What’s Your Plan?

 

25th Sunday in O.T.; September 18, 2016

Am 8:4-7   Ps 113   1 Tm 2:1-8   Lk 16:1-13

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

The Gospel story is about a shrewd, albeit dishonest steward, who’s prepared to do anything at keeping himself alive, short of doing manual labor and begging. The manager’s panic of his inability to do manual labor or to beg puts his mind into high gear to come up with a different plan. It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon which showed two men in a dungeon without windows or doors. They are manacled to the wall by their wrists, ankles, and neck. Both have long beards; they have obviously been there awhile.   One is leaning over to the other and whispers, “Now here’s my plan.”

Today is a good occasion to ask ourselves: what is our plan? Do we wake up and say “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad” or are we jarred awake by our alarm and immediately plan our must-do-today list?

As one person said, “The more I thought about it, the more I became determined not to live an unlived life.” What is a lived life? What does it mean to be fully alive? The answer to that hinges on what it means to be a human person.   We Christians see our lives foremost as reflecting God, who is Love, who is generous and self-gifting. We are most human, when we share our lives with others from the smallest acts of random kindness to major commitments of our time and resources.

We are most human when we are grounded in God, are in fellowship with other human beings, and are in harmony with creation. Life is being; life is relational.

The difficulty is that we live in a culture that constantly bombards us with a different message that says we can make ourselves happy by acquiring the goods of the world. Do you remember that bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins? The egocentric self has a bottomless appetite for wealth, prestige, and pleasures, and thrives on the adventures of being the captain of its ship. Life is simply reduced to having. Money and wealth is the new god. Consumerism has become the new religion and advertising is its liturgy. When the pursuit of wealth becomes our driving ambition, we tolerate, condone, and even perpetuate the injustices described by the prophet Amos in our first reading.   Rather than put persons in the center of our economic system, we put wealth, which reduces human beings to factors of production and exposes them to extremes of poverty in which they are forced to sell themselves into slavery in order to survive. These are the very people who are victimized by an unjust economic order.

Most of us are not called to become like St. Francis, embracing poverty to the extreme, but we can use the goods of the world according to God’s purposes. Brothers and sisters, it’s not so much what we have, but how we use it. The only legitimate use of the goods of the world, including wealth, is to use them the way that God intended; that is, for our good and the good of others.   We know that ultimately God is our only security, the true rock that can withstand any storm that life throws at us. As the Psalmist reminds us, mammon—riches or money– is a false god because it can’t deliver what it promises. Only God can love us now and forever. Money can’t love us, period and we are made to be eternally in love.

What is our plan? We have an either/or choice before us. The Gospel reading concluded that “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).

If we give our whole heart and soul to God, if we serve God alone that means we put riches or money in that service. If we learn how to do that—to share ourselves and our resources with others for God’s praise and glory—then money is freed from its role as a surrogate god and becomes just money, one of the many things that can be used to promote the Father’s will.   The choice is straightforward. We need to ask ourselves: what is our plan?

Oh, by the way, here is the second part to that bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys, dies anyway.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Is God “Crazy”?

24th Sunday in O.T. (C); Sept. 11, 2016

Ex 32:7-11, 13-14   Ps 51   1 Tm 1:12-17   Lk 15:1-32

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

            The God that Jesus reveals does not operate according to the way we go about doing things. We’re given a heads-up in the Old Testament from the prophet Isaiah, who, speaking for God, says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8). If some ordinary person would think and act the way God does, we’d say “he’s crazy.”

This is born out in chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, where God is supposed to be like the Shepherd who abandons 99 sheep so that he can save one. ONE! What about the other 99?! What about cutting your losses and moving on? Or, the woman who tears her whole house apart in search of a penny. A PENNY! And, when she finds it, she invites her neighbors to a party to celebrate her good fortune…over a penny! I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. Then there’s the incredible story of the Prodigal Son, whose Father, despite being disrespected and rejected, welcomes his lost son with joyful open arms.

Brothers, let’s face it: we have difficulty in embracing these stories because we’re drenched in the ways of the world and when we look at them, we feel in our gut that God must be crazy according to the way we think. But, here’s the key: Jesus is challenging us to learn how to think and live according to God’s logic.

But, this hard because the way of society is to demand strict justice according to the Law. What is the Law? It has to do with owing and being owed. What I have is mine and when my rights are infringed, I expect that those who have wronged me will be punished, preferably for a very long time. This is the world of calculating and controlling with tit-for-tat. If I do this for you, you do this for me. If you harm me, then I’m entitled to payback. That’s the way of the world inside and outside these walls.

What accompanies secular justice is division: who’s in and who’s out; who’s owed and who’s in debt. There’s also a tendency not to forgive: if you don’t pay me what you owe or if you hurt me in any way, then I can seek retribution; I’m entitled to hurt you back. This attitude is “an eye-for-an eye, a tooth-for-a tooth” on steroids. But, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we live by an eye-for-an-eye, soon the whole world will be blind.”

Contrast this attitude with the mercy of Jesus. Even though God does not owe us anything, he’s going to give us something totally unearned. He’s going to give us grace, his merciful love. Even though we’ve hurt God in the way we treat others, he’s not going to demand payback in return. Instead, he’s going to pour his love into our hearts and guess what: he’s going to do so joyfully. As we look at these three stories—the Good Shepherd, the strange lady, and the Prodigal Father—all of them speak of the joy of God. And, why is God joyful? God finds joy in forgiving us. God finds joy in showering us with his mercy.

Some of you may be thinking, “Deacon, I’m certainly excluded because I’m a great sinner: I have done some terrible things in my life; that’s why I’m in prison.”  Brothers, as we learned from the parable of Narrow Gate, Jesus does not exclude anyone as he gives everyone access to the family of the Trinity Who is love. And, do you know what you and I have in common with Pope Francis? We’re all sinners! So, get over it! There are only two kinds of people: sinners and those who know they are sinners. So, which one are you? Put simply, sinners are the focus of his ministry. The parables today reveal just how much God wants us to share in his love.

Let’s look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son to see God’s mercy at work. Both sons are operating in the world’s logic of justice. The younger boys says, “Father give me the share of the inheritance coming to me” (Lk 15:12a). Eventually, this young man would be entitled to a minority share of his Father’s wealth. But, his demand was very insulting because he’s virtually saying “why don’t you die and give me my inheritance? Since I can’t wait for you to die, give it to me now!” What he’s looking for is something that is owed him. This is the secular language of justice, which tends to separate and divide. Moreover, it’s not marked by graciousness, forgiveness, or joy.

The young man gets what he wants and goes to a “distant country,” which in the original Greek is chora machra or “the big emptiness.”  By trying to grab happiness by acquiring the goods of the world, in this case, money, he is no longer in communion with his Father, but is estranged. He is in that condition of non-Being, where there is no Life or Love.

After a life of dissipation, he returns. And, what the Father do? He doesn’t frown, berate, or punish him. But, like the Good Shepherd and the cookie woman, he runs out to welcome him.   And, look how he does it: he lifts up his robes, exposes his bare legs, and with the wind blowing through his beard, he’s going to run down the hill to embrace his son because “I love you!” I’m going to kill the fattened calf because I’m not going to relate to you according to what you deserve. I’m going to relate to you out of uncalculating mercy and love.”

Brothers, Jesus is Immanuel: he is God in the Flesh and he reveals to us that God is love. That’s why Jesus is all mercy. Jesus is all love. Each one of us in this chapel is that little lost lamb and the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But, God does not forget you. He does not give up on you. The Father will not and cannot abandon us. Jesus reveals that His Father, whom he invites us to call Abba or Daddy, is always waiting for us. He respects our freedom that’s why he doesn’t force us to love him. Even though we may reject him, he remains faithful to us forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children coming home. There has never been a moment in which God has ceased to love you. His love for you never ceases, not for an instant. He will wait for us with his love. And, when we return, his heart rejoices over one who has returned. The minor prophet Zephaniah reminds us that “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU WITH GLADNESS, and renew you in his love” (Zp 3:17).

Brothers, Jesus is the Narrow Gate and his Way into the Kingdom of God is the Great Commandment. It is the love of God and neighbor that brings fulfillment in all the Commandments. And this is the love of God, his joy: forgiveness. The Father forgives you because you are his beloved Son and he loves you unconditionally. To remain in the Father’s loving embrace, we have to forgive each other—nobody is excluded.

People of God at Folsom Prison, we have a choice. We can continue to live according to the law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth;” when we do, we will never escape the downward spiral of evil. The Evil One does not want you to forgive because he does not want you to share in God’s eternal life.

Or, we can live according to the Way of Jesus, which is the Way of the Cross. The Cross is the judgment of God on us and the whole world. But, how does God judge us? Not by getting even, but by giving his life for us. Jesus’ total act of self-giving love was the supreme act of divine justice which overcame sin, death, and the power of Satan. It’s the supreme act of Divine Mercy. So, Jesus calls us to follow his path: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).

In silence let us take a moment to think of someone who has hurt you, annoyed you, treated you unfairly; someone you may be angry with; someone you simply don’t like. Let us think of this person from the perspective of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Let us think of this person in silence, at this moment, let us pray for that person and let us become merciful with this person just as Jesus is with us. …Amen

 

 

The Cost of Discipleship

23rd Sunday in O.T. (C); September 4, 2016

Wis 9:13-18b   Ps 90   Phlm 9-10,12-17   Lk 14:25-33

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Luke tells us that great crowds were following Jesus; he was a very popular man, a fascinating figure. If Jesus were physically with us today, he’d be all over the Internet, the focus of blogosphere scrutiny. He’d be a YouTube sensation with millions upon millions of views. One reason that the crowds were probably drawn to him is that they hoped to get something out of him because of his healing powers. Sensing this Jesus feels the need to articulate the cost of discipleship.

Listen to Jesus’ words: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). These words stop us in our tracks, and we want to respond, “Jesus, you surely can’t mean what you’ve just said.” The majority of parents love their children so much that they’d throw themselves under the bus if their child was endangered. And, Jesus wants us to hate our children if we are to follow him! These are extremely harsh words to hear then and now. But, they were probably more difficult to hear then because the Jewish culture was a kinfolk society—the whole society was organized around the family and clan. Loyalty to wife, children, parents was extremely important. Jesus just doesn’t say He wants us to prefer him to them, but he says unless we hate them, we can’t be His disciple. What does our Lord mean?

In a typically exaggerated Jewish way of making a point, I believe Jesus means that we can’t make our family more central than Jesus and his kingdom. We can’t make our beloved spouse or young children the highest value or the center of our life. Jesus is the center of our life: Jesus is the One, because he is Life itself. He is God among us. Brothers, God alone ultimately matters and everything else must find its place around this Ultimate Concern. Yes, even something as important as our family, let alone prison associations, must be of secondary importance.

Do you see how Jesus’ challenge runs counter to our privatized, conventional beliefs? I’ve got all my concerns lined up: parole hearing, what am I going to do once I get released, can I make it on the outside? If a release date is not in the offing due to our punitive prison system, then we continually try to re-arrange the furniture in this prison culture so that I can survive. On top of all of this, one of my many concerns is religion which is o.k. as long as it doesn’t make too many demands. My religious practice is comforting, provides stability, and, hey, offers the promise of eternal life. That’s a good deal, isn’t it?!

Folks, that doesn’t work because it means that we are not following Jesus. If our family, if our prison associations occupy a higher priority amongst our concerns than Jesus, then we are not his follower.

If that wasn’t harsh enough, Jesus takes it further when he says that unless we hate our own life, we cannot be His disciple. Now our life is being turned upside down. Jesus wants us to hate everything we do to enhance our lives. Inside we squirm; is there any wiggle room here? Can’t I follow Jesus on my terms in which I remain in control?

A prayer refrain from the Liturgy of the Hours offers us insight into what Jesus may mean: “Lord, your love is worth more than my physical life.” Sit with that. Does it resonate with you?   If so, everything in our lives has got to be kicked out of the central place—even our very life. Are we ready for that kind of commitment? Are we ready for everything to give way for the Kingdom of God?

St. Augustine understood well what Jesus meant when Augustine said, “Love God for his own sake. Love everything else for the sake of God.” Such wisdom! That’s the right perspective; that’s it! We don’t let go of family, friends, ambitions, etc., but we don’t love them for their own sake. Instead we love them as gifts from God. And it is God alone whom we love with all our whole heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength.

Didn’t Jesus put it succinctly when he said, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be given to you,” which means the rest of our lives will find their place around our central concern which is Jesus and his Kingdom.

People of God at Folsom Prison, as the saying goes, “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Jesus’ invitation to follow him will always take total dedication, trusting in him and entrusting ourselves to him. Let us pray for the grace to be His disciple and follow him unconditionally.