Get Ready!

Advent: Week Two (C); December 9, 2018

Bar 5:1-9   Ps 126   Phil 1:4-6,8-11 Lk 3:1-6

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

After encountering the signs and wonders of the coming of Immanuel, Luke is going to call the community to a deeper level of conversion and surrender and he does this through the transitional figure of John the Baptist. John represents the earnest and heroic stage of the God journey. John the Baptist is a necessary beginning to conversion: it’s important to remember that before we can embrace the Good News of Immanuel that we come to terms with John’s gospel of repentance. Repentance is the first necessary step of entering the Kingdom.   Indeed, before we can proclaim the Good News, we have to renounce the Bad News of the dominant system of our culture and go into the desert.

What would that look like for you? It may mean that you no longer identify yourself as an inmate. That’s your condition, but it’s not who you are. It means critically examining the illusions of prison culture and say, “While I am in prison, I’m not of it. I’m following another path.” And, finally, it means going into the wilderness where you will be purified and transformed.   By doing that, we will have a deeper insight into what Jesus will be doing in bringing about the salvation of the world.

Brothers, continual conversion is scary because it is difficult to let go, to surrender, to empty ourselves of our God-substitutes. Whether we’re inside our outside prison walls, we cling to these false idols because they give us temporary relief, but in the end, they do not fulfill their promises because they’re empty: they can’t give us Life; they can’t love us the way we yearn. So, John the Baptist remind us that the Gospel is not so much about religion, but conversion—metanoia.

            Even though we acknowledge that our God-substitutes lead us to no where, that far country, that empty space of the Prodigal Son, we’re still afraid to let go of them. Why’s that? We create boundaries between ourselves and God and others to protect ourselves.   Soon, those boundaries become barricades. Why? We circumscribe our ego with boundaries where we can be secure, where we can be in control. When we think of leaving that interior prison, we become afraid. We then find ourselves in a small world hedged in by our own fears. These fears become vigilant, sleepless guards on the walls of prisons we have made for ourselves. That’s the worse prison to be in.

But, then we hear today’s Gospel. Luke says that , “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (v. 2b. To whom? Where? He didn’t come to the high and mighty, he didn’t come to the rulers of the world who were oppressing the people. No, the Word of the Lord came to the outsider, who was outside the political and religious system. The Word came to John in the desert.

Throughout Scripture, the Word of God does not come to the powerful (Caesar, governors, kings), even the high priest, but to an unknown prophet out in the wilderness. In all ages the Word of God comes to the poor, the lowly, the oppressed, which represents the alternative consciousness which is receptive to the Word of God. John stands in opposition to the rich, powerful, and the elite, which stands for the dominant consciousness. John the Baptist is a metaphor for the poor and the prophetic witness. John’s job is to call forth that alternative consciousness, which is always the role of the prophet. And, he’s speaking to you today. Listen: to him speak to you today: quoting the words from the prophet Isaiah, he says:

 

A voice of one crying out in the desert;

            Prepare the way of the Lord,

                        Make straight his paths.

            Every valley shall be filled

                        and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

            The winding roads shall be made straight,

                        and the rough ways smooth,

            and all flesh shall se the salvation of God” (vs. 4-6)

 

What’s he saying? He’s saying that his job is to prepare for the mighty coming of the Lord. My job is to build the highway that will facilitate his arrival. A change is coming; a revolution is on its way. A disaster, the destruction of the political and religious establishment is going to happen. So, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He’s speaking in the same language and cadence of Baruch long ago we heard in the first reading.

Luke is saying in effect, I know you’ve gone through oppression; I’ve just named your oppressors. But, believe me, God is going to act and so prepare yourself. What is the manner of preparation? We hear that it is a baptism of repentance. Baptism, an immersion in water which would have reminded every 1st century Jew of the Exodus, when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, leaving the ways of slavery behind. God would humble the powers of their time as he once humbled Pharaoh and the Egyptians, as he once humbled Babylon. This is a subversive, revolutionary message. And, if God can humble them, he can do so with the negative forces that dwell within this prison.

What then?   We hear repentance. John calls for a baptism of the repentance for sins.   The word used here is metanoia—going beyond the mind you have. How central this is, which was central to Jesus own preaching. Our minds are so conditioned by the fallen world. How our expectations are shaped and stunted by what has gone before. But, John is challenging us to embrace the alternative consciousness, which will become the Kingdom of God. ‘Repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ is everything in the Gospel: it’s the beginning, middle, and end. Unless we’re willing to go beyond the mind we currently have, we won’t be able to embrace transformation that the Lord Jesus offers us. But, it’s so hard to accept repentance for the forgiveness of sins with all the betrayals, disloyalties, untruths, rejections that we carry on our shoulders. These become particularly burdensome as we get older.

Moreover, it’s harder to forgive yourself. To forgive the dark and shadowy part of yourself; to forgive that part of myself that does not live the way that I want. To forgive that part of myself that I don’t particularly like. It’s hard to forgive the bad things we’ve done in the past.

But, we have to. Scott Peck in the beginning of his book, People of the Lie, quotes the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux: “If you can serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” That not what we want to do: we don’t’ want to be displeasing to ourselves. We don’t want to accept our imperfection; we don’t want to admit to our guilt—that we haven’t lived the Gospel. John announced the forgiveness of sin, of compassion towards the Self and all Reality: You can only forgive Reality when you can forgive the Self.

            Brothers, we need to accept the challenge of John the Baptist to embrace repentance. The Old Order is going to be conquered by the Good News of Jesus. You can see what Luke is saying, what John is saying, that the world of the dominant             consciousness of oppression–symbolized by Tiberius and Pilate, the world of Herod’s sons, the world of Annas and Caiaphas—that world is coming to an end. What Luke and John are saying is that is time for a new mind, a new set of eyes, a new kind of expectation.

God is about to act. Wake up! God is about to act; be ready! God is about to act; stop living according to the old ways of oppression and violence. God is about to act; so make way the path for him. God is about to act; so pass through the Red Sea of baptism.

We listen to Baruch today; we listen to John today. We hear the exact same message: GET READY!

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There’s Something About Mary!

Immaculate Conception of the BVM; 12-8-18

Gn 3:9-15   Ps 98   Eph 1:3-6 Lk 1:26-38

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

            In the beginning of the school year, we do a brief Introduction to Catholicism since many of our incoming Freshmen do not come from feeder Catholic schools.   When asked about major liturgical celebrations, such as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, most draw a blank. With prodding, a few students, will correctly assert that it refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without Original Sin and so was prepared to be the Mother of the Son of God

Overtime, my students come to the appreciation that this Solemnity reminds us of two fundamental truths of our Catholic faith: Original Sin first of all. The universal experience of evil is so consistent throughout history and relentlessly imposes itself upon us. Just look at the news everyday: we are, indeed, involved in spiritual warfare with an Adversary who does not will our good.   But, we know our enemy has been vanquished by Jesus through his Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. And, his victory shines so sublimely in Mary most holy.

Who is this young woman who would become the Mother of God? In terms of appearance, she probably looked like today’s Middle Eastern women: she’d have an olive complexion and brown, auburn hair. Growing up in occupied territory with Roman soldiers about, she practiced some kind of veiling or modesty in dress.

At the time of her encounter with the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger of God, Mary was probably about 13-14 years old. If Mary was with us physically at the time of the Annunciation, she’d be sitting in one of my Freshmen classes. Following the custom of the time, Mary was engaged young, because many women died at childbirth. In sum, Mary was a down-to-earth, poor young woman. She lived life the same way we do and dealt with the same relational issues which we have to deal.             At the same time, through the Immaculate Conception Mary was being prepared to be the Mother of God.   She is Jesus’ Mother and she’s ours as well since the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. Just as she gave birth to the Son of God, she will help us give birth to our Lord in our lives.

Mary is able to do this because she was conceived without Original Sin. In this respect, Mary is unique among human beings: there is SOMETHING about Mary! But can we really relate to someone who is sinless? We can because our Blessed Mother is the human being we are all meant to become: free of sin, totally united to God and in perfect fellowship with our sisters and brothers. So, Mary guides us to her Son, who is the source of Life and Goodness.

How does Mary do that? The clue lies in Gabriel’s greeting: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” What is grace. It’s not a thing which is given to her; rather, grace is what happens between Mary and God: it’s a shared life. She has opened herself entirely to God’s presence by going into the Quiet, pondering the Sacred Word, and by yearning to do the will of God. Mary’s whole life was orientated towards God; all that she yearned for was to follow God. Mary had placed herself boldly and totally in God’s hands.

And, we are called to do the same! We are made in the image of God just like Mary. We are God’s beloved daughters and sons. That’s reality! We come from God and are meant to return to God, which we do in and through Christ Jesus, who is Immanuel—God among us. That’s reality! Mary shows us how to live a life wholly centered in God. She is “full of grace”; she is fully human. She is free. She is the first person to be liberated from the primitive fall of our first parents, but not the last.

Sisters and brothers, our Blessed Mother is the Christian we are all meant to become; she is the first disciple because God comes into her life and announces the divine presence within her, and she willingly acknowledges that presence. In the Magnificat, a beautiful canticle the Church prays at every Evening Prayer, Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” That’s redemption which I believe, means that God, acting as God, empties Himself into our hearts; God gives to us nothing less than Himself. And, this life is right here and now. We simply have to accept him into our lives by saying with Mary: “YES!”

All we are asked to do is to be willing to do the Father’s will, to be present to the moment which is the dwelling place of God, and to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. When Mary manifests this presence and openness, God enters her, praises her, believes in her, and invites her into intimacy and the fullness of life. GOD WILL BE BORN IN HER! And, God wants to do the same within us—personally and as a community. AMEN!

 

 

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

The Solemnity of Christ the King (B); 11-25-18

Dn 7:13-14   Ps 93   Rv 1:5-8   Jn 18:33-37

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

On the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we are celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King. For us Americans, it’s not easy to comfortably ease into this feast because we don’t particularly like kings nor do we like it when people rule over us. There’s a bit of a rebel in each one of us.

But, kingship is a central symbol throughout the Bible and one of the ways the Gospel authors referred to Jesus. So, we have to do some cultural “bracketing”, so that we can listen to these readings and to understand the time of Jesus when ancient peoples took kingship for granted.

What did a king do? He is sovereign: he rules and has dominion over us. And, that’s not a bad thing. Indeed, the first king in the Bible was actually Adam, who was given a kingly mission—one of governing, ruling, and subduing: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living things that move on the earth” (Gn 1:28).

This is the great commission that’s been given to Adam, which is kingly in mission.   Don’t think of this as an invitation to aggression, exploitation, and domination which is how many persons of authority and institutions exert power. Rather, see this kingly mission as stewardship over the earth and oneself—who you are and what you have. Mind you, Adam is made in the image of God just as you are. Who is God? God is love; God is a community of love. Therefore, this governance, this dominion over the world is meant to be an expression of love.

            Adam and you and I are at our best, when we turn our world into a Garden of Eden: a beautiful place of communion with God, fellowship with each other, and harmony with creation. How do we do that? By exerting kingly power—by having dominion over the world, so as it to make it a place of love, justice, and peace. We are called to allow God’s way of being to obtain in our here and now circumstances. That’s the kingly task given to Adam and, by extension, to all of us.

Unfortunately, Adam became a bad king. As king, he should have had dominion over every creature in the Garden, including the serpent. But, he didn’t. Rather than give his absolute allegiance to God, he allowed the serpent to have dominion over him. As a result, Eden is compromised and the world we live in becomes anything but a Garden of Eden. As descendants of Adam we are stuck in a world of moral compromise, violence, corruption, hatred, and fear.

O.K. , there’s the first king and his great failure, which sets up the momentum of the biblical narrative. God does not leave us to stew in our sin but he forms a rescue operation, in which he will form a people who will be ruled by a new King, who was anointed, sent by God, on a mission of salvation.

Jesus is this King, first the King of Israel and, by extension, the universal King. His mission is to save us—to re-Create the Garden of Eden so that we may participate in a shared life with God now and forever, to be in authentic fellowship with our brothers and sisters now and forever, and to be in harmony with Creation now and forever.

Now, the question is, do we want Jesus to be our King? Do we want him to rule over our hearts and mind or do we want to give our allegiance to someone else. We’ve got to make a choice. As Bob Dylan sang in Slow Train Coming:

            “Yes, you’re goin’ to have to serve somebody.

            Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord,

                        But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

 

            Over the years, I’ve had several conversations with our brothers in this facility, who say that if they are asked to do something wrong—say inflict harm on someone who owes a debt, they fill conflicted. Do they follow Jesus, who is our sovereign king, or do they follow the coercive demands of a belligerent group. Do they choose Jesus or the serpent? But, If they resist the serpent and do God’s will, they risk incurring harm themselves.

Brothers, I don’t know what I’d do in this situation. I hope I would give my absolute allegiance to Christ the King. But, at the same time, I know that I am a sinner, a person whose faith is not as firm as I’d like it to be. There is, however, a passage in the Liturgy of the Hours that I cling to; the Psalmist says, “O God, you are my God—for you I long…For your love is better than life” (Ps 63).  If we can stay grounded in God’s love, if we keep our gaze on Christ the King, then we know that a very deep level of soul that we will be protected and we will do what is right. And, as Saint Paul reassures us: “I am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love” (Rom 8:38).

            So, brothers, on this last day of the liturgical year, we ask ourselves: Who is our King? Who are we going to serve?