Most of you have heard of the Polish Astronomer Niklas Kopernik, better known by the Latin version of his name: Copernicus. He developed a theory which explained the correct relationship of the earth to the sun: namely, that – contrary to appearance – the sun does not move around the earth, but the earth around the sun.* Every schoolchild knows this about Copernicus. But there is something most do not know. All his life he was a devout Christian. Besides realizing the correct relationship of the earth to the sun he also understood the correct relationship of man to God: that God does not revolve around man, but that man revolves around God. He is at the center.
When Copernicus was a young man he made a pilgrimage to Rome for the 1500 Holy Year. There is evidence that he prayed the office, the Liturgy of Hours, every day of his adult life. And when he was on his death bed, his admirers brought him his astronomy books and asked him to point out the most significant passages. He brushed them aside and instead asked one of his friends to write this epitaph.
O Lord, I cannot ask for the faith that you gave to Paul;
the mercy that you showed to Peter I dare not ask.
But the grace that you showed to the dying robber, that, Lord, show to me.
Copernicus saw the heart of our relationship to God. He is our Creator. We are fallen creatures in need of grace. Asking forgiveness is the first step in our relationship with God. St. Paul points out that by the cross Christ won the victory over sin.
Perhaps this can be better understood if we compare it Omaha Beach. Many of you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan and you have some idea the great sacrifice to gain a very small piece of territory. But it became the beachhead for an ever widening conquest. So it is with Christ’s victory on the cross. It at first seemed small, but as we see in today’s epistle, it keeps expanding until it reaches every corner of the universe.
Christ wants to extend his victory over you and me. We expressed that in these past weeks by responding to the call of Stewardship. Christ wants to rule in our hearts and in our lives. That means that we put our energy, our time, our abilities, everything that we own and are under him. I thank those who filled out Stewardship cards to express that. Perhaps there are some who genuinely do not have anything to give to the parish at this moment. I ask you to do this: Take a card, fill it out, then write that you will offer one decade of the rosary – or one Our Father – every day for the parish. If you do that you will be allowing Christ to establish a beachhead in your lives and you will begin to see some dramatic changes. This Sunday we want Christ’s Kingship to become real in our lives.
Today’s Feast of Christ the King has a special meaning for me because it marks the tenth anniversary of my dad’s death. Some of you attend his funeral. I was just starting out at Holy Family Parish. It seems like yesterday, so quickly has time passed. I will never forget being at my dad’s bedside when he died. My mom and I had arrived at the Everett hospital a few hours early. I asked my dad if he wanted to receive Communion, which he did as Viaticum: food for the journey. After the prayers he touched his hand to his cheek. Mom bent over and gave him a last kiss, then he slipped into unconsciousness. My mom, my nephew and I knelt by his bed for about a half hour until he let out his last breath. It was a beautiful death. Most of us, I think, would want to have a death like that. My dad’s last day spoke about Christ’s victory over sin and over the final enemy: death itself.
My dad was a good man – but not a perfect man. He had his personal demons, including a struggle against alcoholism. For the last decades of his life he was victorious, thanks to Christ, his Higher Power who gave him the daily grace he needed.
My dad was brought up in the Lutheran Church. As boy he often sang the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross.” On his deathbed, he asked that that hymn be sung at his funeral. Jesus makes an allusion to the cross in today’s Gospel – he speaks about his presence in those who are suffering: imprisoned, the hungry, the immigrant and the infirm. The kind of suffering mentioned in today’s Gospel is practically a picture of Jesus on the cross: sentenced, outcast, naked and thirsty. Our salvation comes from embracing the cross. The hymn sung at my dad's funeral, although we do not often use it in Catholic parishes, expresses that truth. Here is its first stanza:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
*Copernicus was not the first to expound the heliocentric view. Back in the third century B.C. the Greek natural philosopher Aristarchus had proposed the Sun as the center of planetary motion. He attributed the daily movement of the heavens to the rotation of the Earth on its axis. Opponents of this view had two main objections: If the earth moves, why do we not in some way sense its movement? Moreover, if the earth is moving through space, why do the positions of the nearer stars not change in relation to the more distant ones? Aristotle, among others, considered this absence of the parallax phenomenon as the strongest argument against the heliocentric view. Unable to answer these questions, Copernicus designated his viewpoint as “theory.” A century later, Galileo felt that he had discovered the answer to the first objection in the motion of the tides. Still, he could not solve the second problem. That was the reason scientists like Tycho Brahe had proposed alternative theories which did not involve movement of the earth. By the nineteenth century objections to the heliocentric view were firmly overcome and the theory was accepted by virtually all scientists. That universal acceptance is reflected in the fact that in 1820 Pope Pius VII gave the imprimatur to Elements d’Astronomie, Canon Settele’s astronomy textbooks which teach the Copernican system as an established fact.
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Tithing Goal, Tenth Anniversary of my dad's death, Importance of mandatum)