Spiritual Dynamite

“The Church’s responsibility is not so much to make itself accessible to the world, but rather to transform the world. It is the mustard seed, the leaven, the tiny ark of Noah. In Augustine’s terms, it is the City of God making its way within the City of Man.”
~ “Moving Beyond a Beige Catholicism,” Talk, Bishop Robert Barron


Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s a day where the Church reminds herself that God is God, and we are not. It’s a day to remember that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. Finally, it’s an invitation to shed all presumptions and abstractions of love and be bold to tangibly express the love of God by loving one’s neighbor. Jesus makes for us the now-famous connection, that to love the other is, in turn, loving him. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). Called to love like Jesus, his words act as touchstones to our purpose as Christians. In his teaching, Jesus reminds us that our very essence is, in fact, God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit has animated us into His image, calling it good. In His essence we find our existence, so that, in looking around, we’re surprised to find our family in the whole of the human race. What a revolution! Jesus shows that when we feed hungry mouths within the family of God, we nurture the One who fasted for 40 days. When we house the unhoused, we welcome the holy family who had no room at the inn. When we give drink to parched mouths and lips, we offer water to the Crucified One who said, “I thirst.” This teaching is radical, and when the Church embraces it, it’s like dynamite exploding.

“Someone who operated very much in [this Spirit] was St. Teresa of Kolkata. Much of Mother Teresa’s day was taken up with prayer, meditation, Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, and the rosary. Still, the rest of her time…was spent in the grittiest work among the poorest of the poor, practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, blowing up the dynamite of the Church. Father Paul Murray, the Irish Dominican spiritual writer and sometime advisor to Mother Teresa, relates the following story. One day in deep conversation with Mother, he was searching out the sources of her spirituality and mission. At the end of their long talk, she asked him to spread his hand out on the table and touching his fingers one by one as she spoke the words, she said, “You did it to me.” (“You Did it to Me,” Bishop Barron, The Word on Fire Bible, pg. 151).

Mother Teresa’s witness does two things for me. I’m reminded that practicing my faith leads to a greater capacity to love, not in the obscure and abstract, but tangible love in thought, word, and deed. It also reminds me of St. James’ famous line, “faith without works is dead.” As we finish another liturgical year, where are you with Christ’s revolutinary teaching? Where do you think St. Julian’s parish is with his teaching? Are you/we “showing forth God’s praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up our selves to God’s service?” In this unprecedented year, may we all be challenged yet again to tangibly love our neighbors because in doing so, we serve Our Lord.

~Christ the King Sunday, 2020

Christ the (Crucified) King

Luke 23:33-43

As the Church winds down an entire year spent in St. Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded that in Christ’s Kingdom things are not always what they seem. In Christ’s Kingdom what is revealed are the ways in which followers of King Jesus serve and love one another. It’s not a kingdom that finds its meaning in wealth, power, privilege or pleasure. It’s a kingdom that finds reality in Resurrection. It’s Good Friday juxtaposed with Easter Sunday. It’s sorrow coupling with joy. Sacrifice deepening sound relationship with love.

Like the first crucified criminal in today’s Gospel, the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns can be rejected, or it can be revealed and intuited like the second thief’s intercessory prayer, “Remember me.” Jesus, in his very body and being, is able to resolve both rejection and remembering in rhythmic syncopation. For it was he as King who descended into the heart of both convicted criminals who holding tightly to their own crosses of death made very different pronouncements. The first pridefully decided not to part with his cross; thus, binding himself to fear and eternal estrangement. The second intuited not just a kingdom but a person, and ultimately the person-al God in whom there was (and is) no separation. It’s been said that, “The meaninglessness of suffering is subverted by the meaning of the Passion.”[1] Like the redeemed thief intuited meaning in Jesus, we too can call on Christ to remember us through our own sufferings, misgivings, and misfortunes. Jesus will go all the way down with us as well as lift us all the way up resolving double-binds, and ab-solving our missed chances inviting us into the beautiful Forever.

Christ the King Sunday is a liturgical icon revealing not only the end of the Christian year, but also the conclusion of the way things have always been. Life, St. Luke helps us discover, is not about winning but common participation. Participating tangibly in divine and dignified relationship. Life is not about joining an angry mob scoffing and mocking, and finally, rejecting Love. No. Jesus as crucified King of Kings and resurrected Lord of Lords will finally “scatter the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly.” The kingdom of God “fills the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty.” On his cross King Jesus has remembered his promise of mercy having a long memory that stretched all the way back to Father Abraham. All of these promises are set and re-set in metrical motion on Calvary. All of these promises come to their final fulfillment in the emblem of the empty tomb.

Next week the Church acts like a sentinel anxiously anticipating the Lord’s return. Christians have been waiting for over 2,000 years, not because we’re in a hurry and Jesus seems slow to come, but because God is forever patient having impeccable timing. Our ongoing job; therefore, is to watch. “Watch, for you do not know when the King of the castle will come. In the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find us all asleep.”

Christ the King has freed and brought us together under his most gracious rule. It’s a rule of love that leads to a watchful rule of life. It’s spiritual and religious. It’s water and wine. It’s spirit and flesh. Finally, like the second criminal who in his final moments was able to ponder Paradise, this Advent may we repent and remember, forgo and forgive, watch and wait praying, “Come, Lord Jesus. For you are Christ the King.”

[1]           Urban T. Holmes, III, (What is Anglicanism? “Pastoral Care”), Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, 1982, p. 60.

The Challenge of Love as the Challenge of Faith

Reflection on Christ the King Sunday
Matthew 25:31-46

The past two weeks, we have listened to Jesus teach about the ending of days where Christ will come again in glory. In the parable of the wedding feast, we were reminded to be prepared (Matt 25:1-13). In the parable of the Talents, Jesus taught his disciples to use (not waste) the gifts God has given (Matt 25:14-30). Today’s narrative speaks about Christ coming again in glory, and gets more specific as we imagine what judging the living and the dead potentially looks like.

There are a few interesting scenes to consider in today’s story as it describes God’s final judgment. The first has to do with exactly who is being judged. Verse 32 describes God judging “all the nations”, then separating the “people one from another” like a shepherd. We might ask, “Does this shepherd-like judge separate the people as individuals, and/or does he separate the people into their respective tribes/nations thus judging the people as a whole?” These are important questions to consider, and I wonder if Jesus’ disciples had similar questions as these? For example, the disciples were still part of the nation of Israel even though they were also individual disciples in Jesus’ inner circle. As part of Jesus’ disciples they would have fed the hungry, gave the thirsty something to drink, welcomed the stranger, put clothes on the naked, took care of the sick, and visited those in prison (v. 35-37). But if God also judged the nations, how would the rest of Israel hold up? In other words – and as a whole – how did Israel take care of the least of these?

The second interesting detail within this scene has to do with faith and love. St. Matthew’s gospel has always focused on right living as prescribed in Jesus’ teaching (Orthopraxy). In comparison, St. John’s gospel has a focus on right belief in Jesus as Lord (Orthodoxy). Some scholars have said that the community who composed The Gospel of Matthew was a community that had become too focused on orthodoxy, and had grown weary of waiting on Jesus to come again. Perhaps giving a prescriptive description of the judgment would have awakened this community out of their stupor, and set them back on the way to actually following the teachings of Jesus (i.e. feeding, welcoming, clothing, caring for, and visiting one’s neighbor in need). These actions (or inactions) of the faithful were to be the merits in which they would be judged; however, it is interesting to ponder God as a judge of the nations that have no belief system in any of this – yet, and at the same time – feed, welcome, cloth, care for, and visit those in need. This begs the question, “Do we (as followers of Jesus) do these good things because we want to be judged as righteous before God?” Or, “Do we do these things out of the gifts that we have been given?”[1] Put differently, “Do we do the right things out of love, or out of fear?” Pope Benedict XVI answered in this way,

[T]he profession of faith in Christ demanded by the Lord when he sits in judgment is explained as the discovery of Christ in the least of men, in those who need my help. From here onward, to profess one’s faith in Christ means to recognize the man who needs me as the Christ in the form in which he comes to meet me here and now; it means understanding the challenge of love as the challenge of faith.[2]

I can’t help but think that these parables and narratives found in Matthew 25 are there to give us a snap shot of where we are on our spiritual journeys. Bill Brosend, in his commentary of Jesus’ parables writes this,

The three stories in chapter 25 are about the consequences of actions, or, more often, inaction. The foolish maidens not only could not light their lamps; they failed to join the bridal procession in a ridiculous midnight search for oil. The third servant in the parable of the Talents buried his master’s money, and perhaps sat on it like a brooding hen…The “goats” in the third narrative saw human need, but failing to recognize in whose image the needy were created did nothing to relieve that need.[3]

Again, thinking about these stories as a snap shot of where we are on the spiritual path, you may ask yourself, “How am I doing?” “How are we doing – as a parish, as a diocese, as a denomination, city, state, and country?” If we are to follow Jesus out of love and not fear, how can our love grow deeper and wider within ourselves so that that same love extends into the image of God found in the stranger, the neighbor, the other?

If we are honest with ourselves, and stay true to the teachings found within this narrative, I believe we can judge (right now) whether we are a sheep or a goat, and whether our nation (right now) is a sheep or a goat. The truth may be within us – in that – we have the potential to be both: Sometimes we are sheep. Sometimes we are goats. Sometimes we are righteous. Sometimes we are unrighteous. Again, the key is love – not fear. As followers of Jesus we are to walk in love as Christ loves us, not walk in his love out of fear of his judgment (Eph 5:2). As followers of Jesus we are given a spirit of love, not a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7). Fear blinds us to the truth that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Fear won’t allow us to experience the dignity found in every human being. The bottom line is this: If we are loving our neighbors, we are loving God. In today’s narrative, Jesus equates the two, and by doing so gives us a measure of his teachings through our thoughts, words, and deeds; our faith and actions; our understanding and modes of operation. After pondering this text all week, it still brings up many questions. As I continue to seek and serve Christ in my neighbor, I pray that God’s grace will lead me deeper into the love and knowledge of him whom I serve, that is Christ – Christ the King.

[1]                 The ultimate gift being Christ himself.

[2]                 Joseph C. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2004, pg. 208-9.

[3]                 William F. Brosend, Conversations with Scripture: The Parables, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, 2006, pg. 68-9.