Bottom line: Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. That means he is the foundation of the universe and - if we permit him - the foundation for our lives.
On today's Feast of Christ the King, Jesus - in intimate union with the Father - tells us he is the Alpha and the Omega. You have seen those letters in Christian art: the Alpha looks like a capital A and the Omega like an upside down U. They are the A and the Z of the Greek alphabet the first and last letters. Jesus elaborates what it means for him to be the Alpha and the Omega: he is, he states, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty." As the beginning and end of creation, Jesus is the origin of the cosmos; he is the foundation of the entire structure.
It is astounding to think of Jesus as the source of the vast universe with all its galaxies, but there is something more immediate for you and me. The galaxies are an extension of simple, beautiful elements. You and I - though much smaller - are in one way more complex. We have to make a choice in relation to our foundation.
Before asking you to make that choice, I want to first ask you to consider what a foundation is. A foundation is not always noticed, but it is the most important part of any structure. I saw that last summer when we did our school renovation project. Day by day I watched the work progress. I have to admit that at a certain point I started getting nervous. They were spending so much time digging and breaking things up, that I didn't think they would finish in time for school. But once they had laid the foundation, the rest went quickly and they finished on schedule.
Building on a solid foundation requires great effort. You can have an apparently beautiful house with lovely furniture, but if dry rot or termites are eating the boards which join it to the foundation, the house will not last. The building has to stay connected to the foundation - or it will easily fall down.
The same applies in our lives. If we don't build on a strong foundation and stay connected with it, our lives - and our relationships - can easily fall apart. I heard about a man who learned this the hard way. He had a daughter who he adored. Wanting to always please her, he lavished things on her: the nicest clothes and beautiful gifts for her room. He bought a fancy car so he could drive her around in style. When she was teenager, he told her he would like to take her with him on an ocean cruise and said she could take along one of her girlfriends. He awaited her delighted reaction, but it didn't come. Instead of jumping for joy, she became quiet and then said she did not want to go. Shocked, he asked, "Why?"
She looked at her dad and said, "You don't treat me like a daughter. You treat me like a pet. I am not your pet."
The man was so stunned he did something he had not done in a long time. He prayed. In desperation he went to confession so he could talk to a priest. The man realized he had to determine what the foundation was for his life. Only then could he have a basis to connect with his daughter. He could not do it just by buying her nice things.
When you think about it, what is the difference between a child and a pet? Many of us have pets that we deeply love. If we provide them with food, shelter and some affection; they seem happy with the arrangement. They belong to us in a way that we can never belong to them. A child is different. He does not belong to his parents in an ultimate sense. Each child, as the Catechism says, is a gift. He belongs to someone else. When we recognize to whom a child ultimately belongs, there is a positive sense in which he can belong to his parents - and his parents to him. To whom, then, does that child ultimately belong?
Jesus tells us today he is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha, as I mentioned earlier, is the first Greek letter; Omega is the last one. Jesus is the starting point, the foundation; he is also the goal. We discover the basis for our lives when we connect with him. If we try to build a structure apart from him, it ultimately falls apart. It is nothing more than a castle in the air - an illusion which melts like the mist.
Separated from God, our relationships will always have some element of exploitation. In the past, it took the extreme form of slavery - the ownership of another human being. Today we see it in in vitro fertilization which treats tiny humans as products we can implant in a woman, throw away or (why not?) utilize for experiments. To cite Alexander Solzhenitsyn, all this has happened because men have forgotten God.
On the other hand, if we belong to Jesus we can discover our right relation to others. We can belong to one another, as members of a body belong to each other, each one unique, but helpful - even necessary - to the well-being of others. If we belong to Jesus, we can belong to one another in a true sense.
During this month of Stewardship we have been inviting you to build your lives on a sure foundation: to recognize the source of your life, your abilities and the various resources you command. It means recognizing the one to whom we ultimately belong. Doing so will not only bring you inner peace; it is also the best thing you can do for those you love.
We have finished Thanksgiving and now we enter a season which is more dangerous: the Christmas season or - as our secular society now insists - the Holiday season. In the coming weeks we will feel pressure from our society to buy gifts for family members and others. That's great. A gift can be a lovely expression of affection and care. But make sure you tend to the foundation of your life - the only foundation for constructing a profound relationship with your child or other loved one. On this final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church calls us to recognize that we belong to Jesus. He is our king. Jesus tells us, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."
From Archives (Homily for Christ the King, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Toys for Peru Pictures, Parish Secretary's Wedding, Celebrating Advent in the Home)
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.
From Archives (Homily for Christ the King, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Tithing Goal, Tenth Anniversary of my dad's death, Importance of mandatum)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
St. Mary of the Valley Album
(updated Nov 10, 2009)
Pictures from Peru
News article and television video about Ben's death
Ben with Julien Bloom
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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