Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (Yr C)


The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He Who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the Father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.
Fulton Sheen, Victory over Vice,1939: 99
Today the Church celebrates the last Sunday before Advent as the Solemnity of Christ the King, before we start Advent, the season of preparation for our yearly remembrance of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem; we stop to ponder his majesty, his kingship, and what this means for us and for the world. As someone of the House of David, it is good to start by looking back. Just as the Lord said to David ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel’ (2Sam 5:2) this also looks forward to Christ the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. In him we see true kingship, and true sacrifice.
          In this morning’s epistle, St Paul praises his Lord and Saviour as ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Col. 1: 15–20). It places Christ before and above everything, it sets the scene for our worship of him.
          Jesus Christ shows the world his kingship when he reigns on the Cross. It bears the title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ but those who are standing by cannot understand – if he is the Messiah, who saved others, why isn’t he saving himself? His kingship is not marked by self-interest, he rules for the sake of others, or as St Paul puts it ‘making peace by the blood of his cross’. Thankfully in Luke’s Gospel the penitent thief can say to him ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Lk 23:42). He recognises Jesus’ kingly power, he acknowledges it, and puts himself under it. We need to be like him. We need to acknowledge him as our Lord and King; we need to recognise who he is and what he does. We need to, the whole world needs to, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.
          Jesus’ kingship is not the ruthless exercise of power by a dictator; it is rather shown by sacrificial self-giving love, to reconcile God to all things. It is costly, and his body still bears the wounds of love, transfigured, and glorious, so that we can have confidence in whom we worship. As he gives himself for us on the Cross, he gives himself to us under the forms of bread and wine; he feeds us with himself, so that our nature may transformed, and given a foretaste of heaven. So let us worship Him, let us adore him, let us acknowledge his universal kingship, the Lord and Redeemer of all. What looks like defeat is God’s triumph, it opens the gates of heaven, it inaugurates God’s kingdom of peace and love, into which all may enter. So let us enter, and encourage others to do so, enter into the joy of the Lord, that they may believe and to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.
          We know that in this morning’s Gospel that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. The parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding the parable lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’
          But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.  
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like him. Everything that we say or think or do needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, talking to ourselves, massaging our own egos, wallowing in selfishness and narcissism, proud and cruel.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from S. Ignatius of Antioch

Constantly pray for others; for there is still hope that they may repent so as to attain God. And so, allow them to learn from you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger show meekness; to their boasting, be humble; to their blasphemies, offer up prayers; to their wandering in error, be firmly rooted in faith; to their savage behaviour, act civilised. Do not be eager to imitate their example. Through gentleness we should be their brothers. And we should be seen to be eager to imitate the Lord. Who was mistreated more than he? Or defrauded? Or rejected? Do this so that no weed planted by the Devil may be found in you and you may abide in Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit, with all holiness and self-control.

To the Ephesians 10

More advice from S. Teresa of Avila

Beware of a certain kind of humility suggested by the devil which is accompanied by great anxiety about the gravity of our sins. He disturbs souls in many ways by this means, until at last he stops them from receiving Holy Communion and from private prayer by doubts as to whether they are in a fit state for it, and such thoughts as: ‘Am I worthy of it? Am I in a good disposition?  I am unfit to live in a religious community.’

Thus Christians are hindered from prayer, and when they communicate, the time during which they ought to be obtaining graces is spent in wondering whether they are well prepared or no.

Everything such a person says seems to them on the verge of evil, and all their actions appear fruitless, however good they are in themselves. They become discouraged and unable to do any good, for what is right in others they fancy is wrong in themselves.

When you are in this state, turn your mind so far as you can from your misery and fix it on the mercy of God, His love for us, and all that He endured for our sake.

A thought for the day from S. Teresa of Avila

So far as you can without offending God, try to be genial and behave in such a way with those you have to deal with that they may take pleasure in your conversation and may imitate your life and manners, instead of being frightened and deterred from virtue.

The more holy someone is, the more cordial they should be with others.

Although you may be pained because their conversation is not what you would wish, never keep aloof if you want to help them and win their love.

Try to think rightly about God. He does not look at such trifling matters as you suppose; do not alarm your soul or lose courage for you might lose greatly. Keep a pure intention and a firm resolve not to offend God, as I said, but do not trammel your soul for instead of advancing in sanctity you would contract a number of imperfections and would not help others as you might have done.

A thought for the day from S. Thérèse of Lisieux

 

Love is repaid by love alone’ (St John of the Cross)
I saw that love alone imparts life to all the members, so that should love ever fail, apostles would no longer preach the gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. Finally, I realised that love includes every vocation, that love is all things, that love is eternal, reaching down through the ages and stretching back to the utmost limits of the earth.
Beside myself with joy, I cried out, ‘Jesus, my love, my vocation is found at last – my vocation is love!’ I have found my place in the Church, and this place, Jesus, you have given me yourself; in the heart of the Church I will be love. In this way I will be all things and my wish will be fulfilled.
But why do you say ‘beside myself with joy’? It is, rather, peace which has claimed me, the calm, quiet peace of the sailor as he catches sight of the beacon which lights him to port. The beacon of love.
I am only a weak and helpless child, but my very weakness makes me dare to offer myself, Jesus, as a victim to your love. In the old days, only pure and spotless victims of holocaust would be accepted by God, and his justice was appeased only by the most perfect sacrifices. Now the law of fear has given way to the law of love, and I have been chosen, though weak and imperfect, as love’s victim.

A thought for the Day

It is one of the paradoxes of Christianity that the only things that are really our own when we die is what we give away in His name. What we leave in our wills is snatched from us by death; but what we give away is recorded by God to our eternal credit, for only our works follow us. It is not what is given that profits unto salvation; it is why it is given.

Fulton J Sheen The Seven Virtues 1953:72-73

A thought for the day

Be watchful of time and how you spend it. Nothing is more precious than time. In the twinkling of an eye heaven may be won or lost.

Time is made for man, not man for time.

I hear you say sadly, ‘How shall I fare? And if what you say is true, how shall I give account of each moment of time? – I, who am now twenty four, and until now have never paid heed to time … Help me now for the love of Jesus.’

That is indeed well said: ‘For the love of Jesus.’ For in the love of Jesus you shall find your help.

So then love Jesus, and all that he has is yours. Knit yourself to him by love and faith.

from The Cloud of Unknowing Chapter 4

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of His life to her as He gave to His Apostles.
Fulton J Sheen The World’s First Love 1956: 88

It is a fair thing to say, and I am certainly not embarrassed to admit the fact, and hopefully she is not too embarrassed to hear it, but I love my Mum! I am lucky to be the son of such a lovely lady, and in an ideal world, all of us would like to or are able to say a similar thing. It is a relationship of love, of nurture, and support, which gives rise to human flourishing; it is a building block of human society, it is something fundamental, which should be both valued and celebrated.
As great as human motherhood is, in the Church we celebrate something even greater: the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, the world’s Redeemer, who entrusted her to the world, and the world to her care, as He hung on the Cross at Calvary. As such she is the mother of the Church, the Queen of Heaven and Earth and the Queen of Peace. Today the Church celebrates the birth of the one of the Saviour of the World was born. She is one special lady! We cannot praise or honour her enough for the simple reason that her saying Yes to God at the Annunciation undoes the No of Eve in the Garden of Eden. She is obedient,  and likewise her husband, S. Joseph, when he hears the angel’s message, trusts and obeys. In them both we see true love and obedience, a model for humanity in how it relates to itself and to God.
Mary (and Joseph) listen and obey, which brings about the birth of Him who restores humanity’s relationship with God and ourselves, who gives us the hope of heaven,  who gives Himself out of love, sharing our human nature so that we might share His divinity. That is why we have come here this morning, to he nourished by Him, and with Him, with His Word, with His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that through grace, the free gift of God, He might transform our nature so that we might share His nature.
It really is the most wonderful news – the good news of the Gospel, that God loves us, dies for us, and rises again, so that we and all who turn to Him can be saved, and have life in its fullness. It is not without its cost, as Our Lady found out, in the prophecy of Simeon a sword would pierce her own soul when she saw her Son dying on the Cross. Yet here too she is obedient, she has been told that he will save His people from their sins. Here too she trusts in God, and through her trust snd obedience we can enkoy the fruits of her Son’s saving work. This is something which we can and should celebrate: the fruits of her obedience and trust. It should encourage us to imitate her and be obedient to God, to trust Him, and fo what He tells us to do. She is the model Christian, living the model Christian life; she receives the reward promised by her Son in her Assumption, sharing His risen life and glory at His right hand in Heaven. She shows the world what it means to be obedient to God and to trust in Him,  and what the rewards of God’s promises are.
It is not easy to be like her, to be obedient to the will of God: more often than not humans are more inclined to follow their own will, their own desires or pleasures, because they want to, and because such self-gratification is all that matters. In our modern capitalist consumer society we are taught want things and to get them, even if we have to borrow to get them. It is enticing,  but where does all this self-gratification lead? Nowhere! Other than death and emptiness: you cannot simply buy your way into heaven. You can pay to have your body frozen, but it cannot save your soul: nothing we can say or think or do can. It’s that simple,  and thanks to the obedience of the woman whose birth we celebrate today, we are given something which money cannot buy: the love of God poured into our hearts, restoring our lives and relationships, forgiving our sins, helping us to become the people God wants us to become,  to prepare us to share the joy of paradise, in God’s presence for ever.
Such a wonderful free gift should have a serious effect upon our lives, who and what we are, and how we live our lives here and now. If we are willing to accept the free gift of God, we have to accept that it has consequences for who and what we are, and yet we know that the service of God is perfect freedom: we are not faced with tyranny or oppression but love and mercy. Do let us live, following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and aided by her prayers, so that we may transform our lives and the whole world, so that it too may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.