Sunday, November 26, 2017

Year A Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: Ezk 34:11-12.15-17; Ps 23:1-3.5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Matt 25:31-46

Last week Fr. Rene began his homily by singing a hymn. Since today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the end of the world, I thought about singing REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” You’ll be relieved to know that I thought the better of it. I do think the refrain that runs through this song is relevant for Christians, who hopefully await the Lord’s return: “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”

Believing that Christ will return is fundamental to Christian faith. In the Nicene Creed, we profess: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” In the Apostles Creed, we say: “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” Belief in Jesus’s return as the judge is not optional because it was revealed to us by the Lord himself, as our Gospel today clearly shows.

Jesus Christ is King of the universe because he has vanquished all of God’s foes, including death. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth: Jesus will hand over the kingdom “to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24). No earthly kingdom or nation will endure beyond Christ’s return. This feast invites us to live sub specie aeternatatis – under the auspices of eternity, which simply means giving what matters priority in our lives.

Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925. He did so in response to growing secularism as the ancien régime overturned at the end of the First World War was replaced by a new political order. One result of secularism is the temptation to seek exclusively worldly ends using only worldly means, as the rise of fascism in Europe after the establishment of today’s observance amply demonstrated.

Observing the feast of Christ, the King does not call for us to disengage from society and culture, or to retreat from the world. On the contrary! What makes Christians the best citizens of any nation, as St. Justin Martyr noted in his First Apology way back in the second century, is our commitment to living God’s kingdom as a present reality, as if it were already fully established. Too often we live in the mistaken notion that the definitive establishment of God’s reign has little or nothing to do with us.

In positive terms, I think G.K. Chesterton summed it up nicely when he wrote: “it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” One almost-saint who stands in stark contrast to our age is an American of the twentieth century: the Capuchin friar, Solanus Casey. Bl. Solanus Casey, whose Mass of Beatification was celebrated in Detroit last weekend, spent most of his life as a Capuchin friar welcoming and caring for guests at the urban friaries where he served, first in New York and then in Detroit. He is a splendid example of living God’s reign as a present reality while “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Solanus Casey left us 5 ways of living in God’s love and 2 ways for living in the awareness that we are always in God’s presence. As to living in God’s love, this simple friar, writing from his experience and not as the result of academic study insisted 1) detachment from earthly affections, or singleness of purpose, what the title of a book by the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard urged: Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing - do not be half-hearted in your love for Jesus; 2) meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ – meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, walking the Stations of the Cross, or reading an account of Jesus’s Passion from one of the Gospels; 3) uniformity with the Divine Will, which means seeing God’s will and purpose at work in your life, in your failures, setbacks, and disappointments as well as in your triumphs, successes, and satisfactions; 4) mental prayer (i.e., meditation and contemplation)- praying the Rosary and/or the spiritual practice of lectio divina; 5) intercessory prayer for your own needs and those of others, heeding Jesus’s words “Ask and it shall be given you.”

The 2 ways Bl. Solanus Casey gave for always living in the awareness that you are in God’s presence are the importance of praying short prayers to God throughout the day, or, as he put it: “Raise your heart to Him by frequent aspirations” and to “Make a good intention at the beginning of each week.” Sunday Mass is a wonderful time to make a good intention for the coming week. My sisters and brothers, holiness does not happen incidentally. You can’t accidentally be a disciple of Jesus Christ. While holiness is only ever fully realized by the grace of God, attaining it requires your cooperation. Your pursuit of holiness cannot be a passive endeavor. God won’t make you holy against your will.

As his life of care and concern for others demonstrates, the practices set forth by Solanus Casey constitute a proven way of cooperating with what God is seeking to do in and through you to accomplish his purposes in and for the world. Of course, engaging in these practices, like our participation in this Mass, is not an end in itself but a means to the end of establishing God’s reign. We establish God’s reign by caring for those in need, by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, as well as visiting and assisting those who are sick and in prison. Grouped together, we call these the Corporal Works of Mercy. Our need to engage in these works has been a persistent theme of Francis’s pontificate. It's how we bring about the end of the world as we know it and feel fine in the process.

I urge each of you between this Sunday and next, which is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year of grace, to spend some time reflecting on how you can enthrone Christ as King in your heart. Being a subject of Christ the King is not a matter of being subjugated, as it is with those who exercise worldly power, but a matter of knowing you are loved and “in the hands of the one who writes straight with crooked lines” (Pope Benedict XVI).

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