Christ, The King

We have reached the end of the Liturgical year with the celebration of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It was a Feast instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, in response to social unrest in Europe with the rise of secularism and nationalism. The institution of this Feast was a reflection of the role the church played back then in terms of temporal—earthly—political power. It may be a difficult concept to celebrate today.

Instead of celebrating the power of Christ, some may think of this Feast as a way to celebrate the power of the Church, perhaps with a sense of nostalgia for an influence we do not have anymore. But Christ the King is really a celebration of the power of Christ, which is not a power based on political authority, but the power of service, and service to the most in need, as we read in the powerful gospel that we read this weekend: Matthew’s Judgment of the Nations.

The first point to make is obvious: We cannot live our faith without the obligation it places on us, individuals and communities, to care for those most in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the stranger, those in prison. Taking care of the needy is an essential part of our faith. The gospel also tells us in clear terms that, at the end of our lives, we will be judged according to the way we have cared for those most in need. We will not be asked how many Masses we went to—even though going to Mass helps—or how many rosaries we prayed—even though that should help also.

The “goats” in the gospel fail to recognize Christ in the “least ones.” They did not see the face of God on those who suffer. But what is very interesting in this gospel is that the “sheep” did not recognize Jesus either; they did not help the “least ones” thinking they were earning anything. They just alleviate suffering because it is what they felt they had to do.  They simply could not help helping. They did not feel they were fulfilling some religious obligation. They certainly were not keeping score of how many people they were helping, or how many hours a week…For them, it was a way of life.

A couple of months ago, we preached about the credit card mentality. We go to Mass, or we pray a rosary, or we go to Eucharistic Adoration with the mentality that we are earning heaven points. Many of us understand the need to translate faith into actually helping those most in need, but we may still keep score, we may still think that we are earning salvation. We may still expect some heaven points for helping the needy an hour a week… We may help the poor, but we are really thinking, perhaps unconsciously, about helping ourselves, working towards our own salvation. It is better than nothing, certainly, but not the way Jesus thought. What else would we expect from a King whose throne is a Cross?


We Are God’s Investment

It is just one more Sunday before we reach the Feast of Christ the King, and the end of the liturgical year. The lectionary offers a great gospel—the Parable of the Talents—to kind of “wrap things up.” The famous Parable of the Talents brings together many of the concepts we have reflected about in this blog and in the homilies during this year dedicated to Matthew’s gospel. The homily can be summarized in one sentence: We are God’s investment.

I believe strongly in the idea that sometimes, when we have an ongoing problem, all we need is a new framework, as theoretical as this may be. I believe the biggest problem we have, as Christians of the 21st century in an affluent society is complacency, in life and in faith. The parable this weekend may help us to provide a framework, a new way to look at our faith that may help us to fight complacency: We are God’s investment.

To capture the depth of this parable we may have to dissect it a bit. We have to notice first that, unlike many of the parables we have read this year, Jesus is speaking to his disciples (not to the Pharisees or the chief priests.) Therefore, Jesus is teaching discipleship. Then, in parables we have characters. The one representing God is the “man leaving on a journey” who entrusts his possessions, the talents, to his servants (yes, a disciple serves.) God is not a micro-manager. We are the servants, and the first thing we need to notice about ourselves is that everyone receives something. There is no character in the parable that does not receive something. To be precise, the master does not give but entrusts.

Two of the servants understand that what the master gave them was an investment, and they act accordingly. They take possession of what has been entrusted to them. Upon returning, the master is happy that they produced in proportion with what they had received. God is not asking us to multiply what we receive by the thousands, He is only asking us to produce in proportion with what we have received.

One of the servants acts out of fear, and fear keeps him from giving back. Also look at his image of God, an image of God inspired by fear: “I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.” Emphasis should be placed on the “your talent.” Out of fear, this last servant has not taken ownership of what was entrusted to him.

God has given us everything with have. He has entrusted us with talents and abilities, a faith, and people who populate our lives–because the biggest gift that has been entrusted to us is our ability to love. Even our faith community is something that has been entrusted to us. God does not want to harvest where He does not plant, but He is indeed demanding. I believe the day I die I will be asked about what I did with the talents, the abilities, the faith, and the people who were placed in my life. What will my return be?

During the homily, I gave a personal example. I was assigned to a parish and I believe I will be asked what I did with it. God has invested me, with my talents and my shortcomings, in this specific place. Because I am God’s investment.

God left us the earthly Kingdom to be built. It is for us to take possession of what we have received, without fear of losing something, or enraging God. When we die, what else would we want to hear than God calling our name and telling us, “You have been a good and faithful servant, come share in my joy.”

[It was Stewardship-Commitment Sunday at Sacred Heart this week. The image on this blog is what we put together for the campaign. You can also watch our 2015 Stewardship video at The theme was IMAGINE. Thankful for the present, but imagining together what we can become.]


The Jesus of Conflict

As it happens several times during the liturgical year, the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, trumped the celebration of the Sunday in Ordinary Time. It also happened last weekend, when the Feast of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) was celebrated. The priority of the Feast over the Ordinary Sunday may have been a bit more understandable last week. Why are we celebrating the dedication of a building in Rome? Are we not about people, the Temples of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, and not about buildings?

The Lateran Basilica is not just any building. Dedicated in 324 AD, it is the first church built in the West. The Basilica is actually the Cathedral of Rome, the Parish church of the Holy Father—and not Saint Peter’s in the Vatican. This celebration reminds us of our relationship to buildings we call Sacred, of our union with the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, and of our Catholicity—which means international, all-embracing.

The gospel for the feast is a powerful one. It narrates Jesus’ prophetic gesture of the cleansing of the Temple. It may be difficult for us to understand the significance of the Temple for the Jewish people, and for Jesus himself. Instead of being the symbol of a life-giving institution, as so beautifully described by Ezekiel in the first reading, Jesus finds the Temple has become a place of corruption and oppression. The House of His Father has been turned into a marketplace, where the plain people are oppressed through the Temple Tax and unreasonable religious obligations. There is no other way to understand the scene: Jesus is upset. We believe Jesus was like us, human, in anything but sin, so Jesus did not sin. Therefore, being angry for certain important things, and acting upon it as a way to break a deadlock of injustice, is not a sin.

The contrary may be true: That some things do not upset us, when they should, that is a sin. That we get upset about things of no importance whatsoever, that is a sin. That we settle, and let things go on, just to keep the peace and a false harmony, that is a sin.

Jesus knew the Temple needed a cleansing. Sometimes the only way to build up is to destroy, so that things can be again what they are supposed to be. There are many situations in our lives, in our relationships, in our communities, and in our society that need cleansing. We cannot just settle for a peace that has no value. We have to gather the courage when we see that change is needed. I believe this is the main lesson of today’s gospel, and it is indeed a difficult one. Ask anyone how do they relate faith to conflict.

How difficult it is to relate to the Jesus of the Cleansing. Much more difficult than to relate with the Jesus the Teacher, or Jesus the Friend of the Poor, or to the bucolic images of Baby Jesus in Bethlehem… We have tamed the image of Jesus, and so we have difficulties understanding the role that conflict, and righteous anger, should play in our lives and in our faith.

Blog Pic, Temple cleansing

All Saints, All Souls: The Call Within

It has been an intense weekend with these two very significant celebrations back-to-back: All Saints on Saturday and All the Faithful Departed (All Souls) on Sunday. Obviously, these two celebrations are connected, as both are celebrations of those who have preceded us in faith.

On the feast of All Saints, we reflected about it being a celebration with two dimensions. On the one hand, external to us, we celebrate the Saints who, recognized officially or not by the Church, are examples for us and intercede for us. But the Feast also has something that is internal for us, in that we recognize and celebrate our own call to holiness, our own call to become saints. About this, we proposed that perhaps if we name the call to “holiness” a call to become the best person we can be, we would feel that it sounds much more attainable, much more possible for us. Becoming the best version of ourselves is to become the person God created us to be.

As we have also reflected in the past, for this feast the Church proposes the gospel of The Beatitudes. If we want to be just “ok” people, then we just follow the Commandments. But if we want to be Saints, then we follow the Beatitudes. The Commandments are mainly prohibitions, a series of “don’t-s,” whereas the Beatitudes are the “do’s.” Compare the simple “do not kill” or “do not steal” with the “do make peace” or “do make justice.”

The feast of All Saints also has two dimensions. Externally, we celebrate those who have preceded us in life and in faith. In many ways, their real personalities have emerged now in ways that we were not able to perceive shortly after their deaths, because of the pain and sadness. But there also is an internal dimension, a call for us, namely, the call to embrace our own death.

I believe the ultimate goal of any human being and of any Christian is to embrace our mortality, our death. Only if we embrace our death are we really able to embrace fully our lives. We should also reflect individually more often about our death, and talk about it with those around us. Despite being one of the inevitable parts of our lives, we live as if we were not going to die.

If death, and not any death but ours, would be more familiar to us, I believe we would all be more able to deal with it. This feast of All Souls makes me remember many funerals I have attended as a priest. There are some that truly become opportunities for joy, for a real celebration of someone’s life. There may be sadness, but there is certain thankfulness. The death of that person becomes a gift for his or her loved ones. There are other funerals that are the opposite — sometimes because of the inevitable circumstances (the death of a child or a young person), but other times it is just because many die the way they live. If our lives are filled with regret, bitterness, aggression, etc., our deaths cannot become a gift to our loved ones. And again, that should be one of our goals on earth—to give our death away.

Blog Pic, All Saints + All Souls