Friday, November 23, 2012

Homily: Feast of Christ the King 2012

We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Jesus stands before the one man who can save his life and if we imagine the conversation as a negotiation, which it certainly was to Pilate, it is completely unsatisfactory. “A strange, inconclusive dialogue” the Swiss theologian Fr. von Balthasar called it.

“Are you the King of the Jews” Pilate asks. Like all government bureaucrats Pilate had to implement  official policy, which in the case of the Romans was to tolerate local rulers in subject countries, at least as long as they had no real power and towed the Roman line. Pilate had to find out if Jesus really had a substantial base. It would not be hard to improve on those homicidal maniacs the Herods.

An opening for Jesus but he blows it: “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” He could have just said ‘no’. And Pilate takes offense: “Am I a Jew?”

Jesus  says: “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”

“So you are a King” Pilate says, now we are getting somewhere.

But Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice."

Hopeless. Jesus is as good as dead.

But what we have to remember about this conversation is that it occurs in St. John’s Gospel and that means we have yet another conversation in which Jesus is talking about one thing and the other guy another thing.

The way John sets up his readers is we know who Jesus is, John tells us in the Prologue: The Word which was in the beginning, was with God and was God, the Word made flesh. The poor dopes he talks with do not know that. So Jesus is the kind of  preacher whom no one likes because he talks over their head. Jesus talks about water springing up to eternal life or being born again or being a King and the Samaritan Woman, Nicodemus, and Pilate think he is talking about  the water supply or crawling back into your mother’s womb or secular political power.

It is a very effective way to teach. It lets us see what dumb bells Jesus had to deal with us and to boot what dumb bells we are ourselves.

Fr. Ronald Knox, not being at all dumb, admirably summed up the point that Jesus was trying to get across to Pilate and to us:

“Christ has reigned, not in the councils of nations, but in men's hearts. If every country in the world professed the Catholic religion, set up religious emblems in its market places and voted special honors, special privileges, special revenues to the clergy -- that would not be the reign of Christ on earth. It would not be the reign of Christ on earth if the homage which men paid to religion was merely external, merely political Christ will reign in the world only where, only in so far as, he rules in human hearts.”

And that by the way is why Fr. Rogers insisted that this parish have our Annual Meeting on this feast of Christ the King.  It is a kind of summary of his view that behind all the perfectly ordinary business of perfectly ordinary people stands a cosmic battle between Christ the King and the Lord of this World.

Of course Fr. Rogers would be the first to say that this is not just his view but the view of the Catholic Church.

Could we really see we would realize  that the daily struggle to love, to do good, to be obedient, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow Jesus is part of a bigger struggle being waged for our souls. Christ the King won this battle against the Enemy upon the Altar of the Cross but He still has to win it in each human heart.

Parish Life is full of spiritual warfare. There is more than meets the eye to the Choir, the Altar Guild, serving at the altar, going to Mass, saying our prayers, vestry meetings, budgets, Austin Street, repairs to buildings, the inevitable clashes and disagreements, and all the rest of what goes on around here. Every situation forces upon us a decision as to whom we will serve. That is the point of all our circumstances and situations. Who do we serve?

The feast of Christ the King invites us to see our life sub specie aeternitatis – under the aspect of eternity.  A kingdom universal and everlasting, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of sanctity and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. (The Preface of Christ the King).  From that aspect –sub specie aeternitatis – how big we are has very little to do with how many people are here or how much money we have and everything to do with how hard we are fighting for our King.  

It is the simple truth that we are in reduced circumstances these days: fewer people, less money, and older bodies. Some would say that our glory days are behind us .But that is exactly where the battle is.  For this we were born, for this we came into the world. The priest when we were  baptized signed us up for the army of the King with the sign of the Cross

in token that hereafter we shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.

Just because I have been the Rector of this parish for almost twenty years – exactly twenty years St. Matthew’s Day, 21 September 2013 – does not mean that you all can no longer surprise me and delight me. About the time I think I know all about you, your virtues and vices, what you will do and will not do, you completely surprise me by your love and devotion. If anything I am more impressed with you now than I have been at any time in the last twenty years.

Because you all know that there is no giving up, no writing people off, no flagging in prayer for the people you can’t stand, no abandoning the hope and promise that we can become saints, no compromise with evil, no desertion, no surrender.

You didn’t learn that from me; I have learned it from you.

We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

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