Solemnity of Christ the King
Scripture Readings: Ex 34:1-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
In our recent refectory book on the election of Pope Francis, it was pointed out how “protection” was a dominant theme of his inaugural homily and would be a hallmark of his pontificate. It is certainly the dominant theme in our first reading from Ezekiel and in today’s gospel. The role of protector appears as the dominant trait of our king. It is the judgment criteria of us, made in His image.
The Holy Father points to St. Joseph, patron saint of the church, as the model of a protector. He protected Jesus and Mary “discreetly, humbly, and silently, but with unfailing presence and utter fidelity even when he found it hard to understand.”
The pontiff said that we are to protect people and the created world, the environment. He wrote Laudato Si about protecting the environment. Today’s gospel and the summation of a year of Matthew’s teaching are about the protection of people. That is what St. Joseph protected. St. Benedict cites this gospel in the Rule’s chapter on the reception of guests (“I was a stranger…” v. 35). There, he goes into great detail on the attention given to guests. Great attention is shown to the poor because in them “Christ is received.” He anticipated Pope Francis’ emphasis that “protection is the vocation of everyone.” After all, the mission of Christ was to make the Father known and the mission of the church is to carry that on. We are members of the church so Benedict says guests are to be shown love (i.e. concern for their good) and treated with humility (preference for their welfare over one’s own). As Cistercians we are to strictly observe this. We cannot say, “We’re contemplatives. We don’t care; we don’t have to.”
Pope Francis gives the requirements for a protector when he says that, as Protector, Joseph was always “able to hear God’s voice, be guided by His will” and thus sensitive to persons entrusted to one’s safekeeping. The Holy Father tells us that to imitate this we must first protect Christ in our lives. “We have to keep watch over ourselves! …hatred, envy, and pride defile our lives.” We must keep watch over our emotions and our hearts because they are the seats of good or evil intentions that build up and tear down. We must do this as a community. We must not, he says, be afraid of goodness and tenderness.
The Pontiff’s call to watch echoes with Jesus’ call today to do the same. We will hear this again next Sunday. They call us to live by principles that will give us consistency in our spiritual lives and readiness to respond as Christ did. We no longer have to live by momentary impressions. We can purposefully live a life that is useful to God and neighbor.
To help us keep this watch over ourselves we have the principles of our Rule, an abbot we are accountable to, and a community that we share these with. Watching is fine, but we are at our best when watched! So, the principles of our Rule, if taken seriously, give us the protection we each need when experiencing the spiritual deficits portrayed in the gospel. We can live in mutual trust.
Jesus is giving us a new way of seeing things. So, we end the liturgical year with these new ways of seeing those who we might think are less than self. The religious establishment saw Jesus that way. It prevented their receptivity to Him. And this new perception affects how we are disposed to treat one another. We say with the prophet Ezekiel, “I, myself, will look after my sheep…I will rescue them… …give them rest…seek out the strayed…bring back the injured…heal the sick.” It seems we will be judged by freedom from self and for others.
And if we do this, we will be called, “You who are blessed by my Father.”
Solemnity of Christ the King
Scripture Readings: Dan 7,13-14; Rev 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37
One day a Texan was visiting New Melleray. You know how Texans like to exaggerate. Well, after a tour of Trappist Caskets and our nineteen hundred acre farm the visitor said, “In Texas we have front lawns that are larger than your whole farm.” Then, seeing our beautiful Church he boasted, “We have telephone booths that are bigger.” The Guest Master was getting annoyed with these exaggerations so Fr. Jonah got a snapping turtle and put it under the covers of the Texan’s bed. When he showed the visitor his room for the night there was a large lump under the blankets. The Texan turned back the covers and exclaimed, “Good heavens! What’s that?” Fr. Jonah laughed and said nonchalantly, “Why, that’s only an Iowa bedbug.” The Southerner looked again and replied, “Well, I guess it is. But it must be very young, it’s so tiny.”
Today, the feast of Christ the King, Jesus is described as coming on the clouds of heaven. Elsewhere he warns us that the sun and moon will be darkened, stars will fall from the sky and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Is Jesus exaggerating like a Texan, or are these images symbolic of something else?
Describing the rebellion of Lucifer and his angels, the prophet Isaiah writes, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star!” (Is 14:12). And in the Book of Revelation St. John writes, “I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth … the sun and moon were darkened” (Rev 9:1f). “A great red dragon appeared … His tail swept down a third of the stars from heaven and threw them to the earth” (Rev. 12:3f). Here falling stars and the darkening of sun and moon are symbols of a much greater catastrophe, the fall of those angels who became devils, who want to take us into their darkness.
Jesus warns us that, “Many will fall away. And because wickedness is multiplied most people’s love will grow cold,” (Mt. 24:10-12). And he says, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8). Does his warning send chills down your spine as it does mine? The darkening of sun and moon, and falling stars are symbols of all those whose faith has died and whose love has grown cold. For them the coming of Christ the King will be dreadfully fearful, because they are in darkness. But if we stand firm in our faith and grow in our love, we will be ready to receive Christ with joy when he comes again on the clouds of heaven.
To prepare for his coming, Jesus tells us to “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man,” (Lk 21:34). Yes, let us pray every single day for strength to endure and escape all the things that will take place, so that we may not be like stars falling from the heavens into darkness, but may stand with joy before Christ the King when he comes on the clouds in all his glory.
Solemnity of Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17; 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28; Matthew 25:31–46
Jesus speaks of something prepared for us “from the foundation of the world,” and Paul of the end, the telos, when God will be all in all. So we as Christians are between what began before the beginning, and an end that has no end. This picture dwarfs anything returned by the Hubble telescope. It is the picture a Christian lives and moves in, makes plans from, and often dies because of. It is a picture of life to the full, a view of things where death is an enemy, but in a culture of death where a court order allowing a young woman to abort is a victory and a doctor’s actively assisting people to take their own lives a professional obligation and a work of mercy. Our Gospel reminds us of something fundamental: Food, drink, clothing, care, and hospitality are basic gestures of parental nurturing and communal aid that foster, promote, and enhance life, and so ward off and thwart the advance of death. Is it this conviction, that the world has a destiny, and this conviction, that death is not the final word, but that life is an endless song, that Christians suffer persecution for? We can ask this today, the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the day recommended by our bishops as a day of prayer for persecuted Christians.
“So that God may be all in all.” Jesus puts it this way: “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” If the first version, “God all in all,” is the stuff of contemplative rapture, the second version is in-your-face and smelly, the stuff of irritation, “What you did to that person, you did to me, because she is my sister, I am her.” The first version, “God all in all,” is viewing the state of things from the telos, the end, the final consummation; the second version, “that person is me,” is here and now, in your house, at your dinner table, wearing your wedding ring, or a black and white habit just like yours, a homeless man, an immigrant or refugee, a stranger: My brother my sister, but always me, for all the difference and distance and even the fear.
Imagine, there is something prepared for us from the foundation of the world, an inheritance, a gift, a grace that is our true and final destiny. If it is prepared for us, then we are somehow capable of it; and if capable of it, we are somehow already participating in it, that grace that is our final end. Our beatific destiny is already present in our sheer capacity to receive it. “All in all,” “you did for me,” they are the same, so the telos is now.
“Notice,” says John Chrysostom, “Christ does not say, “Take,” but “Receive as an inheritance,” as if the kingdom prepared for you were, because it is, ancestral wealth, a legacy from your parents, as something yours and for a long time coming to you. In exchange for what? For a roof, clothes, a piece of bread, a little cool water, a visit to a sickbed, a letter to a prisoner. In an astoundingly simply way, human needs and the empathetic fellow-feeling that is solidarity are royal ways to glory. God finds himself in what he makes, and loves himself in what he loves. That is how he is all in all, and we are bound up with him in it from the foundation of the world, through to an endless eternity.
Whatever that means, it does not mean that God is the divine Watchmaker of the Enlightenment. The trial version of Nietzche saying it outright, “God is dead.” God is alive as our mercy, our generosity, our humility, compassion and joy to one another. In our first reading, God is a shepherd. He finds himself among his scattered sheep. It makes you think of Pope Francis always telling bishops and priests, “have the smell of the sheep.” God is the first one to get smelly, it seems, and so Christ, the effulgence of God’s glory and the impress of His substance (Heb 1:3) in bringing God’s sons and daughters to glory was not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters but partook of our very nature (Heb 2:10–14). Once Saint Bernard told his brother monks that he had no time to contemplate or seek after God, “no time to see the king in his beauty seated on a lofty throne.” He is consoled, then, by “the human form that he adopted in order to reveal himself with the maximum of esteem and love.” He is “attractive, rather than sublime,” “God’s servant, and not a remote deity,” the one “sent to bring good news to the poor, . . . to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison” (SC 22.3).
Last week a visitor, a priest who is a native of Poland, spoke to us about modern Poland. On the way to his talk I was thinking of today’s liturgy: Why do people want so fiercely to persecute Christians? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, instruct the ignorant . . . what’s there in that to persecute for? Then, as if reading my mind, the visitor gave the answer. He started with a thumbnail sketch of the Church in Poland. From the introduction of Christianity in the 10th century to the present, at every step, it seemed, Christian leaders were compromised by, in conspiracy with, and supported every kind of political and economic regime, to their own worldly advantage and that of the Church and, as it were, left the sheep scattered everywhere when it was cloudy and dark. So of course, there were and are explanations if not justifications for Christians being persecuted. One can understand. When we remember and pray as we do today for persecuted Christians, we have in mind those disciples of Christ described in the Catechism, who “not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it . . . ‘amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks’” (CCC 1816).
 Discourse 79.s on the Gospel of Matthew.
Solemnity of Christ the King
Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43
Brothers and sisters, we’re celebrating today the Feast of Christ the King and in the gospel, we see displayed a man hanging naked and forsaken on a cross. But if, this is our king then, what are we celebrating? The church invites us today to look at and celebrate a crucified King because, it is by his death that we have regained the freedom of the children of God and are called to reign with him, yes, you and I being conformed to Christ are to reign with Christ as crucified Kings. What might that look like? Let me venture to show you what a crucified king possessed of the freedom of a child of God, might look like in the United States of America in the year 2016.
What if I were to say to you that, if a man experiencing sexual attraction to another man, acts on that desire, he sins, unless he acts in ignorance, in which case, though he is not culpable, what he did remains, for every person in no matter what circumstances, and with what ever intention, always and objectively immoral. If he should deny that what he did was wrong, and proceed to marshal arguments in defense of his behavior, that is wrong, and it is wrong each and every time he speaks with the intention of convincing others that what he did was right the more seriously if he succeeds, and so causes another to sin. If he sins in this way repeatedly and without remorse, even if he acts in ignorance, he will effectively estrange himself from God, and secure for himself that perfect loneliness our Catholic tradition calls hell. And if you, brothers and sisters are to be truly conformed to Christ, if you are to be crucified kings in this world, then you – must join him there. You must descend into hell with your brother; into that hell he has made for himself and suffer it with him, so long as it takes for him to understand that you love him as who he is, for better and for worse, and that no matter how disasterous his choices in life, you will never deny him your love. That is what it looks like to be a crucified King in our world today.
Brothers and sisters what you have heard me say is the truth, and let me point out that before proclaiming to you the truth, I did not submit my homily for approval by the Attorney General of the State of Georgia. I mention Georgia’s Attorney General because I recently learned that he required a Christian minister in that state to hand over to him the text of a sermon he gave, and discovering he had said in the pulpit that homosexual behavior is a sin, arranged for that minister to lose his job at Georgia’s Department of Public Health. Eric Walsh, the minister, subsequently introduced a law suit petitioning the right to exercise his religious liberty, and I wonder why. I understand the unfairness of Walsh losing his job because he preached the word of God, and I appreciate the importance for him and his family of getting his job back. But I am a little confused by what appears to be a man requesting from the state the free exercise of his religious liberty.
Where does Mr. Walsh imagine his religious liberty came from? Was that granted to him by the state? If religious liberty is a gift to us from the state, then, I guess, the state could take it back. But if religious liberty is simply the manifestation of my nature and dignity as a child of God whom GOD made free, why would I request from the state the right to exercise my religious liberty? Does Mr. Walsh suppose that, exercising the freedom of a child of God he should not suffer any ill effects as a result? Where would he get that idea? Surely, an ordained minister knows that Jesus offered his disciples no such assurance. Actually, Jesus explicitly and repeatedly said that if you are my disciple; if you speak with the freedom of a child of God, everyone will hate you; they will hate you! even as they hated me, whom they crucified. Your vocation brothers and sisters, is to be another Christ. Christ does not advocate for religious liberty. He incarnates it. We are to reign as Christ reigns: as those who have been crucified for love of those who do not love us; crucified for the truth and for God’s beloved children. And so, you must know that preparing this homily, I decided on its contents without the slightest concern for how any state official might judge its legality. Why should I have any concern about that? I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. None of the most important decisions in my life, the decision to become a disciple, a monk, or a priest were submitted to the scrutiny of the state, but was each a free and loving exercise of a religious liberty bestowed in me by God at my creation. Well then, as regards this homily, so long as our man made laws are in harmony with God’s law, reflected in the laws of nature, there is no possibility of my homily being in any way at variance with state law. If, on the other hand, the laws of the state have departed from or are in contradiction to God’s law, this regrettable situation places on me no obligation whatsoever to change one word in my homily. It demands rather, that the state revise the wording of its laws. I sincerely regret any inconvenience that may present to my brothers in government, but as a cloistered monk, that project frankly doesn’t concern me. I will leave them to their work, and pray for its success.
In the meantime, I give thanks to God for the gift of religious liberty by which I proclaim God’s word to you this morning. Most of all, I thank God for that freedom by which I am able to be conformed to the person of the Lord Jesus who is King of kings. Brothers and sisters: Behold our King. Look at him; look at the naked body of this man nailed to a cross who died for love of you and I. Shame on us, shame on us! if we make our own the words of a criminal and say to Jesus: “If you are Christ the King, save yourself, and for God’s sake, save us! from any unpleasantness which might result from the exercise of that religious freedom by which our God-like dignity is manifest.” Brothers and sisters – you are free. Do not imagine you are dispensed from this dignity and responsibility pending a day in court when a judge will give you permission to be what you are. You are free: free to love, and love to the end, even to the end of being substituted for a brother in hell; free to love, free to die, free to be crucified kings and to reign forever with Christ the King of kings.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43 ]
Today we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King, a humble servant king.
One afternoon in 1953, reporters and officials gathered at a Chicago railroad station to await the arrival of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He stepped off the train-a giant of a man, six-feet-four, with bushy hair and a large mustache.
As cameras flashed, city officials approached him with outstretched hands, telling him how honored they were to receive him. He thanked them politely and then, looking over their heads, asked if he could be excused for a moment. He quickly walked through the crowd until he reached the side of an elderly African-American woman who was struggling as she carried two heavy suitcases to a bus.
He picked up the suitcases in his big hands and, smiling, escorted the woman to the door of the bus. As he helped her get on the bus he wished her a safe journey. The crowd of reporters and officials came up behind him. He turned and said, “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the famous Christian missionary and medical doctor who spent his life helping people in Africa. He put into practice the love and humble service of Christ the King for the poor and the needy.
In our country we do not have kings or queens who surround themselves with pomp and circumstance. We believe all people have equal dignity, being made in the image and likeness of God. But today's feast presents us with a different type of King who came not to be served but to serve, and who died on a cross so that we could be members of his royal family. In Christ, each one of us is a prince or a princess, destined to inherit a kingdom.
In today's gospel Christ our King is dying between two thieves. While others mocked and jeered at Jesus, the good thief looked deeper into the meekness of Christ and recognized a King. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” In that moment a humble thief became a prince, a sharer in Christ's own kingship.
Contrast the last moments of the good thief and the crucified Jesus with the last moments of some worldly kings and queens. Queen Elizabeth the First of England cried out from her death bed that she would give all her possessions for more time. Charles the Ninth, who ordered the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre throughout France, exclaimed: “Blood and murders! I am lost forever, I know it, I know it.” Philip the Third of Spain lived with indifference to the plight of his people. But when was near death he said, “Would to God I had never reigned. What does all my glory profit me? It torments me now that I am dying.” The daughter of Stalin described his last moments. She said, “A stroke had left him unable to speak. At the very last moment he cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane, angry, and full of the fear of death. With one final menacing gesture he lifted his left fist as if he were trying to bring down a curse on us all.”
These worldly sovereigns dreaded death. They cursed and they wept. The loving words of Christ our King, as he was dying on the cross, are so different. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Forgiven by Christ and united with him every Christian becomes a prince or a princess in the kingdom of God.
There is another kingdom opposed to Christ, the kingdom of Satan. His dominion is unending darkness. It is a kingdom of lies not truth, of self-will rather than God's will, of sloth not fervor, of sensuality rather than purity, and of self-centeredness instead other-centeredness. Every day we make many choices between these two kingdoms. At death we will belong to one kingdom or the other forever. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a prince in the royal family of Christ, manifested his Christian nobility when he chose to help an elderly woman with her suitcases. That was far more important to him than being honored by reporters and city officials. He must have made similar choices of humble service thousands of times. May we do the same.
As we gather for this Eucharistic meal to share in the kingdom of Jesus, let us ask for the grace of that humble nobility which we see in Christ our King. And may the prayer of our brother, the good thief, be our own: “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom.”
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Ez 34:11-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46]
On this Solemnity of Christ the King, we can imagine human hearts all over the world keenly longing for the coming of a King who can help us make sense of and restore some kind of order to our world which at times seems to be spinning out of control. By way of fostering order and peace, you may know that, this past week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith hosted a colloquium in Vatican City on the subject of the complementarity of man and woman essential to marriage; a meeting convened by the pope. This was an inter-religious dialogue, and while no one is claiming that Christ the King himself made an appearance, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom gave an amazing talk which, I would suggest, gives us a glimpse of Christ the King; his gentle authority and his way of being King. By way of addressing the subject of the male / female complementarity essential to marriage, Rabbi Sacks presented an astonishing history of marriage, from the Jewish perspective, and, I mean a history starting from the very beginning. Can you imagine? According to a quite recent scientific discovery, the very first sexual act took place in a lake in Scotland about 385 million years ago when two fish, a male and a female, came together to perform the very first instance of sexual reproduction known to science. Up till then, life was propagated asexually by cell division, or budding, or other means.
Eventually, came homo sapiens, us, and because we have such large heads accommodating such large brains, our offspring had to be protected by their parents for a much longer time than other mammals. This made parenting more demanding, too much for one person to do alone, and so parenting became a shared responsibility, with the result that, among mammals, male and female human parents came to be bonded in a very unique way. Now, early in human history, polygamy was the preferred social arrangement, but the bible rejected polygamy, and we can all be very grateful for that. You see, when many men have several wives it means that a lot of other men are never able to marry at all, but when men cannot find wives, they are prone to become violent and the world becomes a dangerous place. So, in the bible polygamy is replaced with monogamy. Now, the Hebrew practice of monogamy is based on the belief that every single human being is made in the Image of God and therefore has a right to form a marriage and have children, according to the pattern set by Adam and Eve: that is, one man and one woman who become one flesh.
Rabbi Sacks goes on to explain how, with time, in the Hebrew Bible, love and not just fairness became the divine principle of moral life: love for God, neighbor and oneself. Just as God created the natural world in love, so we are responsible for founding the social order on love. But the flame of this love is lit in marriage; a marriage which produces offspring. The rabbi suggests that morality itself is the love between a man and a woman; the love between a child and his natural parents, extending outward to the world. Later on, Israel took the secular idea of a contract, a covenant, and conceived it as representing their relationship with God. With time, this idea of covenant matured and was envisioned as a relationship between a bride and a bridegroom, a wife and a husband, and in this way love, love between one man and one woman, was understood not only as the ground of morality but even grounded theology itself. For the Jews, faith itself is a marriage, the marriage between a man and a woman as celebrated in the Song of Songs. The rabbi concludes by saying that, in light of our history, going back 385 million years, it is clear that the family, a man, a woman, and bearing children is not one lifestyle choice among many. “It is, quite simply, the best means we have discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love.”
For this remarkable presentation, the rabbi was afforded a standing ovation by about three hundred religious leaders from all over the world, and I share it with you because I wonder if his talk might help you and me to celebrate this Feast of Christ the King with special joy and gratitude. Brothers and sisters, if the Christ we are going to meet on the last day is Christ the King, it is encouraging to think this gentle and wise rabbi may be giving us a peek at the Lord and King who will judge us. After all, the gospel we just heard proclaimed makes very clear that Jesus is King precisely because he is judge; the ultimate judge of persons and decider of your eternal destiny and mine. Now, judgment is an idea many today find distasteful. On his return from Brazil, Pope Francis famously told reporters: “Who am I to judge?” Words that were received with great enthusiasm all over the world. The pope meant of course, that it is not for us to judge persons, but we are responsible for judging situations, choices, and behaviors, ours and that of others, and we are doing that every day. What a blessing to encounter this good and prudent rabbi who ventures to make clear and abiding judgments on the most important moral questions of our day, and is really good at that. On this Solemnity of Christ the King, the words and witness of Rabbi Sacks are a sign that our King may be drawing near; making himself known, and offering us salvation, and all of this really is cause for celebration.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Ez 34:11-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46]
When someone comes to join the monastery one of the things we are suppose to find out is if this person is truly seeking God or is he here for other reasons. Brother Paul Andrew you have been with us seven years now and over these years we have come to the judgment that to the best of our knowledge you are truly seeking God in our way of life. The ritual this morning is an official validation — a kind of stamp of approval, or authentication of your vocation. Of course only God can see your heart. We can only see externals but from them we can conclude there is something more motivating you than we can see, perhaps even more than you can see. It is the hidden call, the desire placed in your heart that motivates you to stand up before this assembly and proclaim that you are freely choosing this monastic way to God. We have observed you over the past several years rising for Vigils at 3:15 AM, we see you everyday helping our infirm brothers and bearing patiently, as St . Benedict teaches, the weaknesses of body and character that we all experience. It is now time for us to say yes you are one of us. You are our brother.
Our Cistercian Fathers taught that the first step in becoming a monk, the first movement in formation, the first foundation on which the whole edifice of your future monastic life is built, is self knowledge.I have found out the hard way, as all of us probably have, that this first step is not learned in a few years. It is a long process. I quoted St. Benedict above as saying we are to “…support with the greatest patience, one another’s weaknesses of body and character,”We cannot begin to do this unless we bear patiently our own weaknesses of body and character. This is the beginning of self knowledge, the beginning of wisdom. We can be compassionate to others only when we are compassionate to ourselves.
When I was reading over today’s Gospel about the last judgment two things came to my mind. One, how the people in the Gospel story lacked true self knowledge and two, how dangerous our monastic life can be if we are not in touch with ourselves. We come here to truly seek God. We emphasize prayer and lectio and solitude and silence and giving up our selfish ways. We can pursue all these things with single minded zeal and forget we are living with others. The condemned in today’s Gospel were shocked. They thought of themselves as good people. They would have certainly attended to the Lord if they saw him on their journey through life but they never came across him. They did see some people in need, some sick people, some prisoners, some down and outers but they had their eyes set on God not on these needy people. Their single minded zeal misdirected them. No one is condemned without a chance. They must have had an inkling that God was present in the needy but they did not expect to find him there and just maybe they refused to see God in such poor conditions.
How we live in community shows what kind of monk we really are inside. The monastery is like a small world within the larger world of society. We have everything we need for salvation. This could be said of anyone. Everyone lives in the small world of their family, their neighborhood or parish church, their workplace. None of us operates on a global level. Once when Gandhi was asked how to bring about world peace he said begin by bringing peace to your own heart. This advise can serve us all. How you live in your limited world has unlimited influence for the good of all. We can document how individuals changed the course of history, but in the realm of salvation history we do not know who are sustained and who are the sustainers. An act of kindness to a stranger can determine the course of your eternity. A hidden prayer can give someone the courage to go on.
Today’s Gospel is not so much a parable of the last judgment as much as a parable about how our eternity is related to our daily life. The ones who truly sought God during their journey through life are the ones who sought to see him in every circumstance of their lives. If we lose this perspective the monastery can be a dangerous place. We can appear to be truly seeking God when in fact we miss his true presence among us. We have a lot of spiritual practices in the monastery. In fact St. Benedict outlines seventy-seven of them for us. After enumerating them he says, “The workshop where we should work hard at all these things is the monastic enclosure and stability in the community,”. Br. Paul you are about to profess a vow of stability to this community. We welcome you with open arms. In ancient times young monks used to ask the seniors for a word of salvation. If I can presume to take the role of a senior, my word to you is “community“. This is where you will work out your salvation. This is where you will attain true self knowledge. This is where you will find God.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Ez 34:11-17; 1 Cor. 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46]
Living in New York City, studying art back in the 1980’s, with a job as a night time security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I used to get off work at midnight, and take a subway to my apartment in Queens. One night, waiting on the subway platform at Lexington Ave and 53rd St., at about twenty minutes after midnight, a train had just left the station, when a man obviously very drunk came stumbling down the stairs, headed straight for me and shouted: “Was that the E train or the F train?” I’d had a really bad day at work—I was in a nasty mood. He was shouting, he was drunk, he didn’t smell nice—I was annoyed, and I did what New Yorkers do all the time in a situation like this, I turned and walked away without answering him a word. Before I knew what was happening, he had grabbed hold of the front of my jacket with both hands and, nearly lifting me off the ground, started shouting and screaming at me—something about respect. It was immediately clear to me that I was physically overpowered. He had at least fifty pounds on me, and he was really strong. There was no question of my physically defending myself, and I was in some danger. The two of us were standing a couple of feet from the edge of the platform and a drop off of about ten feet to the tracks below where there lay the dreaded third rail the very high voltage rail that powers the subway trains. If he had decided to pitch me over the edge of the platform and I had stumbled into that third rail, I could have been killed.
I should have been terrified, but the most curious thing happened. Hanging there in his hands, physically helpless, and with his face only inches from my face, I had no choice but to look straight into his bloodshot eyes which I remember were like two perfectly transparent windows opening into his anguished soul. There was, on his face at that moment, an expression of the most indescribable sadness a sight that so disconcerted and alarmed me that I knew in an instant what I had to do. What I needed to do was to let our eyes meet; just keep looking into those sad, sad eyes and simply be present to this poor man, to this brother of mine, literally screaming for my acknowledgement of his human dignity. I knew I must simply be with him, and it is what I wanted. I wasn’t afraid. I knew this man. There was an empathy, even a degree of intimacy I experienced with this drunken stranger, which I attribute entirely to a special grace of God I received at that moment.
After he had spent a few moments shouting and spitting in my face, he paused to take a breath, and I heard myself say calmly, as though speaking to one I trusted: “Are you going to let me go now?” I knew what was going to happen next. At once, he jumped back as if he’d received an electric shock, tears came to his eyes, and he began clumsily trying to grasp my hand and shake hands with me, apologizing profusely, saying over and over again: “It should never come to that! It should never, never come to that between two gentlemen!”
On this day when the universal church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King, we might imagine it is our duty to contemplate the awesome power, dignity, and sovereign majesty of Christ Jesus the only begotten Son of God and judge of the world. But that is not what Jesus is inviting us to contemplate in the gospel we just heard. The King is reminding us, today that, when you meet someone who is hungry, you meet Christ. When you meet any person who is thirsty, or drunk, or lonely, and hurt, and frightened, or crazy—he is Christ. The King, it turns out, as Mother Theresa never tired of reminding us, is appearing all around us all the time in what she called a “distressing disguise.” Maybe the grace I received that night on the subway platform was precisely this grace: to see in the face of a miserable drunken stranger, the face of Christ in whose humanity we are all intimately united as one Person. Maybe the grace the drunken man received at that moment was to see me the same way. Had I struggled with him or tried to hit him or shouted, there would have been a fight. When he felt the tenseness go out of my body and found me looking straight into his eyes; when he realized I was completely helpless and that I was at that moment literally entrusting my life into his hands, he awakened suddenly to the reality of our shared humanity and, so far from being an enemy, saw me at once as his brother.
Brothers and sisters, you don’t need to be standing on a subway platform at midnight in New York City to have this experience. I think the scuffle I had with a drunken man that night, is a scuffle that is playing itself out in our lives every day—with a spouse at the breakfast table, with a colleague at work, with a sassy teenager in the car. We wrestle at moments with a significant “other” who appears to us for a moment, to be evil or an alien, and we forget that we are one body who is Christ. Conflict erupts between us when we forget that Christ the King has become small, and poor, hungry—lonely and frustrated—in the distressing disguise of that suffering person sitting right beside you.
Maybe today’s gospel is an opportunity to remember that Christ the King, ascended and exalted at God’s right hand, is as close to you as the nearest delinquent stranger or family member, crying out with shouts, or in silent anguish for your love and compassion. Let us now celebrate this same mystery of communion by receiving and sharing with one another the food that is the body and blood of Christ whose sacrifice has made us one.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43]
A long time ago there was a monastery of very fervent monks, (there really was), whom Satan wanted to drag down to hell. But he couldn’t get the better of them. So, the Master of Deceit disguised himself as the Risen Christ and his fellow demons as angels of light. They came when the night was half spent, while the monks were keeping vigil, watching for the return of Christ in his Kingdom. Suddenly the darkness outside was rent asunder by a great light. Lucifer and his company approached the Abbey church chanting the victory psalm, “O gates, lift high your heads; grow higher ancient doors. Let him enter, the King of glory!” Filled with joy, the monks quickly opened the church door and responded in song, “Who is the King of glory?” Satan spread his arms wide and bellowed, “I, the Lord of Armies, I am the King of Glory!” And the whole host of demons disguised as angels of light chorused, “He is the King of Glory!” But the monks recoiled when they saw Lucifer’s outstretched arms and slammed the door in his face. They refused to let the imposter come in, for he had no nail marks in the palms of his hands; the wounds of Christ’s love were missing.
Kings are recognized by their diamond studded crowns, purple robes, golden scepters and royal courts surrounding their thrones in magnificent palaces. Jesus, in his passion, did not look like a king. His earthly palace was Golgotha, place of the skull; his throne was a wooden cross; his crown a wreath of bloodied thorns; his scepter a hollow reed; his dignity nakedness; his royal court was a thief on his right and on his left, with soldiers gambling for his clothes beneath him, and elders of the people offering derisive homage by mocking him. His hands and feet were held fast by nails. He did not look anything like a king.
St. Matthew writes that at first both thieves reviled Jesus. These men were pitiful. They had committed one crime after another descending lower and lower until they were hung high on crosses. Long spikes rubbed raw against their nerves and bones. In their nakedness they cried out in excruciating agony. But Jesus was not dying like one of them. He was not crying out and cursing the day of his birth. Jesus wasn’t saying very much at all. But what he did say will never be forgotten: “Father, (Abba), forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It will always be a mystery how two people can hear the same words and yet react so differently. One robber continued to rail at Jesus. The other made an astonishing reversal saying, “We are getting what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Only minutes before his lips had mocked Jesus. Now he asks for a place in his kingdom. He could not be thinking of an earthly kingdom, because Jesus would soon be dead. He had to be thinking of a kingdom beyond death, a kingdom that endures forever, that belongs only to the King of kings. Did every head on Golgotha turned toward him? Did the soldiers look up at him with astonishment? Did the mockeries of the elders get stuck in their throats? Did Mary raised her tear filled eyes to look with love at the robber who reverenced her Son? No one had paid the thief any attention before. But now everyone heard his expression of faith in Christ the King, and Jesus’reply. What a magnificent witness! He was the first to recognize that the wounds of Jesus were wounds of love. He looked at Jesus and saw the King of Glory.
There’s no doubt that the loving heart of Jesus rejoiced when this lost sheep asked to enter the fold before the last grains of sand trickled through his hourglass. A great preacher, Pastor Max Lucado writes, “At this point Jesus performed the greatest miracle of the cross. Greater than the earthquake. Greater than the tearing of the temple curtain. Greater than the darkness covering the earth. He performed the miracle of forgiveness. A sin-soaked criminal is received by a blood stained Savior,” and washed clean by wounds of love.
There is an old Hassidic story about an elderly rabbi who was highly respected for his piety. One day a devoted young disciple came to him and, in a burst of enthusiasm, cried out, “My master, I love you.” The wise old teacher looked into the eyes of his fervent disciple and tenderly asked, “My son, what hurts me?” A puzzled look came over the young man’s face and he said, “Master, forgive me, but I do not know what hurts you.” The elderly rabbi replied, “If you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?” Chastened, the disciple asked, “Please, Master, tell me what is it that hurts you?” The rabbi replied, “You.” Then he leaned over and kissed his disciple on the cheek.
We have wounded God, but he has kissed us: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” (Rom 5:8). When the King of Glory comes with love radiating through all his wounds, will he find his image reflected in us? Will he find our wounds transformed by love, and receive us into his Kingdom like another good thief?
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37 ]
Today, the Solemnity of Christ the King is a very fitting day for our community to celebrate a man’s profession of first vows as a monk. St. Benedict, in his Rule for Monasteries, begins with a call to “give up your own will once and for all and, armed with the strong and noble weapon of obedience, do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.” Only when we are willing to do this are we ready to undertake monastic life.
There are two words that intimately connect today’s gospel and the prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict: “Listen” and “Truth.” “For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Those are powerful words in themselves, but they gain still greater power for the new monk when we look at the context in which they are said. Both Pilate and Jesus acknowledge that Jesus has been “handed over.” He is no longer in control of His life. Jesus emphasizes that He could have prevented the handing over, but instead He consented to it; He obeyed.
St. Benedict begins his Rule with “Listen!” The root of the Latin word for “obey” is “to hear.” Benedict cites three characteristics of monastic obedience: it is strong, noble, and a weapon.
It is strong. Paradoxically, obedience reveals weakness. This is very important to remember. Our weakness is a truth we want to avoid. St. Benedict tells us that obedience out of fear of the Lord is the first step of humility and St. Bernard tells us that humility is living in the truth. That listening is integral to obedience means that someone else knows more about the right thing than we do. Ever since the Garden of Eden, that has been very hard for us to admit. Dom Andre Louf tells us that only someone who “touches rock-bottom, the ground of his being and of his deepest feelings” can face this truth about weakness. Facing this truth is the strength that will set us free from self-will and for the following of Christ that we said we wanted when we entered.
St. Benedict tells us our obedience must be noble. It must be rendered for the sake of something greater than self. Apart from this, the facing of our weakness and the trials that expose them would leave us bitter and resentful. Here he is emphasizing the goodness of obedience. A good can be pleasant, useful, or noble. The purpose of the pleasing good is to quiet the restless appetite for pleasure. Its opposite is the painful. It is commonly here that weakness is revealed when we set the heart on merely pleasant goods. We intuitively know that people who interfere with our pleasant goods should have their necks wrung! The pleasing good should find its pleasure when it rests in the noble.
The good that is useful is a means to an end. Its opposite is the injurious. Weakness is exposed here when we set our hearts on the merely utilitarian, particularly when we merely use people. We think the uncooperative should also have their necks wrung! The useful good is good when it brings about the noble.
St. Benedict calls obedience “noble.” The noble is honorable. Something is honorable because of its excellence. Excellence is worth sacrificing self for. Living toward excellence perfects us. The most honorable, the most noble is that to which all things are ordered: the glory of God.
Finally, St. Benedict calls obedience a “weapon.” It is to be used against the “sloth of disobedience.” Sloth is sadness that the good is difficult, that it takes effort. This is our weakness. This is what sent the rich young man away. He kept his riches and he kept his sadness. Christ could discern the true and noble good from the merely pleasant and useful. The young man—and we—would have to listen; to trust the judgment of another. And that judgment was this: that pleasing the Father takes the place of any type of self-fulfillment. Having a deep experience of our weakness, we are called to make a decision to endure it and to hand over our lives to Christ the King. The way obedience “hands over” is by giving back to God what Adam and Eve unjustly took in Eden: the knowledge of good and evil.
A king, by definition, is One. We simplified our lives by gathering together our many loves scattered among the pleasant and useful goods. We ordered them for the sake of One Thing: our King. The king, after all, is strong where we are weak. As we come to the end of the Church Year and Mark’s gospel of discipleship, we recall the many encounters Christ had with the visibly weak: the blind, the lame, the demon-possessed. When he began his ministry he gave first priority to these. We were surprised to find our weak selves so loved by this king. We felt drawn to this love. Today, in response to that love, a new brother has vowed to live in grateful contemplation of the king who presides over us all.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Ez 34:11-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46]
Monks almost never commit suicide — which is a little surprising, since, those who commit suicide are generally people who are terribly lonely, and no one more deliberately chooses to be alone or more effectively maintains a life-long immersion in radical solitude, than a monk. A monk can get lonely—we get lonely—and yet, as Fr. Daniel likes to say, we are singing our way through life. By contrast, one is struck by the frequency of reports that a celebrity or a rock star has committed suicide; something that always comes to us as a fresh surprise because it is hard to imagine people like that could get lonely. Whatever else they may have lacked, they were famous, after all, and had plenty of company.
In the end, human loneliness is a paradox: it makes no appearance where you would most expect to find it, and then turns up where you are sure it could not possibly exist, like, in the life of a movie star. One thing seems clear: being in other peoples’ company, is no guarantee against loneliness. In my own experience, there are circumstances where being with other people is a lonelier experience than being by myself.
Americans have a reputation as being people who like to talk, and, historically, tend to cultivate discussion with one another—not just to solve problems, but because we like discussion; we find it engaging and interesting. Discussion is how we do togetherness. By way of meeting; of connecting with, and savoring one another’s company, we talk to each other. And yet, discussion, as we all know sometimes does not generate a feeling of togetherness but only manages to make clearer how dissimilar and divided we really are. Discussion only produces togetherness when, after having discussed something, we arrive at a consensus. That is when the sense of togetherness comes: when discussion brings us into agreement with each other about something. And that is like a little heaven on earth: when all are in agreement. It is an experience we crave; something which when we’ve attained it makes us a little drunk. And yet, when you reflect about it, you have to acknowledge that even consensus is no guarantee of real togetherness. That sounds weird, but it’s true—even being in complete agreement with one another may in fact leave each of us quite alone. It all depends upon whether what we agree about is true or false.
After the World Trade Center was attacked, a powerful consensus formed very quickly in America. Based on intelligence suggesting Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction, a passionate widespread consensus emerged that we must go to war with Iraq. Later, it was discovered that reports of Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction were false or greatly exaggerated, and then—a new consensus formed; the majority moving toward a much more skeptical attitude about the war. President Bush’s approval rating plummeted; Donald Rumsfeld lost his job, Colin Powell, disillusioned by the administration began a slow defection from the Rep. Party, Vice-president Cheney and Karl Rove, once invincible, became defensive rather isolated figures in Washington politics. In other words, those very people who composed the president’s inner circle; who had very effectively built a nation wide consensus to go to war with Iraq, all ended up curiously cut off and isolated from us—and from one another. How interesting. But, it would be a mistake to think these individuals only came to be isolated after consensus about the war had changed. The truth is, the isolation of each of these men, which later became so visible to us, was there from the beginning: they were alone; each of them quite alone, even in the early days when nationwide consensus to go to war was strongest. How can that be? The truth is, a common cause based on a falsehood, leaves everyone concerned all by himself. Consensus is only togetherness, when it has a center; when it is consensus around something. Consensus is togetherness when what people are agreeing about—is the truth.
There is a difference, brothers and sisters; there is a very great difference between consensus and truth. When consensus has no center, when what we agree about is not the truth—it is a lonely experience for everyone involved—and it is destructive. A common cause without truth at its center is generally going to do a lot of damage. Consensus based on a lie, has no roots and so it moves—it migrates like Hurricane Katrina: when you are at the center of it, everything seems calm and stable, but all around you, havoc and destruction are being unleashed on the world.
We have just witnessed the election of a new president; a man as different from George Bush as one can imagine, who was in turn, as different from his predecessor, Bill Clinton as anyone you could possibly imagine. In America, consensus is like Jazz—it “swings“; it’s improvisational, it’s kind of—all over the place. During the last couple of weeks, we’ve all been electrified by reports that a historic new consensus is forming in America. It’s exciting—we like this sort of thing. What is this new consensus forming around? Is Truth at the center of our new nationwide consensus?
I wonder if this isn’t the great question for America; the “American Question“: Does the consensus we experience at any given moment have a center? Are we a people who has come to believe that it is good enough for us simply to be in agreement with one another? Has consensus itself become the center in America? When a people’s agreement with one another is itself the center, they become a wandering people, and it gets worse. When you belong to a group whose agreement with one another is not grounded in Truth—each of you is quite alone. Togetherness sought in consensus without truth is like a big party; a party in which everyone is alone, and maybe this is the characteristic loneliness of our time—one might call it: “loneliness in numbers.”
We proclaim to the world today “Christ is King” What does that mean? It means that our human family, if we are to experience with one another true communion; true togetherness must form a consensus around Truth who is Christ the Lord. “Christ is King“—this is the humbling and thrilling and inescapable truth about our human existence: Life is a party, but if one person is missing; if one single person is missing from that party—if Jesus isn’t there, everybody’s alone.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk. 23:25-43]
There is something engaging and appealing about adventure stories which build up dramatic tension to an impossible level and then provide a sudden release or escape. The detective finds a critical clue at just the last moment; the bugle of the cavalry is heard just before the defenses collapse; the hero bursts into the room just before the fiend is about to slash a throat. Sometimes these solutions lack credibility, but we are still drawn to the drama of the situation. In their plays and dramas, the ancient Greeks would sometimes introduce a deus ex machina , a statue of a god dropped down from pulleys, with a person speaking from inside the statue. This speech would resolve an action that couldn’t be resolved from within itself.
Greek dramas were part of their religious life and imagination. And there is something in the dramas and adventure stories that is close to our own religious imagination. This is how we imagine God coming to us. “The King will come when morning dawns.” Salvation comes as an external intervention of God to us who plod trough the vale of tears and the valley of darkness. There is no particular congruence or proportion between the gift of salvation and the life we are leading. We are drawn out of this world into a new paradise. Salvation is a reward for our obedience, compliance, and conformity. Its content does not appeal to our understanding or agreement.
and authority figures fit well into this world-view. They have responsibility, power, and status. We expect them to intervene. In return, we receive security and protection. Kings traditionally were expected to maintain order, harmony, and justice. They were to defend the people against hostile enemies and to insure fecundity, fertility, generativity, and productivity. They were persons who gave the community access to divine power and life. If they failed to fulfill this daunting job description, they could be sacrificed. The role of the king corresponded to basic inner needs of all people for security, prosperity, and meaning. A recent statement by the premier of Iran, Mr. Khatami, at the U.N., expresses this common human need: “Public opinion in the Muslim world in general wants peace, security and stability and the right to defend their religion and their freedom.”
All the gospels, however, portray Jesus as explicitly disclaiming the title of “king.” On several occasions, he had to flee the people who wanted to make him their king after he had performed a miracle evidencing the kingly power of abundant generativity. A number of gospel scenes replay the same triad of temptations inaugurating his mission. Changing stones to bread would have manifested effortless prosperity; casting himself from the pinnacle of the Temple would have summoned the intervention of the divine; worshipping Satan would have given him dominion over all nations and lands. The basic longings of the human heart for prosperity, peace and freedom would be answered in a state of bliss and paradise. And yet, Jesus saw this as a temptation, as a subversion of his real mission from the Father. These forms of intervention in the human process were not attuned to the one intention of the Father from the beginning of creation. The deeper mystery of redemption from within creation needed to be obeyed.
The crucifixion scene of today’s gospel is one of deep irony. By the definition of “irony”, the truth of one level of discourse is made to bear the truth of another level which in fact contradicts the first level. Jesus on the cross is depicted as the “King of the Jews” and by extension the king of all peoples and of creation. He incarnates every possible human meaning of the word and by his experience on the cross transforms that earthly reality at its very roots. This is an absolute scandal to every reasonable expectation. These are uprooted and overturned. The three-fold mockery of the “leaders”, of the soldiers, and even of a fellow-victim replay again the temptations and the radical incapacity of power, violence, and egoism to see or grasp the revolution in human history and consciousness that is being revealed on the cross. It is a scandal which exposes our own idolatry: the identifications we have made between a certain way of living in comfort and security and those deeper yearnings of the human heart. We are shocked because we find that we are not really at the service of God’s one intention in the world, His Kingdom. The responses of surrender and service, the only responses to a king, are not drawn from our hearts.
The irony of the cross as the true throne of Christ and the manifestation of the Kingdom means that this subversion of all earthly imaginations of power is intractably planted in the course of human life and history. Luke portrays this scene as one fully public and open. It is not hidden or valuable only for one’s private piety. It is germane to every level of human life: economic, political, and social. It is the new paradigm for human authority and leadership, and it is the criterion and critique of that authority. The salvation for which we long is being worked out in the movements and struggles of human history. The “good thief” is the one person with eyes to see what is happening at the scene on Calvary. His appeal to the fear of God alludes to the wisdom tradition of discerning the presence of God and His Spirit in the working of experience and creation. The decree Lumen Gentium of Vatican II extends the kingly mission of Christ to the whole People of God. “This character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.” We are called to surrender our lives to this one work of the Kingdom. “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven” (Colossians 1:20).
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: 2Sam. 5: 1-3; Col. 1:12-20; Lk. 23: 35-43 ]
Although it would be a simplification, one way of approaching the Old Testament is to see it as a record of Israel’s hopes and disappointments. The three central hopes in Israel’s history were freedom from slavery, a land of their own and a king. They received all three, but their hopes were not fulfilled and eventually they lost all three at the Babylonian Exile. The hope for an ideal king persisted and survived the Exile; however, the focus shifted from an historical king to Yahweh as king and, in some quarters, Yahweh’s messianic representative. Yet, as we know, Jesus of Nazareth did not meet Israel’s expectations for an ideal king.
What about you and me? Royalty and monarchy are not part of our national heritage; nevertheless, authority and leadership are. Does Jesus Christ, the icon of God, fulfill our ideals of authority and leadership? Many, now and through the centuries have simply said no; if not in words, then in their choices of who to follow and how to behave. Others have given in to cynicism and adopted an attitude of supposed realism, that substitutes pragmatism for ideals. The alternative that Christianity offers and that today’s feast presents to us is faith; not faith in an unrealistic ideal, but faith that is grounded in God’s revelation, and especially God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
Some might consider God’s revelation in Jesus Christ unrealistic, or at least impractical. Jesus reveals an authority and leadership of love, love that transcends self-interest. The rulers and the soldiers in this morning’s gospel assumed that if Jesus was the Messiah and a king, he would have saved himself. But Jesus put fidelity to his Father’s will to save the world, including you and me, ahead of self-interest. In St. Paul’s words he emptied himself of his divine prerogatives, and accepted the lot of a slave. We might not like to consider ourselves as slaves, but until the coming of Christ we were under the authority of darkness and apart from Christ we remain under the authority of darkness. It is by following Jesus that we come into the freedom of his kingdom of light.
As Jesus shared our lot in life, we like the two thieves share in Jesus’ lot. A number of factors limit our choices in regard to our lot in life, but because of Jesus’ fidelity to God’s will, we have been set free. Which of the two thieves will we choose to imitate? We can remain turned in on ourselves and reject a savior who does not meet our self-centered expectations. Or, we can choose the way of faith and simply ask that in his mercy Jesus remember us. To turn to another Old Testament theme, we are faced with the two ways: the way of life and the way of death. Jesus, who is the way of life, offers us words of life and the sacraments of life. With faith and hope let us follow Jesus, the king and lord of the universe, into his kingdom of life.
Solemnity of Christ the King
[Scripture Readings: Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37]
One morning in April, 2005, Fr. Georg Ratzinger, having heard that white smoke was signaling the election of a new pope, turned on his television and sat speechless for several moments as his kid brother Joseph stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, And raised his arms in greeting to the crowds below as the new Pope. I wonder if there didn’t come to the mind of the older brother, the story of another Joseph and a similar moment when Jacob’s eleven sons felt their teeth begin to chatter and their knees knock as they listened to the most powerful man in Egypt say, in an all too familiar voice: “I am Joseph your brother.” I am, myself, an older brother, and can vouch for the fact that about the worst case scenario imaginable for an older brother, would be to find himself on his knees with the kid brother he picked on for years, seated before him on a throne. Oh my.
It’s a sad fact of life that in the relationship between most brothers comparison, competition and rivalry tend to be a factor, and this is true not only of blood brothers. We are all brothers, and as members of one human family, seem fairly addicted to comparing ourselves with one another. Our brother Jonah has recently submitted for publication a paper whose thesis is that human beings are born imitators, and if we don’t make a conscious choice to imitate Jesus, the model God has given us to imitate, then we end up imitating some poor slob who lives down the street. With time, we begin to envy and to hate this idol we have set up for ourselves; hating him maybe enough to kill him.
Today the universal church is singing songs of joy: Jesus our brother having died for us has been raised up is now seated at the right hand of God and acclaimed “Christ the King“; King of kings to whom belongs all power and dominion and glory forever. Today, the church is ecstatic with joy. Our brother, Jesusa humble human being, who shared with us our misery; the dregs of our human experience; our own brother has been raised up; made victorious over death, and his victory is our victory. The glory of the only begotten Son of God and Son of Man is a glory we are all destined to share with him. And so the church bids every believer: “RejoiceChrist our brother is King of kings!”
But, you don’t have to rejoice. You may instead choose to stand aloof from the celebration and look on thoughtfully from a distance. You may, if you like, withhold judgment pending further inquiry into this question of Jesus’ status as King of Kings. This suspending judgment concerning Jesus’ elevation as King of Kings is a real temptation for us. In fact, Jesus’ singular glory as King derives from the claim he made to Pilate shortly before he died, namely: that he was sent into the world to reveal the truth. Jesus is King because he is the definitive; all sufficient last word of GodJesus is the revelation of truth. That, of course, is a very radical claim on Jesus’ part. Pilate had some difficulty with Jesus characterization of himself as he who reveals the truth. “All who listen to me are of the truth.” Jesus concluded. Pilate listened and replied “Truth . . . “and what IS truth?” It is a question posed by many thoughtful and intelligent people today, who are squeamish and skeptical in the presence of anyone including Jesus Christ, who claims to have THE truth. There is, among our contemporaries, a widely held belief that no one possesses the truth; and no one ever can. We are all searching for the truth. In light of this popular attitude, Jesus’ claim to be King because he is the truth, colors today’s feast with a certain tension and drama.
There is a funny thing about Truthyou may have noticed: Truth . . . comesand if you deny Truth the welcome it deserves, it comes again, and again and again, until it receives the welcome it deserves. Have you noticed that? Do you deny that women enjoy equal dignity and status with men in God’s eyesthen you’re probably smarting from the countless setbacks your cause has suffered in recent years, as the equality of women is every day more acknowledged and affirmed and realized, in the life of the family; in politics, in the work place, in the church. Truth . . . comesand if you spurn Truthit comes back. Truth is like a King returning from a journey. Now, if, upon his return, you choose not to praise and honor him as King. If you decide to maintain a prudential silence and withhold judgment concerning this claim of his to be King, you are free to do that. Truth, our King, is gracious, and will permit you this span of silence. But, as his priest appointed to preach to you on this feast of Christ the King, I must say to you: be mindful of what you are doing, because as experience has taught many in the past, Truth has a soft edge and a hard edge, and the man or woman who denies Truth the welcome he deserves is going to tend to run up against the hard edge of truth.
In light of that, you might say there are two Jesus’ we are celebrating on this feast of Christ the King: the Jesus who received his kingship obediently and with docility from the Father, and the Jesus who boldly and pointedly proclaimed his kingship to human beings. Jesus’ showing docility to the Father represents the softer, conciliatory face of truth which is the experience of truth enjoyed by those receptive to Jesus’ person. Jesus’ proclaiming himself king on the other hand, reflects the hard edge of truth, and is typically directed to those, who are less receptive; more resistant to his person and his claims. Jesus never said to Mary the sister of Lazarus: “I am King!” He didn’t need to. Jesus never said to the blind Bartimaeus cowering at his feet: “I am King.” That wasn’t necessary. But standing before Pontius Pilate, Jesus explicitly claimed for himself kingship; words that disconcerted Pilate greatlyand gave his wife nightmares.
Brothers and sisters, we are invited today to rejoice and be happy. Our own brother has been raised to the right hand of God, and his victory over death portends for all of us a glorious future. Pray with me that God may take from us every trace of envy, pride and selfishness, and free our hearts to sing today; to sing gladly to God who in Jesus Christ opens for us today the door of hope and salvation.