Monday, November 22, 2010

Solemnity of Christ the King

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What does it mean to be king?

In the first reading, to be king is to bear responsibility for one’s people. The tribes of Israel are bone and flesh of David, and he is responsible for them because of his kinship with him, because he has saved their lives, and because God has commanded it of him. Thus David agrees to be their king because it is his responsibility.

In the second reading, to be king is to be worthy of worship. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth. He is head of the body, the church. All the superlatives are His, and in Him all fullness is pleased to dwell. Jesus is King because he deserves to be.

But what does it mean to be King on the cross? David ruled from the throne in Jerusalem, and all Israel paid him homage, listening to his words. When Paul writes of Jesus, He is King of Heaven and all creation rightly gives Him praise. But on the cross, in this moment of all the moments of His life, Jesus is the most Kingly. At the height of His sovereignty, Jesus allows Himself to suffer and die, and feel despair.

For Jesus, to be king is to have all the power in the world and beyond it, but to accept pain. It is to have authority over countless angels, but not to relieve the suffering even of the one man who offers Him worship in His humiliation. It is so strange that we wonder why we suffer, when Christ in all his glory suffered even unto death. We who chase after Him, chase Him to the cross.

When we pray, do we pray like the first thief? Do we say, “if you are God, then do such and such?” God can, of course, do such and such, but He has showed us that in authority there is humility. Jesus would not have been worthy of being King were it not for the cross, if not for the responsibility he bore to all the world: because He came to redeem his people from bondage, to claim victory over sin. Like David, He has won us to Himself.

Can we see our King in His humility? Will we worship Him in ours? The second thief saw Jesus suffering, and He believed in God. Who can watch God die and say “Remember me when you come into your kingdom?” To believe your King can command countless angels, but refuses to, requires a faith I marvel at.

Faith is proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen. It is faith to believe in a suffering King. It is faith, to talk about God having faith, to suffer and die as King for a people that betrayed you, who lived before you walked the earth, and who are still yet to be born.

On this Solemnity, we should remember our King who is worthy to be praised, and we should pray for the faith to worship Him in our suffering, our suffering King.

Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

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We are afraid of weakness. Everything in our culture encourages us to be the best, the prettiest, the strongest, the smartest…even in reality tv shows we watch people who are encouraged to be the most promiscuous, the most abrasive, and the loudest person they can be. Our culture believes in bullies, because only the person who can force their beliefs to be accepted is allowed to hold those beliefs. Might makes right, and it doesn’t matter whether that right is of God or man because it is the strength of the person or group advocating that counts.

And this is wrong.

Christianity is not about overcoming oppression through strength, but through love. It is ironic; we are commanded to be weak because behind us we have the greatest power in the world. Jesus is stronger than everything, than sin, than death, than all the kings of all the earth. We are called to be weak to let His strength shine through us.

This is why Jesus says to not prepare a defense of yourself beforehand. Because when we are persecuted for His sake, He will give us an eloquence to move the stony hearts of mountains. Sometimes He speaks with our suffering, and the death of His martyrs; but then their blood writes upon the hearts of those who witness them: God is Love. And a Love worth dying for is a powerful sermon to give.

Just the same when Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to work diligently and not mind the business of others. It is weakness to be obedient and take responsibility for yourself, not trying to rise above others. We who would try to give commands to other people seek to gather strength to ourselves, but we are called to be weak and give all our strength to God. That means trusting God to use our brothers and sisters in His Word better than we can.

Because our God is the God of justice. All power and glory are His, and when He comes to rule the world He will take it back upon Himself. We who claim power now will have it stripped from us; we who claim places of honor at the table will be sent down to places of dishonor. But those who fear God, who submit in their weakness to the strength of His love, will be raised up. To seek the power of authority is to seek sovereignty, and ruling over others is God’s province. If we can be weak, we can learn to move with the authority God gives us.

In weakness there is strength, because all the power of God and the Holy Spirit wells up within us. Serving Him in humility lets us act with Him. But to be strong and seek power is to rely upon yourself. If we try to accomplish things through our strength and not God’s, we are doomed to fail because His strength endures forever, not ours.

It is terrifying to be weak, and to give up the power we have. But let us let go, and pray that God moves within us. He can accomplish more than we can even understand.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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I love the books of Maccabees; their story is of a family that started a revolution for the Lord, that reclaimed Israel from pagan hands and held it as a whole nation again for several decades. The first reading comes from the beginning of their story, before the brothers have risen up against their Greek oppressors. The story of the brothers is meant to serve as both an example of injustices done to the people of Israel, and an example of Jewish bravery.

At the time, many Jews were letting go of the laws, and adopting Greek practices. The Temple in Jerusalem had a Greek idol placed upon the altar, and Jewish men were participating in Greek gymnasiums, letting themselves become indoctrinated. The story of the brothers at once reminds us that the laws of our ancestors are worth dying for, and God will reward our devotion.

Their story is an apt one for our time, if not all times. The people of the Church are constantly tempted to adopt the ways of the world. The Church is always old fashioned because it is centered in Tradition and the teachings of man whose story is 2,000 years old. We care so much about acceptance, and God demands that we offer up that desire on His altar. God told us that if the world hated him, it would hate us as well. If we are truly God’s we are counter to the world, and will at worst be considered weird; at best, dangerous.

The Resurrection is supposed to be comforting in the face of all this. God is not “God of the dead, but of the living;” in a way, I think this is the strangest of all the things we believe, but it is the center of our faith. Jesus rose from the dead, and we believe that because He did, we will too. We believe He has power over sin because death could not hold him. We follow God now, so that we might have everlasting life.

It is hard to take comfort in that belief though, because death can be so terrifying. Even pain is scary, and we all seek to avoid suffering like the plague. Paul knows this, that’s why he always instructs the churches to pray for him, and let them know he prays for them as well. And this is where the story of the brothers can inspire us: in the community of faith, we encourage each other to persevere towards the end.

Those who are strong in faith uplift those who are struggling; as we each experience doubts, the roles reverse. Together, like the brothers, we stand firm in what has been passed down to us, persevere until the end of the race. We remind each other that God is faithful, and in our suffering on His behalf there is merit, and hope in death.

Just as God does not abandon us when we hurt, He will not abandon us when we die. This is the hope Jesus offered us, that our life in pain and suffering would have its reward. What He has given us is worth dying for, but also it is worth living for. We should take from these readings a determination to live a life more openly of Christ, for we have our faith, our brethren, and our hope of rising again.

Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

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There are all kinds of faith between people and God. Some people are all in their heads with God, worshipping Him out of a love for the theology and idea of Grace. Some people have a very personal relationship with God, because He saved them from their dark place. Others love God as a friend who walks with them always, hand in hand fingers entwined. All of these are ok, we all see God through different prisms. But I bring it up because while there is variety between believers, there is also variety in how God presents Himself to us. Sometimes we read about Him as the just judge, and other times the loving shepherd. Sometimes He is the God of smiting, and other times He is the God of forgiveness. So much of a minister or theologians’ time is taken up trying to reconcile these different aspects of God.

To an extent, they cannot be reconciled. God is both the just judge and the merciful forgiver. There is a Heaven and a Hell, whatever that means. The tension between salvation and damnation is the genesis of the phrase “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Today we read about the love of God. Though He can do all things, He has mercy on us because of His total power. The passage from Wisdom is beautiful because it brings the love of God, which extends to infinity, to us small, sinful people. This is why people fall in love with God, because of the mystery behind why a God would love us like this.

Zacchaeus is the man who falls in love with God because he is curious. Is there really a god who loves us so extravagantly? Is there really a god who loves me like that? My favorite part about the story of Zacchaeus is how ridiculous it is. Here is a man, who is wealthy and important, who perhaps out of pride does not order the crowd to part so he can see Jesus, but instead climbs a tree too see him; in effect standing out more in the tree than he would ordering the crowd to part. I think this is where God finds us so often, in those moments where we cannot help but search for Jesus in spite of our pride, and so become fools for Christ.

We cannot find Christ without being fools. Only fools believe in proof of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen. Only fools could believe an all powerful God loves us despite everything. Only we would let ourselves be weak, and love someone who lets us know pain and sorrow so closely.

There is a joy to abandonment, to being foolish. How else could we explain a man who gives away half of everything he owns, and repays his injuries four times over? There is such a joy to letting go, to believing something this good really exists, that God has and will come into us.

“For you love all things that are and loath nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”

Rejoice and be glad, I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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The Lord will rescue those who are just and faithful to Him. In persecution do not despair; doubt not God nor the victory of salvation He has placed within you. Though we sin, sin cannot prevail against the strength of the Holy Spirit. In pain, we need to look to humility, to let ourselves be weak enough to need God.

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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When Jesus relates the parable about the unjust judge and the widow who nags him, he notes that the judge renders a decision in favor of the widow “lest she come and strike me.” Another translation reads: “yet because this widow bother me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.” And Jesus does not need to interpret this any further, but says that if the unjust judge will respond to the widow through fear or annoyance, then so God will. It is interesting because the chosen who call out to God day and night, are held up as justified in seeking their rights from God.

We as Christians emphasize always our duty to God, and talk about prayer as something that changes the “pray-er,” if not necessarily God’s mind. We remind ourselves to expect suffering, because all of God’s followers suffer on account of God. That’s how we know we are his. But we shy away from the idea that we have rights towards God, because He is God and we are not. But we do. God is King; we are His Body, building His Kingdom; we have rights for Him to support us in that.

When Israel is threatened by Amelak, Moses does not hesitate to tell Joshua to defend Israel. And Go preserves the, because they are on the path He set before them. Paul exhorts Timothy to stay faithful to what he has learned and believed from his youth, because it is true; to help Timothy, Paul refers him to the Scriptures, which are God’s and useful for “teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” We have a right to expect Scripture, to have a guide for us in spreading the word.

The point is that God is with us, that “The Lord will guard you from all evil,/ The Lord will guard your life./ The Lord will guard your coming and going,/ both now and forever.” Our God is with us. His name is Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is clich├ęd to say that God does not give us more than we can handle, but it is more accurate to say that He gives us everything we need to continue the mission. There is a subtle difference, because the first assumes we have everything we need to handle what happens to us, because God has given it to us. But the second is different, because we do not always recognize our gifts.

Let us not forget what we have been given. We have been given the Word of God in Scripture, to guide us and succor us in our distress. We have been given salvation, and the Holy Spirit welling up in our hearts. We have been given the Church, to lean on and hold us when we are struggling. We have the charisms that God has given us, and the family and friends our lives our intertwined with. All these things are here for us, and God has prepared all these things to accompany our prayers.

We are not alone, and God holds all of our prayers in His heart. His love is overflowing for us, and we should never hesitate to ask for help in our distress. Our God hears our just plea, and will respond. We must make sure then, to recognize when He comes.