Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christ the King (C)

2 Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted a special feast in honor of Christ the King. During this time, Italy was ruled by a dictator in the person of Benito Mussolini who became a close ally of the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Some historians suggest that Pius XI proclaimed the feast of Christ the King in order to remind any pretentious ruler that there is only one true king, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Originally, the feast of Christ the King was celebrated during the month of October. Liturgists moved it to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Calendar Year, which is today, in order to stress the fact that the full celebration of Jesus’ kingship over all creation will happen at the end of time.

Though the feast of Christ the King is recent, its central idea is not. In the second reading, Saint Paul proclaims the kingship of Christ by saying: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”

Absolute ownership of creation belongs to Jesus. And yet, the gospel gives us an idea of the sublimity and uniqueness of Christ’ kingship. Jesus is a king rejected, tortured and killed by his own people. While he was hanging on the cross, the rulers and the soldiers laughed at Jesus and said, “He saved others, but he cannot saved himself!” The temptation to make an open, spectacular demonstration of his power was very strong, but Jesus chose not to in order to show the nobility of his lordship. In fact, nowhere in the gospel did Jesus use his power to glorify himself. The Lord used his power only to serve the needs of others, not his personal interest.

As we proclaim Jesus Christ our King, we need to ask ourselves if he really is the one ruling our lives. How are we going to show that we really are making Jesus our king?

On a surface level, we demonstrate that Jesus is our king if we give him a special space in our homes, schools, offices and other places of work. Having images of Jesus and enthroning the Bible are important expressions of our love for the Lord. Unfortunately, what occupy central space in many houses and offices today are beautiful sets of furniture and modern appliances.

On a deeper level, we prove that Jesus is ruling our life if we allow him to influence our moral choices and decisions. Naturally, the life, teachings and works of Jesus affect the disciples’ perspectives, dispositions, affections and intentions. We can say that Jesus is starting to rule our lives when we begin to see things with the eyes of Jesus, to feel situations with the heart of Jesus, to act with the hands of Jesus, and to intend with the mind of Jesus.

Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen wrote a portrait of a disciple which I believe would describe a person who allows Jesus to truly rule her life.

Her general way of seeing might become characterized by a set of acquired and nurtured moral sensitivities that search out those often invisible to many in society – the poor, the outcast, the ill, and infirm. She might come to possess a basic posture toward life that is more sensitive than most to human suffering and is at the same time unconcerned with her own needs. She might have a “feel” for where people hurt and be able to empathize deeply.

She might acquire certain specific dispositions, such as an attitude of initial strong trust in people and a lack of suspicion and fear of strangers, and underlying hopefulness about improvement of the human lot, a deep appreciation for nun-human life in the world of nature, and a severe impatience with people’s claim to high and enduring achievement. There may be particular intentions present as well, all of them with plausible ties to the reigning example of Jesus in her life: to always seek non-violent resolution to conflict; to champion the causes of the oppressed; to see the kingdom of God before all else.

Monday, November 19, 2007

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Mal 3:19-20; 2 Thes 3:7-12; Lk 21:5-19

A German missionary in Africa went home on leave and came back with a fine set of large colored pictures to illustrate his sermons. They were a great success. Every Sunday after the sermon the natives rushed to the picture and discussed it with excitement.

One day, the sermon was on hell. The natives seemed very impressed, and the priest went off to breakfast hoping that the picture of the lost souls would fixed the impression. Before he got inside his house he heard screams of delight and laughter, and turned round to see his congregation dancing with glee in front of the picture of hell. Very indignant, he strode back to the crowd. “Silence! What do you mean by all this noise? Hell is not a laughing matter!” One of the natives took him by the arm up to the picture. “Don’t you see, Father? Look – all the people in hell are white!”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)

As the Liturgical Calendar Year is about to end, the liturgy deals with themes related to the consummation of time.

Jewish people considered the end of time as the Day of the Lord or the Day of Judgment. It is going to be a time of punishment for the wicked and deliverance for the righteous. In the first reading, the prophet Malachi puts it clearly: “The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evildoers will be like stubble. . . But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays”.

Moreover, the Jews expected that the end of time would be accompanied by signs. Thus, the people asked Jesus, “When will this happen and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?” The Lord answered the question with some elements common in ancient apocalyptic literature such as rumors of wars and insurrections, deadly conflicts between nations and kingdoms, earthquakes, plagues, famines and cosmological disorders. Yet, quite obviously, the Lord redirected the attention of his listeners from the “signs” to the period before these final signs. He admonished disciples not to believe those self-proclaimed Messiahs and those who will say that the time is near at hand. (Remember that in another part of the gospel Jesus clearly said that only the Father in heaven knows the day or the hour of Judgment). Importantly, he encouraged followers to continue proclaiming the good news and to remain steadfast in the face of trials and persecutions. For Jesus, the period before the end-time is important because it is the occasion for witnessing the values of the kingdom.

In light of the inevitability of the end of time or the Lord’s Second Coming, disciples are challenged to keep the following attitudes:

First is to look at the coming end of time with hopeful expectation, not with fear and anxiety. The end-time would be the day of our vindication, the victory of good over evil. Because we believe in Jesus, we trust that the Day of Judgment would be our ultimate liberation from the bondage of evil and sin.

And second is to commit ourselves to daily witnessing of gospel values or to faithful following of Jesus’ way of life. Disciples cannot afford to be indifferent or complacent in the face of evil and sin. In the second reading, Saint Paul reprimanded some Thessalonians for sitting around in idleness. It appears that these people came to believe that the second coming of Christ was just around the corner, to the point that they found no more reason to keep working. Paul reminded them that this was not supposed to be the case. While expecting the final coming of the Lord, disciples must continue to fulfill their daily tasks and work quietly for the good of the community or for the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Mac 7:1-2, 9-14; Thes 2:16-3:5; Lk 20:27-38

A new business was opening and one of the owner’s friends wanted to send flowers for the occasion.

They arrived at the new business site and the owner read the card which said “Rest in Peace”.

The owner was angry and called the florist to complain. After he had told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said. “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry you should imagine this: somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying, “Congratulations on your new location”.

(The story is from an unknown author)

The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection because as they claimed this was not mentioned in the Torah (the first five books of the bible believed to be written by Moses). When they raised the question to Jesus concerning the afterlife status of the woman who was married in this life to seven brothers, they were not actually looking for an answer, but were just trying to show the absurdity of the thought of a resurrection. As far as the Sadducees were concerned, the whole idea of life after death was a mere product of people’s imagination.

The Lord’s response was meant to prove the Sadducees wrong. First of all, Jesus insisted that the righteous will find their way to heaven. “Those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world . . . can no longer die for they are the same as the angels.” Moreover, the Lord pointed out that Moses himself implied that there is a resurrection when he called the Lord “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” The Lord can only be God of the living, not of the dead. It is, therefore, logical to hold that God sustains the Patriarchs in eternal life.

What is the relevance of our belief in a resurrection from the dead?

First, our faith in a life after death consoles us with the hope that human life will not end in vain. In the gospel of John, Jesus states clearly that if we believe in him we will have life eternal. He is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). He also says that in the Kingdom of his Father there are many rooms and he will go ahead of us in order to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:2-4). By rising from the dead, Jesus has shown that he has complete power over death and that death has no power over him. If we remain faithful to Jesus, we, too, will share eternal life with him.

Second, our faith in a resurrection inspires us to look forward to something most beautiful to come. Saint Paul declares that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). These words are so consoling especially when we are being confronted with life-threatening conditions such as serious illness, poverty, hunger, natural disasters and violent conflicts.

Finally, our belief in an afterlife provides us with the strong motivation to witness even the most radical demands of our faith. The first reading narrates the moving story of seven brothers who bravely chose torture and death rather than abandon their religion and faith in God. One of the brothers who was skinned alive said to his tormentors, “You are depriving us of this life, but the true King will raise us up to live again forever.” Another brother said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the God-given hope of being restored to life by Him.” Their strong faith in another life has given these brothers the courage to disobey the orders of a wicked king even when it meant sure death.

We may not face the same kind of extreme choice that the seven brothers were asked to make. Nonetheless, we live in a world beset with evil. Every now and then, there are people who will ask us to surrender our faith or moral principles in exchange for temporary life or fleeting happiness. May we, like the seven brothers, be able to make even the most painful choice that will lead us to everlasting life!

A story is told about twins talking to each other in the womb. The sister said to the brother, “I believe there is life after birth.” Her brother protested vehemently, “No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cozy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling to the cord that feeds us.” The little girl insisted, “There must be something more than this dark place. There must be something else, a place with light where there is freedom to move.” Still she could not convince her twin brother.

After some silence, the sister said hesitantly, “I have something else to say, and I’m afraid you won’t believe that, either, but I think there is a mother.” Her brother became furious.” “A mother!” he shouted. “What are you talking about? I have never seen a mother, and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have. Why do you always want more? This is not such a bad place, after all. We have all we need, so let’s be content.”

The sister was quite overwhelmed by her brother’s response and for a while didn’t dare say anything more. But she couldn’t let go of her thoughts, and since she had only her twin brother to speak to, she finally said, “Don’t you feel these squeezes every once in a while? They’re quite unpleasant and sometimes even painful.” “Yes,” he answered. “What’s special about that?” “Well,” the sister said, “I think that these squeezes are there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face-to-face. Don’t you think that’s exciting?”

The brother didn’t answer. He was fed up with the foolish talk of his sister and felt that the best thing would be simply to ignore her and hope that she would leave him alone.

(The story is told by Henri Nouwen)

Monday, November 5, 2007

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

It is quite ironic that the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means one who is just or clean. Before he met Jesus, the Zacchaeus that we know in the gospel had no moral integrity. He was a chief tax collector who enriched himself through anomalous means.

Zacchaeus belonged to the higher echelon of society. Yet, he was unhappy for he had chosen a life that made him an outcast, an enemy of his own people. During the time of Jesus, tax collectors were employed by the pagan Roman occupiers and, ordinarily, they made money through the large interests that they imposed on the working people. It was understandable that the Jews would look at tax collectors with disgust and anger.

The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus whom he heard would pass their place that day. Perhaps he was one of those people whose hearts were restless in search of something genuine and meaningful. He might have realized that wealth could not satisfy him or make him happy. Providentially, the Spirit was silently leading Zacchaeus to Jesus.

It was not easy for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. We are told that the crowd was blocking his sight because he was small in stature. Perhaps, this was the gospel’s way of expressing the awkwardness of Zacchaeus to join the crowd in welcoming Jesus given his bad public reputation. To solve his dilemma, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree which did not only make him see the Lord but also made Jesus find him.

The conversion of Zacchaeus was initiated by Jesus who invited him to come down from a high, embarrassing position. Commentators would interpret it as an invitation for Zacchaeus to leave his place of corrupted power and dishonest wealth. In a way, the Lord called him to come down to earth, to enter into contact with reality, with the people whose poverty he had taken advantage of.

Zacchaeus responded beautifully well: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Notice how Zacchaeus suddenly recognized the poor and how he desired to make good reparations. Bible scholars tell us that Jewish Law ruled that if voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, only the value of the original goods stolen had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Lev 6:5). Zacchaeus manifested his sincerity by intending to give back more than what the law demanded.

A writer recalled how a rich young man failed to become a disciple of Jesus despite living a clean life. Zacchaeus led an immoral life but received salvation because he was willing to leave everything for Jesus, something that the young man refused to do.

The conversion-experience of Zacchaeus inspires us to do at least three things:

First is to find peace with our Creator. St. Augustine reminded us that we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Zacchaeus knew this by experience. He found real joy only when he received the Lord Jesus in his life. May we likewise find our way to meet Jesus who also is constantly seeking for us!

Second is to acknowledge humbly our faults and ask for mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we like to blame others for our wrongdoings. Other times we minimize the gravity of our sins or justify them with trivial excuses. Let us emulate the example of Zacchaeus who confessed his crime, accepted responsibility and showed remorse in the presence of Jesus. Saint Augustine once said: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

And third is to make sincere reparations for whatever injuries we have committed against others. Most of our sins have social implications. We offend others by taking advantage of their miserable situations, or by taking something that rightfully belongs to others, or by destroying another person’s name. We also harm others by living scandalously or by giving bad examples. If conditions would allow it, let us try to restore whatever damage we caused in other people’s lives.

Gerry went to confession and told the priest he’d taken bits of wood from work.

The priest said “How much?”

Gerry replied, “Not much, Father, just enough to make a garage at the back of the house.”

“Now, Gerry you know that’s not right and for your penance I want you to make the Stations of the Cross.”

“What size do you want them, Father, so as I get the right wood?”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)