Saturday, November 23, 2013

Over Us, With Us, Ahead of Us (Christ the King.C)

The readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, our parish feast day, make my head spin.

The first reading, about King David, reminds us that Jesus is a shepherd-king—a king who leads his people like a shepherd leads his flock. It is a gentle and consoling image.

But then the Gospel reading tears us away from green pastures and shows Christ as a crucified King, hanging on a cross, not seated on a royal throne.

In between, St. Paul sets off theological fireworks in today's Epistle. First he celebrates not just the King but the Kingdom, which we share with the saints, our refuge from the powers of darkness. Jesus is not just “the” King, he is “our” King, since we belong to his Kingdom.

Then the Apostle tells us who Christ is: the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is before all things, because all things were created in him.

And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things—by the shedding of his blood on the cross.

What does all this mean to us? How can we apply these truths to our own lives?

I found this difficult, until I opened YOUCAT, the beautiful youth catechism that actually speaks to people of all ages. YOUCAT starts by giving us part of today’s second reading in plain language: “Jesus Christ is Lord of the world and Lord of history because everything was made for his sake. All men were redeemed by him and will be judged by him.”

Those are words with consequences, YOUCAT says. Because he is Lord and King of the Universe, Jesus is over us, with us, and ahead of us.

“He is over us, and the only One to whom we bend the knee in worship;” no-one and no thing is greater than Jesus, and no-one and no thing can rightly take his place in our lives.

“He is with us as head of his Church, in which the kingdom of God begins even now;” our King is not ruling from afar, but in our midst.

“He is ahead of us as Lord of History, in whom the powers of darkness are definitively overcome…” Christ’s reign looks to the future as well as the past and present—we have the assurance that he will never abdicate or be toppled from his throne. His rule is everlasting; it encompasses all that is still to come. We don’t fear a dark age without God; however godless his children may become, God continues to reign over them.

And eventually “He comes to meet us in glory, on a day we do not know, to renew and perfect the world.” Christ will one day bring to an end all earthly kingdoms, fulfilling creation and making of it an offering to his Father. (n. 110)

Knowing that this loving shepherd-king is over us and ahead of us and coming to meet us should give us great confidence and hope.

But what about God “with us?” The youth catechism says “He is with us as head of his Church, in which the kingdom of God begins even now.” How do we meet Christ the King with us?

YOUCAT gives a one-sentence answer that offers an ideal way to take stock of our parish on its annual feast day.

YOUCAT says that we can experience Christ with us “especially in God’s Word, in the reception of the sacraments, in caring for the poor, and wherever ‘two or three are gathered’” in his name.

So let’s look at Christ the Redeemer Parish in light of these four points. Of course, our community experiences Jesus in the Word of God proclaimed in the liturgy; it is clear from what you tell Father Xavier and me that you listen attentively at Mass and want to hear a clear and biblical message in Sunday homilies.

Attendance at Bible studies and adult faith programs is another positive sign that we seek God’s presence in his living Word.

Christ is near to us also in the sacraments. The Eucharist, of course, is chief among them, and our parish has tried to celebrate Mass in a way that helps us experience our Lord’s nearness. A great number of parishioners have also encountered Jesus very personally in the Sacrament of Penance, while others have felt his healing touch in the anointing of the sick. Jesus is never nearer to us than he is in the sacraments: our King dispenses grace and mercy with royal benevolence.

YOUCAT says we experience his nearness in caring for the poor. This has become a central experience for many parishioners at Christ the Redeemer. The efforts of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Believe Street Meal, STA food drives, and other initiatives aimed at helping the Door is Open, Sancta Maria House and Covenant House, among others, make the Kingdom of Christ more visible. And those who serve its King with such generosity find him easier to know and to love.

Your support for Syria, and the even greater support for the Philippines that has already started to pour in, is still another sign that this parish knows that its King is often encountered hungry, poor, and persecuted.

Finally, the youth catechism says that we find the Lord of the world near to us wherever two or three gather in his name. Our parish community is not perfect, but no-one can doubt that we gather in the name of Jesus, whether it is the faith study one young parishioner recently organized with four friends or a full church at Christmas or Easter.

We gather to worship, to study, and sometimes just to enjoy each other. But every time we are together, Jesus is with us and most of the time we realize that.

The Year of Faith ends today. We have celebrated this special year—begun by one Pope and finished by another—by sharing the gifts of faith God has showered on our community. One after another, parishioners young and old, male and female, bravely stood at the front of  the church to bear witness to God’s work in their lives.

On your behalf, I thank all of those who spoke, and I ask God to continue to strengthen them in faith.

We’re about to hear the last of these beautiful testimonies, and I must admit I wish they could carry on for another year. But I know that the inspiring words that we’ve heard—and are about to hear from Roy Gordon—will challenge all of us to become bolder witnesses not only in church, but in our daily lives.

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