29 November 2016

A few words at the Capitol City Nativity Blessing

This afternoon I was present in the Illinois capitol building for the annual Capitol City Nativity Blessing, at which I was invited to say a few words, the text of which was as follows:

Capitol City Nativity Blessing

As we gather around the crèche displayed in this Capitol building, it is as if we have heeded the call of those ancient shepherds who said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place” (Luke 2:15). This “thing,” of course, is what the choir of angels announced to them, namely, the Birth of the Son of God and of Mary.

The reliquary in Santa Maria Maggiore
Centuries later, though many centuries before us, Saint Jerome – who heeded the cry of the shepherds and moved to Bethlehem to be near the place where the Lord Jesus was born - once cried out in frustration, “Oh, if only I could see that manger in which the Lord was laid!”[1] A very good grumbler, though a holy one, he went on to complain, saying: 

As a tribute of honor, we Christians have now removed the mud-baked [reliquary] and replaced it with a silver one; but the one that has been removed is more precious to me! Silver and gold are appropriate for the pagan world: the manger of baked mud is more fitting for the Christian faith.[2]

Pilgrims who visit the relic of the manger now housed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome know something of what Jerome complained as they peer in between the sparkle and shine of the silver and gold to behold the wood of the manger.

The chapel at Greccio
Centuries after Saint Jerome, and yet still centuries before us, Saint Francis of Assisi also desired to heed the cry of the shepherds and see the place where the Lord Jesus was born and the manger in which he was laid. Moreover, he wanted to help others do the same. This is why in 1223 he asked Pope Honorious III for permission to fulfill his desire “to portray the Child born in Bethlehem and to see somehow with my bodily eyes the hardship he underwent because he lacked all a newborn’s needs, the way he was placed in a manger and how he lay on the hay between the ox and the ass.”[3]

Nearly eight centuries later, Catholics are still erecting Nativities in their homes, churches, and in public places so everyone who looks upon them might spiritually go to Bethlehem with the shepherds and see the manger in which the Lord Jesus was laid. Happily, this tradition is now embraced by many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, as well, who join us in using statues both small and large to envision what those shepherds beheld that caused them to return to their fields “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” as a way to enter more fully into the mystery of the Lord’s Birth (Luke 2:20).

It is curious to note that Saint Francis requested two additions to our Nativity displays that neither Saint Matthew nor Saint Mark mention in their Infancy narratives. These, of course, are the ox and the ass. Why, then, did Francis want them included? Many centuries before Saint Francis, Saint Jerome, and well before the Birth of Jesus, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand” (Isaiah 1:3).

The ox and the ass seem to ask all who pass by, “Do you know your Master? Do you understand and know his love?” They call us to ponder the tremendous love God displays for us in his Incarnation and to recognize that “God is so good that he can give up his divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us, and continue to work through us.”[4]

Let us pray, then, that everyone who looks upon this crèche and manger, ourselves included, might know their Master, allow themselves to be touched by and understand his love, and by imitating this self-less love, allow it to work through them in all they say and do.

On behalf of the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, I thank you for your efforts here today and for the public witness of your faith, and I wish you a blessed Advent and a merry Christmas.

[1] Saint Jerome, Homily on the Nativity of the Lord, 31. In Advent and Christmas with the Church Fathers. Marco Pappalardo, ed. (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2010), 52.
[2] Ibid.
[3] In Tomaso de Celano, First Life, XXX.84. In Brother Thomas of Celano: The Life of St. Francis of Assisi and The Treatise of Miracles. Catherine Bolton, trans. (Assisi, Italy: Editrice Minerva), 80-81.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 December 2005.

The desire of prophets and kings

The Lord Jesus says to his disciples today, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24). What was it these prophets and kings desired to see and hear?

The Prophet Isaiah said, "I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him" (Isaiah 8:17). King David prayed, "Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your merciful love" (Psalm 31:16)! The prophets and kings, then, longed to look upon the face of God and to hear his voice.

This desire to look upon God's face runs like a thread through all of the texts of the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments. After Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, a group of Greeks approached the Apostle Saint Philip and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21). Does not this same desire reside deep within our hearts, as well? Do we not also wish to see Jesus, to look upon what kings and prophets desired to see?

We know that this desire will be granted to us with the Second Coming of Christ Jesus, which we now await with eager expectation in these days of Advent. Saint Paul says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (I Corinthians 13:12). The Apostle Saint John says, "they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads" (Revelation 22:4).

With the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lord God has indeed revealed his Face to us in Jesus the Christ. This is why Jesus said to  Saint Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). The ancient desire of prophets and kings to see the face of God has been granted in the Son of God and of Mary.

What is more, the Lord Jesus has left us a foretaste of the Beatific Vision of his Holy Face on a piece of byssus, once housed in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome and now housed in the Basilica of the Holy Face in Manoppello:

This Face is the desire of prophets and kings. Knowing that this Face is our deep desire, as well, the Lord, in his merciful love, he has left an image of his Face for us, to gaze upon, to marvel at, and to ponder until he comes again in his glory with his angels (cf. Matthew 25:31). It is this veil that the Apostle Saint Peter found in the tomb (cf. John 20:6-7). When he looked upon this handkerchief, Saint John "saw and believed" in the Resurrection of the Lord (John 20:8).

Let us, then, in these days of Advent, cry out to the Lord with the words of the hymn, "O Come, Divine Messiah":
Dear Savior, haste!Come, come to earth.Dispel the night and show your face,and bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah;the world in silence waits the daywhen hope shall sing its triumphand sadness flee away.
May the Lord come quickly. May he not delay. May he grant us the full vision of the beauty of his Face!

27 November 2016

Homily - 27 November 2016 - The First Sunday of Advent

The First Sunday of Advent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The older I get, the more I dislike winter. I have never enjoyed the cold temperatures, or the ice and snow, but what I dislike the most is the weeks and months of darkness, which feels more oppressive with the passage of years. A few days ago I was sitting at my desk in my office in the rectory trying to clear out the e-mail inbox, when I happened to look up and outside through the window. It was about 6:00 in the evening and utterly black. A tremendous yawn overtook me and I yearned for the return of the sun because I was ready to crawl back into bed. Perhaps you’ve been there, too.

Sadly, the sense of an encroaching darkness is not only to be found in the natural world, but also in the hearts of men and women. We sing in our carols that this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but how did many seek to enter into the joy of the season? With self-absorption and violence. As Americans, we have willfully allowed the national holy day of Black Friday to become the highlight of the year and rob families of their loved ones when we are supposed to give thanks together for our common gifts. If we are honest, this is a natural progression stemming from the day when we, as a society, decided that Sunday was no longer to be a day dedicated to God and to family.

I once worked in a toy store as the Parental Video Game Adviser at a time when the Friday after Thanksgiving was known as Green Friday because many stores took in more than half of their annual income that day. Now that day is known as Black Friday, supposedly because stores now begin to operate in the black instead of the read. Still, I cannot help but wonder if this change in name is not somehow related to – or indicative of - a change in our hearts, a change not for the better.

To understand what I mean, consider the following events that all took place in these United States of America in connection with Black Friday shopping: a man was shot dead and a woman injured in a parking lot in San Antonio, Texas because the deceased told another man to stop grabbing a woman by her hair; two people were shot in Chattanooga, Tennessee after an argument about merchandise broke out in a mall; one man was killed and another wounded in Atlantic City, New Jersey while standing in line outside a store waiting for the “door buster savings;” a man was shot dead in Reno, Nevada because of a parking space dispute; another man was killed in Memphis, Tennessee while shopping in a mall; and customers fought over washcloths selling for $1.60 in Bainbridge, Georgia and broke out in a brawl.[1] Is this the joy of the season? Is this what it is all about? Is this really the most wonderful time of the year? Does this not show a darkening of our hearts?

In the midst of the darkness of these days, I find myself repeating a line J.R.R. Tolkien gave to Aragorn at Helm’s Deep: “Yet dawn is ever the hope of men.”[2] The ancient Christians prayed looking toward the east; even in their homes they would look out an eastward facing window when making the sign of the Cross and saying their prayers. They did so in the confidence of the return of “the one Morning Star who never sets,” Christ Jesus, “who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity.”[3] They looked to the east because they knew that dawn is ever the hope of men. They looked not simply the dawning of a new day, but for the dawning of the coming of the Lord Jesus with his angels; they lived in eager expectation of his coming and sought not to be caught unawares lest he come as a thief in the night. Can the same be said of us?

This season of Advent, then, has as its chief aim two purposes: first, a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, and, second, a preparation to celebrate his Birth at Bethlehem. The temptation today is to anticipate too early Christmas Day at the expense of our spiritual growth. In many families, the Christmas tree and the Nativity set have already been raised and will be taken down shortly after Christmas dinner, in stark contrast to the liturgical year, which celebrates Christmas beginning not until Christmas Day and continues through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year the ninth of January.

It seems we have forgotten this rich season that calls us to wait, to be still, to ponder, and to hope for the dawn. The Church “raises its gaze to the final goal of pilgrimage in history, which is the glorious return of the Lord Jesus” and, recalling Jesus’ “birth in Bethlehem with emotion, it bends down before the crib. The hope of Christians is directed to the future, but always remains well rooted in a past event.”[4]

Too often we lose sight of both of these directions – the future and the past - in the hustle and bustle of worldly life and are caught up in the present. Advent calls us to step beyond this busy-ness, to contemplate anew the great love of the Lord Jesus who “shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples” (Isaiah 2:4).

Our communal neglect of Advent in favor of the maddening greed of Black Friday “seems especially disturbing – for it’s injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.”[5] We find ourselves surrounded by

More Christmas trees.  More Christmas lights.  More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee – until the glut of candles and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales.[6]

Is this not what the Lord Jesus warns against when he tells us that we also “must be prepared, for at an hour [we] do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24:44)?

It is too easy for us to give in to the temptations that surround us, to focus on the commercialism and materialism of the culture in which we find ourselves, and ignore this season of grace in which we should be stirring ourselves from our faithlessness and from our sluggish spiritual sleep (cf. Romans 13:11). We must instead focus on Jesus, on keeping his commands by loving God and neighbor in every circumstance, and prepare to meet him when at last he comes to judge the living and the dead.

If you have done everything that was asked of you and are prepared for it, then you have nothing to fear, but if you have not, then look out! Paul is not trying to frighten his hearers but to encourage them, so as to detach them from their love of the things of this world. It was not unlikely that at the beginning of their endeavors they would be more dedicated and slacken off as time went on. But Paul wants them to do the opposite – not to slacken as time goes on but to become even more dedicated. For the nearer the King is, the more they ought to be ready to receive him.[7]

So long as there is yet another dawn, there is time for us to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

Let us, then, keep these days of Advent well, not in the anticipation of the gifts we will exchange on Christmas Day, but in gratitude for the gift of the Lord’s mercy given us in his Birth at Bethlehem and in expectation of his return in glory. Just a few days ago, His Holiness Pope Francis gave us a bit of wise fatherly advice. He encouraged us to spend time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, with the Eucharistic Lord present in his tabernacle, and to make a simple prayer: “You are God; I am a poor child loved by You.”[8]

If we make this prayer our own, the Lord will help us remember the many ways we have failed to love both God and neighbor. With these sins in our minds and hearts, we can enter the confessional and entrust ourselves again to God’s merciful love. We will leave the confessional with a lightened and joyful heart and “the dawn from high shall break upon us” (Luke 1:78). Then, this will truly be the most wonderful time of the year.  Amen.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings, 3.7 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 524.
[3] “Exultet,” Roman Missal.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 27 November 2005.
[5] Joseph Bottum, “The End of Advent,” First Things (December 2007), 20.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 23. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. VI: Romans. Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 321.

26 November 2016

What to get your priest for Christmas

Seeing a bit on increased traffic to his blog by people searching for suggestions for Christmas gifts for their priests, Father Jerabek - who blogs at his eponymous blog - posted five suggestions.

I've had traffic here over the years from those with the same query - and I am seeing a bit of increased traffic for it now - and have posted a few initial thoughts with a few suggestions for you. I'm happy to do so again, with a bit of updating:

N.B.I am not writing this post as an attempt to receive gifts but as a way of trying to assist people in choosing gifts for their local priest.

First, you have to keep the personality of the priest in mind; not every priest is the same and neither are their interests. For example, if you want to give your priest a gift card to a restaurant, first ask yourself if he goes out to eat (not every priest does). If he does, where does he go? Most priests, in my experience, have gift cards to restaurants they do not frequent (for whatever reason). You don't want to give him a certificate or card that he won't likely use.

The same might be said with vestments. There are vestments that some priests wear that I'll never touch and there are some vestments that I wear that they'll never touch.

Second, various artworks and knick-knacks are always nice, but keep in mind that the rectory only has so many shelves and blank spots on a wall. At the same time, the more things a priest collects over the years, the more things he has to move. Some things priests don't mind moving, other things they do.

Third, homemade holiday treats (cookies, pies, cakes, fruits, etc.) are delicious and always welcome, but check with the secretaries to see how much has already come in. At this time of the year the kitchen counter is most always overflowing with goodies that cannot be eaten because of the sheer quantity.

Fourth, if want to give your priest a book, check to see if he has wish list at Amazon and other such sites.

Fifth, check with your parish secretary to see if she has any ideas. Priests often comment to their secretaries on a variety of issues and you never know what he might have mentioned quite in passing the other day. Astute secretaries are aware of these things.

Now, on to the suggestions (in no particular order). Some of these are things that I wouldn't mind having myself and some have come from conversations with others priests (I won't tell you which is which):

  • Gas cards
  • Gift cards for oil changes or tire rotations
  • Gift cards to book stores (Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Ignatius Press, etc.)
  • An IOU for baked goods later in the year (just don't forget!)
  • Gift cards to religious goods stores (both local and on-line)
  • Gift cards to his favorite restaurant
  • Gift cards for the local gym
  • An invitation to join your family for a meal in your home
  • Car wash tokens
  • Make a donation in the priest's name to Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Peter's Pence, Aid to the Church in Need, etc.
  • Offer a gift for a particular situation in the parish
  • Cash never hurts, either
The above list is certainly not exhaustive and is not meant to discourage you from giving your priest a physical gift. If the list is helpful, use it; if not, ignore it.

Brother priests: Is there something I've overlooked?

24 November 2016

A blessing for Lighting Day

Some of you may remember that in addition to celebrating Thanksgiving today, my brother also celebrates Lighting Day, that day when those who love to decorate their yards and houses for Christmas official "flip the switch" and turn on their lights.

Last year he asked me to write a blessing of the lights as he turned them on. Since I'll be at his home for Thanksgiving in a short while and will be present when he official flips the switch again this year, I thought I might share the blessing with you again:
From before the dawn of civilization, Almighty God,
humanity has daily looked with hope for the rising of the morning star
whose light brings joy and warmth, order and peace to our lives.
Let these lights lit in anticipation of the coming of the true Morning Star,
increase our joy and strengthen our hope
that a Savior has indeed been born for us
whose coming again we now await in eager expectation.
As these lights give warmth and peace to our hearts,
may they remind us to order our days and nights
around him who is the light of the world. 
May they also enlighten the hearts of those who do not yet love him
to seek the Child of Bethlehem.
As we watch for the full dawning in glory
of the light which the darkness cannot overcome,
may we be found faithful to receive the Morning Star and enjoy his splendor
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

If you like the blessing, feel free to use as you flip the switches at your own homes. A blessed and happy Thanksgiving - and Lighting Day - to you and yours!

22 November 2016

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - November 2016

Previous Updates: September 2016August 2016 | July 2016 | June 2016 | May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015  | June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015  March 2015 | February 2015

20 November 2016

TOMORROW: #RedWednesday for persecuted Christians

The branch of the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need in the United Kingdom is sponsoring an effort tomorrow, November 23rd, called #RedWednesday as a way for us to "stand up for faith and freedom." The date was chosen because Aid to the Church in Need will release its annual report on the global persecution of Christians the following day on November 24th.

Participants in Red Wednesday are asked to wear red clothing "to honour those who have suffered because of their religion, and stand in solidarity with millions of people, targeted for their beliefs and living in fear."

Here is the video announcement of #RedWednesday, which further explains its ambition:

You can download a banner to use on your Facebook page or other social media platforms to help spread the word about #RedWednesday and to help bring attention and assistance to our brothers and sisters suffering throughout the world because of their faith in Christ Jesus.

While this initiative is being spearheaded by those in the United Kingdom, there is absolutely no reason why we in the United States of America cannot and should not participate. Please, wear red tomorrow in solidarity with your persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.

21 November 2016

A clarification on what Pope Francis has done regarding the sin of abortion

With the publication today of the Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis, Misericordia et misera, it seems A clarification may be necessary about what Pope Francis did with regard to the sin of abortion and the ability of priests to forgive this sin.

In the apostolic letter, the Holy Father writes:
Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation (12).
As Pope Francis notes, abortion is an intrinsically grave evil. Hence, to willing procure an abortion is mortally sinful. However, every priest can absolve a person of this grave sin and does not - and did not - need the permission of the Holy Father to do so (as was pointed out a year ago by many).

At the same time, however, the procuration of an abortion is also a crime under canon law: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae  excommunication" (canon 1398). Those who procure an abortion receive the censure of an automatic excommunication in order to emphasize the seriousness of this sin and crime. While every priest can absolve the sin of abortion, not every priest could lift the censure brought about automatically by the crime of abortion (cf. canon 1356 and 1357).

In the United States of America, the Bishops have given their priests the faculty (or, if you like, the permission) to lift this censure within the context of a sacramental confession. In much of the rest of the world, however, Bishops have not been so ready to grant their priests this faculty. Why, I do not know.

What Pope Francis has actually done is not grant priests throughout the world the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion (they could already do this), but rather the faculty to lift the censure of the automatic excommunication without recourse to their local Ordinary [Bishop, Vicar General, etc.].

It might seem a matter of semantics to some, but the difference is rather great and an imprecision in this matter has caused no small amount of confusion.

I think what Pope Francis has done is a very good thing and will help men and women who have procured an abortion receive the merciful love of God and reconciliation with his Church without a burdensome and uncomfortable that step that might have, in the past, felt like an unnecessary bureaucratic process.

20 November 2016

Homily - 20 November 2016 - The Solemnity of Our Lord Christ, King of the Universe

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

With great joy and gladness, Holy Mother Church today acknowledges the Son of God and Son of Mary as “the King of the universe” to whom “belong glory and power for ever and ever” (Collect, Revelation1:6). In this age in which we live in a constitutional republic, today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, may seem an antiquated notion of medieval piety. This, however, is not the case, because today’s celebration is not even one hundred years old.

BL Royal 15 D II, f. 122
Capello tip to A Clerk of Oxford
Pope Pius XI established this liturgical celebration in 1925 because he recognized the lamentable state of society at that time. He went so far as to enumerate the ills of the then-present day:

...the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.[1]

His words maintain a striking parallel to our own day. How is it, then, that society is not much improved? How, indeed, could society have actually worsened? With the diagnosis so clearly given, how could we have become more gravely ill? The answer is really quite simple: individuals, families, and societies have not yielded themselves to the power of Christ’s love, nor have they placed themselves under the gentle yoke of his kingship (cf. Matthew 11:29).

Our modern day has rejected the authority of kings, thinking them all to be tyrannical despots like King Henry VIII. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people – even many among us today – reject the authority of Christ the King over their lives? We forget that not every king is a tyrant. History has known good kings, like King Alfred the Great, who saw to the welfare and education of his people more than his own pleasure. We, on the other hand, try to make ourselves little kings over our lives and seek our own pleasure before the welfare of others. It is time for us to remove our self-made crowns and cast them – together with our self-absorption - at the feet of the One who alone is worthy (cf. Revelation 4:10).

In the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we heard a brief account of the anointing of David, the former shepherd who slew Goliath and so defeated the army of the Philistines, as King of Israel (cf. II Samuel 5:3). Many kings would succeed him and sit on his throne, but at the time of our Lord’s birth the throne of David was vacant, awaiting the fulfillment of the ancient promise given through the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and for evermore (9:6-7).

Soon we will enter the season of Advent and reflect on these words in a particular way, by turning our thoughts to the One of whom the Archangel Gabriel declared when he said to the Blessed Virgin: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

Crucifixion Scene, manuscript, ca. 1300-1350
Kranmert Art Museum

It is this Child, this King, whom we see today hanging on the Cross in order to save us from our sins. The government upon his shoulder is the Cross he carried for us, the Cross he ascended for us, and from which he reigns over us; his government is one of mercy and love, not of tyranny and oppression. It is to this King that we must give the obedience of faith; it is to this King that we must entrust ourselves. If we hope to find the joy and enthusiasm of a renewed conversion of heart and will so as to know the joy of Christmas each day, if we hope to attain the joy and peace for which our hearts long, we must willingly submit to him in all things; we must seek to serve him alone, and not ourselves.

We know that the obedience we are to give to Christ is, ultimately, the same obedience that led Jesus to the Cross. He makes it clear that if we are to be in his service, we must take up the cross each day – without exception – and follow him (cf. Luke 9:23). Yet we also know that to those who pledge their obedience to him and take up their cross, Christ Jesus will say, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The conversion the Lord desires is full and complete, one that continually calls out for his mercy, and one by which we allow ourselves to be entirely his - and his alone - so that we can be found “glorying in obedience to the commands of Christ” and “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Prayer After Communion; Psalm 122:1). But this is only possible if we recognize we are not sovereign over our own lives.

Is it unreasonable to place oneself under the authority of one who loves? While those crucifying Jesus, together with the crowd and even one crucified with him, mocked and reviled him, Jesus chose instead to

display patience, commend humility, render obedience, and bring love to perfection. Now by these gems of the virtues the four corners of the cross are adorned: love at the top; obedience on the right; patience on the left; and the root of virtues, humility, at the base. The consummation of the Lord’s passion has enriched the triumphant trophy of the cross with these virtues.[2]

Jesus displays his kingship in this manner. He allows his heart to be pierced for us so that we can enter into it and see how much he loves us.

Let us, then, recognize his authority over our lives. Let us willingly kneel before him and ask to be sent out as heralds and emissaries of his merciful love. Let us seek to uproot the seeds of discord and bring peace to the enmities and rivalries between individuals and nations. Let us change our greed into generosity and temper our selfishness with an honest recognition of our sins, of our failures to love. Let us bring a sincere concern for others into our families and joyfully fulfill our duties towards them. After all, as Pope Francis said, this morning, “it would mean very little … if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King.[3]

If we live in this way, if we live as loyal and loving subjects of Christ the King, if we live our lives under the shadow of his Cross adorned with love, obedience, patience, and humility, then the dream and ambition of Pope Pius XI will be fulfilled: “When once men 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.”[4]

Queen Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is said to have once asked, “How could I wear a crown of gold when my Lord wears a crown of thorns? And he wears it for me,” she added in honest humility. If she, an earthly queen, placed herself under the kingship of Christ and strove to follow his example in all things, we can do the same. May we never tire of doing so! By conforming our lives to the mystery of his Cross, by adorning our lives with the gems of love, obedience, patience, and humility, may the Lord bring us into his “eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Preface). Amen.

[1] Pope Pius XI, Qua primas, 24.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 23.45. In Works of Saint Bonaventure, Vol. III, Part 3: Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: Chapters 17-24 (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2004), 2158.
[3] Pope Francis, Homily, 20 November 2016.
[4] Pope Pius XI, Qua primas, 19.