The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we have come to the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, and the final Sunday of the year. A week from now we will enter into the season of Advent to experience its joyful anticipation of the two-fold coming of Christ the King, both at the end of time and his birth in Bethlehem.
So often today’s Solemnity brings to our minds images of earthly kingship, of royal pageantry and fanfare. The recent announcement of the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton only helps to bring these images to mind.
Yet the Gospel passage today from the account of Saint Luke shows nothing of the sort. Instead, the Evangelist presents to us one whose kingship is mocked; we see a king who is taunted and quietly suffers sneers and jeers (cf. Luke 23:35-36
Of this man, who is ridiculed by the crowds, Saint Paul says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17
). What does the Apostle see that we do not?
Saint Paul sees in Christ Jesus what that good thief – whom tradition knows by name to be Dismas – saw in his crucified neighbor.
As he looked upon the body of our Lord, this repentant thief “knew that the wounds on the body of Christ were not Christ’s wounds but the thief’s; therefore, after he recognized his own wounds on Christ’s body, he began to love all the more” (Maximus of Turin, Sermon
When Saint Paul persecuted the Church and put Christians to death, the Lord cried out to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me” (Acts 9:4
). In that encounter on the road to Damascus Saul learned that those who are baptized into Christ are intimately bound to him in his Mystical Body. The good thief knew something of this, but do you and I?
When we look upon the Crucified Lord, what do we see? There are some who see a man of weakness who rightly deserves his punishment and mockery. They see a man who could have saved himself if his claim was true. These are filled with scorn when they look upon him.
There are others who simply pass him by, paying little attention to him. They count him as nothing more than a common criminal, one who would incite violence to achieve his goal. These are moved very little when they look upon him and are filled with indifference; they have other cares about which to worry.
And there are some who, like the good thief, recognize their wounds on his body and are moved to tears and a profound love. These are those who heed the spiritual advice of Saint Clare of Assisi to “look upon Him who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in the world for Him” (The Second Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague
When you look upon the Crucified Christ, what do you see? Do you see a common man, or do you see the God-man, whose great love for us brought him to the cross for our salvation? Who do you see?
That good thief saw his own wounds – the mark of his sins – of Christ’s body and was moved to a great love of Christ and to a deep sorrow for his sins. Would that each of us would also see our wounds – the mark of our sins – on the body of the Crucified Lord! Would that we were moved to so great a love and so such a sorrow for our sins when we look upon our King who, in his great love, suffered so much for us.
That good thief tried to help the other thief see what he saw; he tried to help him find the same love and the same repentance when he rebuked him for his taunts. But his statement of faith is his greatest testimony and example to us: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42
O how beautiful is this confession! How wise the reasoning and how excellent the thoughts! …You see him crucified and call him a king. You expect the One who bears scorn and suffering to come in godlike glory (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 153).
The thief recognized in the sufferings of Christ his kingly power and his divine glory, and so, during his last moments on earth, he placed Christ before all else in his life. For this reason, Jesus lovingly assured him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43
Dear brothers and sisters, when we look to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and see upon its throne Love Crucified, how can we not respond in the same manner as that good thief? Seeing our salvation hung on the wood of the Cross, how can we not be moved to ever greater love and a deeper sorrow for our sins? How can we also not cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”?
If we are truly moved to sorrow and to love, if we truly long to be with him in his kingdom, then we will also put him before all else in our lives. Everything, from the more mundane aspects of life to our most serious concerns must be placed after Christ; he is our King. It is only when he is preeminent in our lives that, as Saint Paul says, “all things hold together.”
If your life seems empty of meaning and purpose; if you are heavily burdened, almost to the point of breaking; if you are simply content and long for a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction; if your life could not now be better and you want to share the path to happiness with others, “Stretch out your arms toward the cross, so that the crucified Lord may stretch out his arms toward you” (Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Tatian's Diattessaron
If you entrust yourself to him, you will discover the value and beauty of life. If you entrust your cares to him and offer them in union with his sufferings, you will find his yoke is light. If you place yourself fully at his service, you will find your heart’s every desire. And if you allow him to embrace you, you will be his extension in the world, bringing his joy, love and peace to all you meet.
If we remain close to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will be his faithful subjects, his servants, and will be counted among his friends in his heavenly kingdom. The mystery of his Cross is represented to us in every celebration of the Mass. It is here, then, at his altar, that his faithful gather both to learn how to place him before all else and to be strengthened in their desire to do so.
My friends, as we prepare to enter into the great and holy season of Advent, let us renew our dedication to the Lord. Let us make a serious and prayerful examination of our consciences and confess our sins to him that we may be reconciled to him.
If we truly seek to place him before all else, the example of our lives will shine brightly before others; they will be attracted by our joy and peace and will desire it for themselves.
At the same time, if Christ is first in our lives then everything else will come together. Surely this is what we want, and if we want it for ourselves, why would we not want it for others. I ask you, when was the last time you invited someone to join you at Mass? When was the last time you invited someone to go to confession with you?
We know that over the past several years the parish membership here has decreased; your friends and family, your neighbors and coworkers have drifted away from the practice of the faith. Some of gone to a neighboring parish, but many others have not. They have drifted from the Cross and no longer place Christ before all else in their lives.
I ask you to imitate the good thief, both in rebuking them and in inviting them to witness the splendor of the Crucified Lord. Invite them to return to the Church, to make a good confession of their sins and then to receive again the Body and Blood of the Lord. What greater gift could you give them than an invitation to return home for Christmas? Encourage them to return home to the Church that Christ may say to them as well, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.