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!







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