Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Unbounded Reality

Last Sunday in Ordinary Time

22 November 2009

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King

50th Anniversary of the Cornerstone Laying for the

Church of Our Lady Queen of the Universe, Black Rock, St. Michael, Barbados

In our Opening Prayer today for the Feast of Christ the King we prayed: “Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.” That is about as ultimate and absolute a statement as you can get. “Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.” It goes far beyond the sorts of concerns which fill your minds or mine most of the time. We do not usually speak or think in such terms. For those of us who have put on Christ in Baptism, however, our day to day and our special celebrations like this golden jubilee have a dimension which reaches beyond our space and time. This is as it should be and the world must know that being loved by God, being His chosen ones takes us beyond simple affection and has implications for the life of the world.

As we choose to speak in ultimate terms and live our lives with reference not only to the here and now of time but to eternity, as well, we do our world a favor, a big favor really. In speaking and living for eternity at home, in particular, you do your children an immeasurable service: you give them a clear witness to the light and hope which this world cannot provide: “Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.”

Back when Fr. Ron sent me the initial invitation to come today, he also sent me a copy of your parish goals for the jubilee year. I congratulate you. One of the goals the parish set for itself during your golden jubilee year of commemorating the cornerstone laying of this church and bringing thanks for the many blessings which have come your way as a parish over the course of these 50 years, the last but by far not the least of them, that is number 5, is very significant: To look toward the future as the parish prepares to determine the way forward by designing a vision and mission statements for the parish. An ambitious task: I hope you got the job done?

Planning is important, even if ultimately we cannot really plan our own future. It is sort of like planning based on the odds that we could win the lottery tomorrow (not very realistic to say the least). So it is with our individual lives: our chances are better that illness, sadness or suffering may be our lot, if not tomorrow then at some point anyway before death catches up with us. In any case, what is important is that we live in hope, that we live for the ultimate, that we live for the victory of Christ and the establishment of His Kingship in our individual lives, in our world throughout history, past, present and future, throughout the universe created by Him before time began. What is important in life is that we live and work for the victory of Christ and the establishment of His Kingship.

Let us look at today’s readings for a moment:

The Prophet Daniel: “I gazed into the visions of the night… On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.”

The Book of the Apocalypse: “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the First-born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood…”

St. John’s Gospel: “Mine is not a kingdom of this world… Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”

Celebrating Mass, the Holy Eucharist, and especially with Scripture Readings like these assigned for today’s solemnity, takes us out of the extraordinary ordinary of anybody’s 50th celebration of whatever and anybody’s plans for whatever you and I can plan not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Sunday Mass is an important weekly course correction to keep us focused on what is ultimately important in human life. It is also the only fitting context for a parish to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Talking about our everyday life, we might add that daily prayer is essential to keeping us in the real world with its boundless possibilities for those who love God. If our focus in life includes contemplating the ultimate as it touches our every day, then that will put us happily to use words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, to groaning and longing for the fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Our hearts are set on the world to come, when Christ, Our King, will be all in all. That is not an escape; that is the unbounded reality which reflects our dignity now that God has become man and has lifted us up unto Himself for glory. A prayerful person is a person who is alert and connected. Alert and connected to persons, events and things around him, the prayerful person is the person who is fully alive because his awareness extends beyond the here and now. Do you have to be some sort of a mystic to live this way? Can an ordinary person today live this way? Is such possible in Black Rock? Yes, I think so!

Do I? Can I? Must I live beyond the Bajan or Caribbean equivalent of a hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck or windfall to windfall existence? And why not? I suppose instead of today’s Gospel it might have been appropriate to read Jesus’ teaching about taking a lesson from the lilies of the field and not worrying about tomorrow, but the Church rather in John’s account of Christ’s Passion faces us squarely with Jesus’ trial before Pilate and that Roman pagan governor’s puzzlement over Jesus’ willingness to suffer for the sake of the truth. What is the message? There are many to be drawn, but I will draw only one which applies to you and to me as we stand before our pagan judge, as we stand before whomever he or they might be and no matter how he or she is called.

My message for the parish of Our Lady Queen of the Universe, Black Rock, St. Michael, Barbados is very simply to face with confidence your future, yours personally and that of your parish family and of your Catholic family here in Barbados. As Jesus before Pilate, give to everyone who asks you the reason for your hope in that which goes beyond today and tomorrow! Be sure that your children and grandchildren in particular are reassured to know that you live in God’s presence and place all your trust in Jesus! At funerals we often read from the Book of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that on the last day I myself in my body will see Him…” That is what is essential. Treasure the ultimate and make it a part of your every day!

One of the jobs I had when I was working in the Apostolic Nunciature in Germany before I came here to the region five years ago was to prepare and carry out our house move from “Catholic” Bonn to “Secular” Berlin. When we were moving I also had to hire a new chauffeur for the Nuncio in Berlin. I interviewed seven or eight candidates and came up with three who fit the bill. I can remember discussing the results with someone who advised me not to take the man without religion but to choose one of the two Catholics, not because they were Catholic but because the man without Baptism wouldn’t have the balance or perspective to be able to deal with the tensions of the job. I chose otherwise and chose wrongly because my pagan lost it and quit within his first month of employ. All those smiling and polite people without religion on the Berlin subway are only smiling and polite until you step on their toes… then most of them lose it. What does it mean at Baptism when we sing “You have put on Christ”? It means among other things that your trajectory, your perspective goes with Him beyond the here and now. “You have put on Christ” and your life hidden with Him in God takes on a whole new dimension. Treasure the ultimate and make it a part of your every day!

Endurance training is part of what makes for any all-around athlete. In the world of classical Greece long ago, the Spartans were considered emblematic for that kind of hardening which supposedly made their people great. Things changed when Christ our Light appeared bringing us salvation from the drudgery of life this side of death. The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King would have us know that baptized into Christ there is much more to us than being able to run longer distances, jump higher or hold our breath longer under water. Our dignity and our hope have cosmic dimensions and that’s the truth which is ours in Christ.

Milestones like 50 years are great to celebrate in every way. You are right to reflect together and set goals for your future. But remember and make the vision of Daniel your own: “…I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man… His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire be destroyed.”

From the Apocalypse again: “This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Happy anniversary, Black Rock! Happy future to all who trust firmly in the Lord and His strength! Know your faith! Know your catechism! Teach it to your children! Put your trust in the Lord and not in the things of earth! Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you and ultimately, no matter what else might happen, will raise you up on the Last Day. By our faith filled lives let us try and hasten that Day of His Coming.

May Our Lady Queen of the Universe, whom you venerate in a special way in this place, wrap you in her star-cloak and escort you confidently to the throne of the Most High!

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