Watch Out!

3rd Sunday of Lent (C); March 27, 2016

Ex 3:1-8,13-15; Ps 103; 1 Cor 10:1-6; Lk 13:1-9

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison


         Throughout the Catholic Church, today is the First Scrutiny for catechumens. Who are catechumens? They are those who have inquired into becoming a member of the Catholic Church and, after a period of discernment, have embraced a period of catechetical formation which leads to initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil.   Today, the Nicene Creed is presented to them as they discern whether they want to profess their Faith within the Catholic Tradition.

Today is also a day of warning to those who call themselves believers. Christians: Watch Out! Our tradition tells us that all that has happened before serves as a warning: do we live as if we’re on hallowed ground? You may ask: How can the ground at Folsom Prison be hallowed, be sacred? Two reasons: God is here and you are here. When those two are conjoined, you’re on sacred ground. As a child, most of us have been baptized. How are we responding to our baptismal call? Are we sanctifying our life? Are we a spokesperson for God in our here and now circumstances? Are we using power to serve others? In other words, is our life bearing fruit? At this moment, in this place is God pleased with us? The Lenten season calls us who have been baptized, confirmed, given Eucharist and forgiveness to be faithful to our baptism. The Lenten season is a time for us to take our temperature, so to speak, to gauge our active trust in God.

The readings begin with the call of Moses who encounters the Divine in a burning bush that was ablaze but not consumed—a classic description of a mystical experience. It’s a fire that should destroy, but does not. Brothers, as we get closer to God, our attachments and addictions, will gradually be burned away. This fire does not destroy but gives life. It’s a fire of purification that burns away our illusions so that we can see and live the truth. This journey of faith, which our catechumens have come to appreciate, is one of loss and surrender to the one true God.

After revealing Himself to Moses, God immediately gives Moses a challenge. “I have heard the cry of my people; I have witnessed their affliction; I know what they are suffering. .. Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Ex 3:7,10). Pharaoh represents the dominant consciousness of culture—it’s the conventional way of thinking and living which goes to any means to preserve itself. It represents a culture that treats human beings as objects that can be thrown away or forgotten when they are no longer useful.

The Israelites, on the other hand, represent the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. The Lord, who has witnessed how the Egyptians have oppressed His people, hears their cry. Stay with that, brothers: right here and now, God witnesses what your are enduring. He hears your cry of complaint. And, he understands full well what you are suffering.

And, what does God do? He sends Moses to liberate His people from their slavery, which is what God continues to call His people to do. The Exodus Experience is a movement out of slavery and oppression into freedom. As such, it is a template for spiritual transformation. What God did for the Hebrews, he’ll do for you, if you cooperate with his liberating grace.

Not surprisingly, Moses resists and objects to that call: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt” (v. 11)? Who am I to confront the oppressive systems of this world that bring injustice, violence, death, and environmental degradation? Who hasn’t felt like that? The oppressive systems of the world just seem so powerful, that it’s easy to simply give in. “If you want to get along, go along.” Why fight it?   But, God doesn’t take “no” for an answer and sends Moses to confront Pharaoh and by virtue of our baptism, He sends us. He sends you into this prison culture to bring Light into the darkness. It’s this call that the catechumens are eagerly embracing. Are you embracing this mission?

Brothers, if we are truly worshiping God, we will hear the cry of the suffering and afflicted, those who are the victims of the powers of this world. If we worship God, Who cannot abide injustice and needless pain, we will obey’ God’s command to set others free and share our life with them. Like Moses, we know holy ground in the presence of Jesus, in the Word, in the Eucharist, and in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians cites the history of God’s people as an example for us, a warning. We are not to take for granted what has been given to us in such overflowing abundance. Are we grateful? Do we share our lives and resources with the Body of Christ? Do we belong to God? Do we live lives of justice, peace, and non-violence so we can move forward, faces toward the true worship of God? We have all read and listened to the same Word and shared the same Eucharist, sacraments, community, and Spirit. Is God pleased with us?

            Jesus in the Parable of the Fig Tree is calling us to repentance. He is always urging us to come back; He seems to intuit the difficulty of keeping on the spiritual path. But, I am baffled, quite frankly, by this parable. I’m not a gardener, but I have been told that it takes about seven years for a fig tree to bear fruit, so it isn’t surprising that there’s no fruit after three years. But it is the owner of the orchard who is the impatient one, not the gardener who wants more time to work the soil and fertilize the tree. It reminds me of my brother-in-law, who is always given plants, especially orchids, to tend because he takes the time and has the patience to nurture them. Do we put in the time and have the patience to nurture our spiritual lives.

What the parable may be asking us is this: do we have anything at all to show for life in the Spirit? Are we bearing fruit? If people followed us around for a day or a week, would they come to the conclusion that we are Christians: would they see how we love our brothers and sisters? If we were accused of being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us? If not, maybe it is time for some serious hoeing and fertilizing so we can bear fruit this year.

The tricky part is the implementation, isn’t it? Each of us is at different places in our spiritual journey so the way we go about it will vary. What applies to all of us though is taking time and engaging in some regular practice that keeps us focused on our relationship to God. Creating that time and finding an effective practice rest on each of us to discover and implement. The operative word is regular The fig tree will not grow if the gardener waters it one day and then forgets to water it for a month. The fig tree will not grow if the gardener decides to fertilize the tree but stops after the first of several applications. We have to be active and consistent in living as the people of God. If we do, we will bear fruit. Amen.




Discipleship–We’re All Unworthy

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C); 2-7-16

Is 6:1-8   Ps 138   1 Cor 15:1-11   Lk 5:1-11

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison


            One of my spiritual heroes is the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once wrote that Christianity without discipleship is cheap grace. He walked the talk as he sacrificed his life in his resistance to the Nazi regime during WWII. Bonhoeffer did so because he understood that the essence of Christian spirituality is discipleship: that is, a positive response to the call of Jesus. Remarkably, what all three of our readings remind us that this call is given despite or even because of our personal unworthiness. Today’s readings came help our community at Folsom Prison understand the dynamics of discipleship, while recognizing and accepting our unworthiness, and accepting the call to share in the mission of Jesus.

In the first reading we have the majestic vision of Isaiah, who finds himself in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah is overcome by great awe and a profound sense of his unworthiness. But a seraph, which is a kind of angel, purifies his lips with a burning coal and wipes away his sin. What happens next? Isaiah is “good to go!” Feeling ready to respond to God’s call, Isaiah exclaims, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!” (Is 6:8).

This same succession of feelings is found in our Gospel in the episode of the miraculous catch of fish. Asked by Jesus to cast their nets although they had caught nothing during the night, Simon Peter trusts in Jesus, and he and the other disciples obtain a superabundant catch.

Notice Peter’s reaction, which is similar to that of Isaiah. “When Peter saw this, he fell to his knee and said ‘Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Peter’s reaction may seem strange at first. We might have expected a simple, “Wow! Do you believe what just happened?” But, he says, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In the face of God’s miraculous action and the presence of God in the flesh in Jesus, Peter acknowledges his own sinfulness and unworthiness to become a follower of Jesus. Well, so what?! That is a given—we’ve all done bad things; we’re all sinners in this chapel. Peter has to just get over it. Brothers, none of us are worthy to be a follower of Jesus. We’re all sinners but it is just this kind of people that are called to be disciples.

Look at the second reading. Paul remembers that he had been a persecutor of the Church. Indeed, he wanted to destroy it. He acknowledges that he is unworthy to be called an apostle, that he is least among all the disciples. Yet, despite his unworthiness and maybe because of it, he recognized that the grace of God had worked wonders in him and despite his limitations, God had entrusted him with the task and honor of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. It is through Paul that Christianity became a universal religion.

So, brothers, I hope you are getting the message. Discipleship is entrusted to weak, limited people like you and me—the only kind of people that there are.

Brothers, notice where Peter encountered the transcendent Christ. In the midst of his fishing. IN HIS ORDINARY EXPERIENCE! People of God at Folsom Prison, we experience God at that everyday, workday level, where we spend our waking hours. God calls us where were are and that means in the fishing, in the unique movement of prison life. That is where you will do your discipleship and sanctify your lives. That is where you will encounter God. And, in so doing, you will recognize your own poverty and inadequacy, your own limitations, your own sinfulness. Yet, in spite of our weakness and brokenness, the Lord, rich in mercy and forgiveness transforms our lives and calls us to follow him.

I encourage you to revisit the humility shown by Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. They have received the gift of a divine vocation and so have you. If you’ve been baptized, you’ve been initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ which means you share in the Mission of Christ. But, I beg you not to focus on your limitations or what you have done in the past. Rather, keep your gaze on the Lord Jesus and on his amazing mercy that he has for each and everyone of us. As you receive his love, your heart will be converted and that you too will do what Peter joyfully did: “to leave everything and follow him” (v. 11).

Let go of your baggage, brothers. Keep in mind that the Lord does not look at what is important to human beings. When Jesus gazes upon you, he does not see an inmate with a number. He sees his beloved brother. “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). That’s what makes people who are poor and weak, but have faith in Jesus to be fearless disciples and heralds of the Good News. Amen.