Sunday, November 24, 2019

Viva Cristo Rey! Long Live Christ the King!

Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Nov. 24, 2019. Gospel of Luke 23:35-43.  Theme: Long Live Christ the King!

At 10 a.m. on Nov. 23, 1927, a 36-year old Jesuit priest, who was among the most wanted men in Mexico, was taken from his death-row cell and marched across the prison yard to the place of execution. As he walked he held a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other.  One of the guards approached him and with tears in his eyes begged forgiveness for his participation in the tragic event. Reaching out to him, the condemned priest said, “Not only do I forgive you, but I also thank you.”
Upon arrival at the wall of execution, the priest asked permission to pray before being executed. Kneeling before the wall which was riddled with bullet holes from previous executions, he asked God for the grace to be faithful to the end. Then, he stood up, extended his arms in the form of a cross and, facing the firing squad, exclaimed in a loud, but calm and steady voice: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
Shots rang out and the priest fell to the ground. I am sure Jesus said to him the very same words spoken to the thief on the cross in today’s gospel: “This day you will be with me in paradise.”  To the surprise and humiliation of the government authorities - and despite the dangers of persecution - 60,000 Catholics attended the heroic priest’s funeral. Since public religious services we outlawed, the prayers were led by the martyr’s own grieving father.  And throughout the ceremony the defiant prayerful last words of the martyr we repeatedly shouted: “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
The priest was Father Miguel Pro, whom we now honor as a martyr and saint. His feast day was just observed yesterday, the date of his death. Born and raised amidst the bloody religious persecution of Catholics in Mexico in the 1920’s, he actually lived for a short time not too far from here in Los Gatos. He had become the most wanted man in Mexico precisely because he believed with all his heart in the meaning and purpose of the solemnity we are celebrating today: that Christ the King is Lord of all things including politics and public social life, and that no earthly government or authority has the right to deny people their religious liberty.
Blessed Miquel knew that our faith in Christ is not meant to be kept within the walls of a church or confined politely to our private lives.  He ministered amidst constant danger in a land whose laws forbid people to express and display their faith in public. He preached by his life and testified by his death that our relationship with Christ and our commitment to live his gospel is to be influential in all that we do, 7 days a week, and is not to be reserved just for Sundays, or confined to the walls of a church, or kept politely within the parameters of our private lives.
His words and witness remind us that our allegiance to Christ the King, if it flows from a real life-giving faith, must influence and guide us just as much in our civil life and politics, as it does in our private lives.  Our decisions and behavior must reflect our relationship with Jesus in all that we are and do, at home and at work, in business and in the trades, in law and politics, in education and in entertainment.  We want the social reign of Christ the King to influence every aspect of our culture because we know his kingship is based upon truth and love and forms the sure foundation for a truly human life.  
The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King reminds us that as Christians, we have a solemn duty to bring the light and truth of Christ into the public arena.  And in our nation as a democratic republic, this means that we must express our faith at the ballot box so that the rights of all citizens and peoples can be upheld. What a glaring difference this is from some public figures and politicians these days who on one hand declare quite openly that they are Catholic and yet, on the other hand assure us that they will not let their faith have any influence over their public service and decisions!  

Blessed Miguel once said, and I quote, “We ought to speak, to shout out against injustices, with confidence and without fear. We proclaim the principles of the Church, the reign of love, without forgetting that it is also a reign of justice.”  And so, we cannot be silent even if our laws and our culture tell us to keep our faith to ourselves. We speak out so that the Lordship of Christ the King can transform our society into something beautiful for God and for the human family. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”
(Below are actual photographs of the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Maranatha Missionary Discipleship

Catholic Liturgy for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Nov. 17, 2019. Gospel of Luke 21:5-19. Theme: Maranatha!

When will the end of the world happen?  That’ what the people were asking Jesus in today’s Gospel and what many have been trying to figure for a very long time.  And this is because all of the confusion, violence and destruction that Jesus describes as being associated with the end has always been present in human history. These are part and parcel of the kind of world we have built with our greed and thirst for power, along with the whole host of human sins and selfishness. In every era people think that things can’t get much worse, so we must be nearing the end.

  • ·       The ancient Romans had a legend that it would be in 634 BC.
  • ·       Pope Sylvester II thought it might be the year 1000 AD, to coincide with the close of the first thousand years of Christianity.
  • ·       Martin Luther said the end would come no later than 1600AD, while Billy Graham preached that it would arrive in the 1950’s. 
  • ·    Just about 20 years ago, everyone thought the Y2K bug would cause a worldwide net catastrophe bringing about the end of the world as we knew it.
  • ·       And then there was that fad several years ago that interpreted the ancient Mayan calendar as foretelling that the end would be on Dec. 21, 2012. 

But the bottom is that we really do not know!  But what we do know from Jesus himself is that it will surely come.  And we Catholics have several other names for it besides “end of the world”: we also call it the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, or simply, the last day.

But no matter what it’s called, it was not something that the early Christians feared.  Rather, it was something that they eagerly prayed for! They longed and yearned for this end, knowing that it would really be a beginning because it would bring about a new world rooted in peace, justice and love.  They knew it would be the glorious conclusion to Jesus’ mission of establishing the Kingdom of God among us, and that all remnants of evil and sin would be destroyed once and for all. No more sorrow. No more suffering. No more death.

So, you see, the early Christians could not wait until the Risen Lord returned! As a matter of fact, besides the “Our Father”, the most ancient prayer that we have preserved from them is a simple one word prayer that goes like this: Maranatha! Which means “Come Lord Jesus!” 

But in the meantime, until the end finally does arrive, Christ expects us to be busy with laying the foundation for the Kingdom of God on earth. This means that we each do what we can, in our own place and in our own way, to promote peace where there is division; to seek justice and stand up for the voiceless and the vulnerable; to care with compassion for those who suffer in any way, and to build a culture of life and love that is consistent with the Gospel values he has given us.  

Jesus informs us in today’s Gospel that those of us who commit to building this Kingdom will indeed be persecuted just as he was.  He warns us that this persecution that can come even from family and friends who may exclude us or ridicule us or heckle us because of our faith in Christ and our attachment to his Church.  He doesn’t want to hide this truth from us but assures us that he will be with us through it all, encouraging us to not give up. He promises that the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to keep on keeping on even when the going gets tough and others stand up against us.  We have a whole host of Christian heroes and martyrs who prove that his words were true.

If we do not have an intimate personal relationship with Jesus as our living Risen Lord, we will not be strong enough to keep on witnessing, to keep on building the Kingdom.  Simply put, we will not be prepared and able to withstand persecution of whatever kind that will come our way.  And so, we must each become very familiar with Jesus, through personal prayer, through his Eucharistic Real Presence, and through the Gospels by reading and reflecting on them often.  We must know them so well that we ourselves can become “living gospels”, which is perhaps the only form of a gospel that others will read, so to speak.  Then when people interact with us, they can be positively moved by their relationships with us and be drawn to learn more about this Jesus of Nazareth whom we follow. This is what Pope Francis hopes for and means when he repeatedly calls us to be “missionary disciples” witnessing to Jesus in every aspect of our lives.

At the end of every Mass, Jesus sends us out to be his witnesses among others. As a matter of fact, the very name for our worship, Mass, comes from the Latin word “missa” which means “sent out” which is, of course, the definition of a missionary. This is why every Mass ends with the deacon usually saying either “go and announce the gospel of the Lord” or “go in peace glorifying God by your life”?   

These are not simply polite ways to dismiss people from Mass.  These are words of mission, of being sending forth.  And they were intentionally put there to remind us of our baptismal calling to go out among others to witness to Christ, to build the Kingdom.  Having heard the Word of God proclaimed and explained, and having become one with Jesus truly present in Holy Communion, we are sent out from the Mass to invite others to share in this relationship with Christ.  

So, let’s ask the Lord today to make us truly committed missionary disciples among those with whom we live, work and socialize, because we love them and we want them to also share in the joy and fulfilment of the life to come when Jesus returns in glory.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Sure & Certain Hope

Catholic Liturgy for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Nov. 10, 2019. Gospel of Luke 20:27-38. Theme: A Sure and Certain Hope

Just a few years ago we were horrified to see a choreographed ISIS propaganda video of 21 Christian men, all dressed in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on a beach in Libya. One by one they were asked to deny Christ and one by one, to a man, they refused. Instead they began praying aloud, encouraging one another. Their executioners then did their evil deed. What would enable these men to choose martyrdom over denial? How could they choose death with such serenity as is seen on their faces?

The Gospel of Jesus we heard today and the words of faith spoken by the seven brothers in our first reading, answers these questions for us.  They remind us that the immortality of our souls and the future resurrection of our bodies from the grave are not a “maybe” or an “I hope so”; they are not fantasy nor wishful thinking, but are a sure and certain reality.

These 21 men professed their faith in this reality while kneeling on that beach.  And we profess our faith in this reality every Sunday when we stand to recite the Creed, declaring that we “believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Our liturgy this morning call our attention to a topic that is very much avoided by our culture: death and what happens to us afterwards. Actually, maybe I am wrong in saying that we avoid this topic. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that go to great lengths to pretend that it doesn’t exist.  Our culture encourages us to deny our true age, masquerade our maturing looks, and manipulate anything that reminds us that we are on a trajectory that will bring our lives to their natural end on planet Earth.

Now, there’s nothing wrong at all with wanting to look our best, be fit and healthy, and make the most out of the gift of life. But we need to do these things with a realistic outlook and a firm faith in who we are as the children of God.  And as Christians, a healthy realistic outlook includes the sure and certain hope that physical death is not the end to our existence, but rather, the beginning of its fullness. It is the conviction that when the first part of our existence, our time on planet Earth, has ended, we move on to a new mode of living, a new way of being in relationship with God and one another.

Those 21 men boldly proclaimed with their lives that God has destroyed the sting, the power, of death for those who are in relationship with Christ.  He himself came in the flesh as one of us, so that precisely as one of us, fully human yet still fully divine, he could pass through death himself in order to conquer it by his Resurrection.  And an awesome part of this reality is that Christ gives this very same victory over death to all who become united with him by baptism. 

This is why it is so important for us to always remember that because of our baptismal relationship, a Christian does not merely die.  A Christian dies in Christ. And those two words, “in Christ” make all the difference in the world!  Because at baptism we were signed with the cross and claimed by Christ as his very own.  At baptism, God literally snatched us from the kingdom of darkness and death and transferred us into the Kingdom of Christ our Light and Life. This means that we do not belong to death. We belong to Christ!  This means that for the believing Christian death has been changed from a tragedy into a triumph!

And furthermore, our faith informs us that eventually this fuller life will include not just our immortal souls but also our glorified risen bodies! Because we belong the Christ and have become one with him in baptism, God who is all-powerful will raise us up just as he rose Christ up from the dead.   The New Testament assures us of this and informs us that we shall live a very real life in a very real place which the Bible calls “a new heaven and a new earth”.

It was this faith, this sure and certain hope of eternal life and resurrection, that enabled those 21 men kneeling on a Libyan beach to not be silent and afraid in the face of death, as are those who do not have faith.  With them we speak out with our voices and with our lives that we believe in the resurrection of the dead.  And we know that whatever we may have to endure for the sake of our fidelity to Jesus and his teachings in this world, is nothing compared to the glory, the joy and the total fulfilment awaiting us in the life to come.