Bottom line: This Sunday Jesus shows himself as a humble king - and he invites us to accept his rule in every aspect of our lives.
I'd like to begin with a humorous story. Once a priest was giving a homily and as he went on, he became more animated. He made a sweeping gesture - and knocked his papers from the pulpit. He scrambled to pick them up, then asked, "Now, where was I?" A voice from the congregation responded, "Right near the end!"*
Well, we are at the end - not of the homily (smile), but of the liturgical year.** On this final Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. We acknowledge Jesus as king of the universe, of the earth and of our lives.
To accept Jesus as king has huge implications. If you saw the movie, "For Greater Glory," you know that our Mexican brothers and sisters went to their death with these words, "Viva Cristo Rey." Long live Christ the King! A young father named Luis Magaña, a 14-year-old boy, Jose Sanchez and a priest in his mid-thirties, Fr. Miguel Pro - when they were told to bow before the government, they all said: I am a loyal son of Mexico, but I belong first to Jesus. Viva Cristo Rey! These three - Blessed Luis Magaña, Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio and St. Miguel Pro - represent hundreds who gave their lives for Christ in the late twenties.
Now, you and I are not facing that kind of persecution. No one here (as far as I know) is talking about putting people to death for their faith. We are, however, facing growing pressure to restrict our faith - to compartmentalize our lives, to put our faith in a box. We Americans have economic, social, educational and political lives - and for most of us, also a "religious life." Yet more and more we hear, "keep your religion to yourself."*** The problem is that Jesus directs our lives not only when we pray, but also when we work, when we talk with others, whatever we do.
Jesus will accept the smallest act of conversion, turning toward him. Still, he will not rest until the commitment becomes total. He knows that anything less will not bring peace. It is all or nothing. If I follow Jesus, he must become king of my entire life. That includes my money, family, friendships, studies, politics, sexuality. Jesus is king - he means to rule in every dimension of my life - and yours. Like Rhett Butler, Jesus is a relentless suitor.**** Even a tiny response delights him, but in the end he wants all. He sees clearly that only he can fill our restless hearts.
This does not mean Jesus imposes himself or that we impose on others. Imposition takes away something essential - freedom. You will notice that Jesus declares himself king only at the moment when he is most powerless. Do you remember last summer when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish? The people wanted to make him king, but he fled from them. His kingship does not involve violence and imposition.
Today, however, when Jesus stands powerless before Pilate - who represents the might of Rome - Jesus looks him in the eye and says, "I am king."
Jesus is king, a humble king, yes, but still king above every other. We heard today that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of all that exists. As king of the universe he is naturally meant to be king of earthly rulers - and of your life and mine: Not just when we pray, not just when we go to Mass (for sure, that's a darn good start) but also every moment of every day.
You and I have to make a choice. We are in a spiritual battle - and we have to decide, choose a banner. Are we going to place ourselves under the banner of Christ or the banner of Satan? Do not fool yourself - there is no third alternative. Sometimes a guy will try to stand apart and say, "I did it my way." That guy may be in for a shock. When he dies, Satan may meet him with a grin, "You thought you were doing it your way. All the time you were doing it my way. Come on in."
We have to choose - I will say more about that next week - but I would like to conclude by telling about a man who made a decision in a dramatic way. This is a true story:
The man was on a business trip in El Paso, far from his wife and children. He especially missed his three-year-old daughter, whom he adored. That night he had a horrible dream. In it he was seated on a staircase, holding his dying daughter in his arms. He could do nothing for her and was sobbing bitterly. When he awoke, he immediately called his wife in California. She assured him everything was OK, the children were fine – and reminded him that it was 2 in the morning.
Still agitated, he called his father who lived in another country. His dad was surprised to get a call in the middle of the night, but also happy to hear his son's voice. The man told his father about the terrible dream. His dad spoke some profound, powerful words, "Hijo mio, my son, remember that everything you have, everything you cherish – even your daughter – is only yours on loan. Jesus has entrusted your family to you – and you must give him thanks every day for such beautiful gifts. And care for them in Jesus name."
When he hung up the phone, the man knelt by his hotel bed and prayed. "Jesus, protect my family. Help me be a good husband and a good father. I am grateful for all you have given me. I acknowledge you as my Lord and King."
This Sunday Jesus shows himself as a humble king - and he asks us to accept his rule in our families and in every aspect of our lives. We cannot withhold something and still come to him. It is all or nothing. Like Blessed Luis Magaña, Jose Sanchez and Miguel Pro, like the man in that lonely hotel, we want to say, Viva Cristo Rey. Long live Christ the King. Amen.
*Hat Tip to Fr. Joe Robinson. The joke is from his book "Guiding Light - Reflect on the Word."
**Next Sunday we begin Cycle C with its emphasis on Luke. For a well-done background study I recommend The Gospel of Luke - a six CD conference by Dr. Scott Hahn.
***Cardinal Dolan spoke about this in Presidential Address to the U.S. Bishops. He mentioned "our continued dialogue, engagement, and prophetic challenge to our culture over urgent issues such as the protection of human life, the defense of marriage, the promotion of human dignity in the lives of the poor, the immigrant, those in danger from war and persecution throughout the world, and our continued efforts to defend our first and most cherished freedom..." In response to those challenges he called for conversion and penance. I am personally praying for this proposal: "The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent."
****In the book and movie, Gone With the Wind, Rhett knows that Scarlett is pursuing a destructive love (her obsession with Ashley). Rhett goes to extremes to wake her up. She finally does, but too late. Is there not a lesson here for you - and for me?
From Archives (Homily for Christ the King, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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