The Problem of Evil

16th Sunday in O.T. (A); July 23, 2017

Wis 12:13,16-19   Ps 86   Rom 8:26-27   Mt 13:24-43

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

         The parable of the weeds among the wheat continues Jesus use of short stories to announce the Kingdom of God to the crowds. Among those in today’s Gospel, there is a rather perplexing one which Jesus explained to his disciples: in the field there are good grain and the weed, which deals with the problem of evil in the world and calls attention to God’s patience in dealing with it.

The story takes place in a field where the owner sows grain but during the night his enemy comes and sows weed. The wheat produces the stuff of life, but the weed, zazania in Greek is destructive and will not produce a good end. The sower of the weed is the enemy—of God and of ourselves—and that, of course is Satan who always seeks to sow division between individuals, families, nations, and peoples. Whenever you have discord, animosity, fragmentation, that is the work of the Prince of Darkness.

That being the case, why not tear the weed from the field, which is exactly what servants wanted to do immediately. But, the owner of the field, Who is God, stopped them, explaining that: “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:29). The problem is that the zazania in its earlier stages closely resembles the wheat and cannot be readily distinguished from it. On the surface, it looks very enticing and alluring.

There are many layers to this parable. First, it teaches us that the evil in the world does not originate with God, but from his enemy, the evil one. And notice that the evil one goes at night to sow weed in the dark, where there is ambiguity, lack of clarity, which gives rise to confusion.

Satan is astute: he’s not going to sow the weed in broad daylight, where his lies, false promises, and seductions can be easily seen for what they are. Also, he doesn’t sow the weed in its own separate field where it could be isolated; no, he sows evil right in the middle of the good, thus it is impossible for us men to distinctly separate them. So, the Lord tells us to let the weeds grow amid the wheat! In time the wheat will take root and mature, then the weeds can be easily pulled out without destroying the now strong wheat.

This sounds very messy. But, brothers haven’t you found that the character of our personality is a messy interaction of darkness and light. This parable calls us to recognize the darkness that dwells within each one of us: to bring to light the negative influences, evil spirits, that negatively impact our relationship with God and others. That’s what Confession is supposed to do—to help us name our demons—those forces personal and collective, which can seem so overwhelming. Unless we name our evil spirits and identify their root causes, they’ll control us in very disguised ways. By naming these negative forces—by seeing how they influence our lives—does not take them away completely, but we can be delivered from their power to destroy us and other people if we cooperate with God’s grace.

This is where we arrive at the second theme of this parable: the juxtaposition of the impatience of the servants (“rip the weed from the field”!) and the patient waiting of the field owner, who is God. At times we are in a great hurry to judge—to judge ourselves and others. We’re quick to categorize, to put the good here, the bad there.  In so doing, we’re a lot like the prayer of the self-righteous man: “God, I thank you that I am good, that I am not like other men, malicious” (cf. Lk 18:11-12).

God, however, knows how to wait. Rather than getting rid of the weeds right now, He sends his grace into the messiness of our life, where we are most vulnerable. Herein also lies the value of our relationships and our Christian community: others can hold up a mirror for us and help us see our shortcomings, and by their love, understanding, and support, they can also be the means of grace to help us deal with the negative influences that wreak havoc in our lives.

So, God knows how to wait. With patience and mercy he gazes into the “field” of every one of us; he sees much better than we do the filth and evil that dwells within and without. But, he also sees the seeds of good that have taken root in our heart and soul. He nurtures those seeds with his grace, trusting that we will cooperate with him for them to grow.

Brothers, there has never been a moment or situation in which God has not been loving you unconditionally. That is why he is so patient with you and I. Our God is a patient Father, whom Jesus invites to call Abba or Daddy, who will always wait for us and waits with his heart in hand to welcome us, to forgive us. He always forgives us if we go to him.

People of God at Folsom Prison, we know the outcome of the story. In the end, evil will be removed and eliminated: at the time of the harvest, that is of judgment, the harvesters will follow the orders of the field owner separating the weed to be burned (cf. Mt 13:30).

In the meantime, how should we live? The brief excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans offers a direction. Paul suggests that the Spirit is gradually unfolding within us. The Spirit identifies with our vulnerable human condition, takes it on, and comes to our assistance. The Spirit is our Advocate and intermediary between the Father and humankind. The Spirit knows what the Father’s will is and intercedes for us. The Spirit identifies with our struggle to carry the weed/wheat tension; the Spirit identifies with our inability to articulate our struggle and simply groans with signs too deep for words. We have the Holy Spirit within to be our rock and “giver of Life,” who will lead us ultimately to God.  Let us ask Mary, our Blessed Mother, to help us grow in patience, in hope, and in mercy with all our brothers and sisters. Amen.

 

 

 

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The Prodigal Sower

15th Sunday in O.T. (A); July 16, 2017

Is 55:10-11 Ps 65   Rom 8:18-23   Mt 13:1-23

Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB

 

         Today’s Gospel is about the great parable of Matthew’s version of the Sower, which was famously painted by Vincent Van Gogh. As you reflect on this parable, I’d encourage you to have Van Gogh’s image before you as a meditation aid. On Matthew’s telling Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee where he attracts enormous crowds, which represent our hunger for God because that’s how we’re wired: we’re made in the image of God and, as St. Augustine so famously put it, our hearts will be forever restless until they rest in Him. The crowds sense the power in Jesus and they desperately want to receive His Word in their hearts. And, today, that still goes with us. We’re all wired for God. So, we listen

Matthew notes that Jesus “spoke to them at length in parables” (Mt 13:13a), which is a typical literary form he used to teach. Why did he use parables; why didn’t he use straight-forward language? Why did he teach this round-about way with riddles and puzzles? It can be frustrating because we want to know what he means. Jesus often teaches by way of stories because that’s how he can get to the underlying reality of the Kingdom of God by using nuanced symbols and metaphors. So, he uses parables for a purpose. So, what is he trying to teach us?

Let’s start with the Sower, who spreads the seed far and wide on soil that’s good and bad: on the path, on rocky ground, among the thorns, and finally, on good soil. In other words, he is spreading the seeds everywhere. Later on, which is unusual, Jesus explains the parable, comparing the seeds to the ‘word of the Kingdom of God’ (namely, grace), which means the Sower is God. God spreads his grace, his Love without expecting anything in return or reimbursement. He’s not into ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ way of relating to people. God is simply prodigal, liberal, extravagant in the way He loves us. In the Sermon of the Mount, He says that God “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust (Mt 5:45bc). We, on the other hand, do just the opposite: we share our “sun” with our homeys, those who might be good or useful to me. But, those who may be a threat, who might do me or my group harm, I keep my “sun” from them. As we put ourselves into the story, let us suspend this transactional way of relating to others. Let us be receptive to the Prodigal Sower.

The initial seeds “fell on the path, and birds came in and ate it up” (Mt 13:4). When we hear God’s word, do we even give it the time of day to try to understand what God is telling us? Do we give God even a slight chance to be heard? Does God get pushed out, because we have bought into our society and culture which tries to exist without God? Are to tone deaf to God’s Word? When we hear the Good News, does it seem impractical?

If that’s us, what should we do? Start reading the Bible. Get a good biblical commentary. Read some good spirituality and theology. Open up the Catechism of the Catholic Church with a guide. Commit yourself to 15 minutes of spiritual reading per day. Begin to open the mind and heart to the spiritual dimension of reality; otherwise, you won’t take in this language.

Then we hear that “The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it with joy. But, he has no root and lasts only for a time” (vs 20-21a). Sometimes we hear God’s Word, we get all excited, we want to believe it; but, we don’t make the Word the foundation of our lives. It just stays on the surface; we don’t allow it to take deep root in our hearts and souls because we are half-hearted in our commitment to Jesus. We waver because we have mixed allegiances. Rather than be on fire with our love for Jesus, we settle for being lukewarm; we tread-water or take the easy way out.

Through Scripture and the quiet of our heart, Jesus speaks to us and asks each one of us,   “Who am I for you? Am I the Lord of your life, the longing of your heart, and the reason for your hope?” We have a choice to make: are we going to renew our commitment to Jesus, which means we accept His calling to be a missionary disciple to witness His Good News that He is Risen!

Then there’s the third category in which the Word “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (v. 7). Are we like the ones who hear God’s Word and we truly believe? But, we get caught up in our problems and worries; we lose trust that God unconditionally cares for us and will never abandon us. We get seduced by the allurements of the world which promises us that if we have enough of the goods of the world, our pain will be alleviated. Eventually, these God-substitutes choke our faith, which becomes diminished.

Then we hear that some seed “fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred…fold” (v. 8). Brothers and sisters, when we surrender ourselves completely to our Lord Jesus, we will experience new Life, joy, and his Resurrected presence.   When that happens, watch out: his divine Life will explode in our lives like spiritual dynamite, which produces so much life-giving and uniting fruit in our family, parish, and secular communities that we become radically transformed.

There you have it: where do you think you fall? Where would you be if you were in the field? And, remember: God never abandons us. He will continually be sowing his grace wildly, extravagantly, evenly wastefully. Why? He loves us unconditionally and he respects our freedom to love Him in return. Along with our Blessed Mother   and through her intercession, may we say always say “Yes” to God’s love! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Remedy

14th Sunday in O.T. (B); July 9, 2017

Zec 9:9-10 Ps 145 Rom 8:9,11-13 Mt 11:25-30

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Life is hard, but good. But, when it’s hard, it can feel like one continual beat-down. Then we hear the tender words from Jesus in today’s Gospel, which are a sign of God’s presence and goodness in our lives: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

The Lord’s invitation is surprising: He calls people to follow Him who are not among the elite, the powerful, and the wealthy. Rather, He calls those who beaten down, who are distressed, who have many needs that gnaw at their soul. We heard earlier that He healed many sick people who were broken: “He had compassion on the crowds, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:35-36).

What was true then is true now: Jesus’ gaze of compassion and mercy extends to us this day, to our world today. Today, his gaze rests behind these walls of Folsom Prison where so many are oppressed by difficult living conditions. I leave it to you to complete the picture. Besides the external environment, there are no grounded, life-giving reference points in this prison environment to give your life meaning and purpose. As you listen to the chatter and noise in the yard, quite often all you hear is the same tired refrains of prison drama, which can be tedious and demoralizing—day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

As inmates huddle together behind these walls, it’s understandable that they become exhausted because there is so much spiritual poverty here. But, you know what, brothers? Outside the walls, there are many dissatisfied, jaded, frustrated people who have given their souls to wealth, prestige, power, and pleasure. They float about, dead-eyed, glassy-eyed in a sea of secularist ideology, which results in spiritual illness such as anxiety and depression.

Christ gaze rests on all of these people. When Jesus gazes upon you, He doesn’t see an inmate; He doesn’t call you by your number, but He addresses you by your name because He sees you as his brother who is a beloved child of his Father, Who is in Heaven. So, Jesus repeats “Come to me, all…of you.”

            This invitation is being addressed to those who are weary. Sometimes our weariness is caused by placing trust in things that are not essential. They look good on the surface, but as the Psalmist reminds us, “They have mouths but speak not; they have eyes but see not” (Ps. 135:16). In other words, they don’t deliver on their false promises because they are disconnected from what really matters in life. In the midst of our weariness, Jesus presents Himself as the Servant of the Lord. And, as we witnessed at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, He wants to serve you, He wants to wash your feet if you let him. And, if you do, He will give you rest, but there is a condition: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” What is this “yoke” which lightens instead of burdens, which instead of oppressing, uplifts us? Jesus reveals to us that God is Love. The yoke of Christ is the Law of Love—it’s the Great Commandment in which we love God with our whole heart and soul and our neighbor as our self (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12).

That’s it, brothers. The true remedy for our wounds—material, psychological, moral—is a way of life based on love towards others, whose source is God Who is Love.

As always, Jesus is forcing the issue; He’s giving us an either-or choice. We’re either for him or against him. We either stay frozen in a lifestyle of having (the 4 Ps) or we surrender to his Way of being in authentic relationship with God and others. We yearn to participate in God’s Life, but to do that we have to live as God does, which is self-gifting love. There is no other Way than that of Jesus. And, as we heard last Sunday, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39).

As we become conformed to Christ, “who is gentle and lowly in heart,” we slowly adapt the same attitude and disposition. That’s why it is necessary to give up a belligerent, confrontational, and aggressive attitude towards others.   Such a shift in demeanor can be very challenging especially when others get in your face and try to push your buttons or exert control over you. Our first response is to fight back. But, as we assume Jesus’ yoke in our relationships, the rule of respect and non-violence takes hold. How so? When we listen to Jesus’ teaching, when we follow Him as his disciples, when we participate in the Eucharist, we become assimilated into Him. As St. Paul teaches us, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It’s his power of truth and goodness that can overcome any kind of abuse and oppression and can insure your future of eternal life that is worthy of you who are made in the image of God who is Love.

Brothers, this way of life is not a pipedream; it is grounded in Reality. I encourage you to approach Jesus’ Mother, who is our Mother. May she help us learn the humility of Jesus, to take up his light yoke with determination, to experience peace and tranquility in the midst of starkness. As you come to the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will, in turn, be capable of comforting your brothers who are walking with difficulty behind these walls. Amen.

 

17-The Great Remedy

14th Sunday in O.T. (B); July 9, 2017

Zec 9:9-10 Ps 145 Rom 8:9,11-13 Mt 11:25-30

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

Life is hard, but good. But, when it’s hard, it can feel like one continual beat-down. Then we hear the tender words from Jesus in today’s Gospel, which are a sign of God’s presence and goodness in our lives: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11:28-30).

The Lord’s invitation is surprising: He calls people to follow Him who are not among the elite, the powerful, and the wealthy. Rather, He calls those who beaten down, who are distressed, who have many needs that gnaw at their soul. We heard earlier that He healed many sick people who were broken: “He had compassion on the crowds, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9:35-36).

What was true then is true now: Jesus’ gaze of compassion and mercy extends to us this day, to our world today. Today, his gaze rests behind these walls of Folsom Prison where so many are oppressed by difficult living conditions. I leave it to you to complete the picture. Besides the external environment, there are no grounded, life-giving reference points in this prison environment to give your life meaning and purpose. As you listen to the chatter and noise in the yard, quite often all you hear is the same tired refrains of prison drama, which can be tedious and demoralizing—day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

As inmates huddle together behind these walls, it’s understandable that they become exhausted because there is so much spiritual poverty here. But, you know what, brothers? Outside the walls, there are many dissatisfied, jaded, frustrated people who have given their souls to wealth, prestige, power, and pleasure. They float about, dead-eyed, glassy-eyed in a sea of secularist ideology, which results in spiritual illness such as anxiety and depression.

Christ gaze rests on all of these people. When Jesus gazes upon you, He doesn’t see an inmate; He doesn’t call you by your number, but He addresses you by your name because He sees you as his brother who is a beloved child of his Father, Who is in Heaven. So, Jesus repeats “Come to me, all…of you.”

            This invitation is being addressed to those who are weary. Sometimes our weariness is caused by placing trust in things that are not essential. They look good on the surface, but as the Psalmist reminds us, “They have mouths but speak not; they have eyes but see not” (Ps. 135:16). In other words, they don’t deliver on their false promises because they are disconnected from what really matters in life. In the midst of our weariness, Jesus presents Himself as the Servant of the Lord. And, as we witnessed at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, He wants to serve you, He wants to wash your feet if you let him. And, if you do, He will give you rest, but there is a condition: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” What is this “yoke” which lightens instead of burdens, which instead of oppressing, uplifts us? Jesus reveals to us that God is Love. The yoke of Christ is the Law of Love—it’s the Great Commandment in which we love God with our whole heart and soul and our neighbor as our self (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:12).

That’s it, brothers. The true remedy for our wounds—material, psychological, moral—is a way of life based on love towards others, whose source is God Who is Love.

As always, Jesus is forcing the issue; He’s giving us an either-or choice. We’re either for him or against him. We either stay frozen in a lifestyle of having (the 4 Ps) or we surrender to his Way of being in authentic relationship with God and others. We yearn to participate in God’s Life, but to do that we have to live as God does, which is self-gifting love. There is no other Way than that of Jesus. And, as we heard last Sunday, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39).

As we become conformed to Christ, “who is gentle and lowly in heart,” we slowly adapt the same attitude and disposition. That’s why it is necessary to give up a belligerent, confrontational, and aggressive attitude towards others.   Such a shift in demeanor can be very challenging especially when others get in your face and try to push your buttons or exert control over you. Our first response is to fight back. But, as we assume Jesus’ yoke in our relationships, the rule of respect and non-violence takes hold. How so? When we listen to Jesus’ teaching, when we follow Him as his disciples, when we participate in the Eucharist, we become assimilated into Him. As St. Paul teaches us, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It’s his power of truth and goodness that can overcome any kind of abuse and oppression and can insure your future of eternal life that is worthy of you who are made in the image of God who is Love.

Brothers, this way of life is not a pipedream; it is grounded in Reality. I encourage you to approach Jesus’ Mother, who is our Mother. May she help us learn the humility of Jesus, to take up his light yoke with determination, to experience peace and tranquility in the midst of starkness. As you come to the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will, in turn, be capable of comforting your brothers who are walking with difficulty behind these walls. Amen.