25 November 2018Christ the King

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Christ the King
Christ the King - Cycle B - John 18:33-37

A wonderful statue of Jesus the Christ exists in the cathedral of Denmark's fairy-tale city of Copenhagen. The sculptor was the master Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen who died in 1844. He chose to sculpt a monumental Christ that would reveal Him in all His majesty. His hands would be raised as befitted His awesome power. His face would look out regally on everyone and everything. He would indeed be the King of kings, the Man in total control. It was done. "Jesus is the greatest figure in human history," the sculptor said, "and this statue will so represent Him." However, a funny thing happened on the way to the unveiling. The statue was left in a shed near the water. The dampness had its way with the clay Christ statue. The upraised hands had drooped. They no longer commanded. Rather, they beseeched. The fiercely upturned face had lowered itself onto the Master's chest. The person who wore this face had known many problems and was compassion itself. This was no longer a King before whom one would grovel and stutter "Your Royal Majesty." Rather, it was a Shepherd solicitous for everyone of His sheep. At first, Thorvaldsen was bitterly disappointed by the accident. Then he realized after reflection that this was a more accurate Jesus than the one he had originally conceived.

Indeed, it might have been providentially planned. So, he left it undisturbed. His original intention had been to inscribe the dictum "FOLLOW MY COMMANDS" on the base of the statue. But now he realized that was no longer appropriate. Instead he chiseled the softer message "COME UNTO ME." To this day, this benign Nazarene touches the hearts and spirits of those who enter the Copenhagen cathedral. It is reported that often Thorvaldsen's masterpiece reduces spectators to tears. In most probability, it has more of a genuine effect on them than his majestic Christ ever would have. The statue reminds them of His famous words to a puzzled Pontius Pilate in today's Gospel, "My kingdom is not of this world." What type of kingdom is His? Arthur Tonne tells us we can find an answer to that question in the preface of today's feast. We are told there that the Son wished to present to the Father a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, and peace. On each and every occasion, says Tonne, we must strive for one of these attributes in our own Christian lives.

When we do so, we are creating the Kingdom which the Christ desires and deserves. However, we too must avoid in our own Catholic lives the mind-set that originally belonged to the artist Thorvaldsen. If we act imperiously with others, if we lord it over them, we will move them not at all. We will alienate them from the Shepherd whose ambassadors we are. Hands clenched in anger and proud faces will not help the Christ's cause at all. If people say the only difference between us and terrorists is that one can negotiate with terrorists, we are doing something wrong. Our life, says the monk, will either shed light or cast a shadow. Let it be light. Christ deserves our best shot. We can reach more people, says St Francis de Sales, with a spoonful of honey than a cup of vinegar. Our manner of dealing with people must be that of Abraham Lincoln: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master."

A chaplain at a Catholic college in successive years has been publicly attacked by both the Catholic left and the Catholic right. The imperial orders from both groups were "FOLLOW OUR COMMANDS." With their inability to enjoy the luxury of a doubt, these self-ordained monitors and would-be masters have done him and his program serious harm. Theirs is the spirit of the early Thorvaldsen. The Christ is not served by division and anger. The age of kings is done. The few we have left belong to the ancien regime. They have become history. They are the subject of jokes by sneering TV comedians. They are increasingly irrelevant. They are all yesterday. Jesus is today, tomorrow, the next day, and ad infinitum. So must we be if we are to be effective ministers. We do not want to cause people to tremble before Christ and His Church. Rather, if anything, we want to move them to genuine repentance. The effect we have on them must match that which Thorvaldsen's work has on those people who enter the Copenhagen cathedral. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Christ the King
The Solemnity of Christ the King: Auctoritas

He represented the greatest empire the world ever saw. Its boundaries extended as far west as Iceland, as far east as the Mongolians and Ottomans, as far south as the top third of Africa, and as far north as Denmark. He was called the procurator by later historians, but was in fact a Prefect, a military governor. He commanded a small legion, but could call on the full force of Rome from its main Eastern base in Syria. His responsibilities included collecting taxes and supervising construction projects, but his main role was to maintain the law, as the Romans defined it. He had the power of judgement, including life and death. He came from the lowest rank of the Roman families. He was an equestrian, a knight. But that no longer mattered, for as prefect, or as later writers would call him, as procurator, he had auctoritas. Auctoritas was more than simply authority. He had prestige, clout, influence, and the ability to rally support around his will. He could make people do what he wanted just by being who he was. He wasn't just Pontius Pilate, prefect later called procurator. He was Rome. He most likely reclined as he spoke to the man who was his polar opposite. Jesus had no social rank. He wasn't even a Judean. He was a Galilean. He did not command armies. He did not represent a physical power. As far as Pilate was concerned, Jesus possessed no auctoritas. He was accused by his own people of calling himself a king, but he certainly didn't appear to be a king. Pilate amazed himself that he even bothered to engage this commoner in conversation.

But Pilate's wife, Claudia Procula, had just sent him a message to have nothing to do with this just man who haunted her dreams. Like any husband he did the opposite of what his wife said. Present company excepted, of course. Pilate was fascinated with Jesus. He asked him if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus returned the question by asking Pilate if he was merely responding to what others had said about him or if he was sincerely seeking to know who Jesus was. After Pilate's bluster, "I am not a Jew," Jesus spoke about his kingship. He said that his kingdom was not here, but was beyond this world. Jesus also had auctoritas, auctoritas infinitely greater than the world had ever seen before. Jesus had the auctoritas of God. Indeed earlier the people had been amazed at Jesus' teaching because he spoke with such authority. The Solemnity of Christ the King demands that we consider where we seek authority. Who are those whom we acknowledge as people of power and prestige? And what degree of authority do we give them over us? We respect the authority of our police, and do as they say when they ask us to leave an area, go someplace, or simply, slow our car down. We recognize the authority of our firefighters when they tell us not to enter a burning building, even if it is our own house. We recognize the authority of our military leaders as they lead our men and women to defend our country. We recognize the authority of our political leaders, as they seek to advance our society. We recognize the authority of our doctors and nurses and all in the medical field as they seek to care for us. But all these people, and those representing so many other professions, only have a limited authority over us.

They cannot force us to think as they think. The fascists and the communists tried that. They tried to impose thought on people. They couldn't. At least they couldn't impose thought on people who were aware of the limitation of civil authorities. They couldn't impose thought on people who recognized the authority of God. We cannot allow elements of our society to dictate what we are to think, to say, and to do. We cannot be told that something is right because it is supported by a civil law. Slavery was supported by the law until the thirteenth amendment was passed on January 31,1865 and was ratified December of that year. But slavery was always wrong. Civil law cannot surmount natural law, the law of God written in our consciences. Thousands, tens of thousands of martyrs have willing accepted death rather than give civil authorities ultimate authority over their lives. From 12 year old Agnes of Rome to 80 year old Ignatius of Antioch, from Thomas More, the second most powerful man in sixteenth century England, to Blessed Miguel Pro, a simple parish priest in twentieth century Mexico who died calling "Vivo Cristo Rey," God's authority remained supreme. And so it must be for us.

We recognize the auctoritas of God, not that of Pilate. Nor can we allow popular opinion to dictate our consciences. We cannot be slaves to pollsters. We cannot submit our consciences to the prevailing mood of what some claim is a majority, although those claiming to be Bolsheviks are usually Mensheviks, those claiming the majority are usually the minority. We have to take a stand for the truth, whether it is popular or not. "As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord,"Joshua announced after Jericho was conquered and the Hebrew people were establishing their families in the Promised Land. He would be a man of God inhabiting what had been a pagan land. We also must be people of God. We cannot submit to the slavery of the mind police. We cannot give anyone ultimate authority over our lives. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Following Jesus Christ, the King, demands that we stand apart from those elements of society that refuse to recognize His authority. Following Jesus Christ our King, forces us to make decisions that are determined by the law of God, not the popular opinion of the day. Following Jesus Christ the King necessitates that we be separate from much of society.

To be separate is to be holy. Giving auctoritas to Jesus Christ frees us to be holy. Allowing God to be the ultimate authority in our lives gives us the capacity to be the unique reflections of God's presence He created each of us to be. Pontius Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth. Were there ever two more diametrically opposed participants in a conversation? Only one of them understood what authority really was. And He died on the cross to which the other had condemned Him. It sounds so lovely to say that Jesus Christ is our King. All of us want to affirm that we choose Jesus, not Pilate. It is wonderful to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is our King. But to live like this, well that is different. That is difficult. It takes all the courage, all the spiritual strength that we can muster up to be members of his Kingdom. We call upon our King today to help us be holy.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Christ the King
Trading Illusion for Truth (November 25, 2018)
Bottom line: With Jesus tomorrow is another day. It involves conversion - trading illusion for truth.

I know this is going to mark me but one of my favorite movies - and books - is Gone With the Wind. Some parts are hard to read today. Still, I love the book because of the heroine, Scarlett O'Hara: resilient, undefeated, her motto, "tomorrow is another day." A few years ago I was delighted when a high school girl told me she was reading Gone with the Wind. She was facing serious struggles. I told her, "you are Scarlett O'Hara." As much as I love Scarlett O'Hara she has a fatal flaw. She loves the wrong man: Ashley Wilkes. Unfortunately for Scarlett he marries Melanie. By default Scarlett eventually marries Rhett Butler. Rhett's no fool. He knows Scarlett pines for Ashley. He keeps trying to wake her up - to realize she is living an illusion. In the end Melanie dies tragically and Scarlett of course runs to Ashley - only to discover she has been chasing a phantom. Gone with the Wind strikes a deep chord because it tells an ancient story. It's a story as old as the Garden of Eden - when our first parents sought happiness in something other than God. That story runs through human history - and in your life and mine. With that basic story in mind I turn to today's readings. In the prophet Daniel we hear the promise of "one like a Son of Man" who receives dominion, glory and kingship. He is rightful king of the universe and of our lives. Yet he does not force himself on us. We have to make a choice - to receive his kingship or not. That's why the first time Jesus openly declares himself king is when he stands before Pilate. Humiliated and powerless, he confirms that he is king - not a king of political power but of truth. Political power involves coercion; truth involves conversion. The words sound similar, but there's a big difference.

Coercion means forceful submission; conversion means free acceptance - giving one's heart. I pay my income tax, yes, because I love our country, but also because if I don't, the consequences could be bad. That's coercion - and it's a necessary part of civil government. On the other hand, I make a Stewardship commitment because of gratitude to God. That's conversion. As we begin Advent next week we'll see other dimensions of conversion. Jesus invites conversion by saying he is the Alpha and the Omega - the one who is and who is to come. He invites conversion above all by his death for us. Jesus always offers hope and mercy. With that in mind, I return to Scarlett O'Hara. At the end of the novel we see she has made a mess of things. She realizes Ashley is an illusion and tries to go back to Rhett. But it's too late. He utters a line they have to censor: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a...darn. But Scarlett has the last word. After Rhett leaves she lifts her head and says, "Tomorrow is another day." I take that as a statement of faith - of trust and of course hope. We humans can make a mess of things. Just look around. We've done it in the Church; we seem to be doing it in our country; perhaps in our families and personal lives. We've chased illusions. But with Jesus tomorrow is another day. That involves conversion - trading illusion for truth. As Jesus says, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Christ the King

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Christ the King
Feast of Christ the King

I once heard a story about a man who travelled to London to attend an interview for an important post in the security services. When he arrived at the appointed place he found five other applicants in the waiting room, all discussing their prospects. There was no secretary on duty. A sign on the wall stated that applicants were to knock and enter the interview room at fifteen-minute intervals, beginning at eleven o'clock. They were to leave the interview room by another door, so that the nature of the questioning could be kept secret. The applicants discussed the strange arrangement; they reflected on what questions might be asked; they wondered what qualities would be needed for the post. At eleven o'clock one of them, who said he had been the first to arrive, went to the door of the interview room, knocked and entered. The remaining five men continued to discuss various matters among themselves. So, the time passed. At a quarter past twelve the last man to arrive rose from his chair, walked over to the door of the interview room, knocked and entered. When he stepped into the room he was confused by what he saw. Behind the large oak table that dominated the room sat his interviewers: they were the same five men who had been in the waiting room. The interview was already over, all the information they needed had been extracted from him during the casual conversation in the waiting room. We have another kind of interrogation in today's Gospel reading. It is much more direct than the one we just heard about.

Pilate immediately cuts to the chase, ?Are you the King of the Jews?? This time it is the interviewee who is enigmatic. Jesus responds with a question as if he is turning the tables on Pilate. But eventually Jesus does provide the answer not only to Pilate's interrogation but to the questions in the minds of the readers of Matthew's Gospel and indeed to the questions we have about him today. ?Yes, I am a King? he says, ?But my Kingdom is not of this world.? Yes, Jesus is a King. Not a King as we know it and his Kingdom is as unlike any Kingdom here on earth as it possibly could be. His Kingdom is no ordinary Kingdom for it is the goal and destination of the whole of humanity, because it is under Christ's rule that we will all ultimately come. Pilate has found himself in the extraordinary position of interrogating the King of the Universe, the Lord of Lords, the Judge and Ruler of all creation. If he fully understood what was happening it was Pilate who should have been shaking in his shoes not Christ. This great feast in honour of Christ the King marks the very end of the Liturgical Year. It is most appropriate therefore that we look to the very last thing of all, the Second Coming of Christ. We began the year with our preparations to celebrate the First Coming of Christ and now we look to the End Times to what we Catholics call the Four Last Things; that is Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. I don't want to dwell on these overmuch in this sermon; much better that you dwell upon them yourselves quietly at home. There could be no better fruit for meditation for a Christian in this last week of the liturgical year. Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell: Even the words sound gloomy and sombre but they shouldn't be, for it is our firm belief that Christ has won the victory and so meditating on these Four Last Things should actually be like any other examination of conscience. Spending a little time thinking about them will help us realise just how lucky we are and how important it is for us to stay on track, as it were, with our Christian faith and strive all the harder to love God and do good in the world. During this last year in our scripture readings we have considered all the most important aspects of the life of Christ.

They have been cleverly arranged so that we mark the various seasons appropriately and look at the life of Christ principally through the eyes of one Evangelist which this year has been St Mark. It is as if we have been listening to a wonderful symphony with its various moods and movements. There have been moments of wonder and awe such as the Nativity of Christ, there have been times of tragedy and sorrow as with Christ's death on the Cross. We have experienced the glory of the Resurrection and the regular and persistent drumbeat of the teaching of Christ. And today we come to the finale when Christ quietly and with great self-assurance standing alone before Pilate accepts for himself the extraordinary title King of Kings. It is a moment of great majesty and splendour and yet almost all of those actually present did not recognise it for what it was. 90% of those there including Pilate probably regarded Jesus' words as a joke. And yet it was these words which presaged his triumph on the Cross and the great victory over sin and death. It was a moment whose significance was beyond all expectation and which transformed the world. Although we know that the Kingdom of God will not be made present in all its fullness until the Last Day, we clearly understand that, by accepting this title, Jesus Christ changed the course of human history and began the inauguration of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is then already born and although we do not know when it will come into its fullness, however, we know that the work has begun and that we are privileged to be part of it. This is the task of the Christians of today, to help the Kingdom of God to find a place in the hearts of all of mankind. It is a sacred duty, an honourable task, a privileged undertaking. And so, on this great Feast Day, the last in our Christian Calendar, our hearts are filled with hope and optimism. This is best summed up in the words spoken as we greet the flame of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday Night: Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, Alpha and Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To Him be glory and power Through every age forever. Amen

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