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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christ the King

November 20, 2011
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

          The Feast of Christ the King marks the final Sunday of the year and the return of the Lord Jesus to inaugurate the final judgment of our moral choices. It becomes our day to check in on ourselves to see how faithfully we are imitating the life of Jesus and make needed amends. All of creation will be called to account and the righteous will be taken up into heaven as a reward for their fidelity.

          The feast is relatively new to the church calendar as Pius XI instituted it in 1925 as a response to the rise of secularism in which church leaders thought the role of Christ was becoming displaced. It falls on the 34 Sunday of Ordinary Time in November. With the rise of dictatorships in Europe, Pius XI thought that the masses of people were getting pulled into the orbits of earthly leaders with new types of secular-based governments. Mass attendance was at a low point and respect for Christ and the Church was waning. This feast was to bolster a strong image of the church and remind everyone that Christ still reigned supreme while other governmental leaders would pass away.

          The image of a strong, kingly Christ depicted by Pius XI is diametrically opposed to the one presented in the readings. Ezekiel describes the right leader of Israel to be a caring, compassionate shepherd who will exhaust his resources to rescue his scattered sheep when it is cloudy and dark. This shepherd will tend to them by giving them rest, by binding up the injured, healing the sick, and seek out the strayed and the lost. This leader will separate his sheep for those of other shepherds and lead them to safety. He knows his sheep well enough to segregate them from other sheep and from rams and goats. This leader has intimate knowledge of his flock and will provide for all their needs. The responsorial psalm, the Twenty-Third, gives us another glimpse of this care-giver who refreshes our souls and leads us to right paths.

          In the Last Judgment passage in Matthew, Jesus becomes the Good Shepherd once again. He too will separate his sheep from those sheep who belong to others. He will separate them from the goats as well. His measure of discernment is whether his sheep grow in intimate knowledge of him and thereby imitate his attitude towards others. We mimic his outpouring concern for others by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and caring for the imprisoned. Our response to others is to be genuine service to them because we care for their human dignity. We are not concerned for glory from God or humans because our natural response is human regard for those who struggle and suffer.

          We desire in our church not leaders who are strong and firm in their authority but those who lovingly and affectionately understands and provides for the people of God. Speaking loudly with firm purpose does no good if the people do not sense the leader cares for them. Fostering a culture that adheres to unyielding universal rules and making pronouncements about who is righteous or sinful builds little trust or credibility when the flock cannot sense genuine concern for every person's dignity and well-being. The flock recognizes either genuine or inauthentic motives in the one who sets out to be their shepherd. Without genuine care, the flock scatters. The flock will not abandon the true shepherd (they still recognize his voice), but may seek other ways to access the good shepherd.

          We want our church to have leaders who like being with the people of God and will exhaust resources to provide for them in darkness. The world is filled with people who hunger for the word of God and we are to speak in new ways to attract people to the Good Shepherd. We are to lead people who are dry and weary with life to the one who offers the cup of eternal life. We are at our best when we welcome the stranger - not put restrictions on them or create a smaller, purer church - but let them know that their unique contributions will enrich us. We reach out to those who feel disempowered and we help them access the power of Christ, the redeemer and liberator. We know that so many are bound by demons and imprisoned by disordered attachments and we want them to come to know that by journeying together with our struggles we meet the face of God.

          Christ the Shepherd is our King. Long live Christ the King. May we imitate his tender, gentle ways and respond to his loving invitations!

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Daniel, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and tried to rebuild Israeli nobility in his own image. He selected Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah among others as his recruits. Daniel sought not to defile himself with the king's food and wine. After dietary tests, the four men gave knowledge and proficiency in literature and science. Daniel became known for his dream interpretations. Daniel interpreted a dream for the king that predicted his future fate. Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom will fall to be replaced by others, but God's kingdom shall stand.

During a feast of the king's son, Belshazzar, a vision of a human hand appeared and wrote: Mene, Tekel, Peres. Daniel interpreted it to mean the kingdom was numbered, Belshazzar's rule was found lacking, and the kingdom will be divided among the Medes and the Persians. Daniel violated the king's prohibition because of his prayer and the king tried to rescue Daniel, but his adversaries demanded thorough justice. Daniel was thrown into the lion's den and remained throughout the night, but the lion did not attack him. The king rejoiced and Daniel was found innocent before God. Daniel then interpreted an apocalyptic dream with four beasts. One like the son of man approached the Ancient One and this man received dominion, glory, and kingship on heaven and earth. He will rule and judge the world giving dominion to the ones who will serve and obey him.

Gospel: In Jerusalem, the people are looking for a sign and Jesus tells them that someone else will come in his name to deceive people into thinking the time has come. Wars and insurrections will happen before the great war that will usher in the lasting kingdom. His followers will face persecution and will be kicked out of their houses of worship. However, his spirit will be with them to give solid witness. Their lives shall be saved. Great calamity and confusion will beset the world as events shake out. After all these things occur, the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory. Be fortified because redemption is at hand. Heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will remain eternal. Therefore, do not let your hearts get drowsy from licentiousness or the anxieties of daily life. Be vigilant and pray that you have the strength to escape the immanent tribulations.

Saints of the Week

Monday: The Presentation of Mary originated as a feast in 543 when the basilica of St. Mary's the New in Jerusalem was dedicated. The day commemorate the event when Mary's parent brought her to the Temple to dedicate her to God. The Roman church began to celebrate this feast in 1585.

Tuesday: Cecilia, martyr (2nd or 3rd century), is the patron saint of music because of the song she sang at her wedding. She died just days after her husband, Valerian, and his brother were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the gods. She is listed in the First Eucharistic prayer as an early church martyr.

Wednesday: Clement I, pope and martyr (d. 99) is also mentioned in the First Eucharistic prayer. He is the third pope and was martyred in exile. He is presumed to be a former slave in the imperial court. He wrote a letter to the Corinthians after a revolt and as pope he restored ordered within the ministries.   

Columban, abbot (d. 615) was an Irish monk who left Ireland for France with 12 companions to found a monastery as a base for preaching. They established 3 monasteries within 10 years. Columban opposed the king's polygamy and was expelled. He set up monasteries in Switzerland and Italy before he died. Though he was expelled, the monasteries were permitted to remain open.

Miguel Pro, S.J., martyr (1891-1927) lived in Guadalupe, Mexico before entering the Jesuits. Public worship was forbidden in Mexico so Miguel became an undercover priest often wearing disguises. He was arrested and ordered to be shot in front of a firing squad without benefit of a trial. Before he died she shouted out, "Long live Christ the King."

Thursday: Andrew Dung-Lac and companion martyrs (1785-1839) were missionaries to Vietnam during the 17th through 19th centuries. Over 130,000 Christians were killed, including priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people. Many of these were Vietnamese citizens.

Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. is derived from a mix of European and Native American traditions. Joyous festivals were held in Europe to give thanks for a good harvest and to rejoice with others for their hard work. It is a day to give thanks for the many blessings we have received through God's generosity throughout the year.

Friday: Catherine of Alexandria, martyr, (d. 310) is said to have been born in Egypt to a noble family. She was educated and converted to Christianity because of a vision. She refused to marry a man arranged to be her husband by the emperor, and she denounced him for persecuting Christians. She was arrested, tortured, and killed.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Nov 20, 1864. In St Peter's, Rome, the beatification of Peter Canisius by Pope Pius IX.
·         Nov 21, 1759. At Livorno, the harbor officials refused to let the ship, S Bonaventura, with 120 exiled Portuguese Jesuits on board, cast anchor. Carvalho sent orders to the Governor of Rio de Janeiro to make a diligent search for the supposed wealth of the Jesuits.
·         Nov 22, 1633. The first band of missionaries consisting of five priests and one brother, embarked from England for Maryland. They were sent at the request of Lord Baltimore. The best known among them was Fr. Andrew White.
·         Nov 22, 1791: Georgetown Academy opened with one student, aged 12, who was the first student taught by the Jesuits in the United States.
·         Nov 23, 1545: Geronimo de Nadal, whom Ignatius had known as a student at Paris, entered the Society. Later Nadal was instrumental in getting Ignatius to narrate his autobiography.
·         In 1927: the execution of Fr. Michael Augustine Pro, SJ, by leaders of the persecution of the Church in Mexico.
·         Nov 24, 1963: The death of John Lafarge, pioneer advocate of racial justice in the United States.
·         Nov 25, 1584: The Church of the Gesu, built in Rome for the Society by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, was solemnly consecrated.
·         Nov 26, 1678: In London the arrest and imprisonment of St Claude la Colombiere. He was released after five weeks and banished.


  1. Thanks for this. I didn't know until a few years ago that the feast of Christ the King was established in the roaring 20's. I take the occasion to fire my hope of Christ's return. Hard to do in the midst of the noise of "holiday advertising" in this present horid economy.

    Thanks, too for "this Week in Jesuit History"! A good reminder for me to pray for Jesuits I know and admire.

  2. Thanks, Kim. Yes, the establishment of the feast was meant to send a political message. I like the feast anyways. It gives "umpf" to the end of the liturgical year instead of just limping out.

    I'm glad you have such affection for us Jesuits. I hope we serve you well.