It’s Party Time!

28th Sunday in O.T.; Oct. 15, 2017

Is 25:6-10a   Ps 23   Phil 4:12-20   Mt 22:1-10

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

            Most of us like a good party. Today’s gospel focuses on a royal wedding party, which can tell us a lot about the Kingdom of God. A beautiful image used in Scripture is to describe Heaven as like a wedding celebration and royal feast given by the King for his newly wed-Son and bride. Just think of the best party you ever attended, then multiply that celebration a zillion times because Heaven is the feast of all feasts and the Lord of heaven and earth has sent each one of us a personal invitation to the most important banquet of all.

The prophet Isaiah envisions this future banquet in which “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6). But, it gets even better: “…He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.” Yes, the place of this Great Banquet is known not only for its food and wine, but for the universality of salvation and the conquering of death.

That’s why he doesn’t want us to hangout on the fringes or be a run-of-the-mill guest; no, there is something special going on here. You see, Jesus is the bridegroom and we, the Body of Christ, are his bride! That’s why our invitation is so special. And, this invitation has come at a huge cost because our Lord Jesus offered his life as an atoning sacrifice for all the bad things we’ve done in our life. He’s absorbed our sin, he became sin on our behalf, he died to it, and through the power of his Resurrection he has overcome both sin and death and has invited us to this incredible celebration. Why would Jesus do this? Why does he bother sending us this unique invitation? The only explanation that makes any sense is that God is in love with us. He gives everything He is for our good. All we have to do is to accept this invitation to be united with him her in now and in the heavenly Kingdom to come.

In our Gospel reading, we hear that perversely and sadly, some decline the invitation. Decline the invitation to eternal life? Decline the invitation to a life of communion, fellowship, and harmony which brings unsurpassed joy and peace. Who would want to decline that? Only those that are incredibly stupid or, as Jesus puts it more patiently and pastorally, “Father, forgive them because they know not what they do?”

I think that’s why the angry king ends up punishing those who refused his invitation and who mistreated his servants. It’s not that God is seeking revenge, but there are consequences for our choices. If we live out of our true identity as being imago Dei and a child of God, then we will be in Christ and will participate in Life authentically because Jesus is Life itself. But, if we refuse to live out of our True Self, and, instead, opt for the illusory False Self that runs amok in this institution, then we will drift away from Life as we slowly die inside.

There are two story lines in this parable. The king sent out the invitations well in advance to his subjects so that they could have plenty of time to prepare for the feast. Despite the invitation, the invited guests insult the king by refusing to come when it was time celebrate. They made light of the King’s request and put their own agenda ahead of him. They were basically saying to him that you are not the Center of my life, I am. My life revolves around my inflated ego and it does not orbit around you. Moreover, even though you are God, I’m going to act that I am in control and you’re not. Is this insulting to God or what! The King’s anger is justified when we openly refuse to give the honor that he is due. It’s not that God needs our praise and glory—God doesn’t need anything—but when we do honor him, we are simply submitting to the one who is Life itself. We’re opting for sanity over willful ignorance.

Brothers, this parable is very much in our face: while God wants us to share in the joy of his kingdom, there is a blunt warning about the consequences of refusing his Son, the Messiah, our Savior.

The second thread of the parable focuses on those who have no claim on the king and who would never have considered getting such an invitation. They may say to themselves, “I’ve done bad things; I’ve hurt people. I’m not worthy to enter the celebration.” Well, you’ve got that right, but you’ve got a lot of company because no one “deserves” to be invited. As we say prior to receiving Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter into my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.” The invitation is all about gratuitous grace—undeserved, unmerited, simply given out of unconditioned love. Grace is a free gift, but it comes with awesome responsibilities.

If you are going to accept the invitation, you have to come “dressed” for the party.   You have to come prepared. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Protestant theologian who died for his faith under Hitler’s Nazi regime, contrasts cheap grace with costly grace. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. …Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it follows us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Brothers and sisters, God invites us to his banquet which you have received beginning with your Baptism and is being renewed every time you come to Holy Mass. He offers you the invitation so that you may share in his joy. Are you ready to feast at the Lord’s banquet table?

 

 

Advertisements

Wanting It All

27th Sunday in O.T.; October 8, 2017

Is 5:1-7   Ps 80   Phil 4:6-9   Mt 21:33-43

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

         The parable about the mis-management of a vineyard tells us a lot about the Kingdom of God and the choices we make. It shows us that we have everything we need right here and now to be happy, fulfilled. We want that because we are made to participate in and to be transformed by the One who is Life itself, Jesus. So, we want what God has–namely, everlasting life—but, we want it independently of God. We want it on our terms.

The owner of the vineyard symbolizes God, who provides the fundamental structure of the vineyard, which symbolizes his people. He plants the seeds which represent the Kingdom of God so that all that remains is to harvest, which leads to everlasting life. He puts up a hedge so that wild animals, our enemies, can’t attack the grapes.   He digs a winepress so that all the tenants have to do is to bring the grapes. He builds a tower as a watch post and a place of shelter. These actions by the owner shows his priority: namely, to care for those to whom he will lease, give access to the vineyard. In short, he has done everything he can for our well-being. In the first reading from Isaiah, the owner asks, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Isa 5:4).

Given all of that, what do the choicest vines yield? WILD GRAPES! Wild grapes—how can that be when God has done everything he can to give us access to his Kingdom? Among all this bounty, why do we end up with sour grapes? Never satisfied, always complaining, why do we focus on the negative? Why do we glom on to the weeds that choke the vines, producing sour grapes   In a weird distorted perception, we classify the weed as something good, that is equal, maybe even better to the vines. So, we pursue the goods of the world believing if I have enough stuff, status and respect, control and domination, and pleasure—especially, unintegrated sex, an alchohol buzz, or a drug high—that I can be happy, at least for a short period of time. But, when we get comfortable with the weeds, it yields sour grapes, which leads to frustration, anxiety, fear, and a general sense of hopelessness. Spiritual panic sets in.

With too many sour grapes, the vineyard is overrun with thorns and briers, snagging the faithful people who are trying to navigate and nurture the vineyard to bear fruit.

Fortunately, God does not give up on us. He sends prophets who challenge us to be faithful to our covenant duties. They, however, are beaten, stoned, and killed. Finally, the owner sends his Son who will be the heir and the capstone of the vineyard. Surely, we would listen to him.

But the tenants see the presence of the son as an opportunity they have all been waiting for. They really want the vineyard for themselves, but without the owner.   They are not happy with the status of tenants, who are radically dependent upon the owner for everything they are and everything they have.   But, if they get rid of the Son, they can have the vineyard for themselves. They can be the owner.

The tenants want to be happy. They want the inheritance. They want it all. But, they want it all for themselves. By turning in upon themselves (incurvatus a se, to use St. Augustine language), to be wrapped up in themselves, they don’t want to be accountable to God or to other people. Isolating themselves from genuine relationship with God and their brothers and sisters, they’ve become greedy. They grab for everything they can get, manipulating and controlling others to promote their self-absorbed agenda. They live in a world of scarcity, so they make sure “they get what’s theirs.” When more people are included, they feel threatened as they instinctively feel that they will have less. They exclude themselves from God and others because they want it all.

Brothers, we are invited to be the new tenants to occupy the vineyard with the intent of producing grapes for choice wine that refresh and accompany celebration rather than sour grapes. If we reside in the vineyard with faith and strive to obey our Father’s will, God will not be a taskmaster lashing us to produce fruit. Instead, he asks us to be patient with ourselves and others to produce fruit at its proper time, realizing to produce quality fruits takes time, nurturing.

Being people of prayer and thanksgiving will govern our efforts for the peace of God will be a hedge around our hearts preventing us from becoming sour grapes. Tending the vineyard of our Lord as faith-filled tenants, means we seek the Truth while hoeing the soil. It means we seek honorable co-workers who will challenge us to be faithful and accompany us on our journey. It means that we will distribute the fruits of the vineyard according to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.

Let us praise God continually, even in the challenges of being a Christian, for his trust in us making us workers in his kingdom. This is a paradigm to fill our lives with peace.

Brothers, we do not own the vineyard; we work in it. When we want it all, we inherit nothing. But, when we surrender ourselves in Love to the One who is Love, we inherit everything that matters: God’s Kingdom! Amen.

 

 

 

 

St. Francis: a man of poverty, peace, and creation

St. Francis Day: October 4, 2017

Gal 6:14-18 Ps 27   Mt 11:25-30

Deacon Jim McFadden; SFHS

 

       In March of 2013 when the conclave to elect the next pope was voting, it was becoming apparent that the cardinal from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was going to be chosen. When he went over the 77 votes needed to become pope, his “great friend”, Brazilian Claudio Hummes, leaned over to and said to him, “Don’t forget the poor.”

Pope Francis took to heart what his good friend said, which is why he chose to be called after St. Francis of Assisi: “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” These virtues are a challenge to us. Can we, like St. Francis, “follow the footsteps of Christ?”

St. Francis’ conversion to discipleship did not happen overnight nor will ours. It began one night in Spoleto, en route to military service, where he had a dream in which a heavenly voice urged him to “serve the master, not the man” and return to Assisi. That was the first necessary stage of conversion for Francis and for us: to what or, better, to whom are we going to give our heart and soul? Francis struggled with this invitation, but he began to find his old life of self-indulgence, partying, less and less attractive. Over time, he started living more simply, praying more, and giving alms.

Being poor in spirit and clean of heart, Francis was able to see   other human beings as his brothers and sisters; so, the former soldier sought to build bridges not walls between conflicting parties.  Francis knew that lasting peace could not be attained through violence, but only through justice. So, amid all the useless bloodshed of the Crusades, Francis joined the 5th Crusade not as a warrior but as a peacemaker. He visited the Egyptian sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, greeting him with “May the Lord be with you.” Though their visit was brief and no alliance was forged, they did have a genuine dialogue. Some have said that Francis was the “first person from the West to travel to another continent for the sole revolutionary idea of peacemaking.”

This peacemaker from Assisi was also a lover of Creation. His “Canticle of the Creatures,” written after he had become blind is a challenge , no matter how insignificant something may appear to be, it is still precious in God’s eye. He understood that each aspect of the created order praises God by doing what God has intended each to do. The sun gives praise to God, by being “beautiful and radiant with great splendor”; the earth gives praise to God by being that which “sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

       Throughout this Canticle, St. Francis referred to the non-human elements of creation as his “brothers” and “sisters,” such as Brother Sun, Sister Moon. While this may seem cute to our modern ears, he was revealing a deep kinship we have with all of God’s Creation. Troubies, we are not above and beyond the rest of Creation, but part of it and alongside animals, plant life, and all the rest of creation. We should never forget our interdependence with the whole cosmos and remember that “God made the world to be lived in, not to be a wasteland” (Isaiah 45:18).

Pope Francis embraced the legacy of St. Francis . As he strives to rise to the challenge of his name, may we who attend St. Francis High School do the same. May we embrace a spirit of poverty, may we be peacemakers, and may we be responsible caretakers of creation. Amen.