Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Homily Christ the King Year A

After high school, I didn’t enter seminary right away like some of my fellow seminarians. I loved computers and wanted to some day work in a high-tech field like web development. I went to Lindsey Wilson College, a small school in south central KY and was a computer science major. I remember when I was a freshman I was looking through the manual for my major and shuddered at the description of the Capstone Project that was required after my senior year. It was to be a wholly original project that summed up my entire four years of computer science learning. Some of you in high school or college may know what I’m talking about… pretty scary huh? My project ended up being a system that gathered and reported data on the technology demands of the buildings and the student body of the college.

Today, we all together have our own sort of Capstone Project: The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. We celebrate it on the last weekend of Ordinary Time, at the end of another Church Year. Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a new Year. Why then do we celebrate Christ the King at the end? I think it is for a similar reason that we have academic Capstone Projects. The Church wants to teach us that by putting his Kingship at the end of the year we can see that His Crown is the Crown of the year, the capstone. A capstone is the top stone of a structure or wall but it is also the crowning achievement.[1] All of the action of the Church Year moves forward and up to His Kingship and is summed up by it. He is the King of all we have done in the Church this year and all we have celebrated. Everything from his Incarnation to his Ascension is both a sign of and a testament to his Kingship which is not only spiritual but real and human as well.

But, Christ’s is a Capstone that need not cause us to shudder, as I did before my senior year computer science project. Only evil need shudder, not those who are holy and subservient to Him, for He is unlike any king we have ever known. Our first reading from Ezekiel prefigures Christ as a loving shepherd who tends his flock. “I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered,” says the Lord God, “when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.” In our Responsorial Psalm, he gives us, his sheep, repose in verdant pastures; he leads us beside restful waters; he refreshes our souls; and he guides us on right paths. In our second reading St. Paul teaches us that he gives us new life and in our Gospel he is made known in those who are hungry, thirsty, foreign, naked, ill, and imprisoned. Does this sound like any of our kings or leaders today? Only the great saintly kings of old gave us a true image of Christ’s Kingship, like Saint Edward the Confessor, King of England or Saint Louis, King of France. Too many of our leaders today follow not the example of these saintly kings but of the one described in the famous 16th century book, The Prince, by Machiavelli. Here, “political expediency is placed above morality and the use of craft and deceit is advocated to maintain authority and carry out policies.”[2] This, I’m afraid, is all too familiar.

But, let us not be fooled into thinking that Christ’s Kingship is just a weak alternative. Let us not regard him as simply timid and sweet. Again, turning to our readings, it is true that in Ezekiel he seeks out the lost, brings back the strays, binds up the injured, and heals the sick, but the sleek and strong he will destroy, “shepherding them rightly.” He will not tolerate those sheep who try to evade or usurp his authority. In our responsorial psalm “he will spread the tables before me in the sight of my foes.” He is not ashamed to lavish rich blessings upon his chosen ones; our foes can jeer all they want. In our second reading, St. Paul teaches that at Jesus’ second coming, he will destroy all that is evil, even death, the result of man’s first sin. And by his Might and Merciful Justice everything will be subjected to him and he will reign Supreme. Finally from our Gospel we learn of his just judgment.

Now, at the moment of our death we will receive what is called a Particular Judgment where we will be judged by the state of our soul to receive Heaven or Hell for eternity or Purgatory for as long as is necessary to purify us for Heaven. But our Gospel, on the other hand, describes what is called the Last Judgment. This “sentence pronounced at the end of time will simply be a public, formal confirmation of that sentence already passed” at the moment of our death (Navarre commentary Mt 25:31-46). Returning to our Gospel, then, we see that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” And “He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

But, all this talk of shepherding rightly, spreading out tables, having victory over death, and proclaiming judgment sounds all very… spiritual. What about his life as a man? Wasn’t he pretty weak then? Well, I would say that meek is a better word. While still in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary he relied on her flesh and blood and the power of the Holy Spirit for life, yet she was still his living throne, a tabernacle. Our Lord was the King Messiah that the Jews had long awaited. The Archangel Gabriel announced, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33).

As an infant his new throne was a simple wooden manger. Yet the magi, probably royal figures themselves, came to offer him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His kingship as a man was meek and moderated. He did not allow the royalty of his divinity, his claim on all creation, to have the glorious splendor it deserved. But this did not make his human kingship any less real or less royal.

Our Lord gradually revealed his kingship so that it could be acceptable and accurately understood. Therefore, we read in John’s Gospel that on some occasions, when a crowd was enthusiastic about a miracle, "Jesus, knowing that they would seize Him and make Him king, fled to the mountain, Himself alone (John 6:14)." And He often, after working a great miracle told the people not to tell anyone. The reason is that so many held a false notion of what the King Messiah was to be; they expected a great temporal conqueror who would free them from Roman oppression. But He did not come to exercise earthly power. Even though in Matthew’s Gospel, at his Resurrection, Christ said to His Apostles "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” yet He still did not intend to exercise temporal rule. He wanted a spiritual reign, to rule over hearts. He said as much to Pilate when Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world… For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”[3]

This truth he showed the whole world when me made his cross his last earthly throne: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). Upon his death on the cross, “God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee must [bend], in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11). “What wonder, then, that he whom St. John in Revelations calls the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’(Rev 1:5) appears in the Apostle's vision of the future as he who "On his robe and on his thigh has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:16). It is Christ whom the Father "appointed the heir of all things" (Heb 1:2); "for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25).[4]

At last then, what does Christ’s spiritual and human kingship mean for us? The Catholic Church is the Kingdom of God on earth. Each one of us is called to participate in this kingdom and expand it through our good works. The Lord should be present in our families, among our friends, neighbors and colleagues at work.[5] And St. Josemaria Escriva taught us firmly on this feast that

Against those who reduce religion to a set of negative statements, or are happy
to settle for a watered-down Catholicism; against those who wish to see the Lord
with his face against the wall, or to put him in a corner of our souls, we have
to affirm, with our words and with our deeds, that we aspire to make Christ the
King reign indeed over all hearts, theirs included.
We cannot wait for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God at the Last Judgment our Gospel describes. Let us work on this Capstone Project now: that he reign in our minds with firm belief in truth and doctrine; in our will with obedience to the laws of God; and in our hearts with love for God above all things. Then we can confidently pray with the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” (Lk 23:42).

[1] "Capstone." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 02 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Capstone>.
[2] "Machiavellian." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 02 Dec. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Machiavellian>.
[3] “Kingship of Christ, Queenship of Mary in Scripture,” by Rev. William Most
[4] Quas Primas, On the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI, 11 December 1925
[5] In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, “Christ the King”, by Fr. Francis Fernandez

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