The Personal Center

(Homily for Ascension of Our Lord - Year A)

Bottom line: Blessed Bartolome Blanco gives us an example of a young man who made Jesus the personal center of his life. As we celebrate the Ascension - Jesus' entronement at the Father's right hand - we also say, "Long live Christ the King!"

You may have heard that ancient people thought the earth was the center of the universe. But then some ingenious Dutchman invented the telescope and the picture changed: It looked like our planet was no longer the center, but in a remote corner. Have you ever wondered: If the earth is not the center of the universe, where is it? Modern physicists give a surprising answer: The center of the universe is everywhere!

The center is everywhere. Don't ask me to explain that - or even say what it means. On today's Feast - the Ascension of the Lord - I would like to ask: If the physical center of the universe is everywhere, where is the personal center of the universe?

From the viewpoint of faith the answser is clear: The personal center of the universe is where Jesus is. We hear today that he ascended on high - above every principality and power. Yet we do not look up to the sky to find him. Jesus is intimately with us.

If you and I are united with Jesus, we are at the personal center of all reality. If we are united with him. That is a big "if." There are so many forces pulling us away from Jesus.* We want to do our own thing. We say things like, "I worked hard for my money. I can spend it however I want." Or "I can do what I want with my own body." Or "The Church should keep out of people's bedrooms."

Let me say a word about that last slogan. When I bless a home, I bless all the rooms including the bedroom, but I don't belong in anyone else's bedroom. But Jesus does. He belong in every room of your home - your kitchen, your dining room, your computer room and your bedroom. Bishop Sheen wrote a book called "Three to Get Married." It takes three to make a lasting marriage: the bride, the groom and Jesus.

Jesus is the personal center of all reality - all that is good, true and beautiful resides in him. He wants to gently guide and rule every aspect of our lives.

You know, today is the real feast of Christ the King. In our Responsorial Psalm we say, "God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord." As he ascended to the Father's right hand, Jesus said, "All power in heaven and earth has been given to me."

Jesus is the personal center of all things. He wants to be the personal center of your life and mine.

Let me give example of someone who made Jesus the center of his life. He was a young man, barely twenty-one years old, named Bartolome Blanco Marquez. Bartolome was deeply in love with a girl named Maruja. They dreamed about marriage and forming a family. Both were committed Christians and wanted Jesus to have the first place in their lives. Unfortunately they lived at time when certain men wanted to replace God and make the government the ultimate authority. Bartolome and Maruja, of course, recognized the legitimate authority of the state, but they gave Jesus first place.

Government forces arrested Bartolome on August 18, 1936 and told him to either obey them or face the firing squad. They imprisoned Bartolome and for six weeks, they tried to get him to change sides. But Bartolome had seen what the government was doing and did not recognize them as a legitimate authority. He had to put Christ first. On the first of October, he wrote a letter to Maruja. He called her "Maruja del alma" - Maruja of my soul. Here is what he said:

Maruja of my soul: Your memory will accompany me to my grave. While my heart still beats, it will beat with love for you. God has willed that we sublimate these earthly affections, ennobling them by our love for Him.

Bartolome then describes how he was tried and that he is not afraid of death because it will bring them an even deeper union. He closes the letter with these words:

"My body will be buried in the cemetery of Jaen. While there remain a few hours before this final repose, I only ask one thing: That in memory of the love we have (which every moment increases) attend to the main goal – the salvation of thy soul. In that way we will be united in heaven eternally, where nothing can separate us.

"Until then, Maruja of my soul, do not forget that from heaven I will look for thee. Be a model Christian woman. You know that when all is said and done, worldly goods and pleasures mean nothing. What matters is the salvation of the soul.

"My thoughts and gratitude to all the family – and to thee, my love, sublimated in the hour of death. Do not forget me, Maruja of my soul. Let my memory remind thee that there is a better life. Attaining it should be our greatest desire.

"Be strong and rebuild thy life. You are young and good – and you will always have the help of God that I will implore for thee from heaven. Until that eternity where we will continue loving each other, world without end."

The next day, October 2, 1936, Bartolomé was led before the firing squad.** According to documents supporting his cause for beatification Bartolomé went to the site of his execution barefooted, "in order to be more conformed to Christ." He kissed his handcuffs, surprising the guards that cuffed him. He refused to be shot from behind. “Whoever dies for Christ should do so facing forward and standing straight." Then he shouted, "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!” and he fell to the ground under a shower of bullets. He was beatified October 28, 2007.

Blessed Bartolome Blanco gives us an example of a young man who made Jesus the personal center of his life. As we celebrate the Ascension - Jesus' entronement at the Father's right hand - we also say, "Long live Christ the King!"***

************

*For a sobering study of how even those who read the Bible daily and celebrate the sacraments can fall into diabolical behavior, I encourage you to read the John Jay College for Criminal Justice Report on the "Causes and Context" of clergy abuse.

The Report is not easy reading and one can understand why the media tended to lazily write it off. As George Wiegel points out, the study challenges tropes firmly set in journalistic concrete:

For a digest of the Report with some critical analysis, please read Bill Donohue's response.

Finally, I encourage you to listen to Al Kresta's interview with Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a top psychiatrist and authority on treating sexually abusive priests. (The interview begins about half way through the hour-long program - you can fast forward.)

**In a letter to his relatives, Blessed Bartolome wrote: "May this be my last will: forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness...I ask you to avenge me with the vengeance of a Christian: returning much good to those that have tried to do me evil."

***The Bishops of England and Wales have undertaken an important initiative to help people make Jesus the center of their lives. Beginning on September 16, 2011, they have restored meatless Fridays for Catholics in their territory. I heartily encourage the practice and pray that the U.S. bishops will follow the example of our British cousins.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Ascension, Year A):

2014: Journey to Hope Week 7
2011: The Personal Center
2008: Ascension Quotes
2005: There the Action Lies
2002: Finding the Way Home (Ascension & Mother's Day)
1999: A Wake Up Call

From the Archives (Ascension Homilies):

2014: Journey to Hope Week 7
2013: The Way He Opened
2012: He Took Prisoners Captive
2011: The Personal Center
2010: Disappear vs. Leave
2009: What Good-Bye Means
2008: Ascension Quotes
2007: Separation of Church and State
2006: Whoever Believes and is Baptized
2005: There the Action Lies
2004: Forgiveness - In His Name
2003: What Does "He Ascended" Mean?
2002: Finding the Way Home (Ascension & Mother's Day)
2001: Submission to Jesus
2000: Beyond the Secular Paradigm
1999: A Wake Up Call
1998: Jesus' Rule Vs. Cafeteria Catholicism

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