Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King of my True Home

 Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, more commonly called Christ the King. Pope Pius XI established this feast in 1925 because he perceived that a sort of secularist nationalist tendency was starting to replace religion, where people were starting to bestow the love and trust properly due to God onto the state, that is, their country. Not accidentally, it used to be celebrated in October because Russia celebrated the anniversary of one of their socialist revolutions that same month. Pope Pius wanted people to remember that as Catholics, we know that no state, no government or kingdom on earth, can take care of us forever. Pius wanted us to remember that our true king is Jesus Christ and that our true home is not of this world.

And so if the point of today's feast is to focus on where our true home is at, then today's gospel reading is very appropriate. In this famous scene of Pilate confronting Jesus, Jesus is trying to teach us about where his true kingdom is at, and therefore our true home. Because Jesus doesn't deny that he has a kingdom, he only denies that it is of this world. Jesus wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we have to admit that we really like the things of this world. So if we want to be a part of his kingdom, then we can't be a part of this world.

His kingdom doesn't exist in this world like other kingdoms or nations, but it is accessible from this world. Jesus's kingdom is the Catholic Church, which exists here, in Purgatory, and in Heaven. This kingdom is not bound by any physical boundaries, but it exists any place Christians are gathered. So our job as Christians is to remember that we were not made for this world or the comforts of this world. Pope Benedict once said, "The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."

As members of this other-worldly kingdom called the Church, we call ourselves parishioners, which is kind of an interesting word. It comes to us from the Greek word paraoikos, which we find in Paul's letter to the Ephesians where he says that we are strangers and aliens no longer, but we are members of the household of God. Paraoikos means stranger, it basically means one who doesn't belong or one who doesn't fit it. So from this Greek word paraoikos we get the word "parishioner," and we also get the English word "pariah," which means social outcast. As parishioners, as members of the household of God, we are misfits in this world. We don't belong in this world.

As parishioners, as people who don't belong in this world, we should spend our lives longing for our true home in heaven. But what does this mean quite practically for us? We don't long for a lot in our lives, because our lives are pretty comfortable. If we need something, we just go out and buy it. We are truly blessed in that regard. There's not a whole lot of longing or suffering in our lives. Last night I went and saw a movie with some good friends, and then we went out to eat. I had a really tasty burger and some really good beer. And not once during any of that time did I think, "I'm an outcast in this world, my true home is in heaven," because with friends, entertainment, food, and drink, this world seemed like a pretty good place. And all of us have things we enjoy in this life that make us lose sight of the fact that we're pilgrims in this world.

So what does it mean to long for heaven, what does it mean to be a member of Jesus's kingdom not of this world, in the middle of our very comfortable 21st century lives? I don't have a full answer, because I struggle with this problem as much as anyone else. But part of the solution lies in being aware of the enormity of the problem, that Jesus made us for his kingdom and wants us to be a part of his kingdom, but we really like the things of this world.

I want to propose two ways to start living in his kingdom even while we sojourn through this world. The first is to invite Jesus into every part of your life, into every experience and every decision. There is nothing he doesn't want to be a part of, and there is no act or decision that is to menial or meaningless for him. But on the other hand, if you're uncomfortable inviting Jesus into an experience, if what you're choosing doesn't lead you closer to him, then that should be a really big clue that what you're doing isn't closer for you. So for example, last night I was with friends who lead me closer to Christ, we saw a good movie not opposed to Christian values, and I didn't overindulge on the food or drink. I was able to invite Christ into every bit of that experience and so I was able to expand his reign over my own heart a little bit, even if he wasn't at the front of my mind through the whole evening. But if I had spent time with friends who lead me away from Christ, and if we had watched a movie that is opposed to Christ, and then had way too much food and drink, there would have been a natural guilt if I had tried to invite Christ into that experience, and that guilt would have been a sign that I wasn't living in Jesus' kingdom at that moment.

The second way I want to propose that you start living in Christ's kingdom while on this earth is through voluntary penance. We don't talk about penance much outside of Lent when we all thing that we're going to become saints by going on a diet, but some form of penance or voluntary sacrifice should be a regular part of the Christian life. One priest I know never hits the snooze alarm, he gets up on the first alarm every day, he calls it the heroic minute. Another guy I know never takes a second serving at meals. Someone else I know never listens to music in the car, he makes that his prayer time. Penance may be limiting or eliminating the time we spend with the television or with Facebook. Penances will change with the seasons of our lives, but it should always be based on what detracts from our relationship with God. So I do suggest you try some regular form of conscious renunciation in your life.

The things of this world are enjoyable, and they can even be good if they point us to God. We are strangers in this world, so we have to be sure we use the things of this world to point us to our true home. We have to let Christ be King of the universe, and that starts with letting him be King of our hearts.

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