Prepare the Way of the Lord

2nd Sunday of Advent (B); 12-10-17

Is 40:1-5,9-11   Ps 85   2 Pt 3:8-14   Mk 1:1-8

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

In today’s Gospel, we once again hear proclaimed the person of John the Baptist, who plays a prominent role in Mark’s Gospel. Who is this very eccentric guy with whom most of us would have difficulty in identifying?   His clothing would not make any of the fashion magazines: he’s wearing a camel hide coat “with a leather belt around his waist” to hold it in place. He’s living in the desert—he’s basically homeless. And, his culinary taste are bizarre as he feeds on locusts and wild honey. Bon apatite! Put bluntly, he has made himself an outsider of his own society.

The question is Why? In proclaiming and recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, he knows that Jesus will turn the world on its head—that there will be a great reversal of values. The Good News that Jesus will proclaim will call us into a new situation, a new set of circumstances where our old assumptions are questioned and not tolerated anymore. We have to be willing to see with a new set of eyes. We have to be willing to embrace that path; we must let the Truth, who is Jesus, into our Mind, Heart, and very Soul. We must let the Truth in if we’re going to be converted to the Way.

Like John the Baptist, we have to take a step back from the dominant culture of our society and make ourselves an outsider to see how much of its secular, self-referential values permeate our lives. Have we been seduced by our culture? Have we accepted the way of consumerism, dominative power and control, status and prestige as being normative? Do we think that unbridled pleasure will lead to the good and happy life? How much have we absorbed or are affected by these cultural values?

The dominative consciousness gives rise to a False Kingdom, which must be deconstructed. What does it look like? Several years ago, Pope Francis stated that the world has become “a throwaway culture when money not human beings is at the center of society. At the center of every economic and political system there must be the human person, who is made in the image of God. When the person is displaced and the god of money arrives, then we have the inversion of values…When that happens, economic systems must make war in order to survive. Thus weapons are manufactured and sold and, in this way the economic system sacrifices human beings at the feet of money. …An economic system based on money also needs to plunder nature in order to sustain its own frenzied pace of consumption, which has devastating effects on climate change. Brothers and sisters, Creation is not a possession we can dispose of as we please and its certainly not the private preserve of a few; but, it is a gift, it’s a previous present that we are meant to be stewards” (Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Popular Movements; October 28, 2014).

2000 years ago John the Baptist extricated himself from this kind of cultural illusion. He stood on the side and believed the Truth, who is Jesus, and pointed to him, the Lamb of God, who shows us the Way back into the world. In his liberation, John proclaimed that “I have baptized with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8). John started the process of conversion and Jesus completed it with a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Brothers and sisters, forgiveness is absolutely necessary within the Kingdom of God! Within that context, forgiveness is the beginning, middle, and end of Jesus’ teachings. But, it’s so difficult to accept: the betrayals, disloyalties, untruths, rejections get more and more difficult to forgive as we get older. To let go of our hurts and resentments is hard.

And, it’s even more difficult to forgive ourselves.   To forgive the dark and shadowy part of ourselves; to forgive that part of ourselves that does not live what we preach. It’s difficult to forgive that part of our personalities that we just don’t like and we’re afraid that if people see the real me, they won’t like me either.

During Advent we have the opportunity to step back, examine what and Who rules our hearts, to examine what values guide our life, and to forgive and change. Once we accept the alternative teachings and consciousness contained in the Good News, then and only then can we risk going back into the world. No longer will its false promises have a hold on us.

How wise of Holy Mother the Church to create these four weeks of Advent to extricate ourselves from what can be a hectic season to focus on how well we live the Good News. We prepare for and celebrate Jesus’ historical birth as a manifestation of the way in which we renew and rebirth Him in our very being and then carry that incarnate presence into the world. Amen.

 

 

           

 

 

           

 

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The Need for Watchfulness

1st Sunday of Advent (B); December 3, 2017

Is 63:16-17,19; Ps 80; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Deacon Jim McFadden

         Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. We await the return of Jesus as he is born within us at a deeper level of intimacy and we prepare for that arrival by revisiting his first coming in the little town of Bethlehem. In so doing we remind ourselves as to what our ultimate destination and what our purpose in life are. As we reflect upon the meaning of life, we are challenged to be alert (!)—to recognize the signs of the God who is with us in the here and now.

Advent is not a time of waiting for the coming of the Christ child—that already happened 2017 years ago. It’s rather a time in which we break our normal routine and move into a heightened state of alertness—to be watchful!—to perceive more intensely the ways of Emmanuel, “God is with us.” The watchfulness about which Jesus speaks to us in Mark’s gospel is not waiting in dread for some inevitable outcome, nor is the appearance of a stranger. Rather, it is the attentive listening for the familiar footstep of the returning Beloved who has been loving us from the very moment of our conception and even before that. Jesus is our Good Shepherd: we know him and he knows us. We are awaiting a deeper level communion with him, a deeper sharing of Trinitarian love through Jesus.

For that to happen, the Gospel stresses the Need for Watchfulness because Emmanuel is coming towards us; we need to be watchful, to be alert, to be awake to see with the Eye of the Soul as to how that is happening. If we do and when we walk out of church, we should see people differently because, after all, the Church is the Body of Christ, which means that the Risen Christ permeates each and every member. Your spouse or the person sitting next to you in this gathering could be the master returning; same with your kids.

Farfetched? What do you think it was for Mary when she looked at the child or adolescent Jesus, when he was acting like everyone else. She may have looked at him and thought, “What did I get myself into?” We need to look at our spouses, our children, our neighbor, the people on the street, the refugee, the immigrant, the imprisoned, and the poor differently and ask, “Is that God coming toward me?”

The Mystery of the Incarnation is that God first became human in the historical Jesus. And, when Christ rose from the dead, his divinity is now shared throughout his glorified Body, the Church, who is the People of God. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we have intentionally been initiated into this shared life of Trinitarian love. At the same time, the Risen Christ is present to all people in all cultures drawing them into communion, which is why we see holiness in many non-Christians. So, the Incarnation really changes everything; we have to be very careful how we deal with all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, because we never know how God is going to visit us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus will say “stay awake” four times. Scripture is tying to give us listening and seeing skills: listen and see reality and understand as God does. Conform your mind and heart to Christ Jesus, who shows us the Way. Our Lord is not trying to make us afraid, but to make us vigilant. He is encouraging us to see with the Eye of the Soul, with sacred awareness, and not be content with yesterday’s answers and conclusions. He wants us to keep being perceptive because we don’t know when the master of the house is coming.

It’s not easy to stay awake: how do we stay awake?

            To stay awake we need to be people of prayer, who regularly go into the Quiet to be with God in the interiority of our soul. We need to go deeper into Scripture, in which we daily allow God to speak to us directly. As Samuel once said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. “ We need to “fully, consciously, and actively” participate in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, because we are the Body of Christ which is continually being replenished by grace. And, we need to serve the poor because Jesus teaches us that he is present among them in a unique way (cf. Matthew 25:31-45).

That’s why we need each other, why we need Church. If we’re not companioning each other on the journey in and through Christ, we probably won’t be able to do it alone. We need brothers and sisters of faith to challenge us, to call us to a higher level of awareness. We need to “STAY AWAKE”!

 

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!