At first glance it must have been confusing to Jesus’ listeners and his disciples what they heard Jesus say. It would make the impression that Jesus is just one of the Pharisees and the Scribes who insists on the law to govern their life and, at this point, if not understood well, it could mean a life more stringent because of what Jesus said. It is reminiscent of what Peter said: who then can be saved when Jesus said that it will be easier to enter the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter heave. But after his insistence that the law should be obeyed in its iota, they must have been more flabbergasted when Jesus said that their righteousness should surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees. Is this the master who said his yoke is easy and his burden light. Then Jesus continued saying that whoever is angry at his brother and call him fool is like killing forbidden by the 5th commandment, and therefore deserves the fiery Gehenna. You cannot offer your gift at the altar if you remember that your brother has something against you, and you cannot even look at a woman with lust in your mind and that would be equivalent to adultery. They are not even allowed to swear. No divorce – whereas Moses allowed it. You could imagine how with open mouth they listened to Jesus and when they have recovered from the shock, life as they understood it, will be even more burdensome. It is as if they could no longer breathe with the demands of the law guarded strictly by the pharisees and scribes and now the master telling us that we have to be better than the pharisees and scribes in obeying the commandments. Life was like a straight jacket. Their righteousness should even surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. In short, as they understood it, they should out shine them in faithfully following the Law. Where is the Jesus whose yoke easy and his burden light. It is in the understanding of his counterpoints to the Law which the Scribes and Pharisees strictly adhere to. It is a gradual revelation to the disciples of who Jesus was and his persevering effort to reveal who God really is. The laws require the minimum – don’t break it. The law decides if there is any transgression committed or not. Jesus is saying that his commandment is to have respect, love, mercy and justice for one another. Do not relegate your brother or sister to the extreme boundaries of your life or do not write him or her off as if they were dead. It is equivalent to killing your brother or sister. Relationship is not a legal matter. At the core of human relationship is the fundamental truth that all are children of God. The law does not mend relationships. It decides who is right or wrong and the wrong must suffer the consequence of his actions. The one offering the gift on the altar might just have won a case against his brother, but he cannot offer his gift if he knows his brother has anything against him. Animosity remains even if so called justice is rendered. Jesus’ disciples’ righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and pharisees because theirs is concerned with people, who are their brothers and sisters. The P&S are more concerned with the law as such. They would tell Jesus that the Sabbath is more important than healing the sick. It surpasses understanding, mercy and forgiveness. P. and S. Are not concerned about mending relationships at all. The woman was caught in the act of adultery therefore the law must be followed. The Law does not promise hope nor future beyond human weakness and sin. It simply metes out punishment and condemnation. The is the burden of the law. And the law can be manipulated as the common folks know even today. The rich and powerful can make the law work on their favor. Their righteousness must surpass that of the P. and S. because Jesus followers see others as God’s children as they themselves are too. The law must do everything to help God’s children to have hope and confidence in God.. The Law of Jesus is love and this is the primary law, the normative law of every other laws. To love God and neighbor fulfills all laws of Moses. The law was power in the hands of the P. & S. They interpret what they have added to the Laws of Moses. It is one of control and not service. For the spiritually astute, one could see Jesus preparing them to see his true relationship with God. He was revealing the heart of God especially to the breakers of the law. Jesus in the eyes of the P&S was a breaker of the law, especially of the Sabbath, of his disciples disregarding the washing of hands, of associating with sinners tax collectors and let himself be touched by an ill-repute woman. In short, to have the heart of Jesus, is to have the heart of God in relating to sinners. There is no judgment, no condemnation. So it is a lesson even for us today that those who live by the law will die by the law for in itself it does not give life. The spirit of the law gives life. What is the spirit of the law: the law gives way to love, for everyone are children of God. Jesus said: on these two laws hang all the commandments and prophets. It understands the sinner but not condone to the sin. It is not a question of sinners responding to our teachings or invitation to be upright. The law of Jesus and his Father is that the very core of your being must have the heart of Jesus and His Father. You never should condemn. It is the sinner who condemns himself if he decides to stay away from God. The P. & S. Have this illusion that their righteousness makes sinners change. Have you ever seen anyone whose rigid adherence to the rules make him or her attractive and convincing. Jesus, the righteous on the cross was mocked by many. The P. & S. the champions of the law were among the crowd that mocked Jesus. This is a cautionary advice for the self righteous people. Beware, that you look down on your brother or sister because they do not keep the law as faithfully as you do. As Gamaliel said: You might find yourself going against God.
Dear Brothers and sisters – Today we celebrate – Groundhog Day. Some of us also celebrate Super Bowl Sunday, but I couldn’t work that into today’s homily. I don’t follow sports well enough to make a metaphor out of it. So Groundhog Day is it. The idea of Groundhog Day is that if a groundhog comes out of its burrow and sees its shadow, then there will be more winter. If it doesn’t see its shadow, spring is on the way. I’ve tried to put this together logically, and think that maybe it’s because on the very coldest days, the sky is cloudless, while on warmer days it’s more liable to be cloudy. I don’t know. At any rate, what’s important for the point of this homily is that it marks the end of something and the beginning of something else – the end of winter, whether soon or in six weeks, and the beginning of the road to spring.
The fact that we mark Groundhog Day on the 2nd of February is not entirely arbitrary. This day, today, marks the exact mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. If the days do not necessarily grow warmer right away, we at least notice that the sun rises earlier and sets later. Of course this has been happening all along, ever since the winter solstice, but now is the time we really start to notice it. So, in Western Europe, this day became a festival of light. A celebration of the return of the light. It used to be the custom to light candles in the windows of all the houses on this day, a sign that the light is overcoming the darkness. We ourselves continue this tradition, as is abundantly evident from the candles in our hands.
Light overcomes darkness. Isn’t that the basic Christian message? Light overcomes darkness, good overcomes evil, life overcomes death. This is the reason Christ came into the world—as it says in the reading from Hebrews today, “that through death he might destroy the one who has power of death, that is, the Devil.”
But of course, the main celebration today, the one announced at the top of your programs, is the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. As a side note, this is also known as the feast of the Purification of Mary. According to the law of Moses, each woman who has given birth must wait for 40 days to be purified. This is why we celebrate this day as a feast of Mary in our regular offices, skipping our regular Marian antiphons, since the whole day is dedicated to her. Anyway, getting back to the Presentation, according to the Mosaic law, a first-born son or daughter must be consecrated to God, or redeemed by a sacrifice. This is because of the events of the Passover, when God killed the first-born of every animal and family in the whole of Egypt, except the firstborn of the Israelites who had marked their houses with the blood of the sacrificial lamb.
This feast, the Presentation, marks a further epiphany of Jesus, a time when his true nature is revealed. There are several epiphanies in Jesus’ life – we celebrate some at the actual feast of the Epiphany, but there are others, including this one. They each mark the end of something and the beginning of something else. If we look closely at Simeon’s speech, we see that it falls into two distinct sections. In the first, he gives thanks to God for the end of his long wait, for the end of the darkness in which the world has lived up till now and the beginning of an era of light. He identifies the infant Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.” The end of darkness, and the beginning of light. In the second part of his speech, he moves into the future. This is not nearly as comforting as the first part. He says that Christ will be “a sign that will be contradicted.” Speaking presumably to Mary, he tells her “a sword shall pierce your own soul.” (Our translation reads, “You yourself a sword will pierce,” but the Greek says “Kai sou auths thn psyxhn” – psyche generally referring to the soul, and most translations keep this meaning). Not consoling at all. We know the meaning of these words, since we know the end of the story. Light will overcome darkness, life will overcome death, but not before great tragedy, the eventual suffering and death of this little infant.
In order for light to overcome darkness, there has to be darkness in the first place. And the journey from darkness to light is not without struggle. In our first reading today, from the prophet Malachi, we read “Who will endure the day of his coming?” For “he is like the refiners fire….He will sit refining and purifying silver…refining them like gold or like silver.” The process of refining was time consuming and exacting. It involved melting the metal in question and then skimming off the dross, or the impurities, which either rose to the surface or sank to the bottom. This had to be done repeatedly, as we sing in Psalm 11 – “like silver from the furnace, seven times refined.” So, to extend the metaphor to ourselves, for us to be refined is a fairly painful experience, involving a lot of heat.
This process is also known as testing – a small amount of a substance was melted in a crucible, and its purity was revealed. So to test a substance is to find its true nature, how pure it is. This refining or testing happens to all of us, whether we sign up for it or not. We may be used to thinking of a test as some unpleasant measuring process imposed on us by cranky teachers. But actually, the purpose of a test is not to see whether we are successful or a failure, but to see what we really know. At its best, a test simply tells us where we are, what we have learned and what we still need to learn. Tests help us along the way by telling us the truth about ourselves. Life itself is a crucible for testing us, which is why none of us can avoid it. At times this refining might seem like one long darkness, though of course the refiner’s fire also gives off light, though we may not be conscious of it. We all have to endure hardship, sometimes financial hardship, almost always hardship in relationships, and at some point or another, hardship in the form of the loss of loved ones. All of these experiences can make us better people, more compassionate to others whom we now know suffer as well. We are all of us in the same situation – everyone’s life has its share of hardship and tragedy. Our compassion toward others and our growing reliance on God to guide us through these dark times are the way we grow in this life. As it says in Hebrews, “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” We can rely on Christ, because Christ knows all about suffering. As we know, Christ himself was tested in the Garden of Gethsemani when he asked that, if possible, he might be spared the cup of suffering. As we know, he accepted this bitter cup.
It may be difficult for us to see Christ in the middle of being purified, in the middle of our suffering. And in fact, it may not be possible without the help of the Holy Spirit. As we see in our Gospel reading, the Holy Spirit enabled Simeon to see the true nature of the little baby in front of him. In other passages, the spirit reveals Christ to others – at the baptism, for example, in the form of a dove. And the mysterious star that guides the wise men from the east to the newborn Christ – could that not be the Holy Spirit? We can rely on Christ to be with us in the midst of our suffering, whether we see him or not, and we can rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal him to us when we most need it. Often this will not be in the form of a star or a dove or a direct revelation, but in the unexpected kindness of a neighbour, a sister or brother, or even a stranger, a moment in which we can see Christ shining through another person. And we in turn can become Christ to others, by letting the compassion which we have learned through our own suffering shine through us.
Today’s feast marks the end of the grip of winter, of darkness, on the world and the beginning of the spring thaw, the coming of the light. As we hold our candles, may we remember that we too can be that light to others, since Christ lives in us and we in him, that we can show Christ to others in the form of our own compassion.
January 26, 2020 Solemnity of Our Holy Founders Gospel: Mark 10: 24b – 30
Today we give thanks that, in the year 1098, God brought together three men to do Him a specific service He committed only to them.
Robert, Alberic, Stephen –
different ages, nationalities, temperaments … no one of them could have done it alone.
Robert, a monk at age 15, a dreamer, always moving around, looking for greener grass.
But at age 70, a spark ignited within him, enabling him to lead 21 monks
from their monastery at Molesme
to begin a reformed monastery at Citeaux, eighty miles south.
Alberic, his invisible partner, a caretaker, “lover of the brethren,” elected Second Abbot.
He provided consistency that became a foundation for future growth.
Stephen, the Englishman, called Stephen Harding, a perfectionist, an organizer, Third Abbot.
He set up the Scriptorium to copy Bibles and hymnals, producing the most authentic texts and hymns possible.
Word spread about their reformed lifestyle … new monks joined … eventually hundreds…
causing more than a dozen daughterhouses before Stephen’s death…
thus, the Order of Cistercians was born.
Ironically, they never intended an Order…. one good monastery to live out their monastic life
would have been enough.
The first growth came when that 22-year old looked over the wall at Citeaux,
stayed to visit, live, pray, work with them,
talked to Stephen Harding, the newly-elected Abbot, then went home.
But Bernard returned, followed by – some say – 30 others … all asking to join.
The question is:
What so attracted Bernard, what testimony was so irresistible that not only did he come back … but convinced his five brothers, two uncles, cousins, friends to join a monastery??
He could see the monks had one common goal: to turn their lives over to God.
Prayer came before anything else, accompanied by silence and solitude.
It was a life of saving their souls, where selfishness was brought into line.
They rose in the middle of the night to pray, with a real thirst to pray,
to taste and see how good God is.
Their community prayer centered around celebrating the Divine Office, the way the Rule of Benedict laid it out.
Another thing was their simplicity and poverty.
They chose to live poor, like the poor Christ:
No gold in their church… only wrought iron candlesticks and plain undecorated vestments.
Even their clothing: Good black dyes… which didn’t wash out or fade … were costly..
so, instead of black robes, they wore whatever wool came off the sheep … undyed … labeling them ‘the White Monks’.
They shared simple meals: each had a pound of bread, a pint of drink, two dishes of cooked vegetables, enough to keep the body fervent in worship of God … but no meat, because meat was for tables of the rich.
Brotherhood was all-important.
Having left behind whatever riches, lands, or titles they had,
nobles got merged with servants into equality in Christ,
with no part of worldly rank or hierarchy.
Per the Rule of Benedict, they were brothers gathered around one father, the Abbot,
the only mark of exception being a greater sanctity, achievable by all.
Work and silence were essential.
They chose to do the work themselves, manual labor, raising animals, because Benedict had written: “They are truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands as did our Fathers and the Apostles.”
They lived in a world of Silence, using speech and music only to praise God.
There were no hawks or hunting dogs, no tournaments or games, only what led to prayer.
But external disciplines like these weren’t enough to attract Bernard … They were the means,
man-made tools to prune back human appetites.
The main attractiveness was the monks’ fervor and dedication to saving their souls …
getting to heaven … which they couldn’t do alone … they needed each other.
In a world of knights and armor and liege lords,
the monks were Soldiers of Christ, robed in white,
united — one army lined up for spiritual warfare, ready to fight their sins and failures.
They admitted being individually weak and vulnerable,
but they were welded together by bonds of charity.
They were mutually willing to accept each other and help each other,
because they got healed as they healed others.
They forgave each other because their own forgiveness flowed from forgiving others.
They were willing to live together in love, even tho they might not be loved back.
As monks, they were willing to do battle with whatever might destroy monastic life.
They vowed personal conversion … to be changed through love …
and they proved how serious they were about observing Christ’s Golden Rule.
Their test for love of the unseen God
was love of the neighbor, who can be seen..
neighbor defined as the monk next to them.
No matter his dialect or village,
noble-born or peasant,
he was called by God, an equal, a brother to be respected and loved.
The test was simple: Do I treat my brother as I want to be treated?
Not the brother I like … what reward’s in that?
But the one I don’t like … How do I treat him?
Am I rude to him … walk away … mumbling something?
Do I speak well of him, or open my lips in gossip?
They fought trading in gossip, saying:
‘Meat is forbidden,’ but less a sin to chew on a roast than chew on a brother.’
They struggled against judging others,
being the Pharisee who condemns and murmurs: “He’s not a good monk!”
‘Garments of fur are forbidden’, they said,
‘but far less a sin to hide fur clothing under the cloak,
than to wear God’s robes and judge another.’
They asked themselves: Which brother is it I don’t want to travel with,
have sitting next to me in the wagon
all the way to market … and back?
That’s where my conversion is stalled. That’s where I have work to do.
When Bernard saw how intent they were on building a community of love,
how they would welcome anyone truly seeking God,
how could he NOT return to join them …
how could his 30 friends NOT follow him to see if all this were true???
Our Father Raymond called them “Three Religious Rebels,” Robert, Alberic and Stephen.
They were more dreamers, dreaming the dreams of God.
They didn’t so much build a monastery,
as build up a patrimony passed down to us, 900 years later.
If we’re really thankful, and want to honor them, they would ask us
to allow God to kindle a spark within us today,
to continue on living the vows we’ve professed in their Order,
to help each other live lives of love and prayer…
And may God bring us all together to life everlasting! Amen.
Epiphany – 2020
“We have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship Him”. With these words, the three Magi, coming from the East, make known to us and all peoples that great Mystery which Paul reveals to us in the second reading today: the Mystery made known now to all peoples of the world. It is not made known only to the Jewish people, the chosen People of God, but to ALL peoples: Jew and Gentile, who were originally called by God when the triune God declared: “Let us made man in our image and likeness”.
But mankind failed to recognize itself as being in the image of God and tried to make all things in THEIR own image. In so doing, they created a world filled with pain and suffering right up to this present day. But God has not chosen to leave us in this way, but has come among us, as one like us in all things but sin. In this way He comes as the second Adam – the true image of God without sin or pain or suffering. He comes to free us from the suffering which we have inflicted on ourselves and one another throughout time and history.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is Himself the Star in the East, who makes known to us what our true destiny is to be. We also are called to be sons and daughters of God – in His very own image and likeness. He comes as the revelation that God is a God who is Love Itself, and consequently the only command that He gave us is to love one another as He has loved us. If this were to be realized, then the world would be a very different place.
Just yesterday our community had a communal dialogue on the issue of suffering in life and the ways to deal with it in daily affairs. Today gives us the full answer to that. We are to deal with suffering only by keeping our eye on the Star in the East – or in the words of St. Benedict, we are to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ”. If we were truly to live in the image of God in which we were created, then we would be like God and be the image of Love within this world. Then truly, as Isaiah foretold, all suffering would be removed from the world and we would realize the full meaning of God being one with us.
Then all humanity and all creation would be that true Image of God, that Star in the East, that manifestation of God within time and space. Jesus Christ has come among us and absorbed all the pain and suffering of all time I His own suffering and death. He has willed that now we should also share in His own joy when He prayed: “Father, glorify your Son – your sons and daughters – that your sons and daughters may glorify You. I have manifested your name to those whom You have given Me. I am praying for them whom you have given Me. I am no more in the world, but they are in the world. I pray that they may be one even as we are One, so that they may be that Star in the East which reveals our presence to the world and their presence to one another, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them and I in them.”
This is the full manifestation – Epiphany – of God present in the world and in one another. Then there will be not simply a Star in the East, but the living presence of the living and loving God and all creation and all peoples in that same image and likeness.
Homily for 12/22/19
Fr Carlos Rodriguez
T’is a wonderful season – this Advent. We are waiting for a God who is Almighty and Creator of all there is, and He will come as a babe…He would not give up on us human beings who have transgressed his law innumerable times. He gave hope to his people through all the calamities they have experienced as a people giving them solace by the assuring words of prophets that He promised to send a Savior. Little did his people know and for that matter even us that God would bring about His saving plan playing brinkmanship, so to speak, by putting the feasibility of His magnificent plan for all of humankind upon the assent of two people: one a virgin named Mary and the other to whom the virgin was betrothed, a man named Joseph. Except for the prophets, Scriptures has made it known that His beloved chosen ones who were to carry out His his saving plan for His people failed Him miserably: Saul, David, Solomon the so called wiseman and the countless subsequent kings who ruled in His name were dismally inept at representing Him. Yet, God did not waver in His confidence and trust in human beings, that they will come up to His expectation. He was almost at awe with his puny creation like, he had a kind of Divine Naivete.
In Mary and Joseph his trust and confidence on the goodness of human beings were vindicated. The assent of Mary and Joseph to the mystery happening in their lives has been unequalled. In them God’s loving saving plan is now in place. What is left was its unfolding in the lives of this couple and the Birth of a Son who is from God and who is God. Again the ineffable God involves humans in the divine life: the Father sent the Son and the Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit. He would never let us go away from that trinitarian circle of love. And this is the beauty of it all. Mary & Joseph did not have an advantage that we have of the true interpretation of Scriptures, lessons of absolute truth about God, the correct understanding of all the prophecies or guidelines of proper behavior in life. They took tremendous risks, at the expense of possibly losing their sanity, the ire of the people around them and the strict demands of their culture and temple. God spoke to them in the most gentle manner, almost a suggestion; in a dream in the case of Joseph and the appearance of the angel which brought fright to the young maiden. Everything happened at the core of their being for that is where God is heard most clearly… not in the clarity of the mind. Besides what mind is clear when facing a mystery. Mystery stuns the mind but it enlarges the heart to receive and understand God. After the messages were given, there were no instructions given to them as to what to do. They waited for God’s voice or messengers and prepared themselves to listen and obey. So they lived an ordinary, hidden life in a village and waited for the voice of God within. They heard it several times more and then God was silent. Scriptures spoke little of Mary and Joseph. Yet something did change in their lives. They lived a celibate life. It is a bit strange to speak of celibacy at this point. No, this is not the canonical celibacy, this is not a religious vow not even a way of giving up something for the sake of God. No, this is a celibacy that flowed from their encounter with God in the inner core of their being. They were in communion with the Father through their Son and the Holy Spirit. They were in other words evangelized by the words of God through the angel. Their three levels of consciousness, the superego, the ego and the libido where all superfluous for they found themselves in God’s life which made all desires apart from God superfluous. Advent is the time to get in touch with our inner being; its deeper than mind and thought, it’s deeper than heart and feeling. It’s the only place in us where if want to hear God speak it is there where we should wait. It is not even praying, for oftentimes our prayer even blocks God from showing us His gift of love, namely, His divine life, his love which makes us lack nothing else. He wants to give us gifts and the greatest gift to us His son on Christmas day. We wait deeply in faith suspending all understanding through the mind and receiving the wonderful message as pure gift. Mystery befits mystery. The greatest human mystery is that place in our being where only God may enter.
Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (C)
Fr. Alan Gilmore, OCSO
Dear Brothers and Sisters, today is the 34th Sunday in Ordinary time. It is also the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. The end of the year points toward the end of time when ALL creation will be culminated in Christ, when his kingdom comes, when God’s will is done.
With the following words, in 1925, Pope Pius XI introduced the beautiful “Solemnity of Christ the King “ to the Catholic world.: (Quote):
“People are taught the truths of the faith and brought to appreciate them more effectively by the annual celebration of the sacred mysteries – than by official pronouncements of the Church….pronouncements speak once; feasts (Solemnities) speak every year. The Church’s teaching impresses the mind primarily, while her feasts influence both mind and heart, affecting the whole of the person.”
The Pope did this also to guard against the extremes of laicism of the time and the clericalism of previous generations. With these words and for this reason he established this great Solemnity, now know as -The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
As today’s celebration points out – Christ is Master, Shepherd, King and Lord of all. Our selfishness, our lack of vision, fails entirely to destroy or distort the truth of the Christ. He remains the beginning and end of existence. He is our universal King! Paul’s words to the Colossians today – sums up beautifully the “Christic” nature of the Son of God, the Son of David, ‘explaining’ even gravity’ – ( as – “In him all things hold together”.)
This celebration provides us with what is perhaps the most multi-faceted theme in all of salvation history: “Kingship”& “Messiah”. This is witnessed to by the richness of the texts for this Liturgy. The tendency of most of us would be to treat the coming of Christ’s Kingship in a highly dramatic way. But that is not God’s way! Instead, the King of Kings comes to us very simply, even on the foal of an ass. Some throne he had!: a cross. Some crown: of thorns; Some subjects: all sinners. Today he comes to us again, Jesus our Lord and God, our King; He is delivered into our hands. We may receive him with our open hands…but most of all – and this is what he wants from us above all else – he wants us to open our heart to him! He wants to be the King and Center of our heart! He wants to enter the deepest depths of our heart. He is the only one who can enter that ‘holy of holies’ as it were, where he makes us mutually present with him and to one another!
Listen to how Jesus describes his coming in the Gospels: “I will come to you. In that day you will know that I am in my Father – and you in me – and I in you.” “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” “Because I live, you will live also.” Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” All throughout, this is a personal relationship! He comes to give us his Spirit – that we may be able to love one another- as he has loved us. That is the Kingdom we are called to, as the members of his Body, the Church. This is the Kingdom we are called to participate in now; This is ‘not yet’ heaven, but it is the beginning!
The response we are making to that Kingdom? We are called to be ready and willing to confess him to follow him, to do what he commands – just as he responded to his Father in Gethsemani. “Not my will, but thine be done”. “If you know these things, blessed shall you be – if you do them.” This is what our Pope Francis keeps talking about!
To love the King – is to love his kingdom. – that is – all our Brothers and Sisters – all for whom he has made the great confession, laying down his life for all of us. It is only in doing this, in demonstrating this love, that we show ourselves to be sons and daughters, members of the Kingdom of Christ.
Only the Lord, the King of our Heart, can teach us and help us to love as he loves. Through his Spirit, his Word, and His Eucharist, he empowers us, gives us the initiative and courage to love one another effectively and selflessly. To do this constantly – involves a death, a death to self! Shortly before his own death Jesus reminded us of this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone…..he who loves his life, loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me.” The Lord comes to us personally and corporately. He gives us full power, to love, as pleni-potentiaries”, as it were! He has plans and gifts for each one of us! “Go into the whole world!”
On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, let’s pray – that our hearts may be touched, and the quality of our allegiance to Christ our King be purified and strengthened!; that we may always prefer absolutely nothing to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – in whom everything continues in being. May our lives reflect the gratitude we owe Him, without whom we, no thing, no Universe could exist. May we confess and glorify his name now and for all eternity Come Lord Jesus! (2 Sam. 5:1-3, Col. l: 12-20, Lk. 23: 35-43)
by Sr. Maureen McCormack – Sisters of Loretto
I chose to give the homily on this day because it is my baptismal feast. My parents wanted to have me baptized on this day because the Feast of Christ the King was a rather new feast in the Church. They wanted me to be baptized on a special day, not just a day or so after I was born, so that I would remember. The feast was celebrated in October in those days. When the Church leaders decided to move it to November, I remember saying: “O no, they can’t do that. That’s my baptismal feast. I was born in October.” Nonetheless, I am happy to celebrate each year the occasion of my baptism, the day I was brought into the Church.
I want to reflect for a moment on what is modeled for us as we enter into membership in the Church. We are invited to imitate Christ’s kindness, never saying an unkind word about anyone. We are invited to follow the way he lived his life, his openness to others- men, women, and especially the children. We are so fortunate to have Christ’s beautiful example of how to live our lives.
So today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. There was such joy among the people as Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem. They shouted: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of our God.” (Luke 19:38)
I was in the midst of preparing this homily when there was a knock at my door. It was Barbara Schulte bringing me communion. Someone does this on days I am unable to get to Mass. The moment was poignant, as though Barbara was saying to me, instead of “Body of Christ,” “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of our God.” I was barely able to get back to preparing these remarks, after that.
After all of this joy and celebration by the people as Jesus entered into Jerusalem, we learn from the gospel that much later things had taken a terrible turn for the worst. Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death. What? Where were we? We heard shouting: “Crucify him” “We have no king, but Caesar.” Did we join in the shouting and jeering? “If you are the king of Jews, come down from the cross. Save yourself.”
Where do we stand? There was a different voice that day from one of the criminals crucified with Jesus. He rebuked the other criminal who asked Jesus to save them. With these words: “Have you no fear of God? We have been condemned justly. This man has done nothing wrong.” Then he turned to Jesus and said: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” Jesus replies: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
I ask again. Where do we stand as all these events unfold? How do we hope we would have the courage to be, to align ourselves in difficult or challenging circumstances? There is much to ponder, to think about.
One of the ways I hope I would be is reflected in the quote about The Essence of Compassion which Alice Mattingly has framed in the physical therapy room: “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong, because sometime in your life you will have been all of these.”
Dear brothers and sisters – We live in perilous times. Nations are turning against each other. Old alliances are falling apart, new ways of fighting wars threaten fragile peace. Children are killed in their schools by other children. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Minorities are demonised as threats, are profiled and used as scapegoats. Immanent environmental disaster which threatens all life on the planet is recognized by everyone except those with the power to stop it. These are perilous times. Perhaps this is what the end times look like. In the 1960’s, everyone was worried that we would blow ourselves up, but now it looks like we will just slowly suffocate ourselves. T.S. Eliot may have been right – “This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper.”
Then again, at least some people in every generation since Christ have been sure that they were the ones living in the end times. This era looks dire, but what about the 14 th century when war and the black plague wiped out about half the population of Europe? And we don’t need to go back that far – the first half of the 20 th century saw war on a scale unimaginable before then. Dictators directed the deaths of millions of their own citizens. The Spanish flu of 1918 carried off about 50 million worldwide. Throughout human history, when have there not been wars and insurrections? When have there not been plenty of “earthquakes, famines, and plagues?” And every time a comet appears, some sect or other claims that here are “mighty signs… from the sky.” Many other eras have looked like the end of the world.
As Christians, we believe that the end of the world as we know it will coincide with the second coming of Jesus Christ. The prophecies about this time, including Jesus’ own, have the good and the evil separated out, the sheep from the goats, with the evil going to eternal punishment, and the good joining Christ in heaven. Most folks who think that the end time is approaching likely put themselves into the “good” category, among those who will be saved. Malachi the prophet belongs to this type. He warns us that the day of the Lord is coming, with recompense for those who fear God’s name, but with punishment for evildoers. “The day is coming,” he says, “blazing like an oven.” For evildoers, this day will feel like excruciating heat, burning them up, but for the righteous, it will feel like the sun’s “healing rays.” Both are fire, but are felt differently depending on the virtue of the recipient. It is clear that Malachi expected this day of the Lord to be immanent, to come within the lifetime of those listening to his words. He firmly believes that he is living in the last days. We, however, have a different perspective on his prophecy. Malachi is placed last by Christians in the order of the books of the Old Testament because his prophecies are taken to refer to the coming of Christ, and beyond that, to Christ’s second coming. The book of Malachi, then, immediately precedes Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. Naturally, therefore, we read Malachi as Advent approaches.
Advent is about preparing for the coming of Jesus into the world, both his first coming as a baby, the son of Mary, and his second coming at the end of all time. It’s understandable that Christians would long, in a way, for the end of the world. For us it means the beginning of the reign of God, the institution of a new heaven and a new earth, in which death will be no more, in which God will wipe away the tear from every eye. But Jesus tells us that we should not try to anticipate when this time will come. By the time the Gospel of Luke was finished, his prediction about the temple being razed to the ground had already come true. But that this was not a sign of the end of the world, Jesus warns, “See that you not be deceived,” since there is always someone who will tell us that the end times are upon us. Instead, he tells us that before that time comes, there will be suffering. This is not surprising. All of us have suffered loss and tragedy in our lives. We may have escaped persecution as Christians, though there are many in the world today who do suffer persecution for their religious beliefs, but we can’t escape the death of loved ones, personal injury or illness, broken-heartedness, or the many disappointments, great and small, that life brings. He tells us not to focus on the end times, but on the trials we will face before then.
I once saw a cartoon which had one of those raggedy prophets, with a beard, in a ragged robe and carrying a sign. These signs usually say something like, “The End is Near!” But in this case it said, “It just goes on and on and on.”
Paul gives us some sound advice on what is important in the time between Jesus’ first and second coming. He advises the Thessalonians to “work quietly and to eat their own food.” This is a far cry from beating one’s breast, or adopting some extreme behaviour in anticipation of the Second Coming. It is particularly good advice for us here at Gethsemani at this time of year. Advent for us is a time of anticipation of Christ’s coming into the world, and a time of reflection on Christ’s next appearance, encouraged by our daily liturgy, but it is also our shipping season, when we are frantically but quietly busy earning our own bread, and earning the right to eat it. Jesus tells us that he will certainly come again, that the day of the Lord is real, but he also tells us not to spend our time fretting about it or predicting it. He tells us that we should focus instead on the present. The virtue he recommends is not prophecy but perseverance. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives,” he tells us. The end times will come, that is certain, but it is extremely unlikely, given the track record, that it will happen within our lifetimes. More than likely we will simply die like every single person before us. But when we die, we will encounter Christ in some way, not perhaps in the full way which will happen in the last days, but in some way. And we will be judged for the way we have spent our lives, the gift of life which God has given us.
This should be our constant preoccupation, to spend our lives well, in service to our brothers and sisters, like St. Paul, in faithfulness and perseverance in the path God has laid out for us, whether that path leads to family or career or into the monastery. And of course we should do all we can to alleviate the evils of our time. We wait in hope for the day of the Lord, but we live in love in the present moment. This is the best preparation we can make for the end times, whether they come in the form of Jesus’ blazing appearance from heaven or in the form of our own small deaths, a life given to God through love of our very real and very present brothers and sisters.