Saturday, November 21, 2015
I have the honor of being invited by Archbishop Meyers to deliver the homily at a 6:00 p.m. mass he is celebrating in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Saturday evening, Nov. 21, for the consecrated religious of the Archdiocese of Newark. Here’s the text as it stands a few hours ahead of time.
CHRIST THE KING HOMILY NOV. 21, 2015 - Basilica Cathedral
The most gripping of all the plot devices used in the movies, from High Noon to Star Wars, has always been “the showdown.” Everything in the film has been leading up to this dramatic climax, when “our hero”at last comes face to face with the villain in a final confrontation.
In this evening’s gospel reading St. John describes one of the greatest showdowns ever: the confrontation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Picture the two men staring at one another -- Imagine the powerful close-ups! The Kingdom of Caesar confronting the Kingdom of God; brute military power confronting gentle, selfless love.
Sisters and brothers, there’s no mistaking what’s really at stake here: this is all about POWER. On the surface, of course, this showdown seems awfully one-sided: Pilate, as the representative of the mighty Roman Empire, wields a staggering amount of power. Just look at the number of his soldiers, the richness of his palace. And facing him is Jesus, a beaten, bound, and helpless prisoner. Now of course we, the audience, know that there is a whole lot more going on beneath the surface; In reality, Jesus possesses a power that is far greater than Pontius Pilate’s, greater than all the human power in the world.
It’s the power that we are celebrating on this Solemnity of Christ the King: Beyond Pontius Pilate’s comprehension, it is a radically new kind of in suffering and self-effacement -- which is something that Pilate could never understand -- but is a power that easily surpasses every other kind of power, because it is from a totally different realm: the POWER OF SELF-GIVING LOVE.
Although the kingdom of self-giving love may, as Jesus tells Pilate, not be “of this world,” we can still find it and even establish it “in the world.” In fact, it's the responsibility of every Christian in the world to work toward building that kingdom of love, to struggle to make Christ present in the world.
We Consecrated religious, it seems to me, have always had an important role in making real the hidden kingdom of God in this world. Our founders and foundresses all agreed that Christ’s kingdom of self-giving love is not “of this world,” but they set about uncovering and indeed establishing this kingdom “in the world.
Our various religious orders and institutes have been demonstrating for centuries dozens of different ways of establishing the Kingdom of Christ on earth and of celebrating the presence of God’s love in this world;
This was already true, for example in the desert of northern Egypt in the earliest days of monasticism: A young monk came to his wise abba with this question: “One monk fasts several days a week and does penance every day, while another monk takes care of the sick. Which of the two is more pleasing to God?” The old abbot answered him: “If the one who does all that fasting were to hang himself up by his nose he could not equal the merit of the one who cares for the sick.” That monk who took care of the sick was
making the kingdom of self-giving love present on this earth.
Didn’t Elizabeth Ann Seton have this same Kingdom in mind when she told her sisters that their chapel was the bedside of the sick?
And surely Francis of Assisi knew that he was making the Kingdom a reality in the world when he kissed that leper.
And we can be certain that Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul
knew very well that they were
making Christ’s kingdom present in the world
as they worked tirelessly, organizing ways of feeding the hungry, housing the orphaned and caring for the sick.
The contemplative tradition of consecrated religious, too, shows this same loving concern for our present world and all those who live in it. Just a couple of weeks ago we welcomed in this very place the relics of a young cloistered Carmelite, St. Therese of Lisieux, who prayed every day for missionaries in the world, and who promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth.
We consecrated religious have a unique opportunity to show this radically different power of self-giving love at work, to a world that has forgotten God, forgotten how to love. Although much of our apostolic work makes sense on a practical humanitarian level,even to people who don’t share our faith, all of us are here this evening because we know that there is a secret ingredient in our vocation, a hidden dimension behind all of our apostolic activity and all of our community living. It is the very same power that is at work in the showdown between Jesus and Pilate in this evening’s gospel passage, namely, the invincible, unconquerable power of a kingdom that is not of this world. It is the power of Christ’s self-offering on the cross.
The power of Christ’s suffering and death is the secret behind Damien of Molokai’s heroic work among the lepers. The power of Christ’s suffering and death is the secret behind Mother Teresa’s tireless work for the forgotten and the dying rejects in the streets of Calcutta. The power of Christ’s suffering and death is the secret behind the incredible humility and selfless love of Josephine Bakhita, Martin de Porres, and thousands of others, most of them unremembered, who have made Christ’s Kingdom a reality on earth.
My sisters and brothers, our own consecrated religious lives, too, must be consciously lived in the shadow of the cross. If we are to witness to the Kingdom of God, we need to be constantly nourishing our lives with a prayerful, intimate relationship with Jesus. As we witness the showdown between Pilate and Jesus this evening, we consecrated religious are reminded that our livesmake no sense to the Pontius Pilates of this world. But in the mysterious dimension of the cross of Christ the King, from the point of view of the Kingdom of self-giving love, our lives of consecrated, self-giving love not only make perfect sense, but are one of God’s most beautiful gifts to the Church and to world!
So, let this Solemnity of Christ our King serve as an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to work toward bringing His kingdom to earth to allow God’s power, the invincible power of self-giving love, to take flesh in friaries and convents and monasteries or wherever we may live, in the hospitals, prisons, and orphanages, where we serve the suffering christ,in schools and offices, and wherever we make his loving presence real for others.
We are involved in a showdown ourselves, with a culture no less pagan and
no less powerful than Pontius Pilate’s. How can we ever speak to a world that measures everything in terms of money and consumer goods? By living joyfully our lives of vowed poverty.
How can we ever speak to a world that is dedicated to self-centered gratification and the pursuit of pleasure? By living generously and joyfully our lives of vowed Chastity.
How can we ever speak to a world that is based on self-will and the arrogant abuse of power? By living joyfully and humbly
our lives of vowed obedience.
But, let us be sure to follow the encouraging advice of our Holy Father Pope Francis and always do our proclaiming in a spirit of joy. On this solemn feast of Christ the King, Let us go forth,and awake the world!
wake the world with unending words of joy!