Saturday, October 25, 2014

Christ the King (EF)

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.  Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands. This ancient anthem is most appropriate for this feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  It reveals to us how it is that Christ is our true king and helps us to understand how this applies to we who are His loyal subjects.  For all earthly kings have conquered, reigned, and commanded, but only Christ has done these things in a perfect and salvific way.  Let us see how, then, He has brought about these actions.
Christ the King has conquered all the enemies of humanity: sin, death, Satan, ignorance, and error.  But He does not accomplish this victory with an army; He does not conquer with myriads of angels or men behind Him storming the battlefield.  No, indeed, Christ has won this conquest upon the Cross.  Our entrance antiphon points us to this when it declares: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and divinity and wisdom and strength and honor (Apoc. 5:12).  Christ the sacrificial Victim, Christ become the Passover Lamb, is the same Christ who is King.  Betrayed by His people, scourged for our iniquities, marched towards the dreaded hill, and nailed to the Cross, Christ shows the way of God in conquest is not through power but through humility and obedience.  Saint Paul rejoices in this conquest as he writes to the Colossians: Christ making peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20) so as to bring about the long-sought-after redemption of man from Satan’s tyranny.
Truly, Christ works in opposition to Satan.  Whereas Satan worked through subterfuge and deceit, Christ who is the Truth shines for all to see Him.  Whereas Satan attacks and attacks again and again, Christ the Lamb is wounded again and again so that we might be healed.  And whereas Satan seeks to make himself the highest and the greatest, Christ, who has been King from the very beginning, humbles Himself and becomes a slave.  This is how Christ conquers the dreaded enemies: with humility, with obedience to the Heavenly Father’s will, with love.
Having conquered the enemies, Christ now reigns triumphant from His throne.  But again, His throne is not the normal earthly seat festooned with jewels and trinkets.  The throne of Christ while this sinful world exists is the Cross.  His crown is formed of thorns piercing His sacred Head.  He appears naked before the world: no royal purple enclosing Him except the purple of His precious Blood, no gold shining from before His Heart except the gold of a holy and perfect life, no courtiers to attend to His need except His sorrowing Mother who can do nothing to abate the pain.
The reign of Christ is not one of a lord above his people, but of God suffering with His people.  C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia, has the King of Archenland describe how a king must reign.
For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land. (The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 15 “Rabadash the Ridiculous”)
Indeed, Christ reigns far more humbly than even Lewis himself imagined.  He certainly reigns in the glorious moments of life, the celebratory, the wonderful.  Yet He also reigns in the most sorrowful, most desperate, most miserable moments.  He reigns over the wealthy and the poor, the strong and the weak, the wicked and the good.  He reigns over all that has happened, all that is happening, and all that will happen.
Christ reigns over all because He has conquered all.  Everything belongs to Him, and nothing can be brought forward which we could truly declare to be free from the reign of Christ.  How can this be so, when Christ declares that My kingdom is not of this world?  This is because God, in all things, cooperates with man and does not rule by tyranny.  Just as He has left the Church as the instrument of salvation in the world and placed authority within men to rule and guide her, so too does Christ give power to man to govern and order his world so as to conform it to God, who is Himself ordered unto perfection.  God, St. Paul tells us, hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Col 1:13).  This divine kingdom, this divine reign of Christ, is not in competition to the worldly powers, as perhaps Pontius Pilate thought, but is meant to be the true image of how man is to reign, in preparation for the consummation of the world.
Having conquered as a king, now currently reigning over us as king, Christ then commands us as our King.  The Latin word imperium signifies the ability to wield authority or having the ability to command another.  Is there anyone who has earned this right to authority over Christ?  Certainly not, after his triumphant conquest upon the throne of the Cross.  Christ has demonstrated to us through His Passion and Crucifixion that the heavenly Father has given Him the imperium over the entire world and over the totality of humanity.  When Christ speaks, He speaks on behalf of the Father.  When Christ commands, He commands on behalf of the Father.
But the imperium of Christ should not be seen as a subjection or a slavery to God.  Rather, it should be seen as an elevation, an entrance into the true freedom desired by the Trinity.  Christ does not command like some earthly emperor, but commands as a father commands a son, as a brother commands another brother.  He encourages and beckons mankind upwards towards divine intimacy, towards divine union.  Every word that He gives in the Gospels is meant to point us towards the reason why Christ came: to bring about the redemption of humanity and to unite us with God.  Pope Benedict XVI offered a good reflection on this idea when he said in his pre-papal days: “The Feast of Christ the King is not, therefore, the feast of those who are under a yoke but of those who are grateful to find themselves in the hands of him who writes straight on crooked lines.” (Co-Workers of the Truth, November 30)
Yet, how few there are who listen!  How fewer are they who hear and obey!  How many instead, join the mockings of the chief priests and Pharisees when they exclaim: Let Christ the king of Israel come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe (Mk 15:32).  This modern mockery of the concurrent reign of Christ is what prompted Pope Pius XI to establish this feast in 1925.  As the kingdoms fell and modern man believed himself to be the best judge of his own needs, Pius instituted this feast in the hope that “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony” (Quas primas, 1925).
This well-founded hope is still true today.  Our nation lies under the crippling effects of moral decay and political infighting, with little hope in either of our political parties or even in the electorate.  The western world is paralyzed by moral incompetency, formal atheism, and little resolve to fight the dangers that stand both on the edges (through militant Islam) and within the borders.  The Church, too, is not immune to this danger, as the past half-century has shown.  Priests and bishops and even cardinals have abandoned the kingdom of God and sought after the praise of men.  Yet Christ still commands, Christ still wields the imperium over the Church now just as He has done throughout the centuries and will continue to do so up to and including the last day.
How then are we to honor Christ as the King of all?  The Church, in her clemency, grants an plenary indulgence today to those who publicly recite the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Even if we cannot recite this publicly, we can make this act privately, beginning the rejuvenation of the world through our participation in the reign of Christ.  We can renew our efforts to follow the commands and the example of Christ the King, reminding ourselves when we gaze upon the Cross that God is in control: not ourselves, not our political leaders, not even our bishops and pope, but Christ the King is at the heart of all operations, and the more we cooperate with His will for us, the more shall we be rewarded in His kingdom.
We must also proclaim Christ’s kingship to the world, even perhaps back to the Church in which so many have forgotten His reign.  Our lives must echo those of the saints who gave themselves to Christ, not only the martyrs but all the saints.  It is wonderful that this feast of Christ the King occurs before the month of November, which begins with the feast of All Saints and ends with the coming of Advent.  November is a time for reflection upon the last things, and this feast helps place those reflections in context.  If we do not have Christ as our King, then what shall happen to us on the last day?
Finally, we must remember another crown which God has awarded.  There can be no king without a queen.  So too does this happen in the heavenly court: Christ the King reigns with the Queen of heaven and earth beside Him.  Let us turn to the Virgin Mary our Queen, that she may reveal to us how to venerate and serve her King.  As we conclude the month of the Rosary, let us offer those beads to her so that she may form of them a magnificent crown with which to crown the King by our works and our prayers.  Pray to her that we may become more loyal subjects of the King in this life, so as to merit the reward of the King in eternal life.  May Christ conquer, may Christ reign, may Christ command upon us all that we need to venerate Him as King and to share in His Kingship in the glory of heaven.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

27th Sunday per annum (OF) - Fruitfulness

What do we do with a bad plant in our garden, with a plant that is no longer living? We throw it out and begin again. Even if it is something that we have worked hard on, something that we have put a lot of effort into, we still throw it away when it is no longer viable. It is only the good flowers and the good plants that we keep in our gardens, those which produce wonderful blooms or great fruit. It was the same way with ancient Israel, and it is the same way with the Church today. Only that which is fruitful will remain, while that which is not fruitful is disposed of.
This is the message at the heart of our readings today. God has established his vineyard, and God maintains his vineyard so that it will bear fruit. Our first reading point us toward the first vineyard that God planted, that of ancient Israel. God led the Israelites out of Egypt and planted them in the promised land. He sheltered them, cared for them, provided for their every need. He established them in the land which he had promised to their forefathers. He made a covenant with them, promising that he would be faithful as long as they were faithful.
Yet Israel did fail, and in fact failed often. Time and time again the Israelites would abandon the Lord their God and worship false gods, abandoning the precepts that God had given to them. As a result, God often sent prophets, the servants of the Landowner as we hear in the Gospel, to lead the people back to their God, back to the promise that they had made. But often, even that was not enough.
What then did God do when the people did not return to him? God abandoned them, and left them to their own devices, as they wished it to be. What then was the result of this? The Israelites were often conquered, overtaken by foreigners, and enslaved or even exiled. They suffered miserably as a result of their own folly, of their abandonment of God. Only then did the Israelites return to God; only then did they return, beseeching God for his mercy and to restore them to the relationship they once had with Him.
But finally, there came a time when Israel had to make the ultimate choice. For as we heard in the Gospel parable, there came to them not a servant of the Landowner, but the son - the beloved son of the Landowner, who is in reality the beloved Son of the Heavenly Father. God came among His people, and His people rejected Him. What is the punishment deserving of the people who is finally abandoned their God? The Pharisees and the gospel provide that answer when they respond to Christ saying, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times." And that is what Christ did: he began a new vineyard, the vineyard that is the Church. And this is the Vine onto which we the branches have been grafted through our baptism and through our reception of the sacraments.
Christ has firmly planted his vine so that none may overthrow it. But that does not mean that we cannot go bad. On the contrary, we too may become like the ancient Israelites and even though we participate in the church, and her visible rites and appear to be Christians, we may still imitate our forefathers in abandoning our God, and not worshiping Him and Him alone as our true God, imitating the ancients in producing wild grapes, sour grapes which are inedible and worthless. Admission into the church does not automatically equate into salvation. We are called by God to go out and produce fruit, the fruit of the faithful life, the fruit of a life oriented towards God, oriented towards Christ.
How then do we produce this fruit? We do it first by believing everything that the Church teaches us. Since the Church has been founded by Christ, by God himself, to be the trustworthy authority here on earth, the motherly voice that we can listen to for guidance and instruction, we must hear what she teaches us, no matter how difficult it may be for us to hear it. We must believe what she teaches as being true and right. Just as ancient Israel had the authority of Moses and the prophets, so too do we have the authority of the pope and the bishops.
But belief is useless unless it is put into action. What we believe as Catholics must be put into practice. If the Church teaches that something is sinful, then we must avoid it. If the Church teaches that something is good, then we must promote it and work to implement it in our lives. If we have failed to live up to the Church's teaching, then we admit our errors and seek pardon from God and from His Church. Each of us must live our lives as God knows is best for us, as the Creator who fashioned each one of us from before the dawn of time.
Above all, look to the example of the saints to show you how to be fruitful in your own life. The saints each had their own calling from God and their own challenges in their day, but each remained faithful to God and to His Church in their lifetime. Consider St. Francis of Assisi and his radical poverty and intense love of Christ, or St. Joseph, the humble carpenter who become the foster father of Christ. The greatest example and help we can have is from the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God and the Queen of All Saints. Seek her intercession and follow her example of fidelity and fruitfulness in your own lives.
Let us take the advice of St. Paul to the Philippians: not to be anxious, but trusting in God who will provide to us true peace of heart, the peace beyond understanding which safeguards us against doubt and fear. Let us "Keep on doing what [we] have learned and received and heard and seen" in Christ, in His Church, and in His saints so that our lives may bear the fruit which we meant to produce.  Let us not produce wild grapes but the fruit of holiness, the fruit that lasts unto eternal life.