Wearing Down Injustice

29th Sunday in O.T. October 16. 2016

Ex 17:8-13   Ps 121   2 Tm 3:14—4:2   Lk 18:;1-8

Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB & (New) Folsom Prison

 This parable conjures up images of people petitioning God for a specific purpose, not getting what they want, not giving up, but turning up the volume until God caves in. Behind this view is that we can change God’s mind in prayer if we just nag him until he gives in. This parable instead shows us that persistent prayer allows us to tap into divine energy that will ultimately transform the most intractable injustice.

Today’s parable involves two persons, a widow and a judge, who are opposed to one another. The judge neither fears God nor respects any human being. The widow is an irresistible force who is not going to be put off by being put off. So what happens?

The widow knows she can’t count on the judge adhering to the covenant duty of taking care of widows. Nor can she appeal to his sense of mercy and compassion because he has none. She only has one thing going for her: justice is on her side and he, being a judge, is supposed to minister justice. So, the one who has no voice, has to rely only on her voice. Therefore, persistence is her only fall back position. She keeps on praying and the judge finally gives in. It’s not because he fears God or respects people. No, the only reason he capitulates is that the widow keeps bothering him and he wants to get rid of her. The prayer of the widow that is grounded in God’s loving power finally wore him down.

There is no power, there is no principality, there is no unjust situation that can destroy God’s caring love. We too must not let the violence, wars, hunger, and poverty that abound in our world to wear us down, but rely instead on the power of prayer to guide us to right action.

            From Moses to Jesus, we know that God answers the cry for justice by pouring his mercy and grace into the hearts of those who cry out to him. This truth is explicitly revealed in the Burning Bush episode (Ex 3:7-10) when God reassures Moses that he witnesses the affliction of his people, that he hears their cries of complaint, and that he understands full well what the are suffering. And, he sends Moses to liberate his people from Egyptian oppression just as he sent Jesus to free us from the tyranny of sin and death.

Now it is our turn to pray continuously so that the channel between God and the human person remains open. If we pray when we feel like it, do it in spurts, then the divine energy will occasionally spurt, but may ultimately dry up. Rather, when we pray persistently, a steady, divine flow will permeate us and this divine energy will wear down injustice.   There is no force that can overcome God’s goodness, which is the boundless source of the passion for justice. St. Therese of Lisieux put it beautifully when she wrote that “For me prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (cf. CCC, 2558). Therese’s love for God was so full that she gave her heart totally. That’s what transforms people; that’s what changes society. Prayer is the language of a loving promise between ourselves and God.

Our prayer will lead each of us in our own unique way to have an open heart and be the face of God in the world. Some will feel compelled to minister to those in prisons; others will be drawn to feed the hungry; others will use their gifts to advocate for and be the voice for the marginalized. Our Dismissal Rite at the end of the Mass sends us into the world. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Now, we, the Body of Christ, the Church, become the Bread of Life to the world. We engage in a spiritual battle against the forces that do not fear God nor care for the dignity of human beings. We can do no other because we are members of the mystical Body of Christ and we follow where Jesus leads us.

Church at SJB, we are challenged to pray always and not lose heart. This is more than being persistent in the face of difficulties. It’s more than not giving up. It means we come forward with a courageous love and a strong faithfulness to the ways of peace and justice because we worship God who is Love, who is just, and who is the only source of peace. The temptation in wrangling with injustice is that we become unjust ourselves. We try to win on the same terms that the unjust judge used. If we give into that, we will respect God and others less and less. So, Jesus teaches us not to fight evil with evil, violence with violence but with goodness. That’s his Way. And, we can only live this way if we integrate our hearts into the merciful and Sacred Heart of Jesus.

After pondering over this parable, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus is the relentless widow who prays always to the Father until the heart of his Church becomes fully the heart of God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reclaiming the Language of Faith

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C); October 2, 2016

Hb 1:2-3; 2:3-4. Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Can’t you just feel for the prophet Habakkuk? The poor guy faces violence and destruction and he yells out to God: “I cry for help but you do not listen! Why must I look at misery? Why don’t you intervene?”

            Like Habakkuk, we have experienced times of loss and near despair; sometimes life gets so hard that we feel “What’s the point?”   You might realize that these times when it hits home:

  • you’re going to be in prison for a really long   time; that your parole hearing looms far off in the future;
  • that you won’t be there when your children   are growing up; when they become teenagers you won’t be able to         walk with  them as they frantically search for meaning      and  identity;
  • loved ones have died and you weren’t able to be at their funeral;
  • that the darkness of prison drama can be                            suffocating if you let it;
  • as many of you approach middle age, you  may desperately question your life choices  and your heart may be filled with  regret and you wonder whether there are  other   possibilities; that you can have a second chance?
  • when you experience serious illness that  strikes                  indiscriminately;
  • when you know that death’s shadow looms over all.

 

Sometimes this kind of strife and discord are more than we can handle; so, along with Habakkuk, we cry out, which acknowledges our human limitations and our radical dependence upon divine power. Our cry is really one of hope; one would not turn to God if we didn’t think that God would intervene. But, Habakkuk’s cry is lamenting God’s apparent indifference. It seems that God has turned a deaf ear to his anguish. God just seems to be missing in action. So, what grieves the prophet and us is the apparent absence of God’s tender care for his covenant people when they are in dire need.

So, we yell out to God: “Fix this mess; I know I did wrong, that I made big mistakes. But, I’m a different person now. Must I continue to be punished for something I did a long time ago? Oh, God, remove my pain and suffering!”

God does finally respond to our friend Habakkuk, not with an answer or a quick-fix, but with a vision. We’re not told what he vision is, but he’s instructed to write it down on tablets so that the message can be announced at the appointed time.

An early Church writer by the name of Origen instructed the fledging Church to interpret the whole Bible from the last book of the Bible; specifically, Revelation 5, which reveals that the Paschal Lamb, the slain Lamb of God, will open the scrolls of Scripture so that we may read and understand. Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, is the interpretative lens by which we interpret the Bible and, indeed, our own life.

With the Incarnation and Death and Resurrection of Christ, we believe that the appointed time has come and that the vision has been revealed to us, but it’s probably not what we were looking for. It’s the foolish vision of the Cross that draws us into the mystery of faith that Jesus speaks of in the gospel.

  • the Crucifix is not a symbol of progress, success, or power;
  • the Crucifix is not an icon of the American experience;
  • the Crucifix is a sign of vulnerability, emptiness, abandonment, and powerlessness.

 

People of God at Folsom Prison, the vision is simply the Paschal Mystery: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We prepare for Mass or our Communion Service, go over the readings, and get a certain theme, but when you get down to it, the theme is always the same: the Paschal Mystery which draws us to fall into the arms of Jesus and beckons us to trust His way. We call that surrender FAITH.

            Jesus reveals the Paschal Mystery not so that we can speculate or applaud what he has done, but participate in the same mystery. Death and Resurrection is our path as well.

Do we want that vision? Can we embrace the language of descent by accepting our powerlessness, or identifying with the poor and marginalized, and surrendering to our Lord? Do we want to live that way? Many of you do. My heart is so gladden that you are forming an intercession prayer group in which you will pray as a small faith community for the good of others. You are able to have compassion and mercy on others, even people you don’t even know, because you’ve gone beyond trying to fix your life, trying to control it, trying to blame others when you life has fallen apart. You’ve rejected the fleeing mode where you take refuge in prison booze, drugs, or porno.

Instead, when your life got really tough, you didn’t throw in the towel, but you found your way to Jesus, who is the source of true Wisdom.

That’s what I see happening in this fledging faith community at C-facility. I’ve witnessed many of you choosing to turn your life over to Jesus, who is the model of what it means to be a human being.   I encourage you to nurture the conditions where God can find a home in your life. Such as:

  • Find some way to be still—stop climbing and achieving, trying to be at the pyramid of prison culture. There is no other way to break ourselves away from the illusion of being #1, of acquiring the goods of prison culture, than to let go.   Listen to God, who says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46) by creating some time in the morning and evening to be with and know our God.
  • Trust your heart—seek the grateful response. Meister Eckhart said that perhaps the best prayer is simply to say “thank you”—to be grateful for what has been given by a gracious God. The Jewish people have a great prayer/litany where they go through all the wonderful things God has done for them in history; the congregation would not say “Pray for us” or “Lord hear our prayer,” but instead, “and that would have been enough.” “He lead us across the Red Sea and that would have been enough.” “You liberated us from enemies and that would have been enough.” In the end they build up among the people an immense sense of gratitude and that would have been enough. It’s not an accident that the word ‘Eucharist’ means gratitude or thanksgiving. Be grateful for the wonder of your humanity; be grateful for all that you have. If you can begin and end your day with gratitude, joy will flood your soul.
  • Take responsibility for your relationships and actions. Take responsibility for your life. Get back up and move forward in the Holy Spirit.
  • Finally, find a place to serve. I don’t think the service component is an addendum to the gospel, but as we read Matthew 25, it is essential. I don’t think we’re rightly situated in the world or in our relationships with God, if we’re not giving our life away. The 12-steppers get it: they know if you’re not giving it away, you don’t really have it because the nature of Mystery is that it is outpouring of itself and has to be passed on according to the gift that you are

So, love the vision of Christ; rekindle the flame of Faith in our time. Habakkuk has done his part; now, is the appointed time for us to live the vision!