Do Not Be Afraid

Baccalaureate Mass; May 23, 2017

Deacon Jim McFadden; SFHS

 

Class of 2017, you first gathered at SFHS four years ago for the Frosh Overnight Retreat. It just seems like it was yesterday, but underneath the excitement of that charmed weekend was the reality that you just didn’t arrive here by chance. You were chosen to be at SF. For what purpose? To nurture your baptismal promises of being priest, prophet, and king as you share in the Mission of the Church, which is to give witness that Jesus is Risen and to proclaim the Good News!

Once here, you embarked on a journey, not only to prepare you for college, but to be formed as a young Christian woman who will make a radical difference in the world. So, you pursued Excellence, Leadership, Service, and, most of all, Faith to an awesome degree, which we witnessed and celebrated at our Awards Ceremony.

Now, your parents, grandparents, and other family members who have been your constant support and best cheerleaders, your administrators, faculty, and staff gather for our last liturgy to celebrate the sacred mysteries and to send you forth.

I not only have a lump in my throat, but I must concede that I have fear that you are being sent into a world that is rife with political, social, and economic conflicts. Pope Francis has said that we are engaged in a Third World War that is being conducted piecemeal. We see an environment that is increasingly being degraded. As God reveals to us through the Psalmist, “I made the earth to be lived in, not to be a wasteland.” We hang our heads in shame. We witness a political landscape in which Americans are divided and in which we’ve lost sight of our inherent dignity and of the Common Good.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, I do have fear, but then I hear the words of today’s Gospel: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life span?” (Lk 12: 25) Jesus reassures us that our Father knows what we need. So, “instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given to you besides” (v.31). Therefore, Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom” (v. 32).

That’s the key, isn’t it? “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”   How can we be the best versions of ourselves, how can we bear joyful witness that the Lord is risen and is in our midst, how can we continue his mission if we are afraid? We can look to the very early Church to see what was the source of their joy and of their courage to preach the Good News despite the obstacles and violence that they encountered. And, keep in mind, that the apostles were ordinary folks just as we are.

What’s true for them is true for us: it’s only the presence of the Risen Lord and the action of the Holy Spirit can energize us. The Lord Jesus was with them and He is with us, and the Holy Spirit impels us to give witness to the extraordinary fact that Jesus is alive: that Jesus is our destiny and he is the Way home. To say that Jesus is alive means to show our enthusiasm in following him and to keep alive our passionate desire to be his disciples.          There’s no better way than to nurture our friendship with Jesus than to continue to build our friendships among ourselves. For four years, you have experienced an incredible sisterhood. Keep nurturing genuine friendships, and as you do, you will at the same time experience the contagious joy of the Gospel, which will strengthen you to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations. Troubies, your faith based on a strong personal experience of the Risen Christ will give you courage to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in all aspects of your life. As you come closer to Jesus, you will be conformed to his Mind and his Heart: you will be like him—you will be Christ to others, witnessing with your very life.

Though I am beyond retirement years, I keep coming back to SFHS because there is nothing more remarkable than seeing the enthusiasm dedication, zeal, and energy of SF Troubadours! WE GOT SPIRIT, HOW ABOUT YOU! And, I ask myself: from where does that spirit come? When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, it’s like dynamite going off! Infused with Jesus’ love, you are capable of truly great things.

Troubies, the Church looks to you to be positive instruments of change. You are the future of the Church and your time is coming. I give thanks that many of you want to make a difference in the world. Yes, you’re restless because there is so much to be done. We need your enthusiasm; we need your faith-inspired optimism; we need to learn from you as you become conduits of God’s grace to a troubled world.

Your parents, teachers, staff, and administrators appreciate how you step up to meet life’s challenges. We appreciate how you live your life with gratitude. You only have one life. And, we have great confidence that you will not waste your life by looking for temporary thrills or taking dark paths to acquire hedonistic pleasure and then having to pay the consequences. You won’t give into the seductions of the world because you’ve experienced what is really Real. You’ve experienced that genuine Life is based on communion and community; it’s based on generous self-giving.

Beloved Class of ’17, in your pursuit of Excellence, deeper Faith, Leadership, and Service, you are experiencing at your young age what a full life is like. You know that there is a way of immersing yourself in a life that is rich, full, and meaningful. And, you know that this way cannot be purchased; it cannot be obtained via an app. You know that this way to happiness is not an idea, it’s not a thing. The way to a life that is fully human comes by way of a person. And, what is his name? Yes, JESUS!

Jesus is a gift from the Father and is the most perfect gift of Love. All the Father asks is for you to deepen always your relationship with Jesus and to share Him with others. AMEN.

 

 

 

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How to Deal with Conflict

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A); May 14, 20107

Acts 6:1-7   Ps 33   1 Pt 2:4-9   Jn 14:1-12

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison & SJB

 

            When I started my teaching career some 30 years ago, the first year was promising, gave me the reassurance that this is where God wanted me to be, but was fraught with a few conflicts between myself and some students, parents, and administrators. I weathered these few problems and resolved over the summer that the next school year would be without conflict. Well, guess what: that year had its problems and so on to this day. While suffering from periodic bouts of vincible ignorance, I do learn from my experience and I came to appreciate that conflict is inevitable when people interact with one another. So, there are conflicts in life; the question is how do we confront them.

The Reading from the Acts of the Apostles offer us a good model to follow as we see that tension occurs within the Church—then and now.   What’s instructive for us is how the early Church faced its problems.

In the immediate aftermath of Pentecost, which is the birthday of the Church, Christian communities were largely Jewish. Our ancestors would go to the synagogue and afterwards celebrate Eucharist in a home church. They saw themselves as faithful Jews in whom Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic hope. So, they belonged to one single ethnicity and one single culture. But, that began to change when Paul was anointed by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul knew that Jesus was the universal Savior of the whole world—that salvation was meant for all peoples, not just Jewish Christians. His missionary work opened the fledging Church to the Greek cultural atmosphere. Soon, Gentiles came flooding into the Church, which lost its homogeneity; consequently, the first difficulties arose. At that time, discontent was spreading, there was grumbling, rumors of favoritism, and feelings of unequal treatment abounded. Does this sound familiar?   The community’s help to those in need—widows, orphans, and the poor in general—seemed to have favored Jewish Christians over the Hellenists.

And, so faced with this conflict, the Twelve apostles called together the disciples to discuss the matter together. Notice that the Twelve did not bury the conflict, hoping that it would go away. Problems, in fact, are not resolved by pretending that they don’t exist. Instead, what transpired must have been a very frank and open discussion between the Apostles and the other faithful disciples. What emerged from this discussion was a subdivision of responsibilities and tasks.

The Apostles make a proposal that is welcomed by all: they will dedicate themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, while seven men, who would come to be known as deacons, would provide service to the tables of the poor. These seven men were not chosen because they were experts in a certain field, but because they were honest men who had a good reputation within the community. They were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. Their ministry of service was established through the imposition of hands by the Apostles.

This account has traditionally been seen as the origin of the order of deacons; though the origin of the diaconate is certainly more historically complex, we have in this passage a genuine view as to how the Church resolved a conflict and how it expanded its structure and its diversity to meet the needs of the growing family of faith. This outcome was essential to dealing with the problem while serving the needs of the burgeoning Church.

So, from that conflict which generated grumbling, rumors of favoritism and unequal treatment, they arrived at a solution. Conflicts within the Church, whether it be at Rome or at St. John the Baptist C.C. , Folsom Prison are resolved by facing each other, by discussing and listening, and, above all, by praying. This is the only way that the center of our Church can hold together. What tears apart a community is gossip, envy, jealousy which can never bring about concord, harmony, or peace.

By engaging in prayer, the community of disciples opened themselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit, who guided them to understanding and prudential judgment. As a parish faith community, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, we will resolve our problems which will bring us to harmony, unity, and respect for the various gifts and talents that we have.

Do we understand the dynamic of what happened in the Acts of the Apostles?  If we do, we won’t succumb to gossiping, envy, or jealousy. May we be docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, so that we be able to cherish one another and come together more deeply in faith and love, keeping our hearts open to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Amen.

 

 

The Lord is my Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter (A); May 7, 2017

Acts 2:14,36-51   Ps 23   1 Pt 2:20-25   Jn 10:1-10

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

        

         Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday, which presents us one of the most beautiful images that has portrayed our Lord Jesus since the earliest centuries of the Church. When Jesus declares in the 10th chapter of John’s gospel that “I am the Good Shepherd (v. 11), we may be so familiar with this assertion that we may not appreciate the depths of intimacy captured in this declaration.

Keep in mind that Jesus was a Jew; so, he was familiar with the Psalms. He may have had Psalm 23 in mind when he declared that he has a special relationship with this Church, a relationship very much akin to a shepherd and his flock; a relationship so close that no one will ever be able to snatch the sheep from his hand.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 to come to a deeper understanding of the kind of relationship the Risen Lord Jesus wants to have with us. (I’m indebted to Charles L. Allen’s interpretation of Twenty-third Psalm for this reflection.)

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack” (Ps 23:1). This Psalm is attributed to David, who was himself a shepherd before he was anointed king of Israel. From this background, David knew that sheep instinctively knows the shepherd has made plans for their grazing tomorrow. He knows that the shepherd provided for them yesterday, did so today, and will do the same tomorrow. So, the Psalm does not begin with a petition, asking God for something. Rather, it is a calm statement of fact: “The Lord IS my shepherd.” We do not have to beg God for things.

The greatest cause for human worry is what is going to happen tomorrow. What’s going to happen to my family? What’s going to happen to me when I get released from prison? What’s going to happen to me tomorrow?

Brothers, all life comes from God. That includes your life. God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. And Jesus asks us to think that if God will do so much for a simple bird or a flower, how much more will he do for us (cf. Mt 6:25,34).

“In green pastures you let me gaze” (Ps 23:2a). The shepherd starts his grazing before dawn. The sheep walk lazily as they graze; they’re never still. By 10 o’clock, the sun is beating down and the sheep are hot, thirsty, and tired. It’s not a good idea for them to drink when their stomach is filled with undigested grass. So, he makes the sheep lie down in green pastures, in a cool, soft spot. Sheep will not eat lying down, but they will chew his cud, which is nature’s way of digestion.

In a similar way, we need to draw apart from the hurry of life for rest and reflection. One of the precious moments in our Wednesday Intercessionary Prayer gathering is the beginning when we are still as we come to know that we are in the presence of God. We need to be still to hear the gentle voice of God within our soul.

“to safe waters you lead me” (v. 2b). The sheep is a timid creature and is especially afraid of moving water. He’s a poor swimmer because of his thick, wooly coat. Imagine trying to swim with an overcoat on. So, instinctively, the sheep will not drink from moving water.

The shepherd does not force the issue, does not laugh at the sheep’s fears. So, he will seek still waters. God knows our limitations, and he does not condemn us because we have weaknesses or that we’re broken. He does not force us to go where we cannot safely venture. He does not demand of us tasks that are beyond our capability.

God is constantly ministering to our needs. He understands the load we are carrying. He also knows where the places of nourishment and refreshment are located. So, he “leads us besides still waters.” Such as experience produces surrender within our hearts and trust that enables us to face the challenges and temptations of the day.

you restore my strength” (v. 3a). David, in his earlier years was very close to God. But, when he became king, he lost his closeness to God as shown by his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and the cover-up murder of her husband, Uriah. David became unhappy; the burden of his guilt became heavy to bear, which we hear in the penitential Psalm 51. David was deeply wounded, just as you and I are. Sorrow for past sins is a wound; it cuts deep, but sorrow can also be a clean wound if we apply salve to it. If we don’t do anything about it, bad stuff—bitterness, self-pity, or resentment—can get in and cause an infection.

When we violate our conscience, when we do bad things, time will not heal these wounds. Gradually, a sense of guilt can overwhelm us and destroy our life. There is only one physician who can us and that is Jesus “who restores our soul.” Only God has this healing power. He revives life in you, if you let him.

“You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name”

(v. 3b). We all come to that fork in the road when we decide whether we are for Jesus or against him. There is no third option. There’s a hard decision to be made: either Jesus is the center of our life, our life is about him, and he’s in control or he’s not. If we don’t make the right choice, we’ll get lost just as the Prodigal Son did when he went into the cora machra—the big emptiness.

David remembered that sheep don’t have an innate sense of direction. While dogs and cats seem to have this ability to find their way back home, sheep don’t. Compounding the problem is that sheep have poor vision; they can’t see 15 yards ahead. Moreover, Palestinian fields were covered with narrow paths over which the shepherd led them to pasture. Some of these path overlooked a precipice in which an errant sheep could fall to its death.

Of necessity, the shepherd had to lead the sheep over steep and difficult places, but the paths always ended up somewhere. The sheep was willing to trust “somewhere” to the shepherd, to trust his judgment.

Notice that the Psalm says, “he leads me.” God does not drive. He’s climbing the same hill that they’re climbing. Man is not alone. As we take one step at a time, we can walk with him the right paths.

“Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side” (v. 4a). Brothers, life is very hard; it’s also very good because of the divine Presence. Life can be a forbidden journey that one may dread to take. But the sheep are not afraid. Why? Because the shepherd is with it.

And, so we end up in dark places through which we’re compelled to pass. Death is one. Disappointment is another. So, obviously is incarceration. Loneliness is another. There are many more.

In spiritual direction I’ve encouraged many people when they’re in “the valley of darkness to go into the Quiet and place themselves in the gentle and powerful presence of God. Abiding in that presence, know that you are being intentionally and unconditionally loved by God.

Wherever our paths take us, we will not be afraid. Why? For God is with us, loving us. There is power in His presence.

“your rod and staff give me courage” (v. 4b). The sheep is a helpless animal. With the exception of bighorn sheep, they have no weapon with which to fight. But, the shepherd carries a rod, which is a 2-3 foot club, and a staff, which was about 8 feet long. The end of the staff was turned into a crook.   Many of the paths in Palestine had steep sides; sheep could lose their footing and slip down. The staff was used to retrieve them. It is a comfort knowing that the shepherd will be able to meet any emergency. Yes, there is seemingly overwhelming evil in the world. Many times we just feel helpless; then we find comfort in realizing the power of God.

“You set a table before me as my enemies watch” (v. 5a). In the pastures of ancient Palestine grew poisonous plants which would be fatal to the sheep. Each spring the shepherd would take a mattock, a grubbing instrument and dig out these plants, pile them up, and burn them. Thus the pastures were safe for the sheep to graze. The pasture became, as it were, a table prepared. The present enemies were destroyed by the shepherds.

So, the Lord does with us. There is no temptation, no enemy that can destroy us because God is at our side, “setting our table.”

‘you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (5b). The sheep were subject to cuts and bruises as they grazed; they could, for example, cut their head on a sharp edge of a stone buried in the grass or briars could scratch and thorns stick. Sometimes during the summer, they would just be spent at the end of day.

So, the shepherd would stand at the door of the fold and examine each sheep as it came in. If there were hurt places, the shepherd would apply soothing and healing oil. Instead of becoming infected, the hurt would soon heal.

Also, the shepherd had a large earthen jug of water. As the sheep came in, the shepherd would dip down into the water with his big cup and bring it up brimful. The tired sheep drank deeply of the life-quickening draught of water.

Notice that David said, “you anoint MY head with oil; MY cup…” He didn’t say “our” head. It’s a singular pronoun because God relates to each one of us personally. As God reveals to us through the prophet Isaiah,”I have called you by name; you are mine” (Is 43:1d). This realization “should make us feel important “…because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you” (v. 4).

“Only goodness and love will pursue me all the days of my life;”

(Ps 23:6a).` By the time David wrote Psalm 23 he was probably an old man. He had endured many tragedies, had committed great sins, had experienced bitter disappointments. But, he also came to know God at a deeply personal level—a God who knows the needs of His children and who abundantly provides for what we truly need. David experienced God as one who can restore life and take away fear. In spite of the dark clouds that are all around us, with a God like Him whom David knew, he was sure that life was worth living, which would be true “all the days of (his) life.”

            I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” (v. 6b). One of the saddest things is to come across an older person who’s not sure whether there is a God and who has no hope that he is destined for an eternal home. As his life is slowly coming to an end, all he can look forward to is a dark grave and oblivion.

David closes Psalm 23 with a full-throated manifesto: “I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER”! Brothers, you are here in C-chapel because you do have that assurance; otherwise, life would be unbearable.

Moreover, David did not have the insights that we have. He never heard the words, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25-26).

Just knowing intimately a God such as the one described in Psalm 23 gave David assurance that the close of the day he would go home. What’s true of David is true of us because we believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” and since we believe in him, we know that we are destined to live forever.” Amen.