Matthew 25: Love in Action

Christ the King (A); November 26, 2017

Ez 34:11-12   Ps 23   1 Cor 15:20-26,28   Mt 25:31-46

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

         As we conclude our liturgical year, the Church invites us to fix our gaze on Jesus, the King of the Universe, who is the beginning and end of Salvation History. As King, Jesus preached and taught the Kingdom of God, which was the driving force of his ministry.   At Mass, there is a beautiful prayer in the preface that reminds us that the Kingdom of God “is a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” The readings we’ve just heard reflect this prayer and show us three things: (1) how Jesus established his Kingdom; (2) how he brings it about in history; (3) what he expects of us.

First, how did our King establish his Kingdom? He did so, not through violent conquest, intimidation, or manipulation, which, too often, is the way of the world, but by coming close to us so that we could experience his tenderness towards us in the same way a mother weans her child on her lap (cf. Ps 131:2). The King of Kings is a Shepherd, of whom the Prophet Ezekiel spoke about in the First Reading (cf. 34:11-12). These verses show the love and care the Shepherd has for each one of us, his flock. He loves us so much that he searches for us; he leads us to pasture so that we may experience Life fully; if we become lost, he seeks us out; he leads back the broken, the bruised, wounded, the sick, to take care of them, to pasture.

From Revelation 5, we know that all the Old Testament readings are about Jesus. So,   all of these descriptions are fulfilled in Jesus: he is truly “the great shepherd of the sheep and the protector of our souls” (cf. Heb 13:20; 1 Pt 2:25).

After his Death and Resurrection, how does Jesus continue to advance his Kingdom? The Apostle Paul in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians, says: “for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (15:25). The Father, subjects all things to his Son who is the Sovereign, of whom is due our ultimate allegiance.   At the same time, our Lord models obedience for us by subjecting himself to the Father’s will, even by sacrificing his life for our good—namely, to bring about the salvation of the world.

Unlike the rulers of this world, Jesus governs by willingly obeying his Father’s will in order to bring about the fulfilment of salvation. Isn’t that a paradox? Jesus rules by submitting to his Father’s will. In so doing, there is a free-flow of unencumbered loving energy between the Father and the Son, which is revealed to us as the Holy Spirit.   Since we are made in the image of God, who is self-gifting Love, our challenge is to say “Yes” to God’s loving energy, his grace in our ordinary lives, regardless of what our specific condition may be. Why?   Brothers, the Kingdom of God is happening right here and now: everything is becoming subject to the Son, who will give everything over to the Father at the Last Judgment. Moreover, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26).   And, in the end, when all things will be under the rule of Jesus, and everything including Jesus himself, will be subjected to the Father, God will be all in all (v. 28). That’s the trajectory of Salvation History. Do you want to join your personal story with this great Vision? If so, listen to the Gospel in Matthew 25.

The tone becomes somber because were told in no uncertain terms what Jesus’ kingdom requires of us. The account picks up the idea of separating sheep, found in Ezekiel’s reading, and it does so in terms of judgment: if we’re really close to the tenderness and mercy of Jesus, we will live a certain way: we will become tender and merciful. Listen: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me , I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25:34-36). The righteous are kind of bewildered because they don’t seem to not to remember ever doing that for Jesus, but he will answer them: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (v. 40). And, we’re told that is how we are going to be judged: “Whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”(Mt 25:40).

Notice that the starting point of salvation is not confessing that Jesus is Lord and King or engaging in devotional practices.   Rather, it is by imitating Jesus works of mercy which brings about his Kingdom here and now. The one who does that shows that he has welcomed Jesus into his heart and soul as his Lord and Savior. His behavior confirms his Faith. Because he believes that Jesus is Immanuel, God among us, he has opened his heart to God’s charity which now flows in and through him to others.   As we move towards the end of our lives, that is how we are going to be judged: how did we put love into action: how did we show tenderness towards our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need?

Brothers, his kingdom begins right here and now. The Kingdom of God is not outside the walls of Folsom Prison, but is here as well if you say “yes” to the Father’s will. And, we do that by imitating Jesus as best we can.   By being close to those who are in need, we express in concrete ways those who ask for bread, clothing, acceptance, fellowship, and the Wisdom of the Good News. If we truly love them, we will be willing to share with them what is most precious to us: Jesus himself and his Gospel. Amen!

 

 

 

 

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Are We There, Yet?

32nd Sunday in O.T.; November 12, 2017

Wis 2:12-16   Ps 63   1 Thes 4:13-18   Mt 25:1-13

Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB C.C.

 

         We are a hyper-stimulated, impatient people. Carrie Fisher, in her auto-biography once opined that “Instant gratification isn’t fast enough!” And, the electronic, digital age we now live in has only exacerbated this.   We have fast food, instant replay, 24/7 news bites. We become anxious when we have to stand in line at a checkout counter. We grip the steering wheel in a white-knuckled strangle-hold when we have to wait for a stop light. We complain when the homilist goes beyond 10 minutes.

As we approach the end of the liturgical calendar, we are reminded that the unfolding of time is not in our hands, but is in God’s. We know how the story ends—Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the power of Satan through his death and resurrection. We know that we have a secure and eternally life-giving future, when we stay connected to Jesus and proclaim that he is the Risen Lord. Despite what may be happening around us—the chaos, divisiveness, degradation of human beings—Jesus has promised us a blessing: namely, “Peace be with you” as he breathes upon us. God promises us peace—not merely the absence of war or conflict, but the life that is shared within the mystery of the triune God. That kind of communion and fellowship gives us everything we need to be happy and joyful, regardless of what our external circumstances may be.

When we gaze upon human history through the prism of Sacred Scripture, we see that human sinfulness can get in the way of God’s plans. So, the people waited anxiously for the time of fulfillment, which became known as the endtime. The Greeks have a word for this unique time: namely, kairos or God’s time. It stands by itself; it’s totally unique that is so different from the ongoing, ordinary time or chronos (chronological time). Amazing, transformative events occur in kairos. There, God’s promises are fulfilled.

As Christians, we believe that our Lord Jesus has inaugurated this time of fulfillment through the Mystery of Faith, the Paschal Mystery. At the same time, we have one foot planted in the world of ordinary time, in chronos. By virtue of our Baptism, we’re called to be missionary disciples as we live the extraordinary Way of Jesus in this ordinary time. As we do so, we enter into the time of fulfillment.

Today’s Gospel reading employs the metaphor of marriage to convey this awesome time of fulfillment. The virgins are part of a wedding party that is bursting at the seams. The point of the parable is to be always prepared “for you know neither the day or the hour” (Mt 25:13). All of the virgins were ready for the immediate arrival of the bridegroom, but only half of them came prepared for the long wait.

Brothers and sisters, we know that life is very precarious. We do not know when our time will come. But, like the wise virgins, we must always be prepared, having enough oil to get us through the night. We cannot presume that we’ll be able to purchase the oil when we need it. We cannot live as if the end is going to happen tomorrow—though it might. Yet, we must live as if the end is imminent. The question is, how are we to do this?

The mysterious figure of Woman Wisdom in the first reading offers us a guide for such thoughtful and intentional living.   Echoing New Testament themes, we’re called to watch through the night, to be vigilant. We’re told that Wisdom will teach us how to live in this very complex and murky time.

This Wisdom is much more than practical knowledge as to how to get through the day with street smarts. She comes from God and is “perfection of prudence.” What does that mean? To seek wisdom is to seek God, in which we live his Way in our ordinary experience. That is, we take our Gospel values and apply them prudently in this concrete situation. While it seems that we are seeking her, we hear that “She makes her own rounds, seeking” us. That’s right, Wisdom seeks us. Our job is to be open to her invitation and to live accordingly.

The challenge put before us is very straightforward. We have been invited by God to the celebration of the fulfillment of His promise of peace. It’s right there. Do we want it or are we still clinging to the goods of the world as our source of happiness? This peace is what we will be enjoying in Heaven for eternity. We now live in the in-between time, a time of already-but-not-yet. Through grace, we already live in kairos inaugurated by Jesus, but it has not been completely fulfilled. So, we move through time, we must “stay awake,” be always prepared, for we do not know when it will be fulfilled. We are not alone in our waiting. We have, as our loyal companions, the Communion of Saints on earth, and the Wisdom that comes from God.

So, People of God at SJB, how prepared are you for the unfolding of God’s plan in your life? Where do you look for the Wisdom that comes from God?

 

Practicing and Repenting

31st Sunday in O.T.; November 5, 2017

Mal 1:14b-2:2b,8-10   Ps 131 1Thes 2:7b-9,13   Mt 23:1-12

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

         Before we look at today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus denounces the Scribes and the Pharisees—the religious establishment of his time—it’s good to pay attention to what Paul said in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: namely, as we draw near to the Gospel, let us do so “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thes 2:13). When we do so, we can accept with faith the warning Jesus is offering in today’s Gospel, which is directed not only to the religious establishment, but to us as well as we strive to conform the way we live to the Good News.

In today’s passage Jesus gets in the face of the scribes and Pharisees, who were the teachers of the community, because their conduct was flagrantly at odds with the teaching they so rigorously taught others. Jesus put it simply that they “preach, but do not practice” (Mt 23:3); instead, “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and to lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (v. 24).   Good teaching must always be received, but it loses its power to motivate when it is contradicted by inconsistent behavior.

Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th century reformer, put it succinctly:

Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head” (From a sermon given during the last synod he attended.)

Why the disconnect? Enjoying positions of authority, sometimes teachers of the faith can assume a paternalistic role with the faithful. I am the “professional religious,” I am here to take care of you, so receive what I am dispensing. Or, it can take the form of authoritarianism: do as I say, not because it is comprehensible, convincing, and compelling, but because I say so. Such paternalism and authoritarianism is usually accompanied by clericalism: that is, clerical privilege in which the ordain enjoyed their status, privilege, and perks associated with their office. In the past, it could take the form of cardinals adorned in long, flowing red robes trimmed in ermin and popes being carried into papal audiences on a portable throne.

These attitudes and behaviors remind us we must be ever vigilant in resisting clericalism, which is not good for the ordained, nor for the Church as a whole. With Jesus, we acknowledge the leadership role of the ordained and that the Church is hierarchically governed. At the same time, he says: “practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (v. 3).

Jesus’ attitude is exactly the opposite: he is the first to practice the Great Commandment which he teaches to everyone. Indeed, there is a one-to-one correspondence to what Jesus preaches and how he relates to us. That’s why he can say that his burden is light and easy because he helps us carry it (cf. Mt 11:29-30).

But, why do we fall short? Why don’t are lives consistently conform to what we profess? One reason is obvious: we’re all sinners; so, its just not possible to practice everything we preach. To be sure, we can envision a future in which the Church is radically living the Good News in every corner of the human enterprise. We can have deep inner revelations that powerfully show us the way we should live our life.

But, when we try to live them out, we bump into the harsh reality of who we are existentially. Our preaching/teaching is conditioned by our personality, our lifelong habits, our character, and our history of being too accommodating to secular culture with its emphasis on individualism, self-promotion, and consumerism.

So, practicing what we preach is a goal which we have to strive to attain. But, if that is going to become a reality we have to repent of our practice—the way we live. There is the Good News and there is the way we go about our lives. There is a disparity and we have to own up to it. But we’re not going to throw in the towel. Rather, we go back to the drawing board, which means we purify ourselves of the stuff that keeps us from living the truth we profess embracing the vision of Jesus that is before us. Being repentant is not a stigma, branding us as failed Christians. No, it just comes with the territory of following something that we on occasion betray. That’s why Christ has blessed us with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

So, when we preach and teach the Good News, when we promote a community of love and solidarity, let us also be realistic and keep the sackcloth and ashes handy. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practicing and Repenting

31st Sunday in O.T.; November 5, 2017

Mal 1:14b-2:2b,8-10   Ps 131 1Thes 2:7b-9,13   Mt 23:1-12

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

         Before we look at today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus denounces the Scribes and the Pharisees—the religious establishment of his time—it’s good to pay attention to what Paul said in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: namely, as we draw near to the Gospel, let us do so “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thes 2:13). When we do so, we can accept with faith the warning Jesus is offering in today’s Gospel, which is directed not only to the religious establishment, but to us as well as we strive to conform the way we live to the Good News.

In today’s passage Jesus gets in the face of the scribes and Pharisees, who were the teachers of the community, because their conduct was flagrantly at odds with the teaching they so rigorously taught others. Jesus put it simply that they “preach, but do not practice” (Mt 23:3); instead, “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and to lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (v. 24).   Good teaching must always be received, but it loses its power to motivate when it is contradicted by inconsistent behavior.

Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th century reformer, put it succinctly:

Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head” (From a sermon given during the last synod he attended.)

Why the disconnect? Enjoying positions of authority, sometimes teachers of the faith can assume a paternalistic role with the faithful. I am the “professional religious,” I am here to take care of you, so receive what I am dispensing. Or, it can take the form of authoritarianism: do as I say, not because it is comprehensible, convincing, and compelling, but because I say so. Such paternalism and authoritarianism is usually accompanied by clericalism: that is, clerical privilege in which the ordain enjoyed their status, privilege, and perks associated with their office. In the past, it could take the form of cardinals adorned in long, flowing red robes trimmed in ermin and popes being carried into papal audiences on a portable throne.

These attitudes and behaviors remind us we must be ever vigilant in resisting clericalism, which is not good for the ordained, nor for the Church as a whole. With Jesus, we acknowledge the leadership role of the ordained and that the Church is hierarchically governed. At the same time, he says: “practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (v. 3).

Jesus’ attitude is exactly the opposite: he is the first to practice the Great Commandment which he teaches to everyone. Indeed, there is a one-to-one correspondence to what Jesus preaches and how he relates to us. That’s why he can say that his burden is light and easy because he helps us carry it (cf. Mt 11:29-30).

But, why do we fall short? Why don’t are lives consistently conform to what we profess? One reason is obvious: we’re all sinners; so, its just not possible to practice everything we preach. To be sure, we can envision a future in which the Church is radically living the Good News in every corner of the human enterprise. We can have deep inner revelations that powerfully show us the way we should live our life.

But, when we try to live them out, we bump into the harsh reality of who we are existentially. Our preaching/teaching is conditioned by our personality, our lifelong habits, our character, and our history of being too accommodating to secular culture with its emphasis on individualism, self-promotion, and consumerism.

So, practicing what we preach is a goal which we have to strive to attain. But, if that is going to become a reality we have to repent of our practice—the way we live. There is the Good News and there is the way we go about our lives. There is a disparity and we have to own up to it. But we’re not going to throw in the towel. Rather, we go back to the drawing board, which means we purify ourselves of the stuff that keeps us from living the truth we profess embracing the vision of Jesus that is before us. Being repentant is not a stigma, branding us as failed Christians. No, it just comes with the territory of following something that we on occasion betray. That’s why Christ has blessed us with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

So, when we preach and teach the Good News, when we promote a community of love and solidarity, let us also be realistic and keep the sackcloth and ashes handy. Amen.