Sunday, November 25, 2012

We are kings through the King of Kings

34th and Final Sunday of Ordinary Time
Solemnity of Christ the King
25 November 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Michael Jackson is the king of pop.  Elvis the king of rock.  Simba the king of the jungle.  Lebron is King James of the basketball world.  Perhaps, in a country whose freedom was gained through the toppling of a king, and who elects a president instead, talk of kings could sound anachronistic.  Yet we are not immune to anointing kings.  We love to point out who dominates in their particular area of reality.  We love to point out who demands submission, the one who reigns over his competitors, the one who has power and fame.  We still love kings, and what is more, we still love seeing them fall.

A king is different than a president.  A president serves at our pleasure.  He is elected.  A king commands obedience.  There is no kingship where there is divided loyalty.  Kingship is absolute.  It demands submission.  When we declare the Kingship of Jesus, and worship him on this solemnity, we do not do so lightly.  For one does not worship that which he elects or that which serves at his pleasure.  Worship demands submission.  So rightly, if we have come this morning daring to worship, it is fitting to proclaim the one we worship to be Jesus Christ our King.

Today we submit ourselves to the author of all creation, to the one more powerful than the Big Bang because he existed before it happened.  We bow down before one whose kingdom does not just occupy a vast portion of the time and space of the universe, but one whose kingdom is alone universal and eternal.  Because his kingdom is founded by truth and love, justice and peace, it is a kingdom that even one with the power to launch a nuclear weapon cannot destroy.  This kingdom belongs alone to Jesus.  So whenever we say the name of Jesus, we almost always anoint him king at the exact same time.  Jesus the Christ.  Jesus the Anointed.  Jesus the Lord.  Jesus our King.

Yet the incomparable power of Jesus our King lies not ultimately in his power to rule and to judge and to dominate, but remarkably, in its opposite. These last things belong to Jesus as King, but there is something more foundational, something about his kingship that comes first.  Jesus is King not just because He is greater than other Kings, but because His is a new category of kingship.  He is the only and ultimate definition of what a King is, and anyone else's kingship is illusory and fleeting unless it shares in His kingship.

For Jesus our King is powerful not just because He existed before, and is the author of, the Big Bang and all that comes after.  He is powerful even moreso because He can also make himself so small as to be born out in the cold, in abject poverty.  He is powerful enough to ride into his capital city not with a secret service or an army, but on a donkey.  He is powerful enough to hand himself over to his enemies, to allow himself to be judged by Pilate, and to be spat upon and mocked on the cross as Ieusus Nazarenus Rex Ieudaeorum.  This power shown by our King, to give oneself over in love to one's enemies, is a power greater than the Big Bang.  The power of sacrificial love shown by our King is the true ground of all reality.

This sacrifice of Jesus, his being a Lamb, precedes his ultimate coming on the clouds to judge heaven and earth.  We submit today to a King who allowed himself to be the Lamb who was slain.  On this solemnity of Christ the King, we bow down unequivocally and without reservation to the truth that is Jesus, the truth that he represents and that He is.  For anyone who belongs to the truth, sees the truth that is Jesus, and declares Him alone to be King.  By virtue of our baptism, we too are kings through Him, with Him and in Him.  Let us not shy away from the dignity we have as those sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit to help build His everlasting Kingdom by a similar gift of our own lives.  Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The apocalypse of the past

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
18 November 2012
Year of Faith

Jesus told his disciples that he doesn't know when the world will end.  Even he, who through his power as Wisdom incarnate could know all things, has chosen to limit his knowledge and to reserve to the Father the knowledge of the final apocalypse.  Even Jesus says he does not know the time or the hour.  Yet one thing we can be sure of is that people will not let this fact get in the way of a good story.  People who are unhappy with things like global warming, terrorism and war, politics, religious arguments and conflicts, and the rise of atheism will never stop reading the signs of the times in their particular way and predicting the end of the world.  Even though they have proven to be wrong every single time, and even though Jesus told us to stop predicting the end of the world, it seems irresistible.  Atheists like to caricature Christians as feeble minded.  That we are the ones afraid of the man in the sky and his final rapture.  Yet secularists are not immune to apocalyptic predictions either.  There have been plenty of scientists who predicted overpopulation would long since have destroyed the world.  Hollywood loves the apocalypse as well.  Aliens are always on the way to destroy us, were it not for the Men in Black, Neo and the Avengers to save us.  There are movies being made not only of angels and demons swooping down in the great battle for souls, but Al Gore makes his movies as well, predicting that global warming will destroy us all in our lifetimes.  Even though nobody does, everyone thinks they know how and where and when the world will end.

Why are apocalyptic stories so irresistible?  Why does Jesus use apocalyptic language?  Well, for one thing, apocalyptic stories teach us spiritual lessons in ways no other stories can.  Nobody knows when the world will end, but everyone knows that the time to get ready is now. Everyone knows that the things we put off until tomorrow are the things that are most likely to be left undone.  Everyone knows that 'carpe diem' is a better life's motto than 'why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.'  It does nobody any good to pretend that we will live forever, when we will not, or that life is longer than it really is.  Whether or not you believe in God or fear God, and whether or not the apocalyptic story you're paying attention is about nuclear destruction, aliens or the rapture, apocalyptic stories work.  They deliver spiritual and moral truths.  Jesus uses apocalyptic stories because it really is true that actions have consequences.  That what we do today has a major impact on what we can and will choose tomorrow, and that there is indeed a great cosmic battle going on with consequences into eternity.  What is more, there is a point of no return for each one of us, a point where we either become the person we always wanted to become or we don't. There is a point for all of us when we run out of chances for do-overs, and we have to admit that we are who we are, nothing more.  The reality is that these decisive moments are much closer to us than we dare to admit. That, my friends, is why apocalyptic stories work.  Because they are spiritually and morally true stories.

Yet none of this is to say that the apocalyptic stories of the Bible are only spiritually useful and not based in material or historical reality.  Especially when Jesus is repeating the apocalypse of the prophet Daniel, he is describing something that is taking place, or is about to take place, immediately in the time of those to whom he is talking.  When Jesus goes apocalyptic, He is not just forwarding the apocalyptic story, He is fulfilling the story.  Jesus is the apocalypse.  He is the unveiling of all things as they really are.  Jesus tells his disciples that they are about to see THE GREAT COSMIC BATTLE OF ALL TIME as He goes behind enemy lines in His passion, proceeds all the way to the gates of hell, and emerges victorious with his angels and saints through a bodily Resurrection that real historical disciples and witnesses will be able to see with their eyes and touch with their hands.  The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus won the decisive and final battle once and for all, and that victory is waiting to be extended to the ends of the cosmos.  Jesus is not telling mythical apocalyptic stories for some minimal spiritual benefit for his disciples. He is preparing them to be the witnesses of the true and lasting apocalypse, and of the great battle and victory that is more than ever was or ever will be.

For us, then, when we hear apocalytpic stories, we look not only to the future but we remember the apocalypse of the past - the unveiling of how things really are and the victory that always will be, through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus.  We then look to the present time, as to how we might extend this great apocalypse and victory over sin and death in the time and circumstances of our own lives.  Finally, knowing that the kingdom of God is already fully among us, we move forward into that unknown day and hour not scared that the apocalypse will surprise us or scare us, but with the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love.    

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pray and vote and love

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Year of Faith
4 November 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

  1. On this year of faith commitment weekend in the Archdiocese, pray for all trying to learn their faith and respond with greater trust in God
  2. Politics will never be perfect.  Yet Catholics have a moral obligation to vote if there is a candidate who can advance the common good.
  3. Vote your conscience, which is not your inner voice, but the voice of God deep within you, and his law written on your heart.
  4. Jefferson said rights are grounded not in man, but in our creator. True equality is God knowing and loving and willing every human person.
  5. The right to life is fundamental. No society increases rights to equality, choice, privacy or opportunity when the right to life is at risk.
  6. Archbishop Naumann has asked every Catholic to go to Mass, make a holy hour or offer a rosary on the day of Tuesday's election.  
  7. When storms like Sandy happen, as a rule it's good to remember that despite the contingencies of life, life is still worth living
  8. Praying, helping, giving defeat evil more than doubting God. God allows evil like the cross only as a means to a greater good. 
  9. Ambrose - death is no longer bad, for in Christ it is now the means of our salvation.  Without Christ immortality is a burden not a blessing
  10. Hearing and fearing God is the first stage of love. Would be Masters of their own destiny are not receptive to relationship and true love.
  11. Takes thousands of rules to be a faithful Christian in real life, but they all flow from the core - love God totally, and your neighbor too.
  12. God's ability to focus on you is greater than vice versa.  So use your freedom to surrender all to a love more powerful than you can control.