of fear that his master would simply take any interest he might accrue on the investment, one servant simply buried his talent. Out of fear that his work to improve his master’s gift would benefit his master alone, this servant refused to make good on his chance. He planted a dead seed, and not surprisingly, nothing grew. No growth, no harvest. No harvest, no feast. The fearful servant loses his talent to the more gifted servant and the master calls him wicked and lazy!

When our master returns – in the night like a thief long expected – will you present him with his principal investment alone, or will you return to him his initial gift plus interest? According to your ability you have been gifted with exactly those talents that you need to grow in holiness. You have been given everything you need to invest wisely and move beyond your natural abilities. But what is most important to remember is this: every step beyond your abilities, every level of increasing perfection that you reach is the result of our Lord’s initial investment in you—his gift of talents that equals your abilities. Upon his return he expects to receive a return on his investment. What will you present to him? Who will you present to him? Will you, like the “good and faithful servant,” show him double the talent? Or will you have to go dig up his gift and return it unused? How will you excuse yourself? To say that you had no idea when the master would return is true on its face. You cannot, however, claim that you did not know that he was returning. Like the pregnant woman who knows the pain of childbirth is coming though not precisely when, you know the time of judgment is before us. Called to account for yourself, what will you say, “Sorry. But I knew you were just going to take it all back, so I did nothing”? Wicked and lazy, indeed!

Paul writes, “…brothers and sisters, [you] are not in darkness, for that day [of the Lord’s return] to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” Because we see clearly in the light of the Lord, we must take the gifts we are given, invest to the limits of our abilities, tend the growing fruits, and harvest the abundant graces that mature. Though we do not know the day and time of the Lord’s return, as his good and faithful servants, we must be ready always to account not only for our abilities but for wisely investing his gifts as well. The pain of childbirth is nothing compared to the pain of failing in this sacred duty.
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15 November 2014

Five Abstracts: VIII

With the exception of Contemplata, these are all geometric color studies. . .meaning that I do not consider them complete and will likely recycle them. 

 Awash (18 x 24 framed canvas)

 Contemplata (16 x 20 canvas board)

 Discipleship (16 x 20 canvas board)

 Emmaus Road (16 x 20 canvas board)

 Feast (18 x 24 framed canvas)

The time-stamp is sideways b/c I discovered that my Crappy Little Camera takes a better picture that way. 
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11 November 2014

2 More Paintings. . .

 Bethany (16 x 20 framed canvas) RECYCLED


 Stand Up and Go (18 x 24 canvas board)


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10 November 2014

Three Abstracts: VII

Three recently completed canvases. . .these are not finished, strictly speaking. But close enough.

 5000 (16 x 20 framed canvas)

 Psalm 24 (18 x 24 canvas board)

 Resurrection (18 x 24 framed canvas) RECYCLED

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09 November 2014

We Are Not Meat for the Market

St. John Lateran Basilica (32nd Sunday)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Lay Carmelites/OLR, NOLA
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. He goes to the temple and finds a thriving flea market – a bazaar for selling sacrificial animals, and bankers exchanging common money for temple cash. In a rage, he pulls out his whip, and yells, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” John notes that the disciples immediately recall Psalm 69.9: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” And the Jews, they ask for a sign. Jesus tells them to destroy “this temple,” and he will raise it again in three days. Many years later, Paul, while questioning the ignorance of the Corinthian church, teaches us that we are the temples of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within us. He says, “Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building…If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” How do we, the holy temples of God, turn our temples into marketplaces, into buildings that serve commerce rather than God? And, how do we drive out the unclean merchants and restore our temples to their proper purpose? 
 
In an angelic vision, Ezekiel is shown that the temple is the center of life-giving water and fruit, the heart of the nation to which and from which the waters of the world flow, “Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,” and there will be God’s abundance. For our ancestors in faith, the temple was more than a church, more than a place to gather. The temple was the dwelling place of the Most Holy, the physical site of Heaven touching Earth. No wonder then Ezekiel is shown the temple as a source of life and abundance! And no wonder Jesus is furious with the mercantile desecration of its holy purpose. 
 
It is not great leap to the 21st century and our own contemporary desecrations of God’s holy temples: how do we profane the dignity of the human person in name of profit and entertainment? How do we collaborate with those who would set up shop in our temples? Think about the ways our culture commercializes the body. Think about our ever-failing social norms for sex, eating, drinking, dressing. Think about how we are manipulated into lending our temples to these marketplaces, selling our finest bodies to the lowest bidder at the auction of fashion and fame. Think about how artificial contraception has become “family planning;” how abortion has become “an alternative to pregnancy;” how an unborn human person has become a “product of conception;” and same-sex marriage has become all about “marriage equality.” Every merchant knows that manipulative marketing is all about perception, illusion, finding just the right way to spin reality to make a buck or win a political argument. Our temples are sold as inconvenient waste, the stuff we throw out.  
 
For cash and the bottom-line, we are meat. For the culture of death—ruled by Mammon—we are cattle and lab rats, control groups and experiments. Those temples among us who are blind, lame, crippled, poor, elderly, or unborn they are all just “targets for development goals” or “the means of measurable outcomes given variables.” What we cannot be and still be temples of the Most High is a means to anything else but ourselves. Make me a means and I quickly become an obstacle needing to be removed. Make you a means to an end and you become a tool for manipulation. Turn the human person into a product, a site of commercialization, and the body becomes a snack, a tiny morsel to be gobbled up in an frenzy of self-destruction and denigration.

Hear Paul again: “Do you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person…” Why? “…for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” You are, we are temples, where Heaven touches Earth, sites of God’s abundance, moments of God’s gracious outpouring of spirit and life; we are both the source and goal of all that water, flowing in and out to feed life inside and outside our walls. Let nothing defile the holiest of God’s dwelling places: you, consumed by zeal for the presence of the Lord!

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08 November 2014

Details from Six Abstract: VI

Details from the paintings posted earlier. "Inferno" is hanging in my office at NDS, so I couldn't get a detail of it.


Sarcifice (detail)


Darker Night of the Soul (detail)


Noah's Covenant (detail)

Temple Door (detail) 

Purgatorio (detail)



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Six Abstracts: VI


  Sacrifice (18 x 24 canvas board) Recycled
Redder/oranger than it appears here

 Darker Night of the Soul (18 x 24 canvas board) Recycled


 Inferno (16 x 20 framed canvas)


 Noah's Covenant (18 x 24 canvas board)


  Temple Door (16 x 20 framed canvas) SOLD

  Purgatorio (16 x 20 framed canvas) RECYCLED

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04 November 2014

What's Your Excuse?

St Charles Borromeo
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
 
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

There's only room for two in a confessional. Only so much water can fill a bucket. How many books can fit in a backpack? When does a pile become a heap? Going about our day we are constantly observing and assessing the quantities we must work with: do I have enough money for the new Summa translation? How much time to read all of Fr. Deo's assignments? In my case, how many mini-packets of peanut butter will fit in my habit pocket? The constant work of assessment and the judgments we make on our assessments is mostly unconscious. We do it automatically. Without much deliberation or worry. Fill up. Count out. Measure. Act accordingly. So, what does it mean then for us to “empty ourselves”? To “pour ourselves out”? If we must empty ourselves, then we must consider what it is that we are full of. And if we manage to pour ourselves out, what will fill us up, occupying the emptiness left behind? Here’s a hint from Jesus: “Blessed is the one who will dine in the Kingdom of God.”

Paul goes further, admonishing the Philippians to “have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…” The same attitude as Christ Jesus. Just before this admonition Paul writes: “If there is any encouragement in Christ […] complete my joy by being of the same mind, [the same heart,] thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.” This is the attitude of Christ who “though he was in the form of God […] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; […] he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Christ emptied himself to become Man. We must empty ourselves to become Christ.

But what is it that we must pour out? What fills us up, leaving no room for God? We could say Ego. Pride. We could say Vanity. What do those invited to the table of the Lord say when they hear his invitation? Nothing so abstract or grand as “I am too proud.” Or, “I am filled with selfish need.” They say what we are all likely to say, “I’m busy.” Work to do. People to see. Family waiting for me at home. So, work is bad? We can ignore appointments? Family is unimportant? No. But when our reasons for declining the Lord’s invitation to eat at his table become excuses for ignoring his invitation to pour ourselves out, we fail at taking on the attitude of Christ. And filled with excuses, there is no room in us for God.

What are our excuses for refusing to empty ourselves out? I'm a delicate snowflake, unique in every way. I have “felt needs” that haven't been met by others. I have a direct line to God, and I know what He wants from me. I know all the right people to get ahead in this game. I'm too valuable as is to be emptied out. If I hide long enough and skillfully enough, I can just make it to my goal. And “one by one, [we] all began to excuse [our]selves.” Exclude ourselves. From what? From the chance to be filled with the apostolic spirit we need to preach and teach the Good News. 

Only so many students can fill a classroom. Only so much water can fit in a bucket. That backpack will only hold so many books. We can be filled with excuses for declining the Lord’s invitation; or, we can empty ourselves as he did for us, becoming more now than we were ever made to be. If the poor, the blind, the lame, and the crippled – all those usually left outside the banquet hall – if they can be invited to the table, pouring themselves out and being filled with divine food and drink, so can we. Like them, we too can become Christ. But before we can be filled, we must be emptied.
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01 November 2014

Purgatory: the intensity of our failures

NB. I will not be preaching at Mass tomorrow. So, here's a 2012 homily for All Souls.

Feast of All Souls
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA


Many of the homilies that Catholics hear on the feast of All Souls leave the distinct impression that heaven is overpopulated; hell is vacate; and purgatory is just a silly medieval myth. Much will be made of Dante's overbearing influence on how we think about the nature of the afterlife, and everyone will be assured that God leaves no one behind. That last part—about God leaving no one behind—is true. He doesn't. What's left out, however, is the fact that we are perfectly capable of leaving ourselves behind, and that God will honor this choice. God won't leave us behind, but He will allow us to leave ourselves. Jesus says, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me. . .” No one who comes to Christ will be rejected by him. However, no one who chooses to reject him will be hog-tied and frog-marched into heaven against his/her will. Love can be commanded; it cannot be coerced. The saints chose Christ's love. The damned chose pride's conceit. The souls we pray for this evening chose Christ's love for themselves but did not love as he loved them. Now, they wait to be made pure as he is pure.

Following Christ is not a part-time job or a weekend hobby. It's not an experiment, a fling, or a stepping stone while seeking something better. When we choose to accept Christ's love, we also choose to love as he loves us—sacrificially, without conditions. He says that he will reject no one who comes to him. And if we choose to be part of his sacrifice, and benefit from his love, then we must also choose to freely grant that same benefit to others. In practical terms, this means that we do not get to pick and choose whom we will love nor do we get to sort through the crowd electing some for salvation and rejecting others. As faithful followers of Christ, we love indiscriminately so that those who are tempted to reject Christ might see in us the good spiritual fruits that result from coming to him and believing in him. If anyone—at the last day—rejects Christ and chooses instead to live separated from God forever, do not let it be said that they rejected Christ b/c we failed to love as Christ loves us. Failures in charity can be large and small. Large failures kill charity outright. But most of our failures to love as we ought are small, driven by petty passions or slight hurts. It's these little weaknesses, these venial lapses that keep us within reach of heaven but outside our grasp. 

All our years are spent desiring God. When we realize that it is God whom we desire most, we come to Christ. And we spend the rest of our years being pounded into perfection by trial, temptation, victory, and the sure knowledge that we are not alone. Very few leave this life having both reached for and grasped heaven's perfection. We celebrated their victories yesterday. Most of us will likely die with a small stain or two on our baptismal garment. After death, without the limits of a body, we see more perfectly Him whom we have sought all our lives; yet, b/c we are not yet stainless, we cannot join him. The difference btw seeing Love more perfectly than we ever have before and knowing how we have failed to love as we ought is what we call the “pains of purgatory,” the pain we experience as a soul perfectly loved by God but not itself perfectly loving. In purgatory, we do not experience the duration of time but rather the intensity of our failures as we freely surrender them to God. As each failure is washed clean, our desire to join Him intensifies. Rather than wait in purgatory to love as Christ loves us, come to him now and believe his Good News, accepting as your own his mission to reject no one, to leave no one behind. In both small ways and large, love as Christ loves you.
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Two More Abstracts V

 Garden of Babylon (18 x24) SOLD



 First Plague (16 x 20) RECYCLED

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31 October 2014

Three Abstracts IV


^ Shrouded



^ Monet Goes to the Beach


^ Rock Rolled Away

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30 October 2014

Four Abstracts: III

Four abstracts. . .


 ^  Pentecost

 

^  Dark Night of the Soul


  ^ Les fleurs du mal


^  Temple: Rough Draft


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Nothing less will see you complete. . .

30th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA


We must continue on The Way – today, tomorrow, and the following day. We will not abandon God's house, so, following along behind the Lord, we must persevere. Hunted as he is by that fox, King Herod, Jesus stands strong in his mission and ministry. Why he is sent and what he is sent to do IS who he is, so there's no going back, no backing down, no giving up. If we are to be faithful followers of the One sent, then we too must become the why, the what, and the who of Christ's mission and ministry. And we cannot accomplish this alone, nor can we accomplish this with weak minds, frail hearts, and darkened souls. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil.” Draw strength. Put on your armor. Stand firm. And “words [will] be given [you] to open [your] mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel.” Do you labor to make known the mystery of the Gospel – with boldness?

Paul uses the adverb noun parrēsia (παρρησίᾳ)* to describe the energy with which we are to make known the mystery of the Gospel. Parrēsia means plainly, openly, publicly, freely, confidently. In other words, we are not to preach and teach the Gospel obscurely, privately, reservedly, or hesitantly. The full truth, goodness, and beauty of God's Self-revelation to His children in Christ Jesus is not a precious secret to be kept locked away; it's not an occult system to be parceled out in meager bits by experts; it's not a self-help formula to be sold like detergent or beer. The full truth, goodness, and beauty of God's Self-revelation to His children in Christ Jesus is to be plainly, openly, freely – boldly – proclaimed as a service to creation, as a servant's work to anyone and everyone who will hear it. To take on this servant's work is to become the Gospel in flesh and bone, surrendering your heart, mind, and body, and becoming – for the greater glory of God! – a material vehicle of the Good News. Therefore, draw strength; put on your armor; and stand firm b/c your chosen work puts you in danger of being hunted. The tactics of the Devil are at once bold and subtle; public and private. Our escape from the hunt is found in fortitude, perseverance, courage, and excellence.


When told by the Pharisees that the fox, King Herod, is hunting him, Jesus responds with defiance, saying, in essence, “Tell Herod to mind his own business. I'm busy about my Father's work, and I'm not going anywhere until I'm done.” Notice that our Lord's response exemplifies the virtues we need to boldly proclaim the Gospel. Fortitude – his strength of purpose. Perseverance – his determination in finishing the job. Courage – against religious and secular opposition, he pushes on. And excellence – a nearly impossible job done to perfection. The boldness with which we preach and teach the Good News marks us as followers of the One sent to open wide the gates of heaven and welcome the sinner to God's mercy through repentance. When we fail to preach and teach with boldness, when we fail to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, we confess the triumph of the Devil's tactics in silencing us. So, Paul admonishes us: “Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.” Have we done everything? Have you done everything to profess and announce boldly, confidently, publicly the freely offered mercy of God to all sinners? Nothing less than becoming the who, what, and why of the mission and ministry of Christ will see you complete. 

* I was reliably informed after Mass that this is a noun used adverbially. One of the many benefits of preaching at a seminary. . . 
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27 October 2014

Varnish & Red Paint

Mendicant Painterly Thanks goes out to M.R. for sending me some varnish and red paint from the New Artiste Wish List!

Let's pray that we don't both end up regretting this.  :-)
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26 October 2014

30th Sunday OT: audio file

Reaching Down for Higher Things: audio file for my homily on the 30th Sunday OT

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25 October 2014

Reaching Down for Higher Things

NB. Finally! I get to preach this 2008 Roman homily. I knew that keeping up with my homily writing while in Rome would come in handy one day. . .

NB 2. So. . .I'm sitting there in the presider's chair, listening to the readings. . .when it hits me that the reader had just said: "A reading from the first letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians." I almost stopped her. . .I checked the missalette. Yup. She's right. I wrote this homily in 2008. I've read it dozen of times since then. . .tho never preached it. Today is the first time that I noticed that I used Corinthians instead of Thessalonians in the homily. No idea why.

30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Anthony of Padua/Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA


Audio File


St. Paul, ever the romantic(!), writing in his first letter to the Corinthians, insists that “love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, is not pompous; it is not inflated; it is not rude; it does not seek its own interest [. . .] but rather rejoices with the truth”(1 Cor 13). He goes on to write that love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things; and finally, he declares, as if he has never grieved a betrayal or lost his heart to passion: “Love never fails.” The romantic whispers, “Yes!” The cynic scoffs, “Bull.” The pragmatist asks, “Really? Never?” The Catholic exclaims, “Deo gratis! Thanks be to God!” Who needs for love to never fail more than he for whom Love is God? This is why Jesus teaches the Pharisees that the spiritual heart of the Law is: “You shall love the Lord, your God, will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind [. . .] You shall your neighbor as yourself.” Listen to Paul again, “Our Lord is patient, He is kind. He is not jealous, is not pompous; He is not inflated; He is not rude; He does not seek His own interest [. . .] but rather Our Lord rejoices with the truth.” Though Paul is writing to the Corinthians to show them how we must love one another—patiently, kindly, selflessly—we cannot, cannot love at all except that Love Himself loves us first. Therefore, with the Lord and because of the Lord, we love Him, one another; and we rejoice with His truth.


Now, that we must be commanded to love says everything that needs to be said about the weaknesses of the human heart, soul, and mind. That we must be commanded to love tells us that we do not eagerly enthrone love in the center of our being, making all we do the children of charity. That we must be commanded to love tells us that we do not love as a way of giving thanks for our very existence, for the gift of being alive. That we must be commanded to love tells us that we do not reason with the grace of God’s wisdom, with the deliberative power granted to us as creatures created in His divine image. That we must be commanded to love tells us that we are not God but rather creatures imperfect without God, longing for God, grieving our loss yet yearning for the peace and truth of His Being-with-us.


Think for a moment of the ways we have struggled in our past to find some small portion of peace and truth. Moses returns from Mt. Sinai to find his people giving themselves over to the idols of their former masters in slavery. Paul admonishes the Corinthians for turning to “worldly philosophies” for their much-needed wisdom. He lashes them for rutting indiscriminately in the flesh, surrendering body and soul to disordered passion and vice. Jesus teaches against the legalistic blindness of the Pharisees; he calls them “white washed tombs,” beautifully, lawfully clean on the outside but stuffed with rotted meat on the inside. In our long past we have turned to idols, pagan philosophies, debauchery and license, and taken an easy refuge in the dots and tittles of the law. Each of these reach for the peace and truth we long for, but none grasp the love we need.


Think for a moment of the ways you yourself have struggled in your past and struggle even now to find some small portion of peace and truth. Do you look to the idols of power, wealth, possessions, or Self to find your purpose? Do you scratch your itchy ears with the wisdom of the world? With the profound systems of material science, the occult mysteries of New Age gurus, the glittering gospels of prosperity and celebrity? Perhaps you search for and hope to find some peace in your body, your flesh and bones. Do you worship at Gold’s Gym, Kroger and Target, Blockbuster, or CVS, searching for peace in a perfectly sculpted body, a full belly, a house full of things, a visual distraction, or over-the-counter cures for the nausea and headache of a life that will not love God? Or, perhaps in this election season, you look to parties and politicians to give you hope and security. Do you look to the Democrats to give you the ease of a well-funded government entitlement? Or perhaps you look to the Republicans to secure your place near the top of the economic food-chain? Do you think Obama will give you hope? Or that McCain will give you security? When we reach down for higher things, we grasp the lowest of the low and in our disappointment we name the Lowest the Highest, and then, in our pride, we pretend to be at peace. To do otherwise is to confess that we are fools fooled by foolish hearts, that we are stubborn mules needing the bridle and bit.


And perhaps we are fools. Perhaps this is why Jesus finds it necessary to command us to love God and one another. Why command what we would and could do willingly? In Exodus our Lord must command that we not molest the foreigners among us. That we must care for the women who have lost their husbands and children who have no family. He must command us not to extort money from the poor or strip them of their modest possessions for our profit. We must be commanded not to kill one another, not to steal, not to violate our solemn oaths, not to worship alien gods. Why doesn’t it occur to us naturally to care for the weakest, the least among us? To help those who have little or nothing? Why must we be commanded not to destroy the gift of life, not to lie or extort, not to surrender our souls to the demonic and the dead? We must be commanded to love God, to hope in His promises, to trust in His providential care because in our foolish hearts we believe that we are God and that we have no other gods but ourselves.


Are we fools? Probably not entirely. But we are often foolish, often believing and behaving in ways that give lie to Paul’s declaration, “Love never fails.” God never fails, but we often do. When we make the creature the Creator, giving thanks and praise to the bounty of our own wisdom, we reach down for the higher things and convince ourselves that we have grasped truth. We do this when we believe that it is not only sometimes necessary but also good to murder the innocent; when we believe that it is right to murder the inconveniently expensive, those whom the Nazis called “useless eaters,” the sick, the elderly, the disabled. We reach down for higher truths when we create markets for housing in order to exploit for profit the homelessness of the poor. We are foolish when we raise impregnable borders around the gifts we have been given , gifts given to us so that we might witness freely to God’s abundance. We do foolish things because we believe we are God, and so, we must be commanded by Love Himself to love. But surely this is no hardship. Difficult, yes. But not impossible. With Love all things are possible.


What must we do? To love well we must first come to know and give thanks to Love Himself. He loved us first, so He must be our First Love. Second, we must hold as inviolable the truth that we cannot love Love Himself if we fail to love one another. Third, love must be the first filter through which we see, hear, think, feel, speak, and act. No other philosophy or ideology comes before Love Himself. This mean obeying (listening to and complying with) His commandments and doing now all the things that Christ did then. Fourth, after placing God as our first filter, we must surrender to Love’s providential care, meaning we must sacrifice (make holy by giving over) our prideful need to control, direct, order our lives according to the world’s priorities. Wealth and power do not mark success. Celebrity does not mark prestige. “Having everything my way” does not mark freedom. Last, we must grow in holiness by becoming Christ—frequent attention to the sacraments, private prayer and fasting, lectio divina, strengthening our hearts with charitable works, sharpening our minds with beauty and truth in art, music, poetry, and while being painfully, painfully aware of how far we can fall from the perfection of Christ, knowing that we are absolutely free to try again and again and again.

Though we often fail love, Love never fails us. Remember: who needs for love to never fail more than he for whom Love is God?
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Five Abstracts (II)

Here are five abstracts I recently finished. 16 x 20 canvas board. NB. all the usual caveats about my crappy little camera washing out the colors. . .



^ Lava me, Domine! RECYCLED


Ezekiel 37 (RECYCLED)


 ^ Across the Red Sea (RECYCLED)



^ Leaving Eden Again



^ Perfecting Graces

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24 October 2014

WWJD?

29th Week OT(F)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA
 

There's a Facebook meme that reads: “Remember—when someone asks, 'What Would Jesus Do?' Freaking out and throwing tables is a viable option.” The meme has a line drawing of Jesus. . .freaking out and throwing tables. When we wonder whether or not anger is an acceptable Christian response, we think of Jesus in the temple courtyard, thrashing the moneychangers. What gospel scene do we imagine when we wonder about the acceptability of feeling and showing frustration and impatience? May I suggest this morning's gospel? Jesus accuses the crowds of hypocrisy b/c they continue to hesitate in accepting the truth right in front of their faces. They can read the signs of an impending storm. And they can read the signs for a warm, sunny day. So why can't they see that he's come to fulfill the Law and free them all from sin? Just a few verses before today's reading, we read Jesus saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Impatient? Frustrated? Well, what would Jesus do? He'd set the world on fire.

Lest you think Jesus is threatening an actual conflagration, let me quickly point out what he says immediately after this, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” Baptism here refers to his sacrificial death on the cross, the sacrifice that must occur before the world can set ablaze with the Holy Spirit. If his reference is a little obscure, his feelings on the issue aren't. He's frustrated, impatient. And the dumbstruck crowd milling around him isn't helping matters much. Keep in mind: he's anxious to be about the business for which he was sent—our salvation. So the reluctance of those who listen to him to accept their own redemption must be extremely aggravating. As understandable as his frustration might be, why does he accuse these poor people of hypocrisy? When they see a cloud in the west, they know it's going to rain, so they scramble to prepare for a storm. They see the sign and act on it. Here he is—a living, breathing sign of the Father's mercy—and most of them just stand there gawking at him. A few want more evidence. Some even demand miracles. Fortunately, there were no tables or moneychangers in the crowd that day! And that Jesus left his whip with Mother Mary.

New Orleans is populated by hurricane experts. We know how to interpret the weather in the Gulf, but do we know how to interpret the present time? We do, even if we sometimes forget that we do. Here's a reminder. The present time is a godly gift. Call it a Saptio-temporal Gift, the divine gift of space and time in which we always live and thrive. As a gift, the present time—right now—is the only moment we have to acknowledge our total dependence on God and give Him thanks for giving us life and keeping us alive. Every second we are alive affords us the opportunity to renew and reinforce our gratitude to God; every second we're alive grants us the chance to receive His mercy and grow in holiness; every second we're alive Christ dares us to set this world on fire with his Good News. We can interpret the present time b/c for us (as followers of Christ) the past, present, and future all come together in one explosive moment of all-consuming grace: the doors of heaven are slammed open, and we are set on fire by the glory of God's love for us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. What would Jesus do? He would die so that we all might live. 
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We have work to do

29th Week OT(F)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Notre dame Seminary, NOLA


The gov't will implant microchips in its citizens. And the computer that controls theses chips is called “The Beast.” The leader of ISIS will be killed and then rise again in three days to become the Anti-Christ. The Ebola virus epidemic was designed by the CIA and the DHS to bring about martial law. The Blessed Mother warns that there is a Great Chastisement coming to punish us for the errors of the recent Synod. Secular powers, controlled by a cabal of modernist Illuminati-Satanists, will systematically persecute the Church. Bishops, priests, deacons, entire religious orders and even a future pope serve these Satanists even now. These are just a few of the dire predictions about the future world of our world. I won’t even touch on the Protestant disaster scenarios I grew up with. Here’s the problem with these predictions: even if they prove to be true, so what? I mean, what does it matter? We have a job to do and entertaining end-of-the-world fantasies isn't in the contract. We know who Christ is, therefore, we know how to read the signs of his coming again.


Jesus knows that the hypocrites in the crowd know who he is and why he’s preaching. He knows that they know that he’s fulfilled the prophecies and that he is among them as the Christ. Though they can easily read the signs in the sky and on the earth to predict the weather, they pretend not to be able to read the signs of his coming as the Messiah. Why? Likely b/c a correct interpretation of the signs would require them to consider seriously the necessity of conversion, the necessity of starting over in a New Life in Christ; meaning, they would have to leave the old self behind and start fresh. That’s frightening and arduous. In some bizarre sense a life of sin is comfortable, familiar, even boring! The prospect of having such a life revolutionized by acknowledging the arrival of the Messiah must be terrifying. But why do Catholics spend their time and energy worrying about Marian warnings, Illuminati plots, and sketchy cardinals? There's work to be done. Hard work that isn't always immediately rewarding and often quite dangerous. 
 
Now, if you think that I am implying here that we shouldn’t waste our time with fantastic predictions of our apocalyptic demise, you’re wrong. I’m not implying it at all. I’m saying it outright. Don’t waste your time. The only prophecy that need concern a Catholic is the prophecy of the arrival of the Messiah. He’s here. It’s now time move on and make sure that everyone who meets us, hears us, sees us, reads us, or even hears rumors about us knows that we have a single mind, a single heart, one Word, one miracle in faith; that we move and breath and grow and hope to die in one Spirit, preserved in unity through the bond of peace. We must be absolutely sure that everything we do and say fulfills with love the prophecy of Christ's coming, his suffering, his death, his resurrection, and his coming again. Does the world see the Body of Christ, the Church, coming in glory to suffer in love, to serve in hope, to persevere in faith no matter what comes?

When we grind away our short hours here wringing our hands over strange visions and crazy fortunes, we waste the gift of time for witnessing to Love Who saves us and Who will bring us to Him forever. A preoccupation with these visions opens us to all sorts of sins of omission. What are we not doing for God’s people while decoding biblical numerologies and arguing about the authenticity of another Marian apparition. What gets left undone? Never does Jesus tell the disciples that they will find themselves among the roasting goats in Hell for failing to properly interpret and apply the message of one of his mother’s visits. They will go to Hell, he tells them, for failing to clothe the naked, for failing to visit the imprisoned, for failing to feed the hungry, and for failing to welcome the stranger. In other words, for failing to do the work Christ did, we fail as his students and ambassadors, and we reject his grace. Goat, let me introduce you to Fire. Goat, fire. Fire, goat.

We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism and we have one witness: to bear with one another through love so that the world is astonished by our generosity and comes to Christ b/c our joy in his grace is irresistibly contagious! We must prove that being a prisoner for the Lord is the freest anyone can ever be.
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