Sunday, November 25, 2018

Miracles of the King

The Catholic Liturgy for Christ the King Sunday, November 25, 2018. Gospel: John 18:33-37. Theme: Miracles of the King

In today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation, Jesus says of Himself: “I am the One-Who-Is and the One-Who-Was and the One-Who-Is-To-Come.”  That last title - the One-Who-Is-To-Come - is a perfect image for us as we close out the old liturgical year and welcome in a new one next weekend with the First Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation for the One-Who-Is-To Come.

For a thousand years before the birth of Christ, God’s people yearned for the arrival of the Messiah, the longed-awaited-King, whom they called the “One-Who-is-to-Come”.  The prophets foretold that this Messiah-King would restore hope in their lives and would satisfy the innermost desires of those who turned to Him.  He would work awesome miracles as signs that His Kingdom, although not of this world, was indeed bursting into this world, with all of the power and presence of God, so as to grab our attention and embolden us to follow him. 

But an amazing thing is that these miracles of Christ the King, of the One-Who-Is-To-Come, are not something limited to the days when Jesus walked on earth. The Kingdom of Christ lasts forever and encompasses all people, of all time and in every place, so these miracles have been happening constantly over the past 2,000 years.  They continue to take place even today because His Kingdom is not limited - like earthly kingdoms - to one time or place in history.

As a matter of fact, literally hundreds of miracles are scrutinized by scientists and physicians every year, either at the Vatican Office for Saints or at international shrines such as Lourdes.  The hardcore evidence of these miracles that astonish science and baffle medicine is all around us – and just as in gospel times even in our day, the blind see; the crippled walk; and the dead are restored to life.

(To hear the following miracles stories, listen to the audio homily. The blind see – Gemma Di Giorgi, Sicily. The crippled walk – Serge Francois, Lourdes. The dead come back to life – James Engstrom, stillborn, Illinois.)

So, you see…miracles are all around us as the signs and proof of WHO Jesus is and WHAT He wishes to do for us. They are meant to remind us that the One-Who-is-to-Come has already arrived and He’s here among us right now...and He is ready and willing to touch and transform those who
·      open their minds to the evidence about WHO he really is…
·      who open their eyes to the proof of WHAT he can do…

·      and who open their hearts to His voice and listen to the truth.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Looking at the Bigger Picture

The Catholic Liturgy for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Nov. 18, 2018. Gospel: Mark 13:24-32. Theme: Looking at the Bigger Picture.

A very important fact we need to recall about today’s gospel is something that I mention every so often in my homilies: that we 21st century Americans (who take what we read at pretty much at face value) need to remember that when we ponder the New Testament we are we are dealing with God’s Word written in 1st century Middle-Eastern Jewish style. This means that religious truths are often conveyed to us in ways that are highly dramatic and deeply symbolic. And we have to interpret them with this understanding.

So, for example, today we listen to Jesus saying how the elements of nature will go berserk and fall into chaos, and so we 21st century Americans expect some kind of horrible cosmic cataclysm to happen. St. Mark’s 1st century audience, however, would read these very same words and realize that what Jesus is saying is that one day there will be a spectacular, world-shaking, never-seen-before event in human history, that will show forth God’s glory and power, His justice and mercy.

But I think that both Jesus (and St. Mark) are using this dramatic language to slap us upside the head, wake us up, and get our attention so that we look at the bigger picture about our human existence. All too often even we Christians – who should know better – define life only as the span of years that we spend on planet Earth.  And sadly, so many of us live and think and act as if this definition is true. The various duties and demands of everyday life tend to focus us on the material and physical aspects of our existence, and all too easily ignore or forget about that bigger picture:  the spiritual and immortal part of who we really are.

But this is so short-sighted not to mention erroneous! This is how people with no faith, people with no hope, define and live the gift of life.  But it’s not our definition because it is not what God has taught us. We know that our existence is lived out in three aspects or phases and that our physical earthly life is only 1/3 of the total picture.

The first stage of our lives is, of course, the number of years lived here on planet Earth. There’s not much to say about this because it’s something we are all doing now and each in our own way.  But throughout his Gospel teachings, Jesus is always calling us to keep in mind the bigger picture of our existence, and make choices based on love of God, love of others – because in the end the only thing that will really matter both to God and to us is how-much and how-well we have loved. And it is through our relationship with God – nourished by prayer, enlightened by the Scriptures and strengthened by the sacraments – that we can find it possible to keep on living and loving no matter what.

The second phase of our existence begins with the physical death of our bodies while our immortal souls enter into the eternal dimension of either Heaven, Purgatory or Hell.  Those in Heaven and Hell are there forever, awaiting the third phase of their existence, while those in purgatory are being purified of any selfishness that remained within them by the time they died and are thus being made ready for Heaven. During this month of November, we Catholics especially remember and pray for those who experiencing this second stage of existence in purgatory. We call them the Holy Souls because we know that Heaven is assured them; but we also call them Poor Souls because they cannot help themselves any longer, but depend upon our prayers to accompany and help them on their journey to God’s Presence. 

The third and final phase of our existence is what the Gospel is touching on today – the Second Coming of Christ - when Jesus returns and human history comes to its conclusion on earth. In a few minutes when we stand to recite the ancient Creed, we will profess our firm belief in the Return of Jesus as Judge of the living and the dead.  We proclaim that we look forward to it happening because it will bring about our own resurrection from the dead as we enter eternal life reunited in both body and soul.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of our Church, tells us that when our resurrection happens, each one of us will receive glorious bodies such as Jesus received on the first Easter Sunday. We will be able to pass through solid objects, travel at the speed of thought and never know pain, sickness or death again. This is what the Scriptures call the crown of glory, the reward of eternal life, that is promised by God to all who live their lives on earth doing their best to love and serve Him whom they cannot see, by loving and serving their neighbor whom they can see.

You know, the early Christians found a very good example in nature to remind them about this bigger picture of human life: the 3-stage life cycle of the butterfly. As a caterpillar, it reminded them of our life here on earth, trudging to get by day-by-day. The cocoon stage made them think of the tomb, the hidden phase, alive but unseen. And finally, they saw in the butterfly the beautiful resurrected persons they were meant to become. Let’s beg God for the grace to be faithful so that we, too, can emerge one day from our cocoons as glorious awesome resurrected disciples when Christ comes again.