I have been told that I am a good preacher. I am appreciative of this and take it both as a compliment and a responsibility to continually strive for but I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if people heard the same homily that I did when I preached at a Mass! Fr. Mike Creson, a friend and priest in my diocese, once joked about given the same Sunday homily at a multitude of Masses (which can often be the case in my diocese), “The first time preached the homily is new and you stumble a little. The second time you are more comfortable and it comes better. The third time is good and you got it down although it is getting a little wearisome. By the time of the fourth Mass, well … you wonder if even you believe it!”
There is a story told about the temple mount in Jerusalem.
The moral of the tale, I believe, is this: when we make the choice to love and to give then we open our hearts that God might come in and make a dwelling place within us. When we choose to love, God makes his home within and with us.
In one of the Harry Potter movies (I cannot remember which) the wise wizard Dumbledore shares this insight with the young Harry, “Harry, it is neither our abilities nor our skills that define our character, rather it is the choices we make that truly define who we are.” It is when we make a choice, when we exercise our will; that we truly define and determine who we are.
One of the beautiful aspects of our Christian faith tradition is the belief that every human person is made in the very image and likeness of God – the “imago Dei”. As we proclaim this, it is understandable to then ask how we are made in God’s image. Is it in our bodies, our physical makeup, that we image God? No, because God is pure spirit and does not have a body. Is it in our abilities or our skills that we image God? Well, not really, our skills and abilities (no matter how impressive they might be) are not really all that much compared to the truth of God. How are we made in God’s image? Many of the greatest thinkers and saints of our faith tradition have answered this question by saying that it is in our will where we find most fully the image of God. It is by our choosing the good that we show forth God’s image in which we are made. When we, aided by God’s grace, make the choice to love, the choice to give, the choice to let go of self, the choice to forgive, to show mercy then we truly reveal the image of God in which we are made. Our character is defined and determined by the choices that we make.
On this feast of Christ the King we proclaim that Christ is indeed Lord and King of all creation. He is master. Christ is the one who was dead but who is now risen and alive. He is the firstborn. As we proclaim Christ as King it is fair to ask what type of king do we have? What is our king’s character?
The Gospel reading for this feast (Lk. 23: 35-43) tells us something truly important about the king we have and proclaim and it is revealed in the choice he made. It is important to note that in the space of just eight verses, as our Lord is being crucified, he is presented with the same temptation three times; three times from different groups: the rulers, the Roman soldiers and the criminal hanging next to him. The temptation is simple, “Save yourself!” Rulers: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Soldiers: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Criminal: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Three times this temptation is presented before our Lord and he could have chosen to save himself … but he did not. Rather, he made a different choice. He choose to obey the Father’s will; he choose to love both God and us, he choose to give of himself even unto death.
This is the king we have, the king that we proclaim and that we glorify! Our character is defined by our choices and our king’s character is revealed in his choice here at the end of Luke’s gospel. In the face of all the world’s temptation, Christ made a different choice – he made the choice of love. Today we glorify Christ as king and as we do the same gospel truth is now put before us. We all have the same temptation that our Lord faced and we know this. In so many varied ways the world continues to put the same temptation before every disciple of Christ – sometimes subtly sometimes very blatantly. “Save yourself! Do not care about others. Do not think of others. Who cares about them? Think only of yourself. Save yourself!”
But Christ our King shows us that there is a different way, a different choice can always be made.
When the world says, “Save yourself!” we, with God’s grace, can make a different choice. We can make the choice to love. We can choose to serve and to give of self. We can forgive and offer mercy. “Save yourself,” is not the only option we have. Like Christ, our king, we can make the choice to love and to give. We can always make the choice for the good regardless of the situation or the context in which we find ourselves.
And the gospel truth is this: it is when we choose to love and to give (even when it seemingly leads to more hardship, more pain, difficulties and even death) that new and more abundant life is found and known. More abundant than we could ever possibly imagine! This is the truth of the cross and the resurrection – the seed of the glory of the resurrection is always found in the loss of the cross!
Today we celebrate Christ as King of Creation and we recognize the gospel truth that he puts before us. As the world loudly proclaims, “Save yourself” to be the only option we know this not to be true. Our king has shown us a different way. There is always another choice that can be made – the choice to love – and it is in this choice that we find new and more abundant life.
|Mayor Rob Ford|
Two things have struck me this past week.
The first is the train wreck occurring in Toronto around Mayor Rob Ford caught in the use of drugs and a new allegation regarding prostitutes. The videos of the imploding mayor ranting during a city government meeting have gone viral on the web. It is painful to watch as Mayor Ford is clearly a man out of control yet one who will not resign his office and someone who therefore, in effect, is holding an entire city and its government hostage. Yet, what particularly struck me was a news commentator reporting on the situation who made the observation that regardless of whether one agrees with the mayor or not he is showing that he certainly has a “huge pair”. First of all, I will say that I think that the commentator’s remark was unacceptable and unprofessional and secondly, I will leave it to the reader to surmise to what the commentator was referring.
As we come to the end of the liturgical year the Church invites us to reflect on the end things – the second coming of Christ, life, death, resurrection and judgment. The Old Testament itself only reached a degree of certainty about the resurrection quite late, as presented in the first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees (2 Mc 7:1-2, 9-14). In the time of Jesus belief in the resurrection was hotly debated with the Sadducees being the main group opposed. So, when the Sadducees approach Jesus in today’s gospel with their lengthy and convoluted question (Lk. 20:27-38) they are more interested in putting him in a verbal trap and proving their point than actually being open to the ever-new possibilities of grace.
Often, when we think of movies with a faith theme we tend to envision movies that portray the glory or triumphant struggle of faith but there are also movies that explore the other side – the reality of sin and its consequences.
“The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford” is one such film I believe. It is not necessarily an “easy” movie to watch precisely for this reason. It is a film that explores the psychological and spiritual landscape of sin and its effects. Within the movie there are many amazing scenes of fall and winter landscapes which visually portray the stark inner landscapes of the film’s characters … landscapes that have been deadened and made barren by violence and sin.
Jesse James, played by Brad Pitt, is not romanticized in this movie. He is presented as a fully complex character – extremely violent, a killer, yet human and full of paranoia near the end of his life. Robert Ford (played by Casey Affleck) – the man who would assassinate James – is also presented in the complexity of his humanity. He does not come off as a hero nor is he meant to. Both characters are men fully caught up in the twisting and disfiguring reality of sin and violence.
There is a telling scene near the end of the movie where James and Ford are sitting together in a room of James’ home in St. Joseph, Missouri. The house is quiet and James is staring out the window. He says, “I go on journeys outside my body and look at my red hands and angry face and I wonder where I have gone wrong. I’ve been becoming a problem to myself.” Ford is in a stunned silence. He does not have a response to this admission of James. He departs the room and James continues to stare out the window.
It is, I believe, a poignant portrayal of the affect of sin in ones life. In sin, we become problems to ourselves. Problems that we, on our own, can neither solve nor riddle our way through. We are too twisted, too ineffectual and too lost. We stand in the need of grace.
The first reading for this coming Sunday is taken from the Book of Wisdom. The first verse of the reading says this, “Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” (Wisdom 11:22) In the Gospel reading we are given the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). In the story we are told that Jesus is passing through Jericho and Zacchaeus – a short man – has climbed a tree in order to see the controversial rabbi. When Jesus comes to the place where Zacchaeus is, he looks directly up at the man and says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
When I hold these two verses together I find myself envisioning a common cinematic technique – the movement from a grand scene of the universe step by step to a particular place and moment in our world. The full universe to our galaxy to our solar system past the moon to earth through the clouds to the Middle East to the Holy Land to Jericho to the street to our Lord looking up at this short man in a tree. From the Lord who views all creation as a grain of sand to Zacchaeus in the tree – it is the movement of grace. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
As soon as our Lord says this, we are told that the other people began to grumble. Zacchaeus is a tax collector, he is a man caught up in the barren landscape of sin and violence and the others know this. He is a sinner, let us not kid ourselves, we must neither romanticize this man before the advent of grace in his life nor reduce him to a funny little children’s cartoon character. We must see him for who he is, acknowledge the violence of the system he represents and recognize the very real need in which he, himself, stands. (Maybe an equivalent to our day which might bring all this out for us it to imagine our Lord deciding to go and dine at the house of Bernie Madoff.)
But something new has now happened! Zacchaeus has been a problem to himself, a problem in which he has been trapped and lost, but now, in this moment of encounter with Christ, he does something different. We are told that Zacchaeus stands there in the very midst of the grumbling and he proclaims to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” In the encounter with Christ a new way is found! The starkness of sin, violence and separation is broken through! The problem that we become to ourselves through sin is broken through!
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” In sin, humanity turns in on itself; we become problems to ourselves – a problem that we, on our own, have no hope of solving. There is a depth to our brokenness that only God can answer. It is in the gift of grace, the encounter with Christ, that a new way is found … for each and every one of us.
Swedish House Mafia is a former DJ group. (They have since broken up.) One of their songs is, “Don’t You Worry Child”. I would like to share some lines from the first part of the song.
There was a time I used to look into my father’s eyes.
In a happy home; I was a king, I had a golden throne.
Those days are gone, now just memories on the wall.
I hear the songs from the place where I was born.
Upon a hill, across a blue lake, that’s where I had my first heartbreak.
I still remember how it all changed.
My father said, “Don’t you worry child. See, heaven’s got a plan for you. Don’t you worry now.”
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints – the feast of the men and women of heroic virtue and faith throughout the centuries who witnessed to Christ – both those publicly known and proclaimed by the Church and those who are known to God alone. The saints, through their encounter with Christ, allowed their lives to be transformed and, I would say, they came to realize a deeper meaning to the words of the song quoted above. The saints came to know the truth of where we have come from and what we are meant for.