Sunday, November 25, 2012

A King Proclaimed in Flesh Before Granite

Homily from the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe - Year B

Perhaps by now, you’ve recovered from all the turkey and stuffing.  It’s ironic that today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe just after having celebrated an annual feast that was begun by pilgrims escaping the rule of a king.

Our modern Thanksgiving holiday is traced back to the year 1621 when a group of puritans from Plymouth, Massachusetts had a feast of thanksgiving in response to a good harvest.
For about the next 150 years, various church and state leaders would issue individual Thanksgiving proclamations.  As President, George Washington declared November 26, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and single favors of Almighty God.”  Thanksgiving in the United States has been observed on various dates throughout history.  From the time of George Washington until the time of Abraham Lincoln, the date Thanksgiving was observed varied from state to state.

Then, in the midst of the bloody turmoil of the American Civil War, in an effort to foster American unity between the Northern and Southern States, President Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving should be celebrated in all states on the same day on the final Thursday in November.  Later, in 1941, in the midst of the economic turmoil caused by the Second World War, President Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday, reasoning that an earlier celebration would give the country an economic boost.  So, we have FDR to thank for Black Friday.

It’s interesting isn’t it?  How a day like Thanksgiving is created, modified, and moved according to the needs of particular people at particular times?  Likewise, the feasts of the Church year are created, modified, and moved.  In the 1300’s, when devotion and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament had grown cold, the Feast of Corpus Christi was established.  A few centuries later, there was a widespread heresy called Jansenism which emphasized to an unhealthy level human depravity and Original Sin, and so, in order to combat this movement, the Church established a Feast which focused on Christ’s intense love for mankind: the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Similarly, today’s feast day was created, modified and moved according the the needs of particular people at particular times.  You might be surprised to learn however, that today’s feast isn’t one that dates back for several centuries.  In fact, it’s less than one-hundred years old.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  And like festivals such as Thanksgiving, or Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it was instituted in response to the situation in the world at the time.

The feast of Christ the King was created in response to the growth of communism and increased secularism.  In the face of a godless political system such as communism, Pope Pius XI recognized “that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives.”  (QP 1).

And like Thanksgiving, the feast of Corpus Christi was renamed and moved to serve the needs of the faithful.  In 1969, Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe” (a title which has been restored in the new translation of the Roman Missal.)  The Holy Father moved the feast day to the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Sunday before the 1st Sunday of Advent, to emphasize that Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

Now, while the Civil War has been concluded for nearly 150 years and the threat of slavery and a Union broken into separate confederacies of states is gone, we, as Americans, still seek national unity and we still seek opportunities to give thanks to God for our many blessings.  Likewise, while the threat of communism has long been swept away, we, as Catholics, are still faced with the threat of increased secularism in our culture and we still seek opportunities to proclaim Jesus Christ as King of the Universe.

Ask yourself if, in a world where the Ten Commandments are more and more removed from courthouse lawns and where political parties fear to mention God in their platforms,   if Pope Pius XI’s words in 1925 still ring true today.  This is from the Holy Father’s Encyclical Quas Primas which instituted the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe:  

“The annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them.  While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.” (QP 25).

I’m certain most people, be they for or against any public religious demonstration, would agree that as the decades have worn on in the United States, the freedom to speak publicly as a person of faith has worn out.  

A few years ago, during one of the annual Marches for Life in Washington D.C., a number of us toured the presidential monuments on the National Mall.  And I was honestly struck by these words of Thomas Jefferson carved into the granite of his memorial:

“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“Almighty God hath created the mind free.  All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens... are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion... No man... shall suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”

“God who gave us life gave us liberty.  Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

And of course, the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Can you imagine a memorial being erected in Washington D.C. with so many explicit proclamations of the authority of God?  No way.  In fact, there is a new memorial in Washington D.C.  And as you might fear, there is absolutely no mention of God on it whatsoever.  Now I’m not saying that mentioning God is a prerequisite for a memorial on the National Mall.  However, it is both ironic and tragic that the most recent memorial erected in our nation’s capital, which has no mention of God is dedicated to a Baptist minister: the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., who gave so many of his words on this earth to the authority of God and the Kingship of Christ.  The words “God,” “Jesus,” and “Lord” - so prominent, not only in King’s sermons but also in his speeches in the public square are conspicuously absent.  (As is his title of “Reverend.”)

I wonder what Rev. King would think of our nation’s attitude about Jesus Christ King of the Universe today?  Four days after police arrested Rosa Parks for sitting in the front of the bus, Rev. King said, “I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are a Christian people.  We believe in the Christian religion.  We believe in the teachings of Jesus.  The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest.”
In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Rev. King stated, “A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law of the law of God... We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

The fact of the matter is, we no longer live in a country where we can wait for sculptors and memorial commissions to tell us it’s OK to talk about God.  We have to do the talking.  And we have to inscribe the names of “God,” “Jesus,” and “Lord” not merely into granite, but first into the flesh of our hearts and the spirit of our conscience.  If we are going to proclaim Jesus Christ King of the Universe in our world and nation, we must first honor him as such in our families and our hearts.  We must pray to the King of the Universe daily from our family dinner table and before our bed.  We must reflect His love in our relationships with our spouses, children and neighbors.  And we must recognize His law and commandments as the sole foundation upon which all manmade laws are justly created.

I close with a final passage from Pope Pius XI, as he gave us today’s feast: 

“The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God. (Rom 6:13).  If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection.” (QP 33).

If we expect the world to recognize Jesus Christ as King of the Universe, then we must do our part to make sure that it recognizes us as his loyal subjects.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The End is Near

Homily from the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

In just two weeks, we’ll begin a new liturgical year as it will be the First Sunday of Advent.  And as is tradition, as we approach the end of the liturgical year, we hear readings that focus on the end times.

These are not pleasant readings to listen to.  They talk about “a time unsurpassed in distress.” (Dn 12:1)  “The sun will be darkened... the moon will not give its light... the stars will be falling from the sky... the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Mk 13:24-25)

Every so often, we hear predictions about the end of the world.  You may remember last year, there was a gentleman who predicted the end of the world in May.  Then when the world didn’t happen, he revised his prediction and said that there was a “spiritual judgment” in May and that they actual end of the world would happen in October.  Then the world didn’t end in October either.

There are end of the world predictions all the time.  However, in today’s Gospel, Jesus assures us that no prediction about the end of the world carries any credence.  “Of that day, or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

I think the point Jesus is trying to make here is not that we should be ready for his second coming on any particular day, but rather to be ready for his second coming each and every day.  We should prepare ourselves spiritually for Christ’s arrival and judgement as if it would happen this very day.  Because regardless of when the world will come to an end, be it this year or four billion years from now, all of us will one day soon see the face of Christ and be judged by him.
This will, of course, take place on the last day we spend here on earth.  When our earthly lives come to an end and we pass from this world into the next.  And that day could come seventy years from now or it could come today.

Are we prepared to see the face of Christ today?

Perhaps that day seems terrifying.  Perhaps it sounds like the prophet Daniel’s description of the end of the world in our first reading when he says “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress.”  However, for those who are spiritually prepared, the end of days is not a threat, but a promise.  The prophet Daniel promises, “At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book... the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” (Dn 12:1-3)  And in the Gospel, Jesus promises, “the Son of Man... will send out his angels and gather his elect.”

As we come to the end of one liturgical year and prepare to begin another, let us be mindful of the reality of the end of our life here on earth and prepare to begin another.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

We Need to Give

Homily from the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

Before entering the seminary, I worked for a radio station.  And every year, our radio station hosted a week-long telethon to raise money for child abuse prevention.  It was hosted by our morning show DJs from the roof of a local supermarket.  Up they went Monday morning, and from the roof of this supermarket they broadcast their show from 6AM until 10PM everyday until they finally came down from the roof on Friday evening.  They lived and worked up there. They ate their meals up there. They slept in sleeping bags and tents up there. They even had a port-a-potty up there and a hose to take a shower with.

All week long, our morning show would interview people who were brought up to the roof on a cherry picker.  They interviewed victims of child abuse who had the courage to share gut-wrenching stories of suffering, and torment as well as stories of healing, recovery and triumph.

They also interviewed owners of local businesses would be brought up to the roof on a cherry picker and they’d present giant cardboard checks.  Huge amounts of money: $5,000, $10,000, $20,000.  Over the course of the week, the radio station would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for child abuse prevention.

One day, as we were sitting on the roof, we saw the cherry picker rise up over the crest of the roof, and on the cherry picker was our friend Lou who held in his hand a coffee can.  As soon as we saw Lou with this coffee can, we knew what was about to happen.  Because Lou was the director of South Bend's Center for the Homeless.

Lou stepped up the mic and said that the guests at the South Bend Center for the Homeless, the homeless themselves, had been listening to the broadcast.  They had heard the stories of abuse and how other people were donating money; and they wanted to make a donation too.  So they passed the coffee can around the homeless shelter and they gave what they had, and Lou said, “The guests at the South Bend Center for the Homeless are pleased to make this donation of $12.41.”

It was the biggest donation of all.

When I saw the incredible generosity of the guests of homeless shelter, I immediately thought of today’s Gospel.  And how the poor widow’s contribution of two small coins was, as Jesus put it, “more than all the rest.”  Like the poor widow, the homeless, who literally have next to nothing, gave anyway.

Why?  What difference did did the widow’s two small coins make compared to the vast wealth of the temple?  What difference did $12.41 make compared to the hundreds of thousands that was collected for child abuse prevention?

The difference was the difference it made in the heart of the giver.  The widow in the Gospel and the homeless in South Bend needed to give because the greatest desire of the human heart is to give.  And mankind only fully discovers its true identity when it makes a gift of self.

We’re wired this way: to give.  It’s written into our DNA.  We’re created in the image and likeness of a God who Himself is the most generous giver of all.  As sons and daughters of a gracious God, its in our genes to imitate the generosity of our abundantly generous Father.
Those are the two reasons why we are here today in this Church:  First, because God wishes to give us a gift, the gift of Himself.  And we can’t get that gift anywhere but from this altar.

And second, to give ourselves back to Him as a thank you.  To give a portion of our time back to Him in worship for His greater glory.  And to give a portion of our talents to each other for the building up of His Kingdom.

This is a huge parish; the biggest in the diocese.  10,000 families; 3,300 families.  When you come to church on Sunday and are with this big crowd, it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed.  But this parish family becomes more intimate to the extent that you get involved.  And there are so many opportunities for you to get involved.

In your pew, you’ll notice a card with a list of opportunities to get involved in our parish family.  We have liturgical ministries, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, men’s fellowships like Rekindle the Fire, the Knights of Columbus, women’s fellowships like WINGS, evangelization opportunities like RCIA, Religious Ed, Christ Renews HIs Parish, and opportunities to help the youth of our parish with Life Teen, Edge, our school and more.

I want to invite you to jump into one of these.  Ask the Lord, what gifts have you given me?  What are you asking me to share?  Where do you want me to serve?

And we’re here to help you discern where God is calling you to serve this parish family.  Not sure what you’d like to be involved in?  You’ll notice on the other side of the card a list where you can check off what your particular interests and talents are  Do you enjoy working with children or youth?  Do you have a talent for working outside or with your hands?  Do you have technological or marketing skills?  What are they and let us know.

This is a remarkable and vibrant parish.  And it is so because so many people get involved.  Imagine what our parish family would be if every family, if every individual got involved.  Either for a one-time project or something of a longer commitment.  As I said, 10,000 members.  3,300 families.  3 priests.  You do the math.  It takes a lot of hands, hearts, minds, and prayer to make this place whirr.  This place is what it is only because Christ is its head and each of us is an active member of his body.

As I said, we’ve come here to St. Vincent’s because God wishes to give us Himself and because we wish to give of ourselves.  As we saw with the widow in the Gospel and the guests of the homeless shelter, everyone has something to give.  And all of us need to give; its our human nature.

You are here today so you can bless this parish family with the gifts God has given to you.  To use your gifts and talents for His glory and for the benefit of your brothers and sisters in Christ who need what you have.

Take a moment to fill out this card and drop it off at the box at the information center.  There are also booklets in the gathering space with descriptions of the various ministries.  If you’d like to take one home and look it over, and pray about how the Lord is asking you to serve and turn your card in later, that’s fine.

Ask the Lord.  How do you want me to serve?  What do you want me to do?  How can I help this parish family?

We look forward to all that God has given to you which you are going to share with us.