Saturday, November 20, 2010

Feast of Christ the King

XXXIV SUNDAY : II Sam 5: 1-3; Col 1: 12-20; Lk 23: 35-43
Today's Feast - Christ the King - has an interesting history. Even though the Bible clearly presents Jesus as King, it wasn't until 1925 that the Church established a feast day with that title. Pope Pius XI inaugurated this celebration as a response to the totalitarian regimes that emerged in the early twentieth century. Those regimes claimed absolute power over their citizens and they scoffed at the role of God in guiding people's lives. Against this grab for absolute control, the Church said, "No, the state does not have the highest authority. That belongs to God." And as Christians, we know that Jesus is God. He is the King over all kings. In our second reading, St. Paul states that all things were created through Jesus and for him. "He is before all things...preeminent."

We belong to Jesus. He is our king. If a government overreaches itself, if it demands a submission that we cannot give, we have a simple, direct response: Jesus is our king. We see an example of this from the nineteen-twenties. At that time a totalitarian regime gained control of Mexico and it tried to suppress the Church. To resist the regime, many Christians took up the cry, "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!" They called themselves "Cristeros." The most famous Cristero was a young Jesuit priest named Padre Miguel Pro. Using various disguises, Padre Pro ministered to the people of Mexico City. Finally the government arrested him and sentenced him to public execution. The president of Mexico (Plutarco Calles) thought that Padre Pro would beg for mercy, so he invited the press to the execution. Padre Pro did not plead for his life, but instead knelt holding a crucifix. When he finished his prayer, he kissed the crucifix and stood up. Holding the crucifix in his right hand, he extended his arms and shouted, "Viva Cristo Rey." At that moment the soldiers fired. The journalists took pictures; if you look up "Padre Pro" or "Saint Miguel Pro" on the Internet, you can see that picture.

Like the good thief in the Gospel today, Padre Pro died acknowledging Jesus as King. Hopefully you and I will die with the name of Jesus on our lips and in our heart. But, more important, we live today acknowledging Christ as our King. Now, we do not live in a totalitarian country. Unlike Mexico in the twenties (or the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany) we enjoy religious freedom. At the same time we must be vigilant. Government can infringe on what ultimately belongs to God.

It is not enough, therefore, for Christians to hold onto their faith just in their private lives. We must bring Christ and Christian values in to culture, politics, and every sphere of society. If we truly believe in Christ, why would we be afraid of defending and spreading Christian values? Why would we let ourselves be bullied by secular fundamentalists who try to exclude Christ from culture?

In 1908, the famous English historian and writer, Hilaire Belloc, ran for the British Parliament. His opponents tried to scare off his supporters by claiming that Belloc's faithfulness to the Catholic Church would inhibit him from being objective. Belloc responded in a speech: "Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell its beads every day. "If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God for having spared me the indignity of being your representative."
The crowd was shocked for a minute, and then burst out in applause.
Belloc went on to win that election, and many more. If Christ truly is King, which he is, we should not be afraid to spread his Kingdom.

The feast of Christ the King is a day of glory, exaltation and majesty. And yet, the strange thing is that today, we read the story of the crucifixion. After all, if there was a low tide in the Kingship of Christ, it was when he died, his life and work mocked, his hope crushed. Surely, at that moment, he was least a king. "lf you are a king, save yourself", they said. But of course, Jesus was not a king in the only fashion in which they could understand the word, namely a king by the exercise of his power. By dying, he displays the kind of king he is, one who suffers trusting in God and punishes no one.

The Good Thief understood this. The bad thief didn't. The rulers didn't. As Jesus hung on the cross, revealing God's saving love, they sneered and jeered at him. They knew that he had claimed to be the Messiah, the Savior, the King of Israel, but they could only imagine kingship in earthly terms. And so they challenged Jesus to show that he was truly a king by coming down from the cross. If Jesus could eliminate human suffering and injustice (symbolized by coming down from the cross), so they thought, he would prove himself to be a worthy king. But Jesus didn't do it. He didn't even respond to them with an explanation. He simply kept suffering unfairly until the very end. And as he suffered, the Good Thief realized the truth. He realized that there is more to the human story than what we see, experience, and understand here on earth. He realized that Jesus held the key to a Kingdom much greater than any the earth would ever know. He realized that Christ's Kingdom could begin on earth, through faith, hope and obedience, but that it would only reach its fullness hereafter, and so he makes his prayer: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." To that request, Jesus responded.
As a true King, he granted the favor. He didn't take away the Good Thief's suffering - Christ's Kingdom is not of this world - but he gave it purpose: he made it a path to Paradise. And as the Good Thief hung on the cross, dying, tortured, in excruciating pain, he was happy, because he had placed himself under the King's protection, and the King would keep his promise.

We are with Jesus as he makes the rounds of healing, preaching and working miracles. But we find it hard to remain in his company when we must keep fellowship with him in his suffering. We want a Messiah who is king with all the trappings of glory but not a Messiah who invites us to follow him on the way of the cross. Why then do we Christians have a king who reigns from the cross?

St. Luke provides a powerful response. Jesus is on the cross because we need him to be there. We find both the good thief and the bad one within ourselves. We want Jesus to get off the cross and make everything right. We need a quick fix solution to all our problems and the bold display of power.

There are many Christians who demand of Christ the disappearance of suffering, injustice and war. There are other people who say that if Christ has royal power, let him fashion for us a better society, and then they will believe in him. At the same time, we also realize that Jesus must remain on the cross if we are to hear these words: "I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise."
We are ambassadors of Christ the King. We represent him to the world.
Through us, his wisdom enlightens culture. Through us, his grace reaches into every corner of the human community and heals it of selfishness, greed and injustice. Our job as ambassadors is simply to be loyal. That means first of all that we must know the King's desires and priorities.
Today especially, before we receive our Lord in Holy Communion, let us put more meaning than usual into the words that sum up every christian’s fundamental mission and deepest desire: Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

XXXII-Sunday in Ordinary time.

XXXII –Sunday-: 2 Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; 2 Thess 2: 16--3:5;Gosple: Lk 20: 27-38
General Charles de Gaulle was France's president from 1959-69. His private life was not without sorrow. One of his three children, Anne, was born subnormal after a car accident involving his wife. De Gaulle used to spend hours with Anne. Eventually she died at the age of 20. At the graveside, after weeping silently, de Gaulle said softly to his wife, "Come. Now she is like the others." Death is called the ultimate leveler. Everyone is born to die. But death is not the last period for those who believe in God. There is resurrection for those who die in Christ.
As we near the end of the Church's liturgical year, the readings become more eschatological -- having to do with the end times. The main theme of today’s readings is the reality of life after death and of the relationship between our lives on earth and the life of glory or punishment that will follow. The readings invite us to consider the true meaning of the resurrection in our lives.
The first reading states the first century B.C. Jewish theology of martyrdom and the resurrection of the just. The intense sufferings to which good Jews were subjected brought them to the conviction that the justice of God would reward the faithful in the afterlife, and would also punish the wicked. This selection describes a Jewish family, consisting of a mother and her seven sons, who refused the command of Antiochus Epiphanus IV to eat pork, (forbidden as “unclean” by Jewish law). Because of their faith and obedience to God, they endured suffering and accepted martyrdom. The conviction that the dead would be raised on the last day had not become widely accepted at that time, nor even by the time of Jesus. But in our first reading three of the brothers speak, and each of them finds strength in the belief that he will eventually be raised by God. One says, “You may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up.” Another says that he hopes to receive his severed limbs again in heaven. The fourth son also says that he is “relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him.” So they express faith in the life after death.
Today’s gospel affirms the victory of God’s love over the power of death. Jesus speaks of God as the God of the living. The gospel shows us how Jesus ingeniously escaped from a doctrinal trap set for him by the Sadducees.
Pharisees and Sadducees are often mentioned together in the gospels, but in their beliefs they could not be further apart. The Pharisees were a religious party with no political ambition; they believed in the resurrection, in angels, in spirits; they expected the coming of the Messiah.
The Sadducees constituted a party of wealth, power and privilege, which controlled the Temple worship. Although few in number, the Sadducees were the Jewish governing class, and they supported Roman rule. They were secular in outlook, and did not believe in the coming of any Messiah (who might upset the system); they did not believe in the next life, nor in the existence of angels or spirits. Nearly all priests were Sadducees. They acknowledged only written Scripture as bearing God’s word, accepting only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as authoritative. They rejected the oral tradition which the Pharisees found necessary for applying God's revealed word to everyday life. The Sadducees believed in unrestricted free-will and not in fate or providence. They assumed that we control our own destinies through our personal actions.
When the Sadducees posed their question about the status of the woman who was married in this life to seven brothers, they were only making fun of the belief in a next life. No Rabbi had ever brought a ‘proof’ of it from the first five books of the Scriptures .But Jesus provides positive Biblical proof for the reality of resurrected existence. Jesus presumes that Yahweh's burning bush statement about being the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is in the present tense. This would prove that these three patriarchs were still alive at the time of Moses, 600 years after their death. Thus, Jesus uses the Sadducees' sacred text of the Torah to respond to their anti-resurrection belief. God said to Moses from the burning bush, "I am the God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Ex.3:1-6). Since God claims to be God of the patriarchs, He must somehow sustain the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by granting them resurrection and eternal life. Therefore the resurrection of the body can be proved from the Torah itself. Jesus also explains that the afterlife won't be just an eternal replay of this life. Our happiness there will far exceed the sexual joys of marriage in this life, so the ridiculous problem of a man who had seven wives in this life won't apply in the next. A little girl and her father were walking on a clear, starry night. She turned to him and asked, “If the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what will the right side be like?”
When it comes to talking about the hereafter, no one is clearer than Paul: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, What God has prepared for those who love him."
Since God is God of the living and not of the dead, to trust in this God means to realize we are meant to be alive. And being alive consists of being with Him in a continuous manner, forever. Furthermore, “and for him all are alive” (Lk 20:38): God is the source of life. The believer, submerged in God through the Baptism, has been able to escape forever from the clutches of death.
Resurrection is not some natural right that we are given. It is a remarkable gift or the grace of God. Pessimists say we die like any animal and that is it. Look at Ecclesiastes and you will find this emphatic despair.

Christianity believes that life continues after death." Death does not snuff out the candle of our soul. God gives us the gift of life: Earthly life and Resurrection life: Both are Gift! Both are Grace!"
Some people say there is only one life and so enjoy it. Certainly it is true. But the quality of the enjoyment should be pure and holy. The second part of the movie after the intermission is built upon the first part. So we need to hold faith in the afterlife, the life that lasts for ever with Christ. So a Christian should always prepare for that.
The story is told of an American tourist who paid the 19th century Polish rabbi Hofetz Chaim a visit. Astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where is your furniture?” “Where is yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled tourist. “But I’m only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” said Hofetz Chaim. We are only passing through here, it is not our permanent dwelling place.

Among other things, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900 tried to wipe out Christian influence on Chinese society. During the Rebellion, some members of the Rebel party surrounded a Christian mission school and barricaded all gates and doors except one. Across this threshold they placed a cross. Whoever trampled on that cross, implicitly denying their Christian faith, would go free; whoever stepped around it would be shot. The first seven students chose to trample on the cross. They went free. Next came a teen-age girl. She stopped, knelt before the cross, rose, and stepped around it. A shot rang out. She was dead. But the other ninety-two students in the school, inspired by her example and her courage, likewise stepped around the cross and accepted death rather than trample upon the symbol of their faith. If I believe only in this life, I won’t get the courage sacrifice my life, or empty myself for others, even for my own children.
Paul says that we were meant to grow until "we attain to the full height of the stature of Christ." Resurrection is the way where by we can grow to the full height of the stature of Christ.
There is an Italian legend about a master and servant. The servant was not very smart and the master used to get very exasperated with him. Finally, one day, in a fit of temper, the master said: "You really are the stupidest man I know. Here, I want you to carry this staff wherever you go. And if you ever meet a person stupider than yourself, give them this staff."

So time went by, and often in the marketplace the servant would encounter some pretty stupid people, but he never found someone appropriate for the staff. Years later, he returned to his master's home. He was shown into his master's bedroom, for the man was quite sick and in bed. In the course of their conversation the master said: "I'm going on a journey soon."

"When will you return?", asked the servant. "This is a journey from which I will not return." the master replied. The servant asked: "Have you made all the necessary arrangements?"
"No, I guess I have not…The servant said: You have not made arrangements for a journey from which you will not return ? Even for a small journey we make enough arrangements and you did not make arrangements ? I think you deserve this staff. I haven’t seen anyone more dumb than you.
Do we deserve a stupid’s staff ? How have I prepared myself for that journey which can begin any moment from now ?
Does thee proclamation that our God is the God of the living mean something positive to us. It should affect our lives today and every day, especially during our Sunday worship. Let us give thanks to Almighty God for this foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet that awaits us in the place that God has prepared for us. Let us reaffirm our belief in the life of the world to come, since this is the most effective means to escape the stranglehold of materialism in our lives here on earth.