Christ the King

Permit me to apologize in advance, for the brevity of this particular post.

Today we celebrate (using the proper liturgical title as listed in the Roman Missal) the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, ” or as it is more commonly referred to , the Feast of Christ the King.

That more formal liturgical title perhaps says it all, and very succinctly; King of the Universe. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is the central figure to all of salvation history, reuniting all of creation with its creator, God the Father. To accept Him is to accept that reconciliation, that return to the state for which we all came into being. To deliberately reject Him is likewise, to reject that same reconciliation.

In St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ reply to Pilate’s question as to Jesus’ royal lineage (‘so you are a king?’)

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

God is truth; God is compassion; God is beauty; God is love.

Everyone who belongs to God listens to Jesus’ voice.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Pantokrator_of_Sinai

 

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Easter – Ascension

One of the most typical reactions we have to a deeply moving experience, is to hang on to it, to cling to it.  Whether it is something related to our work, to our home or social life; whether it is a moment when we seem to suddenly understand a concept we have struggled with in a particular field – science or mathematics for example; whenever we have one of these ‘aha’ moments or ‘wow’ moments, we tend to want to remain there.  This is especially true in the spiritual or interior life.  When we have a particular insightful moment or an awareness of God, we might be tempted to cling tightly to that insight. Often we want to revisit these experiences, sometimes even trying to escape from thinking about certain trials or struggles we go through by ‘summoning up’ a previous happy ‘moment’.

There is something to beware in this, though, especially in the spiritual life.  There is a real temptation to want to ‘re-live’ or ‘re-create’ the event that brought about a particular experience – it may have been a real sense of the power of the Holy Spirit, or an insight into the unconditional love of God, or a deeply felt awareness in our own hearts of the presence of Christ in others.  We may have had this experience on a retreat, or during a specific Mass.  But rather than simply accepting this insight or experience as a grace moment, as a gift from God, we cling to it and try to duplicate the conditions so that we can have this experience again, and again, and again.

The fact is, when we are deep in prayer, and if we are blessed enough to have one of these insights, the moment we try to ‘figure out’ how we got to that point, the moment of that experience begins to slip away from us.

The danger in this, particularly if this involves our prayer life and spirituality, is that we have become focussed on a gift, and have forgotten about the Giver; we are hoping for the ‘high’ that we felt in that momentary experience – rather than simply accepting a gift with a sense of gratitude.  We try to cling to that grace as if it is something private and meant only for us, and we become defensive if anyone should ‘intrude’ into that grace.  And in doing that, we turn these ‘moments’ into something that almost become little gods in themselves.

We forget that God gives us these grace moments to draw us deeper into a relationship with Him, and subsequently to draw others into that relationship.  Jesus did not teach his disciples to seek the kingdom of God solely for themselves or for their own benefit.  Time after time he reminds them, and us, of our responsibility to be witnesses to the kingdom, to invite others into the kingdom – to make the love of God and the mercy of Christ known to everyone.  The whole point is to go out and bring others into that loving companionship of Jesus – and not simply by quoting a few catch-phrases or nice-sounding quotes; we are to do so by a lived example; by being visible signs, by being witnesses to the very real and precious love of God moving through our own lives.

The disciples had numerous deep and moving experiences and an intimate knowledge of the power and the presence of Jesus in their own lives.  The Acts of the Apostles, in our first reading on this feast of the Ascension, tells us how after his resurrection, Jesus spends an additional forty days with his friends; teaching them, comforting them, sharing with them.  To say that they have had a deeply spiritual experience in the presence of Jesus, who they have seen raised from the dead, would be an understatement.  But here they are, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and Jesus is lifted up.

(Luke is quite specific here – he says lifted up and that they lose sight of him in the clouds – it’s not as if Jesus kind of faded into nothingness on the ground in front of them, or ‘metaphorically’ ascended to a ‘higher consciousness’ – Luke who takes great pains in the detail of his gospel and the Acts, says Jesus was lifted up and they lost sight of him in the clouds)

But while they are ‘caught up’ in this experience, standing in awe and not moving, two strangers in white robes (we’re given the impression they are angels) say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go to heaven.”  In other words, the angels seem to be reminding the disciples; you’ve had a wonderful experience. Now instead of standing here and clinging to it, do something with it!

And just what are they supposed to do?  Well in St. Mark’s gospel which we heard today, before his ascension, Jesus tells his disciples to go and proclaim the good news ‘to the whole creation”  Yes, he tells them they will work great wonders, but the important thing is that they spread this ‘good news’ – the good news that God has reconciled all of humanity to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That the history of God working through the children of Israel to make Himself known to all people has culminated in this point, and that this salvation, this reconciliation to God is held out for all who will accept Christ.  But this language of Jesus in this gospel, to ‘go and proclaim’  is how Jesus tells the disciples, just as the angels tell them, and us; ‘you have received a tremendous gift – an experience of relationship with God himself;   now do something with it!  Go out and share it with others; share it with those who do not know God; share it with those who are starving for relationship; share it with those who are trying desperately to fill their lives with all sorts of things that cannot possibly satisfy them; share it with those who have no sense of being loved.’

The reality of the love of God in our own lives is not restricted to single experiences or grace moments; the love of God is something that moves and lives and breathes in and around and through us every day, all the time, if only we have eyes to see it

Perhaps in hearing this gospel we may have one of those grace moments; a sense of the wonder and beauty and nearness of God.  If that happens thank God for it, and rather than clinging to  it tightly as a private possession, release it with an open hand and open heart, to see how God will use this experience to draw us and others closer to himself.  That is, after all, why we were created, and why Jesus entered into our humanity in the first place; to teach us how to receive the most precious gift of all, the love of God, and to do something wonderful with it.

birds over blowing rocks

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Good Friday (Year A)

The Passion from the Gospel according to St. John is the same in years A, B, and C…

Thoughts from Theophilus

Why are we here? What is our purpose?

It always amazes me how in different ages and generations and cultures, we have asked these questions and relied on popular culture to define the answers for us. Our current culture seems to believe we are here to get more, to take more and to have more regardless of how we get it.

In years gone by, some of us learned about our faith and our relationship with God through the Catechism. In the old Baltimore catechism which some of us are familiar with, the question of ‘Why are we here?” was answered; “we are here to know God, to love God and to serve God in this life so as to be with Him in the next.”

This wasn’t some discovery that the Church came up with in the 1930’s or 40’s or 50’s as an answer that would change depending…

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Second week of Lent

In his book ,”Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week’, Pope Emeritus Benedict comments on Judas’ descent into despair after his betrayal of Jesus; Judas spiralled downward because, although he had remorse for what he had done, he could not bring himself to accept that Jesus could forgive him.

Jesus reminds all those who would follow Him, that forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of His true disciples. (recall how, when asked how many times one must forgive another, it was ‘not seven times, I tell you, but 77 times 7’).  There is a very real consequence in the interior life, for the Christian who will not forgive; they deny healing graces to themselves and to others.

While we often focus during Lent on our own need for forgiveness and repentance, when we withhold that same forgiveness from others who repent we are not only ignoring, but actually acting contrary to the Gospel.  Lent provides us with the opportunity to not only seek grace and mercy, but to be instruments of grace and mercy as well.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

First week of Lent

On Ash Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis invited all believers to be ‘islands of grace’ in an ‘ocean of indifference’.  It’s a great starting point for Christians in guiding themselves during this Lenten season.

Lent is a season of mercy; it is a season where each of us asks forgiveness from our merciful God, as we live out our hope to be made worthy of the gift of salvation that Christ bestows on us through His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
It is also a time that, in asking God for mercy, we are expected to show mercy – if we would truly call ourselves disciples of Jesus, Christians.
I am reminded of the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola concerning the two ‘standards’ (meaning the flags of military-style camps); there is the standard of Christ, and the standard of the devil. Underneath the standard of Christ, are mercy, compassion, forgiveness, charity and love; beneath the evil one’s standard are cruelty, selfishness, revenge and indifference.
We are given a choice in our actions each and every day, both towards God and towards each other.
As the knight in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ said, ‘choose wisely.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Mary Mother of God (Year B) – January 1

Here we are, concluding the Octave or ‘eight days’ of Christmas which began on Dec. 25th, with the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus, with a celebration on January 1st – the celebration of Mary Mother of God.

Our society immediately moved along from the celebration of Jesus’ birth as soon as the 25th was over – Christmas music was no longer heard on radio stations on the 26th at 1:00 am, stores began removing their displays – even people who went to great lengths to decorate their lawns and houses dismantled all of the lights and decorations, as if the season itself was no longer relevant.

But as Church, we continue to celebrate that great mystery of our faith, of God entering into our humanity as one of us; entering our reality as any of us would – being born of a woman.  He comes as one of us, so that we can become like Him.  That is the depth and greatness of His love for us; the Almighty sets aside His grandeur to become like us in meekness and humility.  We continue to celebrate that as a people of faith throughout the week, and we end the Octave acknowledging the role that Mary, in her faith and obedience, plays in this most incredible gift to us all. We celebrate that Mary did not simply give birth to another human being; in this feast we acknowledge by honouring Mary with the title ‘Mother of God’, who we truly believe Jesus to be – fully human and fully Divine.

It is as if, in a sense, the Church uses this liturgical celebration of the week as a warm embrace; one arm being the Feast of the Nativity, and the other the Feast of Mary Mother of God, surrounding all of her children in an embrace of love, joy and celebration.  It is a bit tragic that our society denies itself this embrace, rushing headlong into a frenzy of buying and feasting and abruptly ending the celebration to go back to ‘business as usual’.  Perhaps this is, at least culturally, one reason why we seem to lose the sense of ‘peace on earth’ so quickly after Christmas Day.

Participation in this feast reminds us that our joy at Our Saviour’s birth is not something that happens for one day, once a year, but continues with us so long as we observe and celebrate it – and not just because, for us, this is a holy day of obligation.  Of course, Christmas season for the Church doesn’t end today – it continues through the feast of the Epiphany – so while we may be tempted to remove the decorations, the lights and music, as a people of faith let’s not surrender to the rush to ‘put Christmas away’.  Let’s continue to gather in the warmth of that embrace of the Season of Christmas, as we share that warmth and embrace with all whom we encounter in the coming days.

Madonna of the streets

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Christmas – Feast of the Holy Family (Year B)

Here we are, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations, marking this Sunday the feast of the Holy Family. It is certainly fitting that we celebrate this feast at this time of year, a time traditionally set aside in our culture for gathering of family – whether it be children away at college or universities returning home for the break, or grown children and grandchildren returning home for visits and meals and celebrations with parents and grandparents. We feel drawn, no matter our circumstances, towards these gatherings of family, to draw on these moments as something very important in the lives of our families, especially as people of faith when we see the institutions of family and marriage constantly under attack in recent years in our society. To me, it seems surreal to see how the commercial media celebrate the gathering of ‘family’ over the ‘holidays’, and at the same time downplay the traditional institutions of family as ‘outdated’ or ‘out of touch’ or unimportant.

For Christians it is so important for us to celebrate the institution of the family. The Church refers to the family as ‘ecclesia in ecclesia’ or the ‘church within the Church’. This statement reflects a deep and profound truth- that the very foundation of the corporate Body of Christ; the primary unit within the entire body of worship of all believers, is not the individual – but the family; that parents are indeed the first teachers of their children – not just in matters of social behaviour or motor skills – but in matters of faith, in the life of the Church. For parents, it is knowing that their example is the means by which their own children will measure their decisions in life –good or bad – as they continue to grow and develop.

It is important for us to know and celebrate this particular feast, because it reminds us that God chose the family unit as the means by which He would introduce Himself into human society and culture. God has a purpose in all things; had God wanted to, He could have picked any means by which He could have come into the world, and any way He could have participated in human life:
He chose the family.

Our Gospel passage from St. Luke recounts some of the few writings we have into the life of Jesus as a child. Yet even in this episode we see reflected a deep and reverent relationship between the members of this little family and with God; we see with the dedication of Jesus in the Temple, how Mary and Joseph recognize the ‘giftedness’ of the infant Jesus in their lives, and how in an act of surrender, they dedicate Him to God in the Temple. While naming and circumcision were prescribed under the Law of Moses, the presentation in the Temple was a different matter. Under the law, the parents made a financial offering to ‘redeem’ their first born from God; Luke does not mention this offering of money however; Mary and Joseph dedicate Jesus to God, reflecting the reality of whose Son Jesus really is. It is an act of recognizing that Jesus is not theirs to possess, but is a gift granted through God’s goodness and generosity. In this act of presentation, they hold up Jesus to God, to be shared with all of humankind for our redemption and reconciliation.

During this feast day, we are invited to continue to pray for all families, but particularly our own; for healing and reconciliation where necessary, for strength and consolation when required, and for gratitude and thanksgiving where it is upheld and cherished. We pray also, that our own families will be places where, like that little family in Nazareth, we will live a life of gratitude that Jesus, God’s most precious gift to us all, is revered and shared.

holy_family

Praised be Jesus Chris, now and forever!