Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whatever you did...


It is just about that Salvation Army time of year. Soon we'll see and hear the bell ringing of volunteers collecting money at stores and supermarkets everywhere. Now, the Salvation Army does not believe in baptism, the Eucharist or the priesthood. Yet their Christianity is clear. Why? Because their public witness to Christ is powerful. They provide soup kitchens for the starving. They clothe the naked. They rehabilitate those addicted to drugs and alcohol. They are there wherever disaster strikes.

"I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me."

The Solemnity of Christ the King, which we celebrate today, is a relatively new feast in the Church; established less than 100 years ago. It was put in place by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In establishing the feast, he explained that throughout history feasts have been instituted in response to particular needs that arise in the life of the world and the Church. He gave the example of feasts of martyrs, or the celebration of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart. He was writing in 1925, when the world was still trying to recover from World War I, which had devastated Europe and shattered modernity's hopes for unlimited progress based solely on human reason. It was also only a few years after the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, which had given birth to the world's first explicitly atheist regime: Soviet communism.

Everywhere the Pope looked, he saw human societies abandoning Christian values and trying to build paradise on earth through other means. Pius pointed out that if humanity had been able to perfect itself by itself, without God's help, then Jesus Christ would never have come to earth. Jesus, of course, did come, bringing His Gospel and His grace to us, and only by believing in that Gospel and accepting that grace can we achieve true and lasting peace and prosperity.

The Pope instituted today's Solemnity as a way to remind the world that to reject Christ, either in private life or in public life, is to reject our only hope, and conversely to accept him is to accept salvation. He wrote, "Once [we] recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony... That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood." That same societal rejection of Christian values that the Pope responded to in 1925 is stronger than ever today; and so this becomes an increasingly important feast for our world.

The Holy Father emphasized the link between private and public life - what we say and what we do. He stressed that it's not enough for Christians to hold onto their faith only in their private lives. We must bring Christ and Christian values into culture, politics, and every sphere of society. If we truly believe in Christ, why would we be afraid of defending and spreading Christian values? Why would we let ourselves be bullied by those who try to exclude Christ from culture?

In 1908, the famous English historian and writer, Hilaire Belloc ran for the British Parliament. His opponents tried to scare off his supporters by claiming that Belloc's faithfulness to the Catholic Church would inhibit him from being objective. Belloc responded in a speech, "Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day." Taking beads out of his pocket he continued, "This is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell its beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God for having spared me the indignity of being your representative." The crowd was shocked for a minute, and then burst out in applause. He went on to win that election, and many more.

If Catholics cannot bring Christ's wisdom, goodness, truth and grace into our society, what do we have to offer? With Christ truly as our King we should not be afraid to spread His Kingdom. But, being followers of Christ the King doesn't mean that we force people into the Church. That was not Christ's method, and so it should not be ours. As Pope John Paul II said more than once, the Church does not impose its beliefs, she proposes them. But we must be courageous in making that proposal - and it is the responsibility of us all.

We are all ambassadors of Christ the King. We represent Him to the world. Through us, His wisdom can enlighten culture. Through us, his grace reaches into every corner of the human community and heals it of selfishness, greed, and injustice. Our job as ambassadors is simply to be loyal and constant and public. That means first of all that we must know our King's desires and priorities, and, as ambassadors, put the King's program into action. And so, are we active ambassadors? Is Christ's truth and grace reaching more people through us, through our words, deeds, and example? We are called to know Christ's message better and better, and to deliver it wherever we find ourselves.

Today as Christ comes once again to encourage, enlighten, and strengthen us in the Holy Eucharist, let's renew our faith in this great and eternal King, and let's renew our commitment to spread His Kingdom - in thought, in word and in deed.When did we see you, our Lord and King, and reach out to your need?

"I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers (or sisters) of mine, you did for me."

May God give you peace.

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