29 August 2014

Dominican Vocation Retreat

 The Dominican Experience Weekend   

+     +     +

Who?: Young men interested in learning more about Dominican life.

What?: A weekend to come and learn more about what it means to be a Dominican friar. There is no cost to participants. For more information check us out on Facebook - www.fb.com/opsouthvocations

When?: October 17 – 19, 2014.

Where?: St. Anthony of Padua Priory, New Orleans, Louisiana.

How?: Send email to Fr. Charles Johnson, O.P. at  vocations@opsouth.org

Why?: Because Christ calls men to be friars preachers and the world needs to hear His message.

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27 August 2014

Hypocrisy is vicious

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

Our Lord is on a tear! Or rather, he's still on a tear. He's ripping into the Pharisees and scribes b/c their hypocrisy is making of God's children heirs to Gehenna. Calling down upon them the final Two Woes, our Lord breaks into their hearts – those white-washed tombs – and sees there the bones of dead men and “every kind of filth.” Bones and filth that nourish the rank hypocrisy of men who “strain at gnats and swallow camels,” who neglect “the weightier things of the law [like] judgment and mercy and fidelity,” and obstruct the way back to God. Jesus is angry. But his anger is righteous. And not simply b/c he's the Messiah but b/c those charged with making the way back to God straight and smooth are – out of their own need for glory – making God's way crooked and dangerous. All the while presenting themselves as pristine examples of holiness. Look at us. Listen to us. Follow us. We know the way. Imitate us. Jesus says of their hypocrisy, “You brood of vipers. . .you bear witness against yourselves.” Hypocrisy is not a uniquely Christian vice; however, our vow to bear witness to Christ and him alone makes Christian hypocrisy particularly vicious. 
Take a moment to just bask in the raw righteousness of Jesus' anger. Now take another moment to give God thanks that you are not like other men – those who pile up burdens on their people; those who create obstacles on the way back to God; those who demand obedience but rarely give it. Take a moment to praise God that you spend your days and nights bearing up under the gentle of yoke of Christ, gently but firmly preaching and teaching the Good News. Give thanks that your heart and your tongue never disagree. That your mind and your hands never fumble together. That your every thought, word, and deed plant in this world another seed of the Word. And pray that no one – especially Christ – may never rightly condemn you by saying, “You viper. . .you bear witness against yourself.” Why all this thanksgiving, prayer, and praise? B/c as men being made ready to show God's people the Way, you do not want to be credibly accused of hypocrisy, of bearing witness against yourself. 
Look at Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Paul tells the church in Thessalonica how the followers of Christ properly bear witness to Christ: “For you know how one must imitate us. . .in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. . .we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us.” Those who lead God's people along the Way do not pile up burdens on others nor neglect the hard work of service nor put themselves first to be seen and applauded and praised. For the Christian, especially the Christian pastor, the surest way to avoid hypocrisy is to make sure that the only witness you bear is your witness to Christ. Act and give him praise. Speak and give him thanks. Think and make your thoughts a prayer. And never fail to grant to all the gift you yourself have received: God's mercy. There is no better way to bear witness against yourself than to refuse to another that which you have gratefully received from God.

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26 August 2014

Thanks (again). . .

I rec'd The Portal of Beauty today from the Wish List.

No name or return address. . .so, Thank You, Anonymous Benefactor!

I will be sharing this with the seminarians.


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25 August 2014


Rec'd Wm. A. Dyrness' Poetic Theology in the mail today from the Wish List.

No name or return address for my benefactor. . .

Regardless: Thank You!

And thanks to all of you who have been browsing the WL this week and sending me books. 

P.S. The book had a pop quiz tucked inside from the student who used it last.

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Good dream. . .

First Day of Class! Very excited!

I have my pencil box and erasers and a new pack of wide-ruled paper and two bottles of Elmer's and a pencil sharpener. . .

Then. . .I wake up and remember that I'm the teacher.



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24 August 2014

And so, we are never forsaken. . .

NB. Con-celebrating Mass at the seminary this morning. Here's another 2008 Roman homily that I've yet to preach. . .

21st Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
We say to the Lord this morning: “Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.” We do not say this because we believe that the Lord might forsake us. We do not say this because we doubt that we are the Lord’s handiwork. Nor do we say this because we believe that the Lord’s love is limited by the timepieces of His creation. We say “Lord, your love is eternal” because—though we know that this is true—we must hear it said with our own tongues for only by tasting the words will we come to live the truth that we speak! We beg the Lord, “Lord, do not forsake the work of your hands”—though we know He would never forsake His promise to us—we beg because we must feel the steel of His promise in our mouths, the cold, metallic resolve of the ordering Word, the First Breath, the finality of our Lord’s enduring guarantee. What we know, we pray: “We give thanks to you, O Lord, with all our heart, for you have heard the Words of our mouths”—the Word You Yourself placed on our tongues “because of Your kindness and your truth!” What we know, we pray: “When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.” Peter opens his mouth to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and when he shuts his mouth, the Lord opens his own to say, “Blessed are you…whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And so, we are loved forever. And so, we are never forsaken.

We should celebrate on this twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, the teaching office of the Church, embodied in and employed by he who sits in Peter’s Chair. After all, our Lord says to Peter that he is the rock of the Church, the foundation stone of the Body that will grow into history and produce the great saints (and sinners!) of our western civilization. Our Lord is not speaking metaphorically or symbolically when he says that he will be with us always. His promise to abide with us to the end is best understood as a promise to found, concretely and in perpetuity, a living organism; a breathing, growing entity capable of bringing to it constituent members the stuff of everlasting life, all that which nourishes, cherishes, and sustains holiness and hope. At the head of this Mystical Body is Christ himself, drawing all parts and pieces of creation to him, elements known to the Body and some unknown, seducing and attracting any and all who will perk up an ear to hear the gospel of mercy, or blink open a blearied eye to peek at the glory Christ reveals—the invitation to come to the feasting table is a broadcast not a telegraph, made on an open-mic not a secured line, directed to the milling crowds and not just the favored few, to bring all who will come and not only those who fit.

And all those who come in answer to our Lord’s open-handed, open-hearted broadcast of “come-one, come-all” flavor the Body with a distinctive diversity, an exciting assortment of faces, tongues, customs, rhythms, textures, and for this catholicity we are deeply grateful. As we watch the Lord’s face multiply in his Church, we see him come more sharply into focus as he reveals himself through his creatures. Each beautiful face exposes Beauty Himself. So, it is no wonder at all that we are tempted to celebrate this abundant diversity as a good end in itself, to raise up this bounty of variety and make it the point of the Church, the purpose of Christ’s Body in the world. But if we succumb to this temptation—to glorify the human diversity of the Church for the sake of diversity—we overlook entirely that which attracts and binds the diversity of the Church: the emphatic YES of each beautiful face, each rhythmic tongue, each soul, seduced and delivered to the perfecting love of Christ. It is the commitment of our YES to Christ that unites us as a Church, not the variety of our packaging, not the impermanent assortment of skin and hair and speech but our willed participation in the permanent unity of love, Love Himself.

How difficult would it be for us as creatures of body and soul to live together in the unity of Love Himself without a Body to ground our common spirit? In other words, given what we know to be the case about ourselves as sinful persons, how difficult would it be for us to live together without a concrete expression of God’s love for us? Surely, we have the historical events of the Passion and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday. But none of us now were there then. We have the witness of scripture, the eyewitness accounts of what happened at the moment when the Father revealed His enduring love for us on the cross. Yes, of course, and surely scripture lives with us, but it with US that scripture lives. Our committed YES to the love of Christ is certainly given the gravity of history and the excitement of scripture, but concretely how do we live day-to-day with our YES? How do we make history now? How do we make scripture alive now? If our history is to be more than tall-tales and our scripture more than those tall-tales written down, there must be a living tradition, that is, a breathing, growing body of “that which is handed on.” That Body is the Church and the Church is where our committed YES is held in trust, unpacked in its fullness, suited up, put to work, and elaborated to be handed-on to the next set of beautiful faces and rhythmic tongues.

In handing Peter the keys to the kingdom, Christ not only makes Peter and his successors stewards of the heavenly household, he also founds the rock-bottom slab of the Church, the Body to be energized at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Christ establishes, institutes; he plants and provides nourishment and care for his emerging Body. At the proclamation made by Peter that Jesus is the only Son of the Living God, Christ reveals that the Father Himself has made Peter privy to what has until now been a secret. And now that the disciples know, and now that Peter has been confirmed in his office, Jesus assures his friends that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [my church]. Do you hear the psalmist singing, “Lord, your love is eternal”? Do you hear Isaiah prophesying, “When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open”?

Christ’s promise to be with us forever is not a symbol or a sign or a metaphor. His promise is a Church. Founded on Peter and the revelation the Father Himself gave to Peter. Binding and loosing, the Church, through the office of Peter, teaches the faith; that is, what it is to believe and what we are to believe. We know our God’s love is everlasting. And so, we are loved forever. And so, we are never forsaken.

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20 August 2014

Love, or get out of His way

St. Bernard
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Are you envious of God's generosity to others? Our Lord blesses all of us with certain gifts that He then nurtures in order to move us closer to Him. His love in us is perfected as we use His gifts to serve others. So long as we are using our gifts to serve others, His love is being perfected in us. The constant temptation, of course, is to covet the gifts of others, to envy their blessings and pine for the gifts we do not have. As I lust after your gifts, I ignore my own and God’s love is not being perfected in me. Envy is one of the easiest means the Devil has for distracting us away from our charitable duties. Not only do we serve his ends by failing to serve one another, we fret away in envy, allowing the seed of our Lord’s love in us wither from inattention. For the Devil, it’s a two-fer, two sins for the price of one.

By nature, God is diffusive Goodness; that is, what God is is Goodness in limitless abundance, diffused without diminishment across His creation. We are attracted to His perfection so that our imperfect nature might be made whole. That it is even possible for us to be made whole in His perfection is His gift of Himself to us. This gift of human nature perfected in the divine was made flesh in Christ Jesus. Think of it this way: Jesus is who we will be if we accept the gift of his sacrifice for us; Jesus is who we were made to be if we use our gifts in the same way that Jesus gave (gifted) his life for us—willing, sacrificially. The Cross of Calvary and the Empty Tomb of Easter are the fulfilled promises of a generous Father who knows no limits to His abundance. God is not generous; His is Generosity per se. Being generous is not what God does; it is Who He Is.

So, what does it mean then to ask, “Are you envious of our Lord’s generosity?” This question is a direct challenge to and a rebuke of the stinginess of spirit exemplified in the whiny workers who complain to the landowner about the pay they receive for a day’s work. Why do the latecomers receive the same pay when they have not done as much work? What’s the real complaint here? We’ve worker longer, so we deserve more pay. The landowner’s response is just: “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.” This parable is usually read as a rebuke to the Jews who complain that they have done the work of following the Law and now the Messiah pops up and offers the Lord’s mercy to any and all regardless of whether or not the latecomers have fulfilled even one obligation under the Law. The landowner (God) justifies his generosity, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” As members of the Body of Christ, are we ready to say to the Lord, “No, you may not do as you wish with your gift of salvation. We’re earned ours; they haven’t.”

If this sentiment rises in our hearts even for a moment, we need to ask again, “Are we envious of the Lord’s generosity?” Now, does this mean that everyone will make it to heaven? No, it doesn’t. It means that the possibility of salvation is universal. No one is excluded from the invitation to become a member of the Body. If our Lord reached into the freed will of every person and compelled acceptance of this invitation, then we would not be free. What has been made absolutely clear to us is that the Body of Christ was raised from the tomb on the third day; resurrected and ascended, he sits at the Father’s right hand. Also made perfectly clear to us is that the Body of Christ, the Church, will be raised on the last day; resurrected and ascended, she will sit at the foot of the throne in heaven.

Our Lord has every right to be jealous of our love. We tend to wander now and again, and His jealousy reminds us not that He is petty, but that His love is necessary for our eternal lives. Though God is jealous of our love for Him, we cannot be jealous of His love for us. By nature, our God is Love and His love, that is, God Himself, is diffusive. How do we hoard God? How do we “stock up” on God and ration His love for His creatures? We don’t! And if we try, we will fail, and we will fail with dire consequences. Are you envious of God's generosity to others? If so, then you are wallowing in a bit of dangerous irony b/c His generosity is what saves you. We must be diffusive of the Love that saves us, or we must get out His way. . .

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16 August 2014

There are no foreigners in the Church

NB. I'll be concelebrating the Mass for the opening of the new school year at Notre Dame Seminary tomorrow, so here's my first "Roman homily." Never been preached!

20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, ROMA

Foreigners! Gentiles! Annoying, unclean women! Ah, I feel right at home [here in modern Rome]. Throw in busloads of Sweaty Tourists, gaggles of Midget Nuns, schools of Language School Students, and fleets of Highly-Primped Twenty-something Chauffeurs, and you would have much more than the foreign yet fertile fields of St. Paul’s evangelizing —you would have Rome in August! Rome in August always means unbearable heat, odd odors on the streets and alleys, lots of bared skin, and the shouted music of broken Italian spoken with Babel’s accents. Rome in August (perhaps more than any other month) also means beggars. Hundreds of beggars. Everywhere. With bambini and without. Dangerously bent grandmothers. Sweet, newly-minted mothers. Men who would have made John the Baptist look tidy and clean. Beggars everywhere. And why not? I mean, why should souvenir hawkers, gelato scoopers, and tour guides get all the euros available in God’s Town? These beggars—the legit and not-so-legit—raise a question for me that the Canaanite woman in Matthew raises for Jesus. Paul raises the same question by speaking the Word to the Gentiles in Romans. However, it is Isaiah who begins this line of questioning for us with a simple declaration: “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD…all who keep the Sabbath from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain.” Our Lord’s Word this morning brings us to contemplate access, admission: who gets to hear and see and touch the Lord? Who gets to eat and drink at the Lord’s table? As preachers of His Word, to whom do we preach most readily? And most tellingly, to whom do we refuse to preach?

Jesus goes into Tyre and Sidon for a little rest and like an American tourist snapping pics of the Trevi Fountain, he is hounded by a woman screeching at him, “Have pity on me…have pity on me…” Rather than listing off all the ailments and physical afflictions of her many, many bambini, this woman yells at Jesus, “My daughter is tormented by a demon.” And like most of the American tourists visiting the Trevi, Jesus ignores the woman; “[he] does not say a word in answer to her.” No doubt Jesus too has discovered that if you speak to the beggars they will follow you, demanding a bounty for your daring. The disciples, sick of this demanding woman, her screeching and carrying on about demons, go to Jesus frustrated and say to him, “Send her away…”

Now, this is the moment in the story where the question of access/admission is carefully balanced. Jesus says to the disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Imagine Jesus carefully watching to make sure his students are listening. The woman comes forward and pays Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus, still watching his less-than-generous disciples, repeats for the woman what he had said to the disciples, only this time he uses much harsher language: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” If the disciples were scandalized by this, Matthew doesn’t note it. But we should note: the house of Israel is composed of the children of God, the Jews; everyone else, especially Canaanite women, are dogs. Beloved children have access to the Lord’s table, unclean dogs do not.

Let’s dispense immediately with the ridiculous claim that this story is about a “marginalized woman of color teaching Jesus a lesson about radical inclusively.” Creatures teach the Creator nothing. Jesus and the woman, however, do manage to teach the disciples that access to the Lord’s table is about trusting in the Living Word and not about one’s lineage, nationality, or relative status according to the Law. The Canaanite woman is made a child of God by her faith! In her humility, she asks for help and then testifies that any help she receives will be a gift and not an entitlement. Jesus rewards her faith by giving her her greatest desire: “…the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”

Let’s admit up front that more often than not we are the disciples in this story. We’re the ones wanting to protect Jesus from harm, to prevent others from defiling him or abusing his name. We will set ourselves outside the tent as guards against the unworthy, as gatekeepers against the annoying and the merely curious. With stout arms crossed across our proud chests we are vigilant against the unclean dogs sniffing around for hand-outs; those who have not earned an audience by showing loyalty; those who would waste the Lord’s time with trivialities; obviously, as his only loyal disciples, we are best selected as his secretaries, his guards, his watchers. Occasionally, we may even have to protect him from himself. Imagine if he wanted to do something stupid like sacrifice his life in order to save everyone! Everyone! Not just the deserving, the observant, the righteous, and the clean, but just anyone who might accept his invitation to join his eternal table. Oy! What a mess. Sometimes we might have to protect Jesus from Jesus. Sad but true.

And other times we might have to protect friends and family from the truth of the Word. Of course, what we are really protecting is our comfortable relationships, our prized friendships. Just as we sometimes do not preach the whole gospel of Christ’s saving grace in order to protect Jesus from Jesus, so sometimes we skip over the hard parts of the gospel because they tell us what we do not want to hear, demand from us what we do not want to give. Maybe we fail to preach the whole Word because those to whom we are preaching share with us an ideological agenda that we know is nothing like what the Lord has spoken to His prophets or to His Church. Our timidity in the face of possible aggressive opposition in effect denies access to those who need to hear the Word preached in its entirety. Or perhaps we leave out what we know our audience does not want to hear so that the applause at the end will be louder, longer, and more appreciative of our talents. Regardless, we might as well tell the Canaanite woman, “Yea, dogs do get scraps from the table but dogs also get kicked out the back door! Now get outta here!”

Normally, we ask questions about access/admission to resources in terms of who has the resources and who doesn’t; who distributes and who receives; and who gets what and why. Our questions this morning—to whom do we preach and to whom do we refuse to preach?—can be understood in these terms as well. But let’s frame these questions in terms of our commission from the Lord, vowed to in our own baptisms, to preach his Word to all nations, teaching everything that he taught, and baptizing all the willing in his name. As baptized Christians and preachers of the Word, we are not little McJesus franchises marketing and selling McGrace and McSalvation. We are not Christ-Marts or Jesus.com’s or Messiah, Inc. We do not own God’s grace. We do not market God’s grace. We do not buy or sell God’s grace on the NASDAQ or the NYSE. In no shape, no form, no fashion, have we ever, do we ever, or will we ever control the distribution of God’s grace to His people. Our vowed task is much more difficult: by our daily obedience to the Word and our faith in God manifested in the world, to all who will see and hear we are to bear witness to the abiding effects of God’s grace in our lives, living lives of deep charity, quick mercy, and enduring hope. Whoever sees your faithful witness, hears your faithful witness will have access to the Lord’s Word precisely because as you witness—as you bear out testimony—you manifest the Spirit of the Lord. He is there. Right there. With you. Shining out and drawing in any who will see, any who will hear.

Isaiah reports that the Lord said to him for us to hear: “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice about to be revealed.” As you walk out of your house each morning, ask yourself: today, who will see and hear the Lord’s salvation because of my witness? To whom will I reveal the Lord’s justice?

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15 August 2014

From "Whatever" to "Yes!"

Assumption of the BVM
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

“I don’t know” and “I promise” are the two most oft-repeated sentences in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road.* A man and his ten-year old son travel a road in a post-apocalyptic world. Everything is burnt to ash and poisoned. Remaining are Good Guys and Bad Guys. Bad Guys hunt other humans for food. And the Good Guys run. And occasionally roast over an open fire. All through the novel, as the man and his son travel along the road, the son questions his father about the the right and wrong of surviving. More often than not the father, in the post-trauma of witnessing his entire world destroyed, simply says, “I don’t know.” Since the father no longer knows what is true, good, or beautiful, he begins to build a two man civilization on the power of another sentence, “I promise.” And the son, hearing this tiny silver of hope over and over again, responds each time with the universal fiat of a near exhausted faith: “OK.”

In a novel or movie or dream, there might be a world where Divine Love does not animate all life; does not lift up and bring forward His children; does not create and re-create in His image and likeness. A world not haunted by the spirit of holiness would be that sort of world where ignorance of living beyond life and death would be fundamental and the only way up and forward would be the promise of other creatures. That is dismal. And no way to live. But how precarious is it for us to live on promise in this real world of ours? Haven’t we all here surrendered our lives—body and soul—to what we hope is a Divine Lover? Haven’t we all here submitted ourselves to His obedience and service after just a promise? Yes, we have. And no, we haven’t. Yes, there is the promise but there is more than a promise. We have been shown the promise in action—twice.

This feast today is a feast of promise, sure; but it is also a feast of transfiguring revelation, of God’s promise to us shown to us in the raising of Mary to heaven, her resurrection to His promise of glory fulfilled. Paul says that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Christ is the first of those raised. Mary is the second. And the Church will be the third. Follow here: Christ, Mary, the Church. Christ is the Son of the Father. Mary is the mother of the Son. The Church is the body of Christ, his brothers and sister in faith. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of the Church, the body of Christ, and we are children of the Father. We inherited the Father’s promise of resurrection in Christ through Mary. And her assumption into heaven, her resurrection, is our sign of God’s promise done. Like her Son who was transfigured on Mt Tabor, our Blessed Mother’s assumption is a transfiguring revelation, that sort of unveiling of truth that both educates and changes, informs and transforms. We do not celebrate a pious legend today but a divine promise shown to us to have been fulfilled. This is the end of us all!
In her fiat to the archangel’s announcement of her pregnancy, Mary sings out her people’s salvation history, the theodicies of God’s love for us, His interventions and interruptions in our time and place. He shows us His love. And reminds us of His promise of mercy, the promise He made to Abraham and his children forever. Mary is answering with more than a hesitant “OK” or a bored, whispered “whatever.” She is saying yes to it all—everything of the Father’s plan for her, for us. She knows. She knows. And she says yes. So then, how precarious is it for us to live on a promise in this world of ours? Here’s how: if you aren’t living on the promise of the Father, then you are living in the ignorance of the Enemy, traveling a burnt and poisoned road, just waiting for the Bad Guys to hunt you down and spit you like a pig.

* My second year pre-theologians will be reading this novel. I can't recommend it highly enough. Beautiful, haunting, grim, and hopeful. . .or is it?

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12 August 2014

What do you want/need to hear in a homily?

Classes at Notre Dame Seminary start back up on Aug 25th.

I'm teaching three courses by myself and one team taught course with Dr. David Liberto ("Preaching the Dogmatic Feasts").

I need some guidance from HancAquam readers. . .

As a faithful Mass-goer:

-- what do you WANT to hear in a homily?

-- what do you NEED to hear in a homily?

-- what do you GROAN at when you hear it?

These are questions about content not performance. 

So, "speak up," "enunciate," "slow down," "put some energy into it," etc. are not the answers I'm looking for right now.

If I get a good response to these questions, I'll share them with my seminarians in Homiletics Practicum II.


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Was Peter an idiot? (guest homily)

A homily for the 19th Sunday OT from Fr. Thomas Schaefgen, OP.

He's the chaplain at the Tulane Catholic Center here in NOLA.

I gave this homily a B+.  :-)

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10 August 2014

Doubting Peter's doubt

19th Sunday OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Audio File

Peter is having a hard week. Our Lord has called him “Satan” and described him as an obstacle. Then there's the whole failed exorcism episode where the disciples' faith is too weak to drive out a demon. Today, Peter nearly falls into the sea b/c his faith is too small. Pulling him back from the drink, Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” Peter doesn't answer, so we're left with the accusing question. Is this fair to Peter? Is it fair to accuse him of being a doubter? Keep in mind: it's Peter who, seeing Jesus walking on the sea, yells out, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Yes, there's some doubt in there – “if it is you” – but it still takes some pretty solid faith and courage to test Jesus' power with one's own life. Peter had no way of knowing whether or not the “ghost” he was seeing was really the Lord. Of course, the accusation of doubt against Peter comes only after he's on the water and the sea becomes rough. Fearing for his life, Peter yells out, “Lord, save me!” Where's the doubt? Even knowing that he is looking at the Lord, Peter thinks that he has to ask Jesus to save him. As if Jesus had not already done so. 

Let's dig a bit deeper into Peter's doubt and ask the unasked question: what is Peter doubting? If we take doubt to mean something like “a failure to trust” or “a hesitancy to believe,” then there has to be someone we are failing to trust, or something we are hesitating to believe. Our gospel scene strongly suggests that Peter's near demise in the rough sea is caused by his lack of trust in Jesus; he hesitates for just a second to believe in Jesus' love for him. Is this the failure that nearly kills him? If so, then why does he immediately cry out, “Lord, save me!” Why cry out for help to the very person whose power you are doubting? In other words, if Peter is doubting Jesus, why turn to him for rescue? Yelling out for Christ's help when in peril seems to be an exemplary expression of faith in Christ. So, again, who is Peter doubting? Consider this: Jesus has called Peter “Satan;” described him as an obstacle; and rebuked him for his small faith. Despite all of these indications that the Lord is somehow displeased with Peter, Jesus establishes his Church on Peter and gives him the keys to the kingdom. Is it possible that Peter is experiencing just a little confusion about who he is? Maybe Peter – in a moment of panic – fails to trust in the faith he has been given. Peter doubts his own strength in Christ. 

Think about your own relationship with God. There have been times when you doubted. Doubt creeps in a like a noxious bayou fog no matter how tight we think we are with God. Think about that doubt and ask: was I really doubting God's love for me? I mean, did I really think that Love Himself stopped loving me personally? Or was I really worried about the strength of my own love for Him? See, God is Love, so His love for us is a universal given. He loves us b/c Love is Who He is. And though we are made to love Him, we are also made with a built-in free will that is subject to sin. When doubt wiggles its way into our relationship with God, more often than not – if we're honest and thorough – we can trace that doubt back to a lack of confidence in our own “small faith,” back to our own anxiety about whether or not we are truly in love with God. When the sea gets rough and Peter panics, he does what any one of us here tonight would do: he calls on Jesus for help! That call, that cry for rescue isn't a sign that Peter doubts Christ's power to rescue him; it's a sign that he needs a stronger sense of himself as a man already rescued. How strong is your sense of yourself as a man or woman already rescued by the power of Christ? 

God knows we are limited creatures. Prone to making mistakes and even intentionally doing evil things. Part of being limited is needing to be reminded over and over again that we are loved by Love Himself. We forget that w/o His love we do not exist. Literally, God's love is what hold us in being. At those moments when we forget that His love holds us in being, we also tend to forget that we experience His love for us as caring attention. The $15 theological term is divine providence – God provides; He makes provision for us. He supplies all that we need. That we think we need all sort of things that we don't really need and never receive is not His problem. Strip away greedy wanting and lusting longing and all need is exactly what God provides – His love. So, when we forget that He loves us, when we forget – even for a split second – that we live, move, and have our being in His love, our confidence fails and doubt runs wild and free on the playground of our souls. Left unchecked, doubt will play and play and play until a moment's lapse in faith becomes a lifetime of anxiety and despair. What doubts needs to flourish is a soul that forgets that it is loved, rescued, and freed from sin and death. 

When the disciples first see the ghostly figure walking toward them on the water, “they were terrified. . .and they cried out in fear.” Why are they afraid? They are the hand-picked students of the Messiah. They are the foundation stones of the apostolic faith. Of all living souls at the time, these men should have been the strongest in faith, the least likely to flinch at the unknown. But upon seeing something they do not understand, they squeal and tremble. Jesus has to yell out to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” The disciples' reaction on the sea could be seen as an embarrassing admission that they are cowards at heart. But like man, woman, or child who draws a breath, they are limited creatures, prone to forgetting who they are in Christ. So, Christ reminds them they are his: “Strengthen your heart, it is I; do not fear.” When a weakened heart is strengthened, the whole body is strengthened. When a weakened faith is renewed, the whole person is renewed. The disciples' fear, their small confidence in who they are as men of Christ sent them spiraling into doubt. It's almost as if they didn't know that they had already been rescued from the storm of sin and death. 

How about you: do you know that you have already been rescued from the storm of sin and death? Do you know that whatever disaster strikes, whatever fear grips you in a moment, that God loves you and will provide for you? He might not provide what you think you need or want, but He will provide all that you need to return His love. If your confidence fails – even for a split second – do what Peter did and cry out: “Lord, save me!” That's enough to remind you that you are already saved in Christ. It's just enough to strengthen your heart, to slay the doubt, and return you to knowing again the love that God always gives. Remember what Elijah discovers about the Lord – He's not in the tornado, the earthquake, or the fire. He's in the small, still voice, a voice that forever whispers, “Take courage, it is I; I am with you always.” 
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Acrylic Procrastination

I am the Platonic Form of Procrastination from which all lesser forms of procrastination emanate.

Having written three pages of today's homily, I decided to reward myself by watching one of my favorite artists on Youtube, Gerda Lipski.

I invite you to receive my Procrastination Emanation by clicking on this link.

Yes, she's German. No, I don't understand a word she's saying.

However, she does some amazing things with acrylic paint.

For example, I've watched this vid three or four times. Amazing.

Oh, I learned today that Haushaltsspiritus is German for rubbing alcohol.

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Am I being harassed, or am I just crazy?

Sitting here contemplating today's Mass readings and wondering if I will ever come up with an opening sentence for the homily, I am plagued by a mosquito or a no-see-um. 

It lands on my leg, buzzes around just out of sight, or flashes across my computer screen.

As I vainly search for the little bugger, a scene from The Simpson's pops into my head. . .


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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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