Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily Christ the King Year C: Seeing Christ For Who He Truly Is

As we have seen over the last few weeks, everything has led up to today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, on this last weekend of Ordinary Time. Next weekend marks the beginning of Advent and the beginning of a new Church Year as we wait with joyful hope for the coming of our Savior at Christmas and throughout our lives. We celebrate Christ the King at the end of the Church year so that we can see His Crown is the Crown of the year, the capstone, the crowning achievement. 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 to the right hand of the Father is both a sign of his Kingship and a testament to it. We will praise and glorify his Kingship through the prayers and hymns of this Mass. 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, soldiers, and criminals around him mock and jeer at him. Over his head hang his death sentence. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so that all peoples of all nations 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.

“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 hang before them the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the King of a kingdom not of this world, but of God. Earlier, 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.”

His cross was his throne. Upon this throne, Christ the King achieved much more than we would expect by appearances alone. 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 Jesus offered for those who persecuted him. He recognized Jesus for who He truly is. And so he asked Jesus simply to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. But Jesus gave him infinitely more: 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 sin, and he prayed that Christ the King would be mindful of him.

Is Christ our King, not only in this church, but in the rest of our lives as well? His kingship is easily recognized in Church when we are singing and praying about it. 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 go to Confession, “God delivers us from the power of darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”? Christ truly is our King and when he shepherds and feeds us through the sacraments, we are brought into his kingdom.

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? In essence, 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 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. The more we choose Christ, the easier it will be to recognize when a fake presents itself.

It is never too late for any us of to begin following Christ our King more closely than we have before. The good thief in our Gospel, who hung beside Jesus at the bitter end, tells us that it is never 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 that when you receive Communion, your loving, forgiving, merciful King not only fulfills the Israelites’ ancient desire for a king like David, he fulfills all of our deepest desires, he leads us out and brings us back, to shepherd us, to feed us, to successfully command us in our daily battle toward union with him and the good thief in the Kingdom of God.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Homily 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year C: Courage in Hope



Although we still have about one and a half months left in the calendar year, the Church year ends in a couple of weeks with the end of the Season of Ordinary Time. Advent, the season we will be entering into, marks the beginning of a new Church Year because it is the season that prepares for Christmas, the ultimate “new beginning” that celebrates the entry of God into human history when the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Whenever we come to the end of something, that is always a time of great significance. End-times cause us to consider ultimate questions and last things. As we near the end of a liturgical season and the Church year, the readings at Mass become more and more challenging and direct. We are challenged to remain faithful, to persevere, to prepare for persecution, to prepare for our judgment, to avoid sin, and increase in holiness.

Such is the case with this weekend’s readings. The first reading from the second book of Maccabees gives a snapshot of a severely vivid witness of uncompromising fidelity and obedience to God in the face of overwhelming persecution and suffering. The Church gives us readings like this to help us to prepare for our own persecutions. In this scene, we have seven brothers and their mother who are brought before the king and threatened with torture and death unless they forsake the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law. The Israelites were under many dietary and ritualistic laws in order to form them in discipline so that they would be better able to receive the deeper, spiritual laws of the coming Messiah. These brothers and their mother will not forsake even the least of God’s laws. So the king tortures and kills each brother, one after the next, in front of the others. And with the death of each brother, the next one does not waver. Eventually all seven and their mother are killed for their obedience to God. What allowed them to persevere in the face of such cruelty was their deep and abiding faith in the resurrection. They believed that the glory due to them overshadowed any persecution or suffering in their earthly lives. Their faith in the resurrection helped them to put their suffering in proper perspective, no matter how severe.

The faith of these seven brothers and their mother is what the Sadducees openly mock in the face of Jesus in our Gospel reading. The Sadducees were a group of Jews who did not believe in the Resurrection because they did not see it spelled out explicitly in the first five books of the Old Scriptures. But, Jesus has been openly preaching the Resurrection and so they decide to try to make him look like a fool by posing to him an absurd riddle that despicably mirrors the scenario in the first reading. They ask, in the case of seven brothers and childless widow, to which brother will the woman be married if all are raised from the dead?

Jesus, not stymied by their trick, answers them on their own terms. He first makes the point that we are not “given in marriage” in the next life. Second, Moses himself teaches the resurrection when, in the episode of the burning bush, he calls Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If God is a God only of the living, and they had been dead for centuries before him, then they must somehow be alive in God – which implies the resurrection. After this the Sadducees did not dare pose any other arguments.

Jesus’ point about us not being “given in marriage” in the next life was meant to emphasize the Resurrection but it can be a troubling point. I experienced this in my own ministry as a seminarian when I went to the hospital with a lay woman to visit a parishioner. It was a straightforward visit, but we could tell that the lady we were visiting had something else on her mind. She finally told us that she was feeling alone and afraid as she lay in the hospital. Her husband had just died one year before and she recalled that after his funeral Mass she asked the priest if she could still consider herself married to her husband. The priest must have been in a hurry because all he did to answer her was quote today’s Gospel about us not being “given in marriage” in the next life, without any further explanation. His words were ringing in her ears as she suffered alone in the hospital. She began to cry.

The woman I was with and I tried to console the lady. We explained that this scripture passage is true because marriage is, by definition, ordered to the procreation of offspring through natural sexual intercourse and the unity of the spouses which enables them to guide each other to salvation. But, once we are in heaven, life will not come through natural intercourse but directly from God, the source of Eternal Life. And spouses will not need each other to guide them to salvation because they will have received it fully. Once you come to the destination, you no longer need the sign pointing you toward it. Plus, we emphasized that she would be more unified with her husband in heaven than she ever was on earth because they would be one in Christ, which is a much deeper and more profound unity. This seemed to console her greatly.

This consolation of the Resurrection, which allowed the seven brothers and their mother in the first reading to persevere in faith and obedience despite great suffering… this consolation that helped the lady we visited find hope in a different, more profound unity with her husband in eternal life… this is the consolation that is put before each one of us today. This is our consolation too, that helps us to put all of our sufferings or persecutions in their proper perspective. In this country we do not face persecutions such as imprisonment and torture for being faithful Catholics, but we do have very real persecutions on the horizon and in our day-to-day lives that hold us back just the same.

This isn’t meant to be a partisan statement… but the health care law that goes into effect in the new year will be a form of persecution as faithful Catholic employers will be forced to disobey their conscience and provide services that are against Church teaching, such as abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception, or else face onerous penalties. There are other persecutions that are more common to all of us. Again, these aren’t violent and forceful but they hold us back as if they were. These are more subtle persecutions, which can be the most devious… persecutions of timidity and fear; of pressure to be accepted, favored, or approved; persecutions of being bullied for being faithful; of the fear of change; of the fear of taking a step forward toward a better way of life because we cannot envision it due to not having experienced it yet… these are all persecutions that keep us at bay, that keep us from being bold and courageous Catholics.

Recently I was at a football game and the guy behind me was drinking and swearing, completely out of control. There I sat, a priest, and I should have turned around and said, “please stop taking the Lord’s name in vain”… but I didn’t, I was afraid of what he might say or if he might make fun of me so I just sat there and grumbled. But if I would have just taken a moment to think about the glory of the Resurrection that I can realistically hope for if I persevere in faith and obedience, then I would have had the courage to stand up boldly and defend God’s Holy Name. This is my point. Stopping for a moment to place our sufferings and persecutions, no matter how large or small, into the context of the Resurrection helps us to have the courage we need to endure them courageously and patiently. Our hope in the Resurrection gives us the strength to take every opportunity to glorify God, to defend our faith, to honor His Name, and to increase in holiness.