Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ

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

Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from hence.

In the mines of Bolivia, one may be shocked to find devotions, gifts, and offerings made to El Tío, "Uncle," an image bearing a terrible resemblance to classic Christian images of the Devil. While an image of the Cross may be found at the entrance to the mine, within the mine's darkness, past the point where the light of the sun can be seen, there will be a terrible idol of a horned figure, his mouth filled with terrible teeth, ready to receive the offerings of cigarettes, coca leaves, and alcohol, his hands open for gifts of the same, his erect member a sign that his cravings are both universal an insatiable. Once every year, he is honored not with the intoxicants the miners use to both remain awake and to drive away the body- and soul-breaking work, but with the blood of llamas, which blood he is left to consume in private, while the miners feast on the cooked meat of the llamas above.

Derived from pre-Columbian beliefs, El Tío is said to possess the wealth that lies under the hills and mountains, but also to possess an unending and terrible appetite. Appease him, and he might just let you return to the surface, perhaps even laden with the riches of the world below. Fail to give him due honor, and he may withhold the precious metals on which the livelihood of those on the surface depends. Even worse, his cravings may turn away from coca and the blood of llamas to the lives of men.

As devout as these Catholic miners may be, in the folklore of the highlands of Bolivia, the kingdom of God extends only where the heavens can be seen. While God may reign over all that dwell upon the earth, the dark and dangerous world beneath the surface belongs to El Tío. Once within the mines, there is none other who will answer your prayers than this terrible spirit, no appeal to God and his saints that will be heard. El Tío may have no place in Church, but Jesus Christ has no place in the deep and life-consuming darkness beneath the mountains.

We may react in many ways to the Bolovians' practice of honoring a god whom, by their Christian faith, they no is due neither honor nor even belief. Whether we see this as a people's best symbolic way of negotiating the life of the mines, without which their communities would have nothing, but which consumes even the lives of their children for very little in return, or whether we worry that this shows how much more work the Church must do in catechesis and in action on behalf of the poor, we likely imagine that we are not guilty of making the same error. That is, we probably congratulate ourselves in knowing that there is nowhere, whether in heaven, on the earth, or for that matter under the earth, where Jesus Christ is not the universal and sovereign King.

Yet, if this were so, if Christians across the world really believed in the universal sovereignty of Jesus Christ and acted in light of that confession, might we not rightly imagine a world far differently ordered than it is today. Indeed, thinking even only of the miners of Bolivia, would a world that understood Christ's kingship have had such cravings for silver, tin, and lead, that those boom towns that grew up around the mines would have consumed so many lives, and continue to do so even today? Do not far too many of us who bend our worldly knees at the name of Jesus resemble far more than we might like to imagine the image of the insatiable Tío, terrible and terrifying in our unsated and unsatiable hungers and desires? Do we not demand so much to be made cheap and plentifully available to us that others throughout the world must feed our hungers if they would eat at all, yet barely manage to thrive on what little we give them?

This is the challenge we who bear the name of Christian must face. As Jesus reminded Pilate, so he reminds us: My kingdom is not from hence. In saying so, he does not mean to imply, as the Bolivian miners imagine, that there is a limit to the extent of his kingdom. Rather, he means that the demonic and unending cravings of the world, so aptly imaged in the figure of El Tío, share nothing with the abundance of life poured our in the redemption of sins we have in Christ's blood, in the reconciliation and fellowship we share in his sovereign rule. El Tío divides and consumes; Jesus Christ united and gives abundance of life. Whose image do we bear? In whose service do we pledge our lives?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

Proverbs 8:22-35 / Luke 1:26-38

What could be a more obvious sign of our Catholic faith and devotion than the praying of the Rosary? What devotion in that Roman Catholic Church can compare to the Rosary that binds in one men, women and children from across the world, from every language and people, from the most powerful and learned to the humblest and simplest among us?

Yet, what is it we think we are doing when we pray the Rosary? Why do we assert with such confidence that this devotion should be so privileged above others, should be so filled with assurances of drawing us closer to the heart of divine charity, to the union with the Holy Trinity which is the goal and vocation of every human life?

On the face of it, the Rosary seems not to be about us at all. After all, our meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, the joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries, does not direct us to consider what God has done is our own lives. Instead, when we pray the Rosary, we are asked to dwell upon the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ, or rather, to dwell upon Our Blessed Mother’s experience of these mysteries. That is, the Rosary directs our minds to the story of her vocation, her share in the life of Christ, her joys, her sorrows, and her glories and she is led from the glorious message of the angel which we heard in the Gospel to her even more glorious coronation as Queen of Heaven, where she is raised in honor over every created person, greater in honor than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim.

It is, of course, a good and noble thing to share in the joys, the sorrows and the glories of those whom we love. We do not truly need to excuse our devotion. The Virgin Mary is our Mother, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. She is loved by God more than any other person he created, and because her has loved her so much, we should surely do the same.

Nevertheless, why should the meditation on the mysteries of someone else, however glorious and however loved, be the source of such powerful blessing for all the faithful? Why should our sharing in the joys, the sorrows, and the glories of someone else bring us any closer of our vocation, to our life in Jesus Christ?

The answer is found in the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, alone among all the saints and among all of the members of the Body of Christ, whether men or angels, can be called totally relational. Mary, and Mary alone among God’s creatures, relates in the most intimate way with the Most Holy Trinity as made in the divine image, with the Incarnate Word as one whom he redeemed, with the Church striving here on earth, with the Church awaiting glory in Purgatory, and with the Church in heaven as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ, with the whole of the human race as one of the daughters of Adam and Eve, and with the whole of the cosmos itself as our fellow creature. She can relate in so many ways and so intimately because of her unique role and because of her unique gifts in the history of salvation.

It is certainly true that everyone whom God has called has a unique role in God’s providence. The witness of Saint Paul, for example, as a teacher of the faith will forever play a role for every Christian. The four evangelists will give witness to the life, teaching, and saving work of Jesus Christ in a way no one else will ever be able to imitate. However, it belongs to Mary, and to Mary alone, to be present to Almighty God in the fullness of her person, body and soul. She alone has been called to share even now the full glory of the Resurrection which even the greatest saints must await until the end of the world. Moreover, because she is fully present to God, she is therefore fully present to each one of us, and in the fulness of her presence to us, she both shares with us the fulness of her whole life with God, which life we celebrate in the mysteries of the Rosary, and brings us to partake in the blessings which those mysteries have blessed her and continue to bless her.

And so, with this confidence we are able to pray the Rosary. We can trust in the mysteries of the Rosary because these mysteries are nothing other than the life of the Virgin Mary in Christ Jesus, a life which was set up from eternity and of old before the earth was made because it has been configured to the life of Christ, a life in which we too can find life and salvation from the Lord. Let us pray, brothers and sisters, and hearken to the mysteries of the Rosary. Blessed are those that keep the ways of the Virgin, that is, the ways of discipleship in Christ Jesus, and find in them their most profound hope, eternal life with the Most Holy Trinity.