Dems Have a Religion Prob.

 

         Lindy West’s op-ed piece, Of Course Abortion Should Be a Litmus Test for Democrats, underscores that the latter have a major religion problem. 80% of white evangelicals and 52% of Catholics voted for Trump; that figure goes to 60% for regular Mass attendees.   Hispanics are becoming the majority of American Catholics and they tend to be socially conservative re. life issues. Does the Democratic Party want to write off this constituency, especially since the Electoral College tends to favor the Republic Party (cf. the George W. Bush and Trump victories)?

A study by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution addressed issues that affected the 2016 elections (How Immigration and Concerns about Cultural Change are Shaping the 2016 Election; June 23, 2016). The study found that there were serious concerns of discrimination against Christians. Nearly half (49%) of Americans say discrimination against Christians has become a big problem in America. 74% of white evangelical Protestants say that discrimination against Christians now rivals that of other groups. Substantially fewer white mainline Protestants (54%), white Catholics (53%), black Protestants (53%), and Hispanic Catholics (50%) agree. West’s op-ed piece would tend to confirm their concerns. If a pro-Life mayoral candidate in Omaha, NB cannot run under Democrat auspices, that is de facto, a religion problem.

West also says since 70% of all Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade (citing the Pew Research Center) that this number (and others) do not indicate controversy.

Not so fast. According to a Marist Poll (conducted December 12-19, 2016) Americans do support abortion restrictions. According to the poll, “significant majorities of Americans oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortions and want the Supreme Court to rule in favor of abortion restrictions.” The poll found that among Americans overall, nearly three-quarters (74%) want abortion restricted to, at most, the first trimester. Nearly six in ten (59%) say it is either an immediate priority (34%) or an important one (25%) to limit abortion to the first trimester. This includes 78% of Republicans and almost half of Democrats (47%). Even among those who identify as pro-choice, more than 40% say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important (44%). To say that unrestricted abortion does “not indicate controversy” strains one’s credulity.

Finally, West says that Abortion is normal, which may suggest that it is normative and to outlaw it is indefensible from a “human rights standpoint.” Re. that same Marist Poll, regardless of their views on whether abortion should remain legal, almost six in ten (59%) believe that abortion is morally wrong. This includes 80% supporters of President Trump and nearly four in ten supporters of Secretary Clinton. They believe abortion is wrong because it takes the life of an innocent human being. Moreover, the right to Life, takes precedence over Liberty concerns. As Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Note which comes first: one can’t enjoy Liberty without having Life.

In order to maintain “absolute ideological purity,” West is ready to discard those who are pro-Life since “abortion is not fodder for such compromise.” Her rigidity bares a family resemblance to the NRA. Indeed, it seems that that NORAL and the NRA exert a stranglehold on their respective parties and both are obstacles to inclusive participation.

 

Deacon Jim McFadden

The One Thing

17th Sunday in O.T. (A); July 30, 2017

1 Kgs 3:5,7-12   Ps 119   Rom 8:28-30   Mt 13:44-52

Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison

 

The Swedish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said , “The saint’s life is about one thing.” He didn’t mean that a saint’s life would be a monotonous existence—“been there, done that” type of lifestyle. Rather, he meant that a truly holy person whose life is fully integrated and whose heart is rightly ordered to the Good is simply grounded in what is really Real.

What is your “one thing”? What is your ultimate concern? That’s the question that was posed to King Solomon in our first reading. Solomon, the successor to his father King David, began his reign by offering God a solemn sacrifice. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and was told, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” (1 Kgs 3:5). Here we see the greatness of Solomon appear. He did not ask for a long life, more wealth, elimination of his enemies. Instead, he said to the Lord, “Give your servant…an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (v. 9). Of all the things that Solomon could have asked for, he asked for “an understanding heart.” That’s what was so important to Solomon that nothing else would trump. What would you say if you heard that invitation?

The 1991 film City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal explores this question in a fascinating, cinematic way. The adventure begins in the heart of New York City, where a thoroughly urbanized, stressed out, and jaded executive is struggling to find meaning in his life. His two best friends have the perfect cure: a “fantasy vacation” where they can be cowboys on a real-life cattle drive.

The drive is lead by a delightful, no-nonsense, in-your-face cowboy by the name of ‘Curly,’ played by Jack Palance, who played the bad-guy in Shane. On the trail, Mitch asks Curly, who seems to have things together, “What is life about?”

            Curly’s reply was, “None of you city slickers get it. You know what the secret of life is?” He then raises his index finger. “What? Your finger,” the perplexed Mitch replies.

One thing. Just one thing. You stick with that and everything else means “rubbish” (not the exact word, but you get the point).

Raising his index-finger, the Crystal character asks, “What is the one thing?” to which Curly responds, “That’s for you to figure out.”

            Brothers, have you figured it out? Would you ask for “an understanding heart?” You may be asking,  what do those simple words mean? We know in the Bible that the ‘heart’ is not only a physical part of the body, but also the center of the person: it’s the foundation from which all the person’s intentions, priorities, and commitments flow from. And, what you really value is where your heart will be. It’s important that you get this right because the meaning of your life, the joy you experience, the realization of your destiny hinges where your heart is, on this “one thing.”

In today’s Gospel readings Matthew continues his reflection on the Kingdom of God, which is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings and preaching. These two small masterpieces are the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and of the pearl of great value. They tell us that the discovery of the Kingdom of God can happen suddenly like the farmer who, ploughing finds an unexpected treasure; or after a long search, like the pearl merchant who eventually finds the most precious pearl after so much searching.

What both parables have in common is that the treasure and the pearl are worth more than any other possession we may have. Given that, when the farmer and merchant discover them, they give up everything in order to obtain them. They don’t need to weigh the pros or cons, to think about it, to deliberate whether it’s worth it. No, they’ve discovered what ultimately important, what the ultimate Good is, and they let go of any world attachments. When you’ve discovered Life, why would you give yourself to something less?

And, what is Life? What is the perfect revelation of the Kingdom of God? It’s not a thing; it’s not an idea. It’s a person: Jesus. And, the gateway to Jesus is the Gospel, which allows you to connect and know the real Jesus. Through the Gospel Jesus will speak to your heart and he will change your life. And, when you open the door of your heart to Jesus, you will leave everything behind.

We do have a choice: we can either change our lifestyle or continue to live as we’ve done before. But, if you’ve encountered Jesus, you have become some else. You are reborn into his resurrected Life; you have found what gives your life ultimate meaning, what give light to your darkness, what gives richness to all aspects of your existence: even to the toil of prison life, even to suffering, and even to death. Nothing else can do the same.

Brothers, everything takes on meaning when you find your treasure in the Gospel. Jesus calls this treasure “the Kingdom of God,” that is the intersection of your choice and the Father’s will. When that happens, then God will reign in your life. God will be in your life. God will be the source of love, joy, and peace in your life and in all your brothers and sisters.

This is what God wants for you. He wants it to such a degree that Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, gave himself to death on the cross so that you may have eternal life; He died for you to free us from the power of darkness and move us into the Kingdom of Life, of beauty, of goodness, of joy. To read the Gospel, to allow the Word to transform you, is to find Jesus and to share in his Christian joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

My dear brothers, I hope you have found the joy of the Kingdom of God which will shine through you to others. I hope you will “sell” everything in your life to have this treasure, this pearl of great price. And, as you do, you will patiently put Gospel values into practice, thereby contributing to justice and peace in this troubled prison.

Let us ask the Virgin Mary, the seat of Wisdom, to help us in this endeavor. Mary is the Mother of God and therefore she is the Mother of the Church. She is our Mother. So, through her example and through her intercession, she leads us into a deeper relationship with her Son. Mary always said “Yes” to God’s will.   May we do the same. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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.