On this blessed day when we gather together with loved ones and reflect on all that God has done for us, one thing we should make time for is reflecting on how our faith strengthens us. Our faith in our God is the dynamic force that animates our actions, or at least it should be. Through the grace of faith we learn how to truly love, how to exist with others, how to live. By this gift we become a gift to those around us and ultimately a force for good in our society – it is part and parcel of our faith – to be witnesses to love. Each of us, have a part in the societal discourse. Each of us, depending on our calling and stature in society has an obligation to be a disciple to Christ’s message. When one of us fails this calling we hurt the society we live in, love of God’s message and participation in society are not separate they are intertwined they are one. It would be selfish of us not to offer the joy we have been given to others. My Thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that the joy of faith animates us to illuminate society with God’s love and bring His kingdom one step closer to everyone!
Year’s ago I read an interesting book for a US PolySci course about the seclusion of the American President. It was a study about how the presidency of the United States had evolved into a position of isolation within inner circles filtering any and all information that made its way to the White House. The basic premise was that at the time when the President needed to be in touch with the country he was being insulated from reality. The workings of his staff and those attached to them had their own self interest first and foremost and truth was usually the casualty. The author related to the reader that this had always been the way monarchies worked as well – the court was the king’s staff and they did much the same as the president’s staff. It seems that the Kings rarely, if ever, truly understood what their subjects were really going through. For most monarchs, I think, it was always the intention to rule well; and if you go back and look at the coronation ceremonies of the British, and especially the French monarch’s, it was a primary prayer that was prayed over them – that they would rule justly and well over their charges. “Let thy hand be strengthened and your right hand exalted. Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy Seat and mercy and truth go before thy face.” It just never works that way however.
In short a king has only one way to seek out his subjects and understand them – through others.
But with Christ, this is not the case. Christ our King doesn’t have this filtering issue to deal with – He has as the Holy Father says: “many different ways of seeking man out…” indeed His ways are as many as there are people. Even in our misguided thoughts and ways Christ our King can and does find us and lead us. His ultimate authority over us is an authority of Love – His Kingdom, which contains all creation is a Kingdom of Love. This rule of Love doesn’t contain multiple levels of filtering intermediaries. This rule is direct from our heart to His and from His heart to ours. This is both our comfort and our obligation. It is our comfort; for we know that our King can be found easily – we can have direct contact with Him. Blessed John Henry Newman’s motto spoke of this comfort, this joy: ‘Cor ad Cor loquitur’ – heart speaks unto heart. But it is our obligation because this is always the way we should act towards those around us – always open and willing to understand and help. By being open to others we are instrumental in introducing them to the King who comes to them, stays with them and guides them home. We make straight the paths for our King so the King can reign in new hearts. So in a special way this Feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King is a celebration of evangelization; the new evangelization, as Blessed John Paul the Great called it. An evangelization where we proclaim to the world: ‘Vivat Christus Rex!’
For the past 20 some weeks we have been learning what it means to be the mystical body of Christ. The Mass readings during ordinary time have been about living, living as disciples. We have been given insights and helps that enable us to be the light in our society, “not through” our Holy Father has said “power but through spirit, not through institutional strength but through witness, through love, life, and suffering.”
Through us, by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit we proclaim that the Church is alive, because Christ is alive. It is He that we journey towards, it He that we point all we meet to, it is He that our Love finds its source and its end. Next week we celebrate this aspect of our faith but for right now it is good to look back on what we have experienced and learned about ourselves in this ordinary time which, of course, is anything but ordinary when lived in and for Christ. My wish for each us during this next week, is that we take some time each day and reflect on what we have done for God; our failures and our successes; reflect on what the Gospel has taught us and how we have lived those messages. In a certain way this is what makes our journey home so rewarding, we learn and grow in the ways of Love as we journey towards our King.
I was talking with a dear friend yesterday about all sorts of things and one of them was our journey home; there are times when all of us find ourselves not knowing which way to turn in our faith journey. It could be due to doubt; it could be due to distractions; or even excitement. It is natural, as humans we need guidance – the effects of original sin cloud our perception.
This morning as I was praying Lauds (Morning Prayer) and the Benedictus struck me as it never had before. It is a prayer that is always prayed during Lauds and most of you will recognize it as the ‘Canticle of Zechariah’; his joyful proclamation at the birth of his son John the Baptist. I believe the church places it in Morning Prayer to help us with, among other things, just these types of moments of indecision and doubt. It is powerful and it exudes a peace and joy that should follow us throughout the day. The first part is a joyful proclamation of God’s love for us and why we shouldn’t feel lonely; this is followed by a reassurance that we can live as His people and know his protection. It ends with a call to action and a guarantee that His love and guidance is with us always! What a wonderful prayer to enter into our day, the next day in the journey home.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow
of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Many years ago, while working down in the loop I heard the leper’s bell.
This evening as I was reading a homily by our Holy Father for the closing Mass of the Italian National Eucharistic Conference held this past September; one line struck me: ‘A Eucharistic spirituality, then is the true antidote to the individualism and selfishness that often mark daily life. It leads to the rediscovery of giving freely…’
There was an event, about 16 years ago when I lived this quote. I was working in the Loop; which, as those who work there will attest, meant I passed many ‘homeless’ people begging in the street on the way to the train. If you look closely at them you will find that some are truly homeless and are in need while others are doubtful, so you have to discern who to help and who not to. It makes you cynical to a degree.
One evening, while hurrying to catch the train, wallowing in my memories of the day, I passed a ‘homeless’ woman who was asking the passing people if they could by some food so her young son could eat. Without even looking at her I lied by replying ‘Sorry I don’t have any money’ – in fact I had five dollars. It was at that moment, while crossing the street I felt my feet get heavier and heavier. The story of St. Francis and the leper sprung into my mind where St Francis hearing the leper bell (lepers were required to wear them as warning) walked past the leper giving a wide berth. It was then that he felt God pulling on him and he turned around, walked up to the leper, and in spite of the horrible stench he hugged him then departed. After a few steps, the bell stopped ringing and when he turned back around the leper had vanished!
Or so the story goes.
I heard those bells!
So, I turned my leaden feet around and went back to the young woman (finding that my feet had lost their heaviness) and gave her my five dollars. She thanked me and then left with her son. I waited a few moments; then to my surprise, I followed her at a distance watching her go into a convenience store where I saw her buy something to eat and gave it to her son. The bells stopped ringing at that point!
There was a peaceful, contented happiness in my soul as I continued to the train – I had met Jesus and helped Him in the woman and her son. I was living the Eucharist by helping Christ in those who He loves. For that brief moment I was more alive than at any time I could remember. By giving freely (time, money and concern) I experienced what true freedom was – Love.
Too often we are caught up in our own issues to notice that we have strayed away from our Eucharistic center – that part of us, deep within, that is alive with God’s love – indeed – that is the Holy Spirit himself. Instead of living love as family we are struggling with ourselves, by ourselves; leaving us with an emptiness that we can’t remove. Giving freely of ourselves to others is a great way to remove that emptiness and reawaken true peace and joy – sometimes it just takes the sound of a leper’s bell to remind us.