Saturday, November 20, 2010

Homily Christ the King Year C

christ_the_king_2Since I am in my fourth year of Theology, my last year at St. Mary’s Seminary here in Baltimore, every day that passes is one more day closer to… Comprehensive Exams. These are a series of oral and written exams that is meant to test how well we have integrated all four years of theological studies. The Comprehensives are in February and I’m beginning to get a little nervous. They remind me of a similar experience I had in college, before I entered seminary. Then, in my senior year, I had to do what was called a “capstone project,” a project that summed up the four years of study in my major.

A capstone is a crowning achievement. In architecture, it is the top stone of a structure or wall, like the top stone of the each of the grand arches in our Cathedral. As much as we have been looking forward to the day when the construction equipment will finally be removed – in a way, I’m glad to see it, even if it is a bit of an eyesore. I’m glad because I know work is being done to keep the roof from falling down around us! But I’m also glad because it has a deeper meaning too. It means that this Cathedral is working, one arch at a time, to make sure that its capstone – it’s crowning achievement – is in place. That crown for us is the crown of Christ, whose kingship we celebrate today: the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. This very building itself, like each one of its many windows and sculptures, is teaching us to maintain the Crown of Christ as the crown of our lives and if it begins to fall away, it must be restored.

We celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King 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 Church Year as we wait with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior at Christmas. We celebrate Christ the King at the end of the Church year because the Church wants to teach us that by putting his Kingship at the end, we can see that His Crown is the Crown of the year, the capstone. 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 and all we have celebrated. Everything from his Incarnation to his Ascension is both a sign of and a testament to his Kingship. This building teaches us this as well. Make a point as you walk outside and down the steps after Mass to turn and look back at the façade. Beneath the first of our arches that forms the façade is a 20 foot tall statue of Christ the King. His crown is almost literally the capstone of that arch. You will be able to see this statue facing the inside too, surrounded by stained glass, once the plastic protecting the choir loft is removed. This statue stands at the top of our Church, looking both inside and outside, as the summit of all of our prayer in here and of all of our ministry and work out there. He is our king in here. Is he our king out there?

Luke’s Gospel today puts us into a terrible scene: Jesus is dying of his crucifixion while the rulers, solders, and criminals around him mock and jeer at him. Over his head hung the charge for which he was found guilty. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so that all who passed by could read it. The Latin read, “I.N.R.I.” (“Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum”) – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He claimed to be king, but the Jews and the Romans already had their king, King Herod. Therefore, Jesus was killed. “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God,” they shouted. “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself,” they jeered. One of the criminals mocked him: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” His persecutors were so blinded by their sin and hatred that they could not see Him for Who He truly is. They were expecting a worldly king with worldly power. They could not see that here hung before them the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the King of a kingdom not of this world, the King of the kingdom of God. This he told Pilate only hours before 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.”

Upon the throne of his cross, Christ the King achieved much more than a mere escape from their torture, he achieved for all mankind of all times freedom from the torture of sin and death. Jesus always gives us more than we ask for and more than we expect. The good thief who hung at his right was moved to conversion by Jesus’ courage and resolve and by the prayers of forgiveness that He offered for those who persecuted him. He recognized Jesus for who He truly is. And so he asked Jesus only to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. But Jesus gave him infinitely more; He gave him everlasting happiness with him in Paradise. This was given to the good thief because he saw rightly, he acknowledged Jesus as his king, he repented of his life of crime, and he prayed that Christ the King would be mindful of him.

Is Christ our King, not only in this mighty Cathedral, but in the rest of our lives as well? His kingship is easily recognized in this Church. Can others recognize his kingship in the temple of our hearts? The Israelites in the Old Testament knew a king when they saw one. Our first reading described how the elders of Israel chose David to be their king because he “led them out and brought them back”, he shepherded them, he fed them, and he successfully commanded them in battle. And so the elders anointed David king of Israel. Can we recognize a king when we see one? Have we forgotten what the angel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary about her newborn Son? “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 for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Have we forgotten what Paul reminds us in our second reading, that at our Baptism and every time we went to Confession, “God delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”? Upon further reflection, we might be surprised.

Let us treat this week, the end of the Church Year, like we often treat the end of the calendar year. Often the rolling of one year to the next causes us to look back and see how we have done. We may check our budget for the year and see how it panned out. We may check our expenses to see where we might save a little in the new year. This week, let’s look back on our spiritual year. Let’s call to mind how well we have been servants of our good and merciful Lord and King. Have we acknowledged him as our King? Or have we anointed another to be king in his place? Have we placed on the throne of our hearts a tyrant? Have we preferred King Herod over Jesus Christ? Has our homage been to our work, our money, or the latest technology? Have we adored our reputation, our appetites, or our passions? Have we bowed down before our anger, our jealousy, or our laziness? So many things, people, and spirits are masquerading as our king, vying for our devotion. The more we choose Christ as our King, the easier it will be to recognize him, and to choose rightly every time. It is similar to the way inspectors can tell when a dollar bill is counterfeit. The best inspectors know the real bills because they have handled the them by the hundreds. Hundreds of real bills, one by one, have passed through their hands until they almost know by instinct which one is a fake. The more we choose Christ, the easier it will be to recognize when a fake presents itself.

Let us choose Him again today. The good thief in our Gospel – this very building! – tells us that it is not too late. If His Crown has fallen away from your life, restore it to the summit of your heart through the Sacrament of Reconciliation at your first opportunity. Consider when you receive Communion that what looks like bread and tastes like bread is not really bread at all but is instead your loving, forgiving, merciful King, waiting to be chosen by you, wanting to lead you out and bring you back, to shepherd you, to feed you, to successfully command you in your daily battle toward union with him and the good thief in Paradise.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Archbishop Kurtz is new Vice-President of USCCB

Today, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was elected the new President of the USCCB and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, was elected the new Vice-President!  Congratulations your Excellency!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Homily 33rd Sun O.T. Year C: Wisdom and Perseverance

In Jesus’ discourse that we heard this evening, his “Little Apocalypse,” he refers to many who will come forward, claiming to be the Messiah, before his Second Coming at the end of the world. At the same time there will be many wars, natural disasters and persecutions. All this he tells them in the shadow of the great Temple in Jerusalem, as it faces east to the Mount of Olives.

The apostles were staring at the Temple, amazed at its beauty and grandeur. Its platform alone covered about 35 acres. Some of the stones of the Temple were 40 feet long, weighing nearly 100 tons. The eastern wall of the Temple was almost 300 feet high. They must have thought, “There is no possible way this Temple could ever be destroyed.” Jesus uses their awe at the Temple to teach them that unimaginable suffering will come their way, things as unimaginable as the Temple being destroyed. But, as in all of the apocalyptic messages in Scripture, there is always a ray of hope. The prophet Malachi foretold in our first reading, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” The light of Christ, the Wisdom of God, will be given to us when we need it. Our part is simply to remain faithful and to persevere.

stoningFr. Doherty mentioned in his homily on Friday that most of us will not be called to shed our blood, to be “red martyrs” for our faith. But, perhaps all of us will be called to be “white martyrs”, to endure many other types of persecutions because we remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the Church. I think a good model for us to follow in this is St. Athanasius, who suffered a great deal in his “white martyrdom.”

Throughout his life, he was exiled five times for a combined total of 20 years for his defense of the Nicene Creed against Arianism. He was accused of killing a bishop and cutting of his hand to use in magic tricks! He was accused of harassing consecrated virgins and sending henchmen to persecute his own priests in Alexandria. During the late 300’s, while in exile, there was a compromised pope, none of the bishops in Europe had the courage to stand up to him, and over 12 different creeds were being taught. Only the laity he catechized in preparation for their Baptism remained faithful.

Bishop Rudolph Graber, retired Bishop of Regensburg, wrote in his book Athanasius and the Church of Our Time that:StAthanasius

What happened over 1600 years ago is repeating itself today, but with two or three differences: Alexandria is today the whole Universal Church, the stability of which is being shaken, and what was undertaken at that time by means of physical force and cruelty is now being transferred to a different level. Exile is replaced by banishment into the silence of being ignored, killing [is replaced] by assassination of character.

Now is the time, while we are in seminary, to ask ourselves if we have taken seriously the challenges that lie ahead, not only those concerning celibacy and our state in life, but also those that will arise from simply being who we are: priests of Jesus Christ. Canon 247 admonishes us to be “duly informed of the duties and burdens which are proper to sacred ministers of the Church; no difficulty of the priestly life is to be omitted.” Are their certain aspects of the life of the parish priest to which we have said, “No… I don’t want to think about that right now, I’ll worry about that later.” Are there certain questions we have been afraid to ask? Certain difficulties we foresee that we are afraid we won’t be able to handle? If there are brothers, now is the time to be honest before God and bring them out into the light. Now is the time to seek the help of our mentors and spiritual directors, to be completely transparent with them about the duties and burdens proper to sacred ministers that are troubling us. And we address these not because we want to have a “pre-fab” answer for everything that comes our way, not because we distrust the wisdom Jesus promised to give us at the moment in which we are tested. No, we address the difficulties we foresee and we prepare ourselves for the ones we can’t foresee, precisely because we treasure his gift of wisdom, because we want to dispose ourselves to receiving it fully.

Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians.” This is true because as their peers saw them shed their blood rather than compromise their faith, their own faith was emboldened to strengthen the Christian community often at the very site of the martyrdom. The blood of our white martyrdom, shed in the silence of our own hearts, will only bear similar fruit, unless the soil of our souls is tilled by prayer, spiritual direction, wise counsel, and orthodoxy. [[For example, how will we react to gossip or slander against us? How will we react if we are confronted because of a challenging homily or because we have closed the parish school in order to be good stewards of the Church’s resources or because we have spoken out against an injustice in our neighborhoods? Will we acquiesce or persevere? How will we react to periods of loneliness or to dryness in prayer or to times of temptation. Will we acquiesce or persevere?]] Let’s start to answer all of our questions now. Jesus wants to give us his wisdom, a wisdom against which all of our adversaries “will be powerless to resist or refute.” He promised that by our perseverance “we will secure our lives.” Let us keep no secrets from God. Let us do what we need to do now in order to be open and able to receive his gifts every time he desires to give them.