Engaging the Gospel – Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ the King (Year C): Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

For the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church presents us with a stark Gospel: Jesus on the Cross.

“The Cross is the paradoxical sign of His kingship,” Benedict XVI has reflected:

It is in the very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of expiation that Jesus becomes King of the universe…

But in what does this ‘power’ of Jesus Christ the King consist?…It is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart…

This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom….Every conscience, therefore, must make a choice. Who do I want to follow? God or the Evil One? The truth or falsehood?

November 22, 2009.

This choice is reflected in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is reviled by some, but venerated by the “Good Thief.”

The Gospel dialogue reverberates to our own time, when the kingship of Christ is still subject to mockery and derision. Many in our culture commit the sin of blasphemy, “uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (Catechism paragraph 2148).

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to shape our world, and transform our culture, in the light of the Gospel (898-99, 2105), and thus advance the Kingdom.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when someone mocks the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Good Shepherd Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B): Gospel – John 10:11-18

The early Church cherished the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, melding today’s Gospel passage with Psalm 23 to reflect upon how the Lord tends and cares for us.

As Benedict XVI observed,

they recognized Christ as the Good Shepherd who leads us through life’s dark valleys…the Shepherd who also knows the way through the night of death and does not abandon me in this final solitude…The sheep that He lovingly carries home on His shoulders is humanity…In His Incarnation and Cross He brings home the stray sheep, humanity; He brings me home, too.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 285-86.

At the same time, the role of shepherd also had royal connotations in the ancient Middle East, where kings described themselves as shepherds of their people. For this reason, the Pope Emeritus explained that “this image of Christ the Good Shepherd is a Gospel of Christ the King” (p. 272).

The Lord established that His sheepfold, the Church, would be guided by human shepherds (Catechism 754, 862).

St John Paul II commented on this solemn responsibility:

As He did with the first disciples, Jesus continues to choose new co-workers to care for His flock through the ministry of the word, the sacraments and the service of charity…The priest [is to] become a living icon of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gives himself for the flock entrusted to his care.

Homily of April 25, 1999.

Question for reflection: When have I felt the Lord’s special care for me?

Act of Dedication to Christ the King

Line art for the Feast of Christ the King from the Campion Missal, courtesy of ccwatershed.org

Line art for the Feast of Christ the King from the Campion Missal, courtesy of ccwatershed.org

Most sweet Jesus,

Redeemer of the human race,

look down upon us humbly prostrate before You.

We are Yours, and Yours we wish to be;

but to be more surely united with You,

behold, we freely consecrate ourselves today

to Your Most Sacred Heart.

Many indeed have never known You;

many, too, despising your precepts,

have rejected You.

Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus,

and draw them to Your Sacred Heart.

Be King, O Lord,

not only of the faithful who have never forsaken You

but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned You;

grant that they may quickly return to their Father’s house,

lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.

Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions,

or whom discord keeps aloof,

and call them back to the harbor of truth

and the unity of faith,

so that soon there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.

Grant, O Lord, to Your Church

assurance of freedom and immunity from harm;

give tranquility of order to all nations;

make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry:

Praise to the Divine Heart that wrought our salvation;

to It be glory and honor forever.

Amen.

Engaging the Gospel: Epiphany of the Lord

Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12The Magi adore the Lord made manifest

“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world,” as he is adored “by the wise men (magi) from the East” (Catechism paragraph 528).

Pope Benedict XVI commented upon the meaning of the magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh:

These gifts have a profound significance: they are an act of justice. In fact, according to the mentality prevailing then in the Orient, they represent the recognition of a person as God and King, that is, an act of submission. They were meant to say that from that moment, the donors belonged to the sovereign and they recognize his authority.

Homily of January 6, 2010

In the same way, the Catechism teaches that we “render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice” (2095) – first of all, adoration:

To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love…

To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself…confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name. The worship of the one God sets [us] free from turning in on [ourselves], from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

Catechism paragraphs 2096-97

Question for reflection: In what ways do I adore the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel: First Sunday of Advent

With the coming of the new liturgical year, it’s a fitting time to begin posting about each Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Just as the ongoing Catechism summaries arose from an initiative at my parish, so did the weekly thoughts to encourage further engagement with the Gospel. This took the form of supplementary material to explore the Gospel’s theme, drawn from the Catechism and Blessed John Paul II or Benedict XVI, along with a question for reflection.

Accordingly, here is the one for Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent:

Gospel – Matthew 24:37-44: Be prepared, for the Son of Man will come unexpectedly.

The Church’s liturgical year begins with the season of Advent for a simple but profound reason: the liturgical year “in a certain way reproduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (Blessed John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 10).

Hence the Church’s year opens by preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth, and it ends by recognizing Christ’s kingship over the entire universe. During Advent, as we recall His coming into human history, we logically also look ahead to his final coming at the end of time.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to be prepared, for the end will come unexpectedly — just as suddenly as the flood destroyed Noah’s contemporaries. Just as the flood marked a new epoch in the life of the world, so will the Second Coming radically transform all of creation.

“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness…The universe itself will be renewed…Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth'” (Catechism paragraphs 1042-43).

“The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and…God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men” (1048).

Question for reflection: In what ways am I responding to the Lord’s call to “stay awake” and prepare for His coming?

Ascension of the Lord

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 659-82:

  • During the 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus spends time with the disciples, eating, drinking, and instructing them about the Kingdom of God.
  • Christ’s final appearance ends with His Ascension into heaven, where He comes full circle: the One who came from the Father returns to Him, exalted in divine glory.
  • But Jesus, as the Word made flesh, now brings His human nature with Him into this transcendent glory; Jesus goes before us, paving the way for our humanity to take the place that He has marked out for us in heaven.
  • Thus the Ascension is not simply an historical event; it is at the same time a sign of our own ultimate destiny, if we follow the Lord.
  • Having entered the heavenly sanctuary, Christ continually intercedes for us; in this way Christ exercises His eternal priesthood.
  • Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, symbolizing the inauguration of His Kingdom, and He reigns as the Lord of the cosmos and all history.
  • The Ascension ushered in the final age of the world: Christ has already conquered, but the totality of His victory is not yet accomplished on earth.
  • Christ’s victory is still unfolding in the course of human time, until He comes again in glory at the close of history.
  • Throughout this time of watching and waiting, Christ’s kingship is present on earth through the mystery of the Church, the seed and beginning of the Kingdom; the Church must undergo trials and persecutions until the Lord returns.
  • The final realization of the Kingdom will not come about incrementally from our efforts, but rather from the action of God, when Christ appears as the Lord and Judge of the living and the dead.

Live Your Faith

As depicted in the great works of religious art, Christ enthroned in majesty is an awe-inspiring, and overwhelming, sight.

Yet this same Christ is enthroned among us, through his Eucharistic presence in the tabernacle and in the adoration chapel.

Do we feel a sense of reverential awe in His presence? Let us be ever mindful, and attentive, that the glorified Christ is here.

 

Divine Providence

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 302-24, 410-21:

  • The universality of sin throughout history gives rise to questions about God’s governance of the world, or His providence – that is, the way that He orders and guides the unfolding of His plan.
  • God is the Lord and Master of history, whose care extends to everything, from the smallest trivialities to the greatest world events.
  • But God grants His creatures the dignity of acting on their own; when creatures misuse their free will, and thereby sin, they inject evil into the world.
  • God never causes the evil brought about by sin.
  • God permits evil to occur because He has given His creatures freedom, but especially because He will act to derive a greater good from it.
  • Adam and Eve’s Fall is an example of this truth: God did not prevent their sin, but used it to work ultimately for His own purpose.
  • After our first parents sinned, God announced His plan for our salvation, and promised us a Savior.
  • By redeeming us, God will raise us to an even higher state than Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden, enriching us in the end with far nobler blessings.
  • But this is not to minimize or gloss over the pain and suffering caused by the problem of evil in the world.
  • The only compelling response to this tragedy is Christ Himself, who willingly endured the extreme limit of suffering and death on the Cross, absorbing all of the world’s evil, to accomplish our redemption.

Live Your Faith

God’s providence is sometimes apparent in the workings of our own lives, even if we only recognize His action in hindsight. At other times, we may not grasp why God is permitting us, our loved ones, or innocent people around the world to suffer.

Whenever we feel overwhelmed, let us recall the ways that God has cared for us, and trust that He does so still, even if our limited vision cannot see it.

Angels and Demons

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 325-36, 391-95:

  • Angels are pure spirits created by God; each angel is an immortal being, possessing a personal intelligence and will.
  • The very word “angel” derives from the Greek term that describes their duties: they are literally “messengers” or “envoys” from God.
  • As Scripture attests, angels play an active role throughout salvation history.
  • In a very special way, angels are associated with Christ: created through Him and for Him, they accompanied Him in His earthly life and attend Him in heaven.
  • Angels continue their mission in the life of the Church – as a whole, through their mystical presence in the liturgy, and individually, since each one of us has our own unique guardian angel to protect us.
  • Tragically, however, some angels at the dawn of time decided to rebel against God, to reject His sovereignty and refuse to do His will.
  • Because angels are spirits of pure intellect, their choice was irrevocable, made once and for all; unlike human beings, who later regret our sins and repent, the rebellious angels deliberately set themselves against God for all eternity.
  • These fallen angels – led by Satan, the devil – are what we call demons.
  • Driven by their hatred for God and for us, demons want to implicate us in their rebellion, by trying to lure us into sin and so draw us away from God.
  • Although demons have a measure of power and are capable of inflicting harm, they are still limited creatures, and they cannot prevent God’s ultimate triumph.

Live Your Faith

Sometimes we can slip into the sentimental view of angels as cute little cherubs or whimsical mascots. But in truth, they are formidable creatures of grandeur and glory, power and holiness.

The Lord doesn’t give us guardian angels just to help us get a good parking spot. Rather, our angels have a far more momentous mission: to defend us in spiritual battle, protect our souls from harm, and help us to attain heaven. Let each of us cultivate a strong personal relationship with our guardian angel.

Christ the King

It is providential that this blog arose from my volunteering at the Cathedral of Christ the King, because faith formation helps others to recognize and welcome the Kingship of Christ.

Although the imagery of Christ as King is ancient, its annual liturgical celebration is relatively new – calling to mind St. Augustine’s cry to God, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas.

In Quas Primas, Pius XI issues a clarion call to embrace the Kingship of Christ in every aspect of our lives:

He must reign in our minds…. He must reign in our wills…. He must reign in our hearts…. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…. If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection.

Quas Primas, 33

The goal of faith formation is not simply to further knowledge in an intellectual sense alone, but to deepen our relationship with Christ.

By studying the beauty, depth, and richness of our Catholic faith, we are inspired to respond ever more to God’s grace and grow in holiness.

The more we let go of ourselves and surrender to Christ, the more we experience His peace and joy, even amid difficulties and sufferings. We remember that our time on earth is short, and this life is but a preparation for eternity.

Through honoring Christ’s Kingship in our daily lives, we prepare ourselves to enter into His heavenly kingdom, where our deepest human longings will be fulfilled.

But what does it mean to entrust ourselves to Christ, and how do we do so?

We come to know Christ through the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, two expressions of the one Divine Revelation handed on by the Church.

We converse with Him in prayer, both privately and in the prayer we lift up as part of the universal Church.

We encounter Him in the sacraments that He instituted, above all the Eucharist.

We meet Him in our neighbor, so that our faith takes on the practical aspect of moral living, in right relationship with each other.

All of these elements – beliefs, worship, moral life, and prayer – are set forth in great detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged us to study the Catechism in a special way during the Year of Faith that he inaugurated last October.

As a result, I have been summarizing the Catechism, topic by topic. These summaries will now find a home on this blog.