Sunday, October 31, 2010

Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Colossians 1: 12-20 / John 18: 33-37

We tend to think, and are right in so thinking, that there is a fundamental good in making decisions for ourselves. While we may occasionally enjoy having someone else do something for us, or when we lack the expertise or capacity might require someone else to come to our aid, it would be a sign of decadence to fail to exercise one's own powers, one's own moral energies in life. This is something we know perfectly well in raising children, it is something we know in our own workplace, and for those of us in nations where some degree or other of democracy obtains, we know it in the political sphere. To be sure, we may want the best minds, the most qualified, to craft the legislation, to adjudicate the law, and to put it into effect, but in the end we hold to ourselves the right to make our own decisions, even to make our own mistakes. A despot, even the most enlightened, who would tell us what to do in every matter would, even if he were altogether correct, deprive us of something important and crucial. He would deprive us of the exercise of our full intellect and will in coming to know what is best and then pursuing it, which exercise alone qualifies our life as authentically human.

This is why, among other reasons, monarchy, at least in a robust political sense, has come to be seen as antithetical to human flourishing. With all due respect to monarchists, who indeed have much to offer political discourse, a constitution without a rich element of participatory democracy and meaningful agency on the part of individuals and basic units of society, most especially the family, will produce a morally weak people, a people unused to living out the quickening acts of decision-making that characterize properly human life.

How, then, are we to receive the kingship of Christ as a blessing?

In coming to recognize Jesus Christ as our King, we may make the mistake of Pontius Pilate and presume that rule, kingship, and thus the exercise of power, whether personal or collective, is a kind of zero-sum game. That is, we may imagine that where one person has true power, true kingship, then necessarily another does not. For Pilate, any claim to be king while under his jurisdiction was a claim to rival Caesar, as the priests of the Temple would later remind him. To assure himself of his own liberty, Pilate asserts that he is not a Jew, hoping against hope that, even if Jesus should be in some sense the King of the Jews, this kingship would not in any way compete with the power he had been given by Caesar.

Christ's kingship, however, is not of this world. It derives from the truth which abides before all, in whom all things visible and invisible were created, by whom all things consist. There is no exercise of earthly power, of earthly sovereignty, which is not fundamentally, and indeed in its details, a vicarious exercise of the dominion that is the very being of God almighty. To deceive oneself, to believe one has being, power, autonomy apart from God is not to be of the truth, not to hear his voice. Such a one does not escape God's dominion, but he becomes merely his unwilling subject.

On the other hand, to hear the truth, to know that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word by whom, through whom, and in whom all things exist, to acknowledge that through the shedding of his blood he has made us share the lot of the saints in light, delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into his kingdom, made members of his body with him as the head — this is a liberty beyond the most anarchic dreams born of earth. Christ's kingship does not ask us to bend our necks, does not call us to be debased, but rather ennobles us. In declaring the Son as King of the Universe, the Father was asking his Son to condescend once more on our behalf. To be our King, our Head, is to bend low and share in our nature, so that every glory and honor he receives might, through his sharing of our nature, be ours as well. The glorious exaltation of the humanity of Christ thus draws us up as his members, as the more his sovereignty is increased, the more we are enlisted among the choicest parts of his creation.

To be subject and member of him in whom all fulness dwells is not to be reduced to decadence. It is rather to be crowned and sceptered, to be anointed with glory from on high. This feast is not only his, but because his, it is also our accession day.

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Philippians 1: 6-11 / Matthew 22: 15-21

I feel sorry for foreigners trying to make sense of American coins. For those who have travelled about the the world, while knowing the just price of anything may be a bit of a challenge, negotiating the money itself is generally a much simpler affair. Coins generally follow a simple rule, with copper-colored ones of the least value, silver-colored ones more, and bimetallic even more. Moreover, whatever the language, whether Italian, Arabic, or Cantonese, there is almost always, visible for any to read, the value of the coin represented in Arabic numerals.

Not so, the coins of the United States of America. While retaining difference between copper and silver coins, we have resolutely refused to put a numeral anywhere on our coins, save to note the year the coin was minted. What's more, the words we use to indicate the value of the coins are generally less than helpful. What we call a penny reads one cent, what we call a nickel reads five cents. What we call a dime does indeed read one dime, but unless the visitor knows that dîme is French for tithe, that is, one tenth of a dollar, he might well be excused for imagining that this small silver coin is worth less than the larger nickel!

So, what does our foreign traveller do? Generally, he is reduced to holding out his palm full of coins to the proprietor of a store, hoping that he will be an honest man. He renders to him all the change he has, trusting that a shopkeeper who is good and honest, who does not will to take advantage of him, will only take back what is his due.

We, of course, have been minted by God Almighty, stamped more thoroughly than any coin, in the very constitution of our nature, after the image and likeness not of a king or president, but of God himself. Like the foreign visitor, we might be ignorant of the value of those stamped with the Lord's image, and we, the faithful redeemed by the blood of Christ, might forget to attend to the superscription written atop our heads by the sealing and confirming power of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do so when we use our own selves, our bodies and our minds, in ways unfit for those who bear God's image, and when we exchange our fellow men and women, our fellow Christians, for goods or pleasures, things possibly valuable in themselves, but far too cheap an exchange for those bought for a price on the Cross. Our gossip and cheapening of our own and our neighbor's name, our passing by the weak and poor in silence or disdain or fear, our suppression of persons for sensual delights in the flesh or through the transmission of countless pixels across the Internet — in these and countless other ways we mock the holy economy of God and flood the world with counterfeits minted in the outer darkness of Hell and the inner darkness of our hearts.

We can, however, choose to be free from this clandestine economy. We can reach deep into our pocket and render everything we find there to our Lord and God. We can trust, with absolute assurance, that he will remove from our hand and cast aside anything false, whatever does not bear his image, and take only what is his due — which is of course all. However dented, however tarnished, we need not fear that, in the end, we will be left with buttons and wooden nickels in place of the shining currency of heaven, the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why St Paul can say we are confident that God will perfect ... unto the day of Christ Jesus the good work he has begun in us. God does not deal in counterfeits, nor does he leave his redeemed empty-handed. Rather, when we render to God what is God's, when we hand over to him all our love, and submit ourselves in love and justice to those whom he has put into our lives, then he will make us a good return. Then our charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding; that we may approve the better things; that we may be sincere and without offense unto the day of Christ: filled with the fruit of justice, through Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Summorum Pontificum: A Hope for the Church (Angelicum, Rome, May 13-15, 2011)

The Association “Youth and Tradition” [Giovani e Tradizione] and the Sodality “Priestly Friendship in Summorum Pontificum” wish to communicate officially the date of their 3rd Conference on the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
Venue:  Angelicum University, Rome, 13-15 May 2011
Title:  Summorum Pontificum: a hope for the Church.
In the afternoon of Friday 13 May the Conference will commence with a session open only to priests, religious, and seminarians.
It is foreseen that Saturday 14 May will include both morning and afternoon sessions, details of which will be forthcoming.
The Conference will conclude with a Pontifical Mass at the Altar of the Cathedra in St. Peter’s Basilica, Sunday 15 May 2011, to be celebrated by His Eminence Antonio Cardinal Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
After the conclusion of the Holy Mass conference participants are invited to participate at the Angelus of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square at 12 noon.
Further information is available at:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

21st Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 6: 10-17 / Matthew 18: 23-25

There comes a time when fans of comic book heroes step back and confront, in a bit of disbelief, a fundamental question of the whole drama. Why should it be that our heroes do not find a way, once and for all, to put an end to their archvillains? Why is Lex Luthor, even when his evil plots are foiled, only put somewhere from which Superman knows perfectly well he can and will escape? Why does Batman do the same with Joker, knowing that Arkham Asylum simply will not hold this homicidal maniac within its walls? It is not as though they do not have the power to do so. Superman could, at any moment, effectively put an end to Lex Luthor, and the Joker is ultimately only a mortal man, as capable of meeting his maker as any other.

Closer to our daily life, we often find ourselves asking this question not of super-powered heroes and their nemeses, but of our bosses, our superiors, our bishops, and even ourselves. How can the boss know what he knows about such-and-so yet seem to do nothing about her? When will the superior put his foot down and call back to obedience those brothers whose obedience to the Rule is not only less than stellar, but positively corrupting of the community? Why doesn't the bishop act decisively to end the countless abuses of teaching and worship in his diocese? If only I were in charge ...

Now, if the real problem were our neighbors, the wayward, even mean-spirited sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, if they were in fact the enemy, then a refusal to call them to heel or crush them underfoot might well be a sign of a failure of governance, a failure to exercise just rule. However, in this life, even the most wicked is still potentially a son of God the Father, our brother in Jesus Christ, befriended by the Holy Spirit. Restrain their wicked behavior, yes, call them to repentance, certainly. Even so, however much they stand in our way, however much they have set their faces against us, they are not our enemy.

As St Paul reminds us, our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Human wickedness, however dire or baleful, is a sign of tragic collaboration which can be, and by God's grace for many will be, overcome. It is rather the Devil and his angels, those twisted spirits freely and irrevocably bent away from the Lord God, who are our enemy. Upon them we may freely pour our hatred, the righteous hatred of a spirit conformed to God's Sacred Heart that looks upon final, unrepentant evil with hatred and loathing.

But, what does that hatred for the dark spirits look like? In fact, it looks like patience and a willing suffering of the ills inflicted upon us, all the while loving our neighbor and hoping for his conversion. It means preaching the Gospel with a gentle urgency, longing for the conversion of our our hearts as well as the hearts of those who hear our proclamation, yet accepting with calm assurance the rejection even of our best efforts, trusting the provident love of God to accomplish all according to his good pleasure. In the end, the armor we put on, the shield we bear, and the sword we wield are our uncompromising refusal to be made into the image and likeness of the Evil One. To fight the unwholesome, rebellious angels means to embrace Christ alone as our hope, to find in him and in his patient love of sinners the very source of our own life.

This is the angelic warfare into which every one of the baptized has been enlisted. The weapons of our combat have been put before us. Are we ready to take up the fight?