Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday word, 23 Nov 14

Made Not Born
Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe A (23 Nov 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Being Christian is not natural. That is apostolic teaching.  We heard moments ago how St. Paul put it: Christ has been raised from the dead. God intervened for Jesus and us so that death is not our end. Being Christian is not natural. A 3rd-Century pastor put it crisply: Christians are made not born.1 Baptism makes us Christian; it unites us to Christ Jesus; it begins our new, divine life in him. Our new life involves being “reborn” daily. Rebirth is not natural. On our own we turn to the natural; the natural is warped by sin. Regular reception of sacraments, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation, all our Catholic devotions and way of living allow us to turn in a another direction and continue to be reborn. A few examples: to focus outward—Christian—rather than inward on ourselves—natural; to turn to what gives true, lasting life—Christian—rather than fleeting, flawed pleasure—natural; to respect everyone—Christian—rather than suspect people, hate and do them violence—natural: to focus on and do the Christian instead of the natural allows us to be reborn. Today’s Solemnity is about our rebirth.

The Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, is recent among feasts of the Lord. Recent does not make it less important. The church develops its worship in response to the needs of its members. When Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity he and the church in several countries had seen some of them consider themselves superior to others. Some even acted as if they were superior. National superiority led them to distance themselves from the church or even harm it. Trying to negotiate national superiority and keep faith was a need in 1925.

That year saw Mussolini inaugurate his dictatorial rule. That year saw a group of extremists blow the roof off a church in their country’s capital during a military funeral; they killed 150 and injured more than three times the dead.2 In 1925 Hitler’s Mein Kampf 3 was published; his “fight”—in German, Kampf, inflicted worldwide disaster.

Christians—you and I—are made, united to Jesus to stand against the tyranny of natural inclinations to canonize self, antagonize others and take pleasure in both. The example of Jesus to be selfless, respect and help others and to root himself in the pleasure his Father has in creation, especially humans, jars us. Jesus’ call to us to be selfless, respect and help others and root ourselves in divine desires can shock us: Jesus, you call me to be like you? If his example jars and his invitation to follow his example shocks, nothing is wrong with us. Why?

Consider his final parable. Those who responded and helped the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and those in prison were shocked they cared for King Jesus: Lord, when did we see you in those ways and help you? Those who did not respond and help those in need were equally shocked. Their question to the King suggests they paid attention to themselves; they turned an eye over their shoulders now and again in case the King in his regalia happened their way. When he was visible to them, then they would have helped. Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?

Our King Jesus does not impress with splendor; he does not coerce. He does not use natural power to impress or intimidate. We might say Jesus was congenitally unable to use power so natural to us—he was born of powerless parents in surroundings and conditions only normal to domesticated animals. 

Yet Jesus was fully human even as he was fully divine. He married the human and the divine in his person. He doesn’t ask us not to be human; he invites us to welcome divine power and let it make us truly human. We do that every time we help the least and minister to their needs. Each time we do we let ourselves be reborn in our King of the Universe; we let ourselves be remade in his image and by his power.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause in the company of our triune God giving you new birth each moment.
  • Ask the righteous in Jesus’ parable, those with open hearts and hands to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for giving himself and rising that you may live this moment; thank him for accompanying you even when you are unaware of him; ask him to help you remember receiving help.
  • After you savor the experience of being helped, ask Jesus for grace: grace to be generous and humane, especially when you are inclined to be neither.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His prayer begs his Father to lavish divine power on us so we may do what we think is impossible:
  • to long for God’s kingdom when natural, even petty ones, preoccupy us; 
  • to be satisfied with what we have and desire what we truly need so we may help others; and
  • to do what often seems impossible for any of us—to forgive others.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Tertullian, Apology, Ch 18.
  2. St. Nedelya Church assault.
  3. His “outline[ of] his political ideology and future plans for Germany.”

Wiki-images: Last Judgment Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. CC BY-NC 3.0; Corporal Works of Mercy PD-US

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