Christ the King

Christ the King: A Servant-King

[Above image: Ethiopian triptych, Christ the King, artist unknown. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.]

Sunday, November 20 is the final Sunday of the liturgical year for 2016, marked by the Church as the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Christ is indeed King. He rules all: an eternal Kingdom, inhabited by angels and saints. Christ must also be King of our hearts: the Monarch of the Universe, writ small for each human being. He is not a king of earthly riches, but one of poverty, poured out wholly on the cross for our redemption. He is a king of lowly estate, who had no place to rest His head yet one who commanded storms to cease and turned water into wine. His Kingdom embraces the lowliest, the disenfranchised, the tax collector and prostitute, the sinners-who-become-saints. In Christ’s Kingdom, the most costly perfumes and luxurious oils are meant for the all – wealthy and beggar alike. The greatest treasure of his kingdom is His flesh and blood, bread and wine blessed and broken, earthly food that offers eternal life.

Like any king, He issues an edict to His subjects. Yet His commands are like no other ruler’s:

Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

Our King does not demand a tax on His people; He asks for us to see His face reflected in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the imprisoned. He invites all to His feast, His kingly banquet, His home. The banquet table is now an altar, spread not with rich food and sweet drink, but with His own Body and Blood. No matter how we arrive at this banquet – whether in embroidered robes or tattered cloth – we are welcomed. The price of admission is not coins, but faith. The guests at this feast turn to each other with a kiss of peace and then partake of His most glorious offerings.
[G]race to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever [and ever]. Amen.
Behold, he is coming amid the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him.
All the peoples of the earth will lament him
Yes. Amen.

Your invitation is placed before you. All you need do is come to the feast. Will you join your King?

Sacred Heart

June: The Month Dedicated To The Sacred Heart Of Jesus

The Catholic Church loves to celebrate. We celebrate feast days and solemnities, holy days and sacraments. The Church encourages private celebrations; the celebration of one’s baptism day, for instance. Each month is dedicated to particular devotions, and June is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This dedication has its origin in the appearances of Christ made to St. Mary Margaret Alacoque, a French religious sister.

After joining the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial in 1671, she began in 1673 to receive visions revealing the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She was rebuffed by her superior and by theologians for a time, about the validity of the visions, but remained humble, obedient, and charitable to those who persecuted her until the truth of the mission given to her by Our Lord convinced those who opposed her.
The task given her by Christ, who called her the Beloved Disciple of the Sacred Heart, was to teach and encourage devotion to His Sacred Heart. It was based on this Christly inspiration that St. Margaret Mary was moved to establish the Holy Hour and Sacred Heart Devotion in the modern form. Prior to this time, there was a devotion to the love of Jesus and to the wounded Heart of Christ, but not established as the devotion is today. The practice encouraged by the saintly woman, at the guidance of Christ, included the Holy Hour on Thursdays, to share in the mortal sadness He endured when abandoned by His Apostles in His Agony, and to receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month. Additionally, He appointed through St. Margaret Mary for the Friday after the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi to be the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
Margaret Mary was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and then in 1928, Pope Pius X reiterated in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor the value of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart.

If you have young children or grandchildren, a great way to introduce them to this devotion is through a fun craft and prayer. has a great idea for just this. If you’ve got older kids, Christina Mead has a lovely reflection on the Sacred Heart for teens. Perhaps you can enter into this reflection around a campfire or fire pit this month.

There are many similar suggestions online; find one that’s right for you and your family, and entrust them to the care of the Sacred Heart this month.


The Trinity: Three Persons, One Substance

Yesterday was the celebration of the Holy Trinity. What an immense blessing it is for Catholics who are able to recognized our bodies as a “home” for the Trinity when we sign ourselves: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Our baptism has indelibly marked our souls in the name of the Triune God.

Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote and spoke extensively regarding the Trinity. In 2009, he said this:

Today we contemplate the Most Holy Trinity as Jesus introduced us to it. He revealed to us that God is love “not in the oneness of a single Person, but in the Trinity of one substance.” He is the Creator and merciful Father; he is the Only-Begotten Son, eternal Wisdom incarnate, who died and rose for us; he is the Holy Spirit who moves all things, cosmos and history, toward their final, full recapitulation. Three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is wholly and only love, the purest, infinite and eternal love. He does not live in splendid solitude but rather is an inexhaustible source of life that is ceaselessly given and communicated. To a certain extent we can perceive this by observing both the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; and the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles. The “name” of the Blessed Trinity is, in a certain sense, imprinted upon all things because all that exists, down to the last particle, is in relation; in this way we catch a glimpse of God as relationship and ultimately, Creator Love. [emphasis added.]

It is amazing to contemplate the endless and “inexhaustible” life that is the Trinity, yet even more astounding that this life dwells in us! Indeed, the only way for this life to be “deadened” in us is through mortal sin. Not only that, but as Pope Benedict pointed out, the entire world is imprinted with this life. Imagine how radically different our world would be if each and every person recognized this and lived accordingly. Imagine how different your world would be if you recognized this and lived accordingly!

Pope Benedict also stated that we have clear evidence of the Trinity:

The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: love alone makes us happy because we live in a relationship, and we live to love and to be loved. Borrowing an analogy from biology, we could say that imprinted upon his “genome”, the human being bears a profound mark of the Trinity, of God as Love.

One could say (although only as analogy) that our baptism “tattoos” the Trinity onto our souls. We are for all eternity marked, claimed for God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And this imprinting is pure love. Again, what a gift and blessing this is. God the Almighty – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – has claimed us and marked us for love for life, for eternity.


Pentecost: Receiving The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Acts 2:2-4

One of Jesus’ last Earthly promises was to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and send it He did. A driving wind, tongues of fire, the sudden ability to proclaim the Good News in languages unspoken before: what a vivid image. What an incredible experience for the Apostles and for Mary, the Mother of God.

One might imagine that, following Jesus’ Ascension, the Apostles would be concerned about how they would continue the work at hand without Jesus. Yes, Peter had been appointed chief among them, but he was no Jesus. It was hard enough to get people to listen to the Good News when Jesus was the one teaching; what could the Apostles accomplish?

Of course, they had no way of knowing what Jesus meant when He promised to send the Holy Spirit. They had no idea that the power of Heaven would be unleashed and they would be filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear and awe of the Lord (the gifts of the Holy Spirit.)

These gifts are not reserved for the Apostles and Mary, nor for any other select group. The gifts of the Spirit are poured out upon any Catholic who has been baptized and confirmed. And yet, the whole thing still seems quite … odd, mysterious, almost unreal. It’s hard to think of ourselves as wise, or courageous, or filled with knowledge. What does this mean for you and me?

The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, put it this way:

This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ’spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there,’ in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you. Perhaps some people might find it easier to begin with the third Person and work backwards. God is love, and that love works through men-especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son.

And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

We must believe that Pentecost was not a one time-only event, a bit of history like the Battle of Gettysburg or the signing of the Magna Carta. Pentecost, as Lewis points out, is here and now. It is personal for each of us. It is eternal love, given to us all; we choose to participate in it (or sadly, not.) These gifts of the Spirit, like any gift, must be opened, embraced and used. They are the eternal gifts of love from the One who loves perfectly, eternally; all we must do is celebrate these gifts.


“My Sheep Hear My Voice”

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday, celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Easter. According to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus proclaims that he is the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Now all of this would have made a great deal of sense to the people Jesus spoke to directly. They knew all about sheep. For those of us who live in a world of minivans, suburban cul-de-sacs, grocery stores and the internet, the closest most of us come to sheep is buying a new sweater at the mall. A little knowledge of sheep will help clarify what Jesus is really telling us.

First, sheep are completely defenseless. They can’t run fast, nor can they fight predators. A shepherd and a sheep dog are necessary to keep predators away.

Sheep are also naturally social. They like being around each other and around people, so long as they are well treated. Sheep cannot thrive in isolation.

Sheep are followers. The sheep that starts walking first is the leader – not necessarily because it’s the strongest or smartest, but because it started to walk first. Sheep – sometimes to their peril – follow.

Sheep like the predictable and they scare rather easily. A good shepherd is gentle, firm and keeps the sheep calm.

Sheep have a reputation for being, well, rather … dumb. Of course, they are not rational beings, with the ability to make decisions based on facts, past experiences, the advice of others, etc. They simply do sheep things.

With all this in mind, Jesus as the Good Shepherd perhaps will be more meaningful. He is saying to us that He will defend us against evil. He is telling us that He knows we do not thrive in isolation; His church, his flock, must depend on each other in order to thrive as we seek His will.

Jesus knows we human beings are followers. We warn our tweens and teens about peer pressure, but we can all fail prey to it. We need to know that we follow Christ.

While humans are not dumb, we do dumb things. We don’t always do what we know is best. We make stupid, hurtful decisions. We sin. Jesus knows this about us. And He wants better for us, so He asks us to follow Him. He will not lead us astray.

The hymn, The King of Love My Shepherd Is, has this lovely verse:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me;
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.

We are led astray, but Christ is gentle and loving. He seeks out His sheep, and brings us home.