Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reflection—Christ the King, Cycle B

This reflection was written for my homiletics training and addresses John 18:33b–38, Daniel 7:13–14, and Rev. 1:5–8. I included John 18:38 because it contrasts with the theme of the Gospel and really helped me to delve into the irony of Pilate's question.

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
These words Jesus speaks to Pontius Pilate. Pilate has the earthly authority to send Jesus to His death, but Jesus doesn’t seem concerned that He may pay for his words with His life. He simply speaks the truth. What we do not hear in today’s reading is Pilate’s response to Jesus—three simple words: “What is truth?”
What is truth?
Did Pilate want to know the truth? I don’t think he could have cared less. Pilate wanted to assess the facts of the matter, to determine whether this Jesus of Nazareth was a threat, a criminal, a nuisance, or if these Jewish leaders were manipulating the facts for their own reasons. He didn’t care about truth. He wanted facts. But instead he got the truth.
We get a lot of facts in our daily lives, a lot of data. The news is full of facts, and the pundits all along the political spectrum are happy to provide their interpretations and opinions of what the facts reveal. More often than not, the facts are simply used to further their own agendas. The same facts are used to explain why we need high taxes and more government as well as why we need to eliminate taxes and reduce the government. There are legitimate arguments on both sides of every issue based on the facts, and it just takes a clever person to bend the facts to their will.
Facts are useful things. Facts can tell us a lot about what is, but they don’t tell us much about what ought to be. They don’t tell us the truth. The truth is sometimes not very useful and can often be downright inconvenient.
You can measure things and produce a fact. You can weigh things and produce a fact. You can record sounds and videos of events and see a sequence of facts. The facts are used by many who argue against the existence of God because facts can be verified scientifically. Many apologists for secularism and atheism try to tell us that morality can exist apart from a belief in God simply by assessing these empirical facts. But anyone who knows how the world works can see that we don’t know what we ought to do based solely on facts.
There must be a standard to measure against to determine what we ought to do. Facts can only tell us what is. They cannot lead us to a moral life and they do not, on their own, tell us what is the truth.
The facts are used to justify just about any grave evil in our world:
• The reason we why can’t feed the hungry
• The reason why we can’t protect the unborn
• The reason why we have to allow same-sex marriage
• The reason why our Catholic hospitals have to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients
• The reason why have to go to war yet again
But what is truth?
The truth is something that doesn’t come from this world. The truth predates our empirical studies and rational philosophy. The truth was established long before modern physicists hammered out the theory of quantum mechanics, long before our constitution was hammered together by a bunch of fallible men after a nasty civil rebellion, long before a misguided priest hammered a list of 95 theses on the church door of the Wittenburg Castle, long before a Roman emperor accepted Christ and hammered a stake in the heart of paganism, and long before Roman soldiers hammered spikes through the hands and feet of an innocent man and before the procurator named Pontius Pilate sent that man to his death after asking him a simple question: What is truth?
The truth was there in the beginning: the Word with God, the Word Who is God. And He became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus came to testify to the Truth because He was the only one who could truly witness to Himself, the Truth enfleshed.
You see, Pilate didn’t recognize the Truth as He stood there staring Him in the face. He didn’t recognize the difference between what is and what ought to be. In fact, Pilate was a slave to the “is”—to the powers of the world and to the politics of his situation. He knew that this man Jesus was innocent—a fact. He knew that the Jews would riot and possibly start a rebellion—a fact. And he knew the fact that a certain emperor in Rome would not want to hear that the procurator in Jerusalem was unable to keep the peace. So Pilate crucified the Truth to serve his master.
But the truth is not some thing. The truth is some body. The Truth is Jesus Christ. The Truth is the Word, the Logos, the immediate eternal thought and image of the Father. The Truth is here with us in His sacred word, and in a few minutes He will be with us again in His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
That is the truth.
How many of us live with this truth in mind? How many of us treat this truth as the absolute driving factor in our everyday plans and decisions? How many of us live as if one day we will have to face the Truth?
Daniel recognized that there would come a day to face the Truth, when one like a Son of Man would come with everlasting dominion and eternal kingship. The Book of Daniel points forward like all of Old Testament scripture to the revelation of Christ the King. Roughly 300 years later, the beloved Apostle John predicted the same return of the Son, the firstborn of the dead who freed us from our sins by His blood. John was the first to write that word logos in reference to Jesus, a word taken from the Greek philosophers who knew that there must be one transcendent Truth, even if they didn’t know who or what it was—that unknown god that the Athenians had memorialized on the Areopagus (air-ee-o-pah-gus) as mentioned in Acts 17:23. John looked the Truth in the face, dropped his fishing nets, and gave his entire life to Him.
We sometimes treat our personal opinions as if they are the truth, but then we turn around and claim, “Well what’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me,” as if truth can be one thing and its opposite at the same time. And we live these contradictions as well, claiming the right to pick and choose what we believe to be the truth.
• Whether life begins at conception
• Whether it’s okay to have sex outside of marriage
• Whether it’s okay to deny basic needs to someone on the street.
• Whether it’s okay to torture enemy combatants or disregard their dignity as human beings.
But our personal opinions are not the standard for our conduct. We have as our standard a man, the Son of Man, the king not of this world, the Truth incarnate. Our standard is not the factual brutishness of this world, but the fact that the Truth came to die for us—the fact that our king humbled Himself to be one of us; the fact that He desires mercy and not sacrifice, that He says we will be blessed when we are persecuted, that He says we should love our enemies and not just those who will love us back.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of our liturgical year. While we profess with our lips that Jesus Christ is King, the real question is whether we recognize the Truth and make it king in our lives—that we seek the Truth in all that we do, and we not only profess the Truth but make it the guiding factor in our actions, that we preach that Truth, the Gospel, in our words and deeds.
Will we be ready to face the truth? Have we put the Truth foremost in our lives? Will we recognize the Truth when we come to see Him face to face?
Do we belong to the Truth and listen to His voice?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Papa Francesco

Habemus papem! Deo gratia!

Wow. What a surprise! I had a lot of names tucked in to different papal competition tiers (just kidding), but Bergoglio was not one of them. But the more I read about him, the more I see how well he matches the needs of this time.

I am already seeing the narrative emerge that he was somehow a rival of Pope Benedict XVI because he was the runner up in the last election, as if he intended a challenge to Cardinal Ratzinger (who had no desire for the job). As it turns out, Cardinal Bergoglio was one of the strongest supporters of Ratzinger in that conclave. I can hear the popping sound of MSM talking heads exploding even now. They simply don't get the Church.

St. Francis of Assisi is my and my daughter's confirmation saint. I pray that this pope will give an example to the world that will draw them to Christ—like the example he has given to the people of Argentina in his love of the poor.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Reflection on Luke 11:14–23—Gathering and Scattering

Today, I presided over my first communion service to fulfill a requirement for formation. This is the reflection I gave on today's gospel reading.

What does it mean to be “dumb”? Maybe that’s a dumb question. One can be dumb, as in clueless, and one can be dumb as in silent. One can be deaf and mute literally because of physical impairment or figuratively because of willfulness. In the context of this gospel, we can see that the healed man is physically unable to hear the good news, and unable to transmit it. He is cut off from others, cast out, scattered from communion. Jesus reaches out to the dumb man in this gospel and gathers him back into communion.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, are willfully dumb. They attribute Jesus’ power to Beelzebul, who was a Philistine god and one whose name was particularly offensive to Jews of the time. This tactic is what philosophers call “poisoning the well.” You associate someone arbitrarily with something so commonly repulsive that people can’t help but shrink back. We see this all the time in our political discourse. How many times was our Pope emeritus Benedict tarred with such a brush for the accident of his birth and early life in Nazi Germany? Sadly, it’s such a common tactic because it so frequently works.

What did Jesus do to warrant such a charge? He did something undoubtedly good. He gave someone who was cut off from most human discourse the ability to hear and speak. To credit such good as the work of evil is itself offensive. Scripture warns about such speech in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good.” We see the this at work in our news and in our political speech, when evils that the Church condemns are proclaimed to be good because they are expedient: contraception, abortion, euthanasia. We hear popular figures denigrating Mother Theresa because of her radical ministry to the poor and dying in Calcutta. We hear our Catholic bishops slammed as misogynists because of their opposition to various modern trends. We hear messages on left and right of our political discourse condemning the wisdom of the Church as antiquated or naïve or oppressive. Of course, we should expect the Church and its teaching to be a challenge to us. It is, as Jesus was in His time, a sign of contradiction.

As Jesus frequently does, He turns the tables on the Pharisees. If Jesus drives out demons by the power of demons, Satan’s divided house cannot stand for long. The Pharisees reveal that their own houses are divided if they make such claims. Their sons also cast out demons. Does Beelzebul also aid them? Jesus warns the Pharisees, “He who is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

We also are in a time when the forces of this world attempt to scatter rather than gather, even forces within our Church. In this uncertain time before the conclave, the forces of those who scatter will try their best to scatter us. We need to resist their efforts. Instead, we can gather with Christ. We are not deaf or mute. We can hear the Word, and we can share it with others. That is, after all, the mission of the laity: to make the Word present in the world in our words and deeds.

During this interregnum, it is good that we come together to celebrate this Eucharist, even when we can’t do so in its highest form, the Mass. The Eucharist is what draws us into communion with Jesus and each other, if we let its grace touch us. During this time of uncertainty, let us put our trust in Jesus’ promise, in the gift of His Body and Blood, and in His Divine mercy.