Christ the King

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  Next week we begin a new year with the season of Advent.  The Church calendar follows a very logical progression.  We begin Advent waiting for the coming of the Christ Child.  We follow that with the Christmas season, which begins on December 24, not on the day after Thanksgiving as the retailers and advertisers would like you to believe.


After a short period of Ordinary Time we begin the season of Lent, a time of penance and reflection on Christ’s life, which is followed by Holy Week and Easter.  Again, our Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and is followed by a second period of Ordinary Time.  Obviously I’ve left out some things but the point is this.  Everything leads up to this celebration.  The year ends with our recognition that Christ is King! 


All through His life on earth people wondered who He was.  Was He a prophet?  Was He the Messiah?  Today we announce with certainty, He is all that and more.  He’s the King of the World!  Everyone, even earthly kings and presidents, answers to Him, whether they like it or not.


It’s interesting that the Solemnity of Christ the King is a fairly new feast.  It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  He wanted to affirm the “Kingly dignity of Christ” and to correct the false ideologies of nationalism, materialism, secularism, and anti-clericalism.  Sound familiar?  Let me repeat them:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

When he first established this feast, Pius called on the people to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel and to promote and defend the rights of Christ and His Church against those who were ignoring basic human rights.  Things really haven’t changed much in nearly 90 years, have they?


Cardinal Dolan recently wrote to his fellow bishops, “We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and to insure our people.”


Too many people today, just like in Pius XI’s time, seem to have forgotten who Jesus is and who they are.  Remember when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life?”  If He is the truth, then everything He said must be true.  To put it another way, if He ever said anything that wasn’t true, then nothing He said was true because He claimed to betruth.  If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, (and if you don’t, why are you here?) then you have to believe everything He said.  And one thing He said was that He would leave us a Church that’s protected from error by the Holy Spirit.  So……….if you believe in Jesus then you MUST believe in His Church and everything it teaches.  There is no such thing as a “cafeteria Catholic”.  That’s something that the media made up.


In the second reading, Paul’s first letter to the Colossians, he writes “He is the image of the invisible God.”   No one has seen God the father, but if you want to know what He looks like, take a good look at Jesus.  That’s what He looks like.  He does not look like George Burns.


“All things were created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Remember the creation story in Genesis?  He speaks everything into creation.  “Let there be light!”  Who was He talking to?  John tells us in the beginning of his Gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Jesus is the word!


“He is the head of the body, the Church.”


In Luke’s Gospel the rulers, the soldiers, and even the thief being crucified along with Christ question Him.  “If you are who you say you are, why don’t you save yourself?”  That’s a good question.  A king should be able to save himself but Jesus didn’t.  Why?  It’s what an earthly king would do.  Because, in addition to being King, He was also an obedient Son.  He knew from the very beginning that this would be His fate.  He was born so He could die for our sins.  But He also knew that this world, as good as it is, is nothing compared to Heaven.  He was the only person who ever walked the earth who knew what heaven is like.  And, He knew that by going back to heaven, He could take us with Him.  Now, that’s a benevolent King!


Sadly, as Pius XI recognized in 1925 and as you and I recognize today, some people never learn.  Remember those four things:

  • Nationalism
  • Materialism
  • Secularism
  • Anti-clericalism

They’re even worse today than they were in Pius’ day.  Why?  Because too many people fail to realize that Christ is still King.  He’s King whether we know it or not; whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not.  It doesn’t matter.

I may not believe in the law of gravity.  I may not like the law of gravity.  But if I jump off the roof of this church, I’m going to smash into the concrete sidewalk.  Truth is always truth.  It has nothing to do with my opinion.


Remember, Jesus is the truth.  He can’t lie.  And it’s a good thing.  He promises us some pretty good stuff and I, for one, am looking forward to meeting Him face to face.  Long live the King!


Clergy Assignments

priest shadow

Based on some things that have happened recently at my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the process for assigning clergy to parishes and other ministries.  Obviously, these are important decisions that can have a long-term effect on everyone involved.

First of all, the final decision on all clergy assignments in a diocese is made by the bishop.  Like any large organization, the bishop , as the  CEO, consults with a lot of people before he makes such an important call.  These consultations are very confidential.  In the course of making these choices, a lot of possible scenarios are considered.  “What if we move Father A to parish B?”  “If we do that, who gets Father A’s old position?”  “What about the current pastor of parish B?  It’s a complicated process.  Lots of possibilities are considered and rejected.  In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we might ordain a half-dozen new priests in the spring.  Placing these men in parishes might result in twenty or more new assignments.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to figure out all those moves.

Imagine, following our example, that it’s decided that Father A won’t go to parish B.  If someone unwisely had leaked this possible move to someone in the parishes involved, the rumors would fly.  “Father A is leaving!”  “Father A is coming to our parish!”  “What about Father B?  Where’s he going?”  On on, and on.  Lots of people are upset by something that’s not going to happen.

The bottom line is that until the bishop starts sending out letters to the clergy involved, nothing is set in stone.  If just one priest or deacon rejects a change in assignment, the whole process has to be redone.  Any speculation, based on early discussions, can only cause problems.

Recently a priest at a neighboring church asked me if I might be interested in moving.  I told him no.  I’m very happy where I am and I didn’t think the change he was proposing would be good for Saint John’s.  Keep in mind that this was just a priest talking to a deacon.  Archbishop Carlson wasn’t even aware of the conversation.  The next thing I knew, someone had started a rumor that I was leaving.  Like all rumors, it spread quickly, upsetting some people and making others happy.  Now it’s up to me to put out the fires.

Let’s face it; some people love their priests and deacons, some don’t.  Nothing good can come from building up people’s expectations about changes, either positive or negative.

A lot of prayer and discussion precedes any clergy moves.  What we have to remember, as faithful Catholics, is that our bishops are descended from the original twelve Apostles.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit.  Whenever they assign clergy, they are putting the men they believe to be the best fit in each position.  When priests and deacons are ordained they promise to be loyal to their bishop and his successors.  Personally, I will go where ever Archbishop Carlson wants me to go.  And until he tells me he wants me to move, I won’t speculate on what he might have in mind.  

This week’s readings give us hope.  In the Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is passing through Jericho.  But a man named Zaccaeus, a tax collector wants to see Jesus.  He’s a short man and can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree.  Jesus sees Zaccaeus and calls out to him.  “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The very first sentence tells us that He has no intention of stopping but the sight of a man in a tree, just wanting to catch a glimpse of Him moves Him to stay overnight.


It’s important for us to remember that, as much as we don’t like tax collectors in the 21st Century, in Jesus’ time tax collectors were hated and despised.  These men are Jews and they’re working for the Romans.  Not only that, but tax collectors became rich by overcharging their fellow Jews and keeping the difference.


When the crowd realized what was happening, they said “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”  A good friend of mine who just passed away last week was retired from the IRS.  So is his wife.  Nobody would look at either one of them and assume they were sinners.  They were just ordinary, good people doing their jobs, doing good works, and going to mass every Sunday.


Zacchaeus was definitely a sinner and everyone knew it.  But seeing Jesus has changed him.  He promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back anyone whom he has extorted not just what he’s taken, but four times what he’s taken.  Jesus responds “Today salvation has come to this house……For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.”


Jesus words remind us that there’s hope for all of us.  If He saves a notorious sinner like Zacchaeus, He’ll definitely save you and me.  But there is a catch.  The tax collector recognized the error of his ways and repented.  If he had just kept on doing what he was doing, there was no hope for him.  If you and I continue to sin, without repentance, there’s no hope for us either.


If we go back to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we see the Old Testament version of the same line of thought.  “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.  For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned.”  And that includes you and me.


God is love!  We know that.  He loves sinners and he loves saints.  We just celebrated All Saints Day.  You can’t throw a rock in this church without hitting a saint’s statue.  They’re a constant reminder for us.  But what do they remind us of?  Of course they remind us that we’re called to live virtuous lives.  But we should also remember that these saints weren’t perfect.  Far from it.  There’s only been one human being who never sinned and that’s the Blessed Virgin.  Cyril, Methodius, Elizabeth, and Wenceslas all sinned and they’re still recognized as saints of the church.  Why?  Because, in spite of their sinfulness, which they inherited from Adam and Eve, just as we all did, they lived virtuous lives.  They confessed their sins.  They did their best not to sin again.  But they did sin again and they confessed again.  They struggled against the evil one just like you and I do every day.


There are two kings represented in our chapel, Louis IX and Wenceslas.  Imagine having all that wealth and power.  They ruled great kingdoms.  They were in control of everything in their kingdoms.  The temptation for them to sin must have been overwhelming.  But they resisted the works of the evil one and lived virtuous lives.  Can you think of even one world leader today who might some day be declared a saint?


Here’s the thing.  God created all of us.  We’re all unique.  There never has been and never will be another person on this earth exactly like you or exactly like me.  We study the lives of the saints for inspiration, but we’re not called to be them.  Each of these great saints has already lived and died.  God made each of us for a reason.  “He loves all things that are.”  Whatever our station in life, all He wants from us is to be the best person we can be.  There’s already been a Saint Prokopius.  If we try to be him, we’ll fail.  But if we try to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, we will succeed with God’s help.


The tax collector gave half of everything he had to the poor.  That was his thing.  Is that your thing?  I don’t know, but probably not.


Saint John Nepomuk was a martyr.  That was what he was called to do.  Does God want us to be martyrs?  Again, probably not.  But if we get into a situation where that’s what’s called for, are we ready to give our lives for our faith?  I can’t answer that question.  I don’t know.


Saint Maximillion Kolbe felt that he was called to be a martyr all of his life.  In the end, he became one.  Frankly, I don’t feel that call and I hope I never do because I don’t know if I could do it.  But there are people, even today, especially in third-world countries who are dying a martyr’s death.  There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the first 19 centuries combined.


I started by saying that today’s readings give us hope.  And they do.  Jesus saved the tax collector, a notorious sinner.  That means we can be saved too.  When we stand before Jesus, He’s not going to compare us to anyone else.  He’s not going to say “you didn’t go to India and take care of the poor like Mother Teresa.”  He’s not going to condemn us because we didn’t give half of everything we own to the poor.


He’s going to look at the gifts we’ve been given and He’s going to ask us if we did the best we could with them.  Did we help the poor to the best of our ability?  Did we give some of our time to help others?  Did we share our faith with others?  Did we speak out against injustice?  And most of all, did we regularly confess our sins and do our best not to repeat them.


We have hope because we all have the ability to be our best.  That’s what God wants and we can all do it.