Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christus Regnat!

Readings for Sunday, November 25/ Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe:
Daniel 7:13-14
Psalm 93:1, 2, 5
Revelation 1:5-8
John 18:33-37

As we come to the close of the liturgical year we honor Our Lord Jesus Christ under the title of King of the Universe, for indeed He is our great king and “ruler of the kings of the earth.” But why this solemn feast?

The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe was instituted not so long ago, only in 1929, as compared to most other feasts that date back many centuries, even to the Apostles. At that time, Pope Pius XI saw tin the world around him a radical secularization, as God and faith were being increasingly removed from the public forum and often mocked from those in power. To combat this tendency, Pope Pius instituted this solemn feast – the highest rank of liturgical celebration in the Church – in order to emphasize to Catholics and people all throughout the world that not only does God belong in the public forum, He is Himself the foundation of all that we do and He has absolute power over all creation, including those who claim earthly power. He is indeed the King of the Universe!

Often when we think of kings we think of those men who are less than honorable figures in society. While there certainly have been some great Catholic kings in the past two hundred years, the greater majority are characterized by a certain self-seeking attitude. The kingly authority is something they relish in and flaunt their authority over those subject to them. Sometimes by military strength, other times by birth or by election, they assume an authority and must fight to defend it. But in the end, every earthly king will pass away, his crown be given to another after him, and his name be forgotten in history.

But Christ comes to us with a new type of kingship, something utterly different. In saying “My kingdom is not of this world” He reveals to us this difference – that His kingdom is a heavenly one. He knew this long before and even gave us a hint earlier in His life, as we see in John 6 at the feeding of the 5000. After He had worked this great miracle the people immediately start seeking the Lord out in order to make Him their king, but He knows that this is foolishness because doing such would be settling for a lower authority than awaits Him, so he flees. His Kingdom is surely on the Earth – it is around us and within us – but it is not of the Earth.

As we look at our readings today we see three distinguishing features of this Heavenly Kingship that Christ Jesus exercises. First, His authority is not taken but received. The reading from the prophet Daniel describes this but in mystical terms. The Book of Daniel is a mysterious one in which Daniel has visions of Heaven. One such vision, immediately preceding the passage we heard proclaimed, is one in which various beasts rise up and flaunt their power and authority over one another. But then something happens that changes it all: One like a son of man comes on the clouds. As people on Earth, coming on the clouds means looking up for one coming down. But since Daniel’s vision was a Heavenly one, it seems more that the one coming on the clouds is coming up to Heaven. This is Our Lord Jesus coming on the clouds of Heaven in His Ascension from the Earth. After conquering death by His Glorious Resurrection, Our Lord merits the Kingship bestowed upon Him, and receives it; a Kingship that is unending and unmatched.

The second distinguishing feature of Christ’s Kingship is that it is eternal. Unlike all earthly rulers, Christ, because He is the eternal God, exercises a Kingship that does not pass away and that encompasses all places and all times. He is the King of a thousand ages past, the King of all the future, and the King of each of us! And here we are led to that final difference in the Kingship of Christ, and arguably the most difficult: service.

Bl. Miguel Pro - Viva Cristo Rey!
A king had the authority to have anything he desired – food, property, wives, possessions. But Christ the King comes as a servant and slave to all. Just days before His victory over death and sin, He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Where most men would enter on noble animals and great beasts to show their greatness and power, Christ came on a humble donkey, despite the fact that He Himself had more authority than any other. Moreover, His entire goal in coming was to testify to the Truth, essentially to draw people to Himself, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He calls us to draw close to Him not only for this short time on Earth, but also for the whole of eternity. And He draws us closer, day by day, by His grace poured out for us on the Cross and by the gift of the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. What a humble servant we have in our great and glorious king! Indeed, He is the King of the Universe! May He reign forever in our world! May He reign forever in our hearts! 

For your listening pleasure, here are two of my favorite versions of Christus Vincit! Christus Regnat! Christus Imperat! (Christ Conquers! Christ Reigns! Christ Commands!)

***The song has many variations, but HERE is one translation to help give more understanding.***

And for a little humor...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lessons from Fig Trees

Readings for Sunday, November 18/ 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Once when I was around twelve years old or so my parents went to one of the LSU games and left me home for the evening. I got permission for my best friend Stephen to come over but my parents made the point clear that we couldn’t go swimming in our pool and I wasn’t to leave the house. I told them I’d be good and they went off to the game. Thinking I was smart, I calculated the time they’d be gone and figured I had at least 5 hours to do whatever I wanted before they returned home late that night. So, Stephen and I called some friends over, we all went swimming and then we left and went riding bikes around Stephen’s subdivision. As we passed by Stephen’s house during our little excursion his mom came outside and told me, “Brent, your parents just called and said they want you home.” I rode back home, walked through the pool water soaked back porch and into the kitchen where my parents were waiting. I had no excuse, nothing to say. I just went to my room to await whatever punishment and grounding was inevitably headed my way.

Nowhere in my brilliant calculations had I considered the possibility that my parents might leave early. Never did the thought cross my mind that they’d leave after halftime because the Tigers were doing so well; I figure four quarters of football meant they’d be there for all four quarters. I was wrong and I was totally caught off guard when I realized that they were home and I wasn’t.

Looking around at the world today, it seems to me that far too many of us are out riding our bikes and we are absolutely unprepared for what is inevitably coming our way. The Lord reminds us today in the Gospel that though we know not the day or the hour, He will return. It could be tomorrow, next week, a hundred years from now or it could be before I finish this homily. He is going to come in glory and judgment for each of us, and the Lord challenges us to be prepared.

The problem, though, is that there are so many things going on in the world around us that we get caught up in those things and lose sight of the main thing. We get consumed with sports, fashions, and all the latest news, gossip, and fashion. We get prepared for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and for all that comes with it. And in the midst of all that preparation it’s easy to lose sight of the most important preparation of all – that of our soul. We forget that He really is coming back. Without really being conscious of is we seem to tell ourselves that He hasn’t come back yet and it’s been 2000 years – surely we have more time. And we might. But we almost might be wrong like I was with my parents. So we must prepare our hearts to be ready for whenever He does come. We must strive for holiness, to be saints on earth who long to be brought up to Heaven.

And to do this we must put the desires of our heart into action. This is why the Lord calls to mind the image of the fig tree in the Gospel today. Many of the trees in that region were evergreens – they stayed the same year round with little change in them. But the fig tree changed visibly. It’s branches would change and leaves would sprout as summer drew near. In the same way, our lives ought to be visibly changing little by little as we are perpetually drawing near to the return of Christ in glory. As the weeks and years go by people should see the change in us that leads them to the understanding of the Lord’s coming in the same way the fig tree indicates summer.

'Fig Tree' by Yvonne Ayoub
All of us want to improve ourselves, to become better people – better parents, better spouses, better children, and a whole variety of other things. We know those places in our lives that need to change and we have the desire to change them, but the reality is – and you know it as well as I do – that we aren’t going to change unless we actually begin to put out desires into concrete actions. At our priest retreat this year Bishop James Tamayo from Laredo, Texas challenged us on this point. He said ‘You want to pray more? Good. Make a concrete resolution. Every day at twelve noon I will stop what I’m doing and pray for 15 minutes. Or everyday from 6 to 7 in the morning I will be at prayer in the church.’ This was just one example, but it’s a clear one. If we want to change something about ourselves, to grow in a virtue or cut our a bad habit, we have to make it concrete so we can measure it and push ourselves when we start to fall away from it.  So I want to challenge each of you, and myself, to spend some time in prayer this week to find that one thing we want to change right now and come up with a concrete way to change it, then hold ourselves accountable to that in the coming weeks and months. We need not worry about having the strength to do it because God will provide that. If He permits the simple fig tree to change itself based on the coming of seasons, how much more would He bless us who are created in His own image and likeness with an abundance of grace to conform ourselves more to His Will in preparation for the Lord’s return? He has been faithful and He will be faithful to us. And as we continue to change things in ourselves one by one, surely when the Lord comes or when He calls us to Himself, we will not be caught off guard and unprepared, but rather fully prepared and happy to finally behold the face which we have longed to see. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nun Update

Over the past 8 months or so you may noticed my two posts (HERE and HERE) about helping a few young women with their debt, which would enable them to enter religious life. It is with great joy that I report that all three of the young women have since raised all of the funds needed and have entered religious life. I will actually have the chance to meet Sister Pam and Sister Alex when I go up to Washington, D.C. for their investiture ceremony on December 7, in which two good friends (Sister Brooke and Sister Angelique) will also be invested for the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Thank you for your support - both financial and spiritual. And please keep them in your prayers as they soon take the next step in their religious vocation. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Your input, please!

Hello all! I know that there are at least a hand of you out there who read this blog with some regularity and for that I am humbled and grateful. I have been thinking for a while about adding in a new element. Until now I have posted my weekend homilies regularly and sporadically posted quotes and other relevant (to me) links. I've been thinking of adding a little series on 'Half-Way Prayers' on Wednesdays.
My rationale: Advent and Lent both have special Sundays (3rd Sunday of Advent & 4th Sunday of Lent) dedicated to being a little 'pick-me-up' to encourage us as we go through these penitential seasons. My Breviarium Romanum (pre-1962 book of daily prayers) points out that Wednesday is the day each week where we can take stock of how things have done and, breathing a little, plow forward through the rest of the week. My thought was to take each Wednesday and post a Catholic prayer and, time permitting, a brief reflection on that prayer. Our faith has a great abundance of beautiful prayers and they sadly get lost in the midst of so many other things. This is an attempt to highlight some of those prayers that I've found helpful and inspiring and that you might as well. This would take a commitment on my part and I'm curious, especially for the regular readers, if this is something that you would enjoy and like to see. PLEASE let me know. You can comment below or just email me at frbrent AT rivrdcat DOT org. Also welcome are comments/thoughts on things you'd like to see changed, improved or added on the blog in general.
Thank you and know of my prayers for you and your intentions.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Little Help?

Blackstone Films, a Catholic film company, is ready to work on a new and MUCH needed project, but they need our help. Check out their website and watch the 4-minute video and pray about whether you might be able to help them - and our world.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hear, O Israel!

Mezuzah - Shema on Doorposts
Readings for Sunday, November 4/ 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28-34

This weekend Mother Church recalls that ancient creed of the Jewish people, the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

This prayer was one of the most common prayers for the Jewish people, comparable to our Hail Mary and Our Father as Catholics. Jews were prayed it in the morning and evening, had to keep it posted on their doorposts and touch it when coming or going, bound it on their hands and foreheads during certain prayer times, and were encouraged to make it the last words spoken before death. It was for them a most powerful prayer and one that must be prayed frequently and reverently. As our ancestors in the faith, it still has great importance for us today.

It’s significant to note that the first word is ‘Hear.’ We are meant to listen! To listen is to acknowledge, firstly, that someone is speaking – namely, the Lord. And to hear rather than speak means that we are submitting to the one speaking. As listeners or hearers for the LORD, we recognize that we are called to be attentive to the words spoke and to strive to put them into action, not to take the words and attempt to craft our own rules or plans. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, forgot this reality and when they heard the Lord speak to them they heard with their ears but they didn’t really listen with their heart. Rather than receiving the Word purely they twisted it to become what they desired rather than what the Lord willed. And ever since that first fall into sin, we have the task, by God’s grace, of striving to actually hear the God speak to us purely, without ourselves getting in the way.

We’ve all likely played the telephone game where you start with a phrase and whisper it to the person next to you and quite often when it gets to the last person it resembles nothing of the original phrase. In reference to our faith, we are called to receive it purely and to convey it purely so that the same message we receive from God is the message we live and pass on to the next generation. This is what God desires for us. As the Shema continues, it points out that the LORD is our God, the LORD alone! This means that not only are other things supposed to take a back seat to the LORD, but that in hearing His Word, we are not able to change it. God is God and we are not; He sets the rules and we are to hear and heed them.

Lately with all the talk about moral issues, economics, foreign policy and the like, I’ve seen a number of people – nationally and more locally – who call themselves Catholics and yet at the same time reject the very teaching that the Church has upheld since her founding by Christ. Archbishop Charles Chaput responded to this recently, saying:
’Catholic’ is a word that has real meaning. We don’t control or invent that meaning as individuals. We inherit it from the Gospel and the experience of the Church over the centuries. If we choose to call ourselves Catholic, then that word has consequences for what we believe and how we act.  We can’t truthfully call ourselves “Catholic” and then behave as if we’re not.”
It can be tough to conform our minds to that of the Church and none of us is exempt from the struggle to do so. Sometimes the teachings of the Church are things beyond what we can comprehend, seem useless or overly pious, or even oppressive and out of touch with the world today. No matter what the issue, the reality is that if we differ from the teaching of the Church on a major issue that she has stood firmly on, then it is not she who needs to change but rather we who need to change. It is interesting to note that when Christ says the Shema in the Gospel passage the phrase “with all your mind” is added. He knew well that much of what He spoke was difficult for people to grasp in their mind and consent to. We see it most clearly in John 6 when He teaches on the Bread of Life and people leave because they are hard words to accept. Christ didn’t change His teaching, he clarified and invited those who could accept it to continue with Him. The same applies today. As we hear the Shema today, the Lord invites us to hear His voice and His truth and to rest in it and to live it out. In this we will find peace and eternal joy. May God grant us today the grace today to hear well His words, to set ourselves aside and love Christ with our whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gaining Graces for the Dead!

All Souls' Day is tomorrow (November 2) and it is good to think about the many graces that are available for those who have gone before us and are undergoing their spiritual purification in purgatory. They may be our loved ones, members of our community, or souls we don't know from all places of the world and history. To pray for them is to help them in their journey to Heaven. And once they attain their heavenly reward, they'll be praying for us before the Throne of God! So let us take up this great act of charity for souls in helping them along their way.

A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is granted to the faithful who fulfill the following conditions:
               Visit a Church on November 2, All Souls' Day
               Offer an Our Father and Hail Mary for the Pope's Intentions
               Offer an Our Father and the Creed for the Faithful Departed
               Make a good confession within a week and be free from all attachment to sin
               Receive Holy Communion that day (or ASAP following if unable that day)

A plenary indulgence, applicable only to the souls in purgatory, is also granted to the faithful who fulfill the following conditions:
               on any and each day from November 1 to 8, devoutly visit a cemetery and pray, if only mentally, for the departed (the 'Eternal rest grant unto them...' suffices)
               Offer an Our Father and Hail Mary for the Pope's Intentions
               Make a good confession within a week and be free from all attachment to sin
               Receive Holy Communion that day (or ASAP following if unable that day)