June's blog of note, Domine mihi hanc aquam!, has long been a fixture of the Catholic blogosphere. Since November, 2005, Fr. Philip Neri Powell, a Dominican seminary professor, formation advisor and parish priest, has preached and commented about Christ, the Church, popular culture and events of consequence. Featured are Fr. Powell's thought provoking homilies through which readers know and love the mind of Christ.
The wide ranging scope of HA's subject matter is reflected in a quote from Pope Benedict XVI displayed on the blog's masthead: "A [preacher] who does not love art, poetry, music and nature can be dangerous. Blindness and deafness toward the beautiful are not incidental; they are necessarily reflected in his [preaching]."
In addition to faithful homiletics, readers are just as likely to see advice for discerning a religious vocation, a presentation of original paintings or a polemic against the "Culture of Death." Domine mihi hanc aquam! advances the Good News as part of the New Evangelization in the best sense of the Dominican tradition.
I interviewed Fr. Powell about his blog, his call to the priesthood, the future of the Church, and his advice for those considering a Dominican vocation.
I started HA in November of 2005 as a way to avoid having to print out my homilies for folks who wanted copies. Within a year, I was posting on more “controversial” topics that drew a lot more attention (i.e., Put Down the Missalette!). It didn't take long for me to realize that my readers wanted someone to speak to them on topics that were largely ignored in Catholic MSM – liturgical abuse, dissent and heretical preaching, women's ordination, etc.
The more I posted on these issues, the larger my audience grew. In 2007, I gently entered the political arena by critiquing a primary campaign video for Barack Obama. The video had a really messianic vibe to it, and I thought it was creepy. As the campaign continued, I posted more and more on political issues, especially pro-life issues. This grew my audience even larger. I started Coffee Cup/Bowl browsing around this time, and it proved to be the single most popular feature of the blog. It was easy to keep up the CCB while I was studying in Rome, but it is much more difficult now that I have a full-time job.
By 2009, I was getting around 3,000 hits a day. Since then the numbers have fallen off dramatically... mostly, I think, because I've more or less stopped being quite so controversial. Other Catholic bloggers have come on the scene to do what I was doing... so, I bowed out of the really hot-button stuff and went back to posting homilies. Teaching and doing formation work at an archdiocesan seminary also requires me to be a bit more prudent with what I put out there. Yes, it's true! I've become The Man... and now I have to play ball... though I still know how to throw elbows when I need to.
You have written about your past "postmodernist occult life" before coming to the Catholic Church and joining the Order of Preachers. In this increasingly secularized world, where many reject Christ, to what do you attribute your faith?
There's only one Dominican answer to this question: God's grace! He was so patient with me for seventeen years as I floundered about trying to do my own thing my own way. Aquinas teaches us that all of God's human children long to find their purpose in His love, and this was certainly true for me. I looked everywhere but the Church to find love.
It wasn't until I nearly died from an internal staph infection that I could clearly see where He was asking me to go. It took seven months of painful, debilitating treatment for me to fully recover from the infection. That's a lot of time to lay around, thinking, praying, and wondering where it all went wrong. I was 35 years old at the time, and it just hit me one day: time to grow up and get serious about your vocation. So from February to July 1999, I finished the first draft of my dissertation and entered the Dominican novitiate. I would not have been able to do any of that without God's out-pouring of grace.
As a parish priest and seminary professor, are you hopeful for the Church’s future?
Absolutely! The Church in the U.S. is going to undergo a tremendous reformation in the next several decades. The revolutionary cadre of the post-Vatican Two generation will have gone to their eternal reward; the current generation of younger men in the priesthood and those in religious life will step up and bring the Church back into the ancient tradition of fidelity and missionary zeal; we will see a smaller, wiser, more assertive Church in the U.S., and I believe, a Church eager to represent the fullness of the Gospel rather than just tag along behind the zeitgeist.
None of this will be easy or without costs, but I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is moving among our younger generations (and among some in my generation) to reject the temptations of secular accommodation and providing us with a way to re-evangelize both the Church and the culture. If there's one serious temptation facing the younger generation it's this: to hold tight to some of the bad habits of their elders when it comes to the exercise of ecclesial power; that is, I see some younger priests asserting their authority in the parish in ways that imitate their Baby Boomer predecessors.
One pastor in one parish cannot bring about the reformation of a parish overnight and only through the use of his authority as pastor. Organic change takes time, patience, and lots of genuine love. We tell our seminarians: no changes in the parish for at least a year after you are appointed. Pushing change rooted in personal preference and calling it “tradition” undermines genuine reform. I've seen it happen too many times.
What counsel would you give to someone discerning a vocation with the Dominicans?
If you want to be a Dominican, you must want to be a preacher. Dominicans can be pastors, chaplains, professors, academics... but at the rock bottom of everything, what a Dominican friar is and does is preaching. We study, pray, live in community, and engage in ministry for the single purpose of preaching the Good News. If you don't want to be a preacher, you don't want to be a Dominican.