Don’t Be Afraid to Build a Better Tomorrow

4th Sunday of Lent (B); March 11, 2018

2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps 137; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

Deacon Jim McFadden


“God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). These words should fill us with joy and hope as we await the fulfillment of God’s promises realized in the Resurrection. These words were first spoken to Nicodemus, who is a stand-in for us. He came to Jesus in the Dark, unwilling to be seen as a follower of the one they are calling the Messiah. Nicodemus is wrestling whether to stay in the Darkness or to embrace the Light of Christ in order to build a better tomorrow.

We all come to Christ from the Shadow: we have our doubts; we have our questions. We live in a society that every year seems to becoming more and more secularized. It ranges from the simple name changes–Easter vacation has become Spring Break; Christmas season is now the ubiquitous holiday season–to a society that focuses on the individual to the point of disregarding those in most need: the unborn, the young; the poor; the elderly. Businesses often exploit the poor and reduce human beings to “factors of production,” who can be discarded when cheaper labor may be found elsewhere. Some businesses in cooperation with governments tolerate the abuse of our environment, robbing future generations of the resources and quality of life they’ll need to live a decent and humane life.

But we can step out of the Shadow, because the word of God is a word of unbounded hope: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus is telling Nicodemus and us that there is a God who cares for us and who can make a radical difference in our lives and that of our communities if we accept His Son as our Savior. By believing in Jesus, we enter into a life shared with God and we have a life that is eternal, which is the foundation that gives us hope to build a better future.

Just as the Persian king Cyrus was called by God to allow the exiled Jews to return to Israel and to build God’s temple, we are called to embrace radical transformation of ourselves and our world. We know that such rebuilding can happen because, as St. Paul reminds us, that “we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6:16). We know that God actively dwells within the hearts of people who put their faith in Christ. We have been reborn in Baptism, we have been made into the temples of the Holy Spirit. We are united with our brothers and sisters throughout the world as the Body of Christ. And, we know that as believers of Jesus we are called to acknowledge the power of his presence within us and our Church and to share the gift of his love and forgiveness with the world. As believers of Jesus, we readily accept His Mission: to become messengers of that merciful love within our families, parishes, schools, and workplaces—in fact, in every sector of social and political life.

People of God, now is the tough part: like Nicodemus the Gospel is challenging us to take action. “And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light, and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God (vs 20-21). It is not the time to think about or talk about what we believe but to live passionately its truth. Truth is something we do; it’s a lifestyle. We believe that Truth is a Person; when we live the Truth, we are living in Christ and that relational Power can transform us and our world. We are being called to embrace the gospel of doing—of walking in the Flesh of Christ.

When people see us, they should experience a community of unbounded hope because we know that God promises us the strength to realize the Gospel promises. As St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading, God created us in Christ Jesus “to live the good life”, a life of good deeds in accordance with his will (Eph 2:10).   Jesus

has given us his commandments to love God without reservations and to love ourselves and others not as a burden or barriers to overcome, but to liberate us—to be a source of freedom. As we abide in Christ Jesus, as we come out of the Shadows into His Light, we will become men and women of wisdom, we will be teachers and doers of justice and peace. We will believe in the goodness of others from conception to natural death.   We will be instruments to promote the Common Good. God has created us to do this and we should not be afraid to be builders of a better tomorrow!



Driving Out Junk Religion

Third Sunday of Lent (B); March 4, 2018

Ex 20:1-17; Ps 19; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison


The core of our faith is the Paschal Mystery, which refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection and their saving significance for us. The adjective paschal derives from the Hebrew verb pasach, meaning to “pass over,” and alludes to ancient Israel’s rescue from slavery in Egypt in Moses’ time, when the Lord “passed over” the houses of the Israelites while striking down the Egyptian oppressors.

The Old Testament reading for today contains the Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and is the core of God’s covenant with the Israelites.   This covenant is the basis of genuine religion, which Jesus came to restore. He does so symbolically when he “cleanses” the temple in Jerusalem.

The Old Testament text begins with “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” Our God is a Savior, who leads us out of oppression to liberation. That’s what God does in our lives, but he needs our cooperation. If this salvific work is going to happen within us, we must be obedient to the commandments, the greatest of which are to “…love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and to “ your neighbor as yourself.” If we do so without reservations, we will be a light to others. We will give witness that there is an alternative way to live that ushers into our communities peace with justice, revealing the resurrected presence of Christ.

This call to become truly free can be just too much for most of us. Just as the Israelites wanted to return Egypt and the comfort and security of their old life when the going got tough, we do the same, but in a more subtle way: we go through the motions of being religious—we have the jargon, we do the right rituals, we regularly go to church, etc.—without really embracing the Way of Jesus which is self-emptying, forgiving, promoting justice and goodness. What we often embrace is “junk religion,” where our ego is still in control, where we are the center, and our life, including religion, is really about us.

In today’s gospel, in the second chapter of John, Jesus is on a collision course with organized religion and institutionalized worship that has become self-serving. He stands in opposition to any group that is in collusion with idols and powers of the world, that hinder genuine worship of God and the practice of justice, especially towards the least and the poorest and the weakest in the world. So, Jesus begins to tear down unauthentic religion and frees people from all that enslaves them; he will destroy evil and injustice, beginning with the temple, his Father’s house.

He is calling us to go beyond external observance to a commitment that is deeper, a commitment that goes to the very heart of our covenant relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in faith. Today, Jesus grabs out attention by clearing our lives of the clutter and confusion of our addictions which keep us stuck. We hang onto our self-absorption, our control, our disconnected pleasures, our love of money, our need for approval–all of which keep us from living the Great Commandment.   Let us look at our lives honestly and stand before Jesus and acknowledge that we are not the center of our universe, God is. We are not in control, God is. Our life, including out religion, is not about us, but about our God, who loves us beyond measure. Let us say “yes” to God in the here and now, including the

most devastating experiences that come our way.

Brothers, genuine religion is about caring for one another, especially the most vulnerable in our community. Ritual and devotional practices serve to remind us that true adoration of God resides in giving thanks for life and expressing gratitude by sharing our lives with others. In doing so, we live the Great Commandment, which is at the heart of Jesus’ way of worshiping his Father. We are invited this Sunday of Lent to pray for the virtue and practice of zeal so that our worship may be acceptable to God, the Father almighty, and reverberate throughout our society.



Jesus Among the Wild Beasts and Angels

1st Sunday of Lent (B); February 18, 2018

Gen 9:8-15   Ps 25   1 Pet 3:18-22 Mk 1:12-15

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

            Lent is about belonging: staying connected with God, each other, and ourselves. The first readings for all the Lenten Sundays in Lectionary Cycle B celebrate our covenant relationship with God that that is meant to be an inclusive, everlasting relationship that has been “established between God and all living beings—all mortal creatures that are on Earth” (Gen 9:16). Indeed, we might say that Lent is a season of covenant-making in which we take our true place before God. To do that, we need to remember who we are—to live out of our truest self.

At baptism Jesus in his humanity came to full consciousness of who he is: the beloved Son of God. Once Jesus has that awareness, the Spirit drives him into the desert—a place of recognition, a place where he faces his Self and the false interpretations of what it means to be the Son of God. In the desert Jesus is among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. What happens to Jesus must happen to us. These three verses are the spiritual journey in a nutshell; all the necessary parts of the journey are present: Coming to know oneself, facing the wild beasts and being ministered by angels.

The starting point of the spiritual journey is to recognize our True Self and to begin the process of living of that reality We recognize that we are the beloved children of God that we have nothing to prove, nothing to protect. We are who we are in relationship to God. God loves and delights in us. Brothers and sisters, if we feel that we’ve got to prove our self to others, that we’ve got to protect our turf, our tribal loyalties that are in opposition to our Catholic solidarity, then we’re living out of False Self—we’re enslaved by our “wild beasts.”

But, once we know who we truly are, then we’re ready to deal with our Darkness, to wrestle with our “wild beasts.” Their voices will assault us, accuse us. They will tell us what we’re not.

The ancient Desert tradition identified these “wild beasts” as


  • food (comfort)
  • sex
  • possessions (having stuff)
  • anger (because we’re not in control)
  • sadness (things are not going my way)
  • apathy (“to Hell with it all”)
  • vainglory (being full of oneself)
  • pride (I and my group is better than you)


People of God, we need to contend with the noise generated by the “wild beasts.” But, understandably, we’ll feel lonely as we deal with their seductive voices and lies. Our first response is to take flight, to return to the world of distraction and busyness, to re-absorb ourselves in the drama of our individualistic, self-absorbed, acquisitive culture. Let’s resist that temptation and trust that the ancient Desert tradition was on to something; indeed, they were psychologically astute because we have to go into that place where we find stuff we need to grapple with before we can find. God.

            If we hang in there, if we contend with the wild beasts, we will then be able to collapse into that place where we will hear the voice of God. We’ll hear voices that go beyond the False Kingdom of this world. I promise that if we wait long enough, we’ll hear voices of angels. If we listen close enough, if we face our loneliness, we’ll experience a breakthrough. If we face ourselves for who we are before God, we’ll experience this radical aloneness—that we are radically dependent upon God for life.

            At this point of surrender, we’ll meet the ministry of angels. We will experience consolations, voices that post-modern secular culture cannot name because it is about having, acquiring, domination, and control. The voices that we will hear will call us “beloved, good, a daughter or son of God.” They will be voices that are sweet, that console. These voices do not take away the “wild beasts,” but they do speak deeper and more strongly than “wild beasts” ever can. Brothers and sisters, we need to come into that kind of desert, where we can hear such voices—the ministry of angels.