Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Christ the King

Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Christ the King
November 24, 2013
2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

The Book of Samuel shows us the human – and royal – origin of Jesus as a descendent of David, who was anointed king because he promised to be a fatherly shepherd of the people. It reminds us that burden of leadership and authority is at all times about the service of care, guidance, and protection of those entrusted to us. It is never about our personal achievement, gain, or honor because the people will intuitively know when a person is primarily for self-glory. We know when our leaders care about us because they make us feel good and our trust increases.

Jesus shows us he is not about serving himself when he is hanging on the cross condemned between two criminals. Because he does not save himself, he saves us. He faces the sneers of the rulers and jeers from the soldiers – and he makes it clear that he does not obey them. To the foolish and ignorant, he is a failed leader. His mission to bring the news of the kingdom of God has utterly failed and he ends up dying in the most humiliating, excruciating manner possible. Even the description above his head is designed to mock him: He is the King of the Jews. By shaming Jesus, the rulers debased not only him, but also all of his followers. This is the God we worship – one who was abused and killed.

You would think that Jesus would have found support from among those criminals hanging beside him, but one of them ridiculed him and tried to crush his spirit. Why do we, whose fates are similar, do nasty things to one another? You think we would know better. You think we would recognize our common bond and shared humanity and try to create a better, more compassionate atmosphere. Instead, we pounce upon another in their weak moment. We particularly try to bring down the righteous and those who are trying to do better for themselves and their loved ones. Compassion makes us too vulnerable to offer it to others. Fortunately, we have the model of the good thief who sees the goodness in Jesus and hangs in solidarity with him. He doesn’t try to do or say anything that would change around his situation. He knows he cannot alleviate his pain; he just hangs with him, suffering as he does. This thief gives Jesus the best support he can.

This crucified, tortured Jesus is the one who judges the world. What do you think his perspective might be? How might he view the bad acts we do to one another when no one is looking? I feel quite confident that he stands in solidarity with the crucified people of the world who have no one to represent them. He stands up for the victims of domestic, social, and cultural abuse whose spirits are nearly defeated because of the persistent oppression that erodes the spirit of life. He stands up for those who cannot represent themselves and for those whose voices can no longer be heard. The moral of the story is: Jesus Christ, the crucified Judge, will sympathize most especially with the one who is treated poorly. We already know the verdict: the crucified one will immediately be brought into his kingdom to enjoy time with God in Paradise.

Relationships are complex and most of us do not have right relations with everyone we know. We do not always treat people as honorably as they deserve, whether they are a janitor, domestic worker, boss, fellow automobile driver, or a relative. We sometimes treat our family the worst of anyone. Can your heart open up a bit and make some room for compassion? I guarantee you that this person needs your kindness or at least your patience. It does not mean we make excuses for bad behavior, but we can still find beauty in a person whose behavior upsets us. As Christians, we have to learn to stand in solidarity with those people we may not like.

We know that Jesus will look upon victims of power plays with mercy, but we wonder too about his view of those who bully? He knows that, at times, we all have hurt someone or been the victim of someone else’s mean intentions. He is present to the victim each time an offense occurs and he is suffering with us, just as the good thief did with him. To paraphrase Paul of Tarsus, “We do not always do the good we want to do and we do the bad things we hate to do.” Fear not the judgment of Jesus. In fact, we have to rejoice at his judgment and see it as a good thing he does for us. Two thousands years ago as he hung upon that cross, he forgave every sin in the universe – those already committed, those we do today, and those we will do in the future. He has already forgiven us because his judgment is one of mercy.

When we recognize this, our response will spontaneously be one of gratitude and praise. Why then do we walk around as if we are not forgiven? We carry guilt and shame that he has already wiped away? Our King has freed us because he is our pastoral king who wants us to live in the liberation he earned for our enjoyment. Our freedom takes on responsibility for others because we want them to know our kingly shepherd and the promise he extends.

This is our time to get to know him better. As we gaze lovingly into his humanity, we cannot help be transported to his divinity where we come to know him as the image of our invisible God, within whom all were created through and for him, as the one who is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is our head, the Alpha and Omega, and in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things to himself. This is our God. This is our King. This is our all-merciful Judge. Let us give thanks and praise.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In the passage from Daniel, young Israelites make the sacrifice of abstaining from meat to avoid breaking their dietary laws. Since they gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and science, and to Daniel the understanding of visions and dreams, they entered the King’s service. Daniel interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream saying, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed and God will put an end to all other kingdoms.” Nebuchadnezzar’s son held a banquet where the fingers of a human hand appeared writing on the plaster of the wall. Daniel was brought in to interpret the signs of MENE, TEKEL, PERES, which means ‘your kingdom as been divided because you have been found wanting and your land will be given to the Medes and the Persians. Daniel was found praying, which was against the king’s prohibition. He was cast into the lion’s den, but remained overnight unscathed. The next day, those who accused Daniel were cast into the den where the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. King Darius gave great joy because he was worried for Daniel. In a night vision, Daniel sees the four winds of heaven stirred up from the great sea. As these visions continued, he saw the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven and he received dominion, glory, and kingship because the Ancient One. Daniel sees the fourth beast in his vision, which represents the persecutor Antiochus, who died an unhappy death. Kingship and dominion is given to the holy people of the Most High, while temporal kingdoms perish.

Gospel: Jesus praises the actions of a lowly woman who put two small coins into the temple treasury. She gave from her means rather than from her surplus. Jesus then talks about the near-future time when the Temple will be destroyed and people will be looking for the Christ. He encourages them to persevere in the coming times of persecution and death. Those who persevere will be hated because of the name of Jesus but not a hair on their heads will be destroyed. Jesus knows the desolation of Jerusalem is at hand and there will be signs in the sun, moon, stars, and on earth that nations will be is dismay, but the faithful ones will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Jesus points out a fig tree and asks them to ponder the mystery of the Kingdom of God. When you see signs that foretell the Kingdom’s coming, know that heaven and earth will pass away but his words will endure. Jesus warns people to be vigilant that they may have the strength to escape imminent tribulations and to be able to stand before the Son of Man.

Saints of the Week

November 24: 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.

Fourth Thursday: 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.

November 25: 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.

November 26: John Berchmans, S.J., religious (1599-1621), was a Jesuit scholastic who is the patron saint of altar servers. He was known for his pious adherence to the rules and for his obedience. He did well in studies, but was seized with a fever during his third year of philosophy and died at the age of 22.

November 29: Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos, S.J., religious (1711-1735) was the first and main apostle to the devotion of the Sacred Heart. He entered the novitiate in Spain at age 14 and took vows at 17. He had mystical visions of the Sacred Heart. He was ordained in January 1735 with a special dispensation because he was not old enough. A few weeks after celebrating his first mass, he contracted typhus and died on November 29th.

November 30: Andrew, apostle (first century) was a disciple of John the Baptist and the brother of Simon Peter. Both were fishermen from Bethsaida. He became one of the first disciples of Jesus. Little is known of Andrew's preaching after the resurrection. Tradition places him in Greece while Scotland has deep devotion to the apostle.  

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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.
·      Nov 27, 1680: In Rome the death of Fr. Athanasius Kircher, considered a universal genius, but especially knowledgeable in science and archeology.
·      Nov 28, 1759: Twenty Fathers and 192 Scholastics set sail from the Tagus for exile. Two were to die on the voyage to Genoa and Civita Vecchia.
·      Nov 29, 1773: The Jesuits of White Russia requested the Empress Catherine to allow the Letter of Suppression to be published, as it had been all over Europe. "She bade them lay aside their scruples, promising to obtain the Papal sanction for their remaining in status quo.

·      Nov 30, 1642: The birth of Br Andrea Pozzo at Trent, who was called to Rome in 1681 to paint the flat ceiling of the church of San Ignazio so that it would look as though there were a dome above. There had been a plan for a dome but there was not money to build it. His work is still on view.