Monday, November 24, 2014

Living for the King

Yesterday was the solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and the perfect occasion to reflect on what it means to call Christ my king.

Our culture doesn’t like mixing politics and religion. Every year we witness numerous efforts to push religion from the public square. A relativistic, pluralist society simply cannot tolerate the absolute claims of religion, specifically those of Christianity. But, to call Christ King is as much a political as it is a religious statement. When Paul claimed “Jesus is Lord” it was a direct challenge to Caesar’s claim to be Lord.  In fact, it was the rise of modernism and secularism that motivated Pope Pius XI to institute this feast in 1925, when he stated: “Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society.” (Quas Primas, #18)

Of course before Christ can reign over society he must reign over us individually. Before Jesus can be Lord over our culture he must be Lord of our hearts, minds, and wills. Pius XI recognized this and presented the Church with the following challenges. 
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God." (Quas Primas #33)
Minds

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)

Allowing Christ to be King of our minds requires that we learn how to think like Jesus and submit our own thoughts and ideas to him. It is so easy to be shaped by our culture. It is tempting to let our politics flavor our faith. But, minds submitted to Christ allow him to work through us to shape the culture, our church, and our society. This requires that we be attentive and active, engaging our minds to critically think about all of the outside influences trying to sway us. It means recognizing that we are called to give our assent to the teaching of the Church and trust the wisdom of God in using the Church to reveal and interpret the truth about faith and morals.

Wills

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:9)

It’s not enough to simply think the right things; we must submit our actions to the service of Christ the King as well. As the Gospel story from Sunday—the sheep and the goats—illustrates, it’s what we do or do not do that will be judged. Learning to practice the beatitudes or virtues is much more difficult than merely memorizing what they are. As St. Paul testified, sinning comes naturally to us, that’s our fallen nature at work. We must struggle with our flesh to make the practice of virtue as natural as the practice of sin. By grace, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving we can re-train our nature to seek and do what is right.

Hearts

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

It’s all a matter of priorities. I know for myself, when I am committed to taking time for prayer or fasting I can tell the difference it makes. But it is so hard to make Jesus the King of my calendar. There are so many distractions, so many meetings and demands for my time. Work, friends, and family all compete for the same 24 hours each day and yet before any of them I know I should be setting time aside to be with my King. Like the story of Martha and Mary. I am too often consumed with doing many things (even though they may be good things) that rob time from just sitting at his feet. This is the challenge we all face in making Christ the King of our hearts; to make him the most important, most central person, place or thing in our lives every day.

Our Bodies

"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ...Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Well this one pretty much hits close to home as well. Have I submitted my body to the King? Do I honor God with the way I care for myself? God is deeply interested in our wellbeing and that includes the care and upkeep of these fragile temples of the Holy Spirit. Submitting our bodies to the reign of the King means making sure we care for the physical abode of his presence, his Spirit in us. Exercise, sleep, food and drink may all seem inconsequential and even out of place when discussing our relationship with Christ, the King of the Universe, but they are not. We are embodied souls, and if St. John Paul II’s theology of the body should teach us anything it is that what we do with our bodies matter. We can use our bodies (and not just in a sexual context) to worship and honor God. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion

I've been blessed to have a couple posts on some national sites. Please check these out if you get a chance:



The Way of Love

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 
He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Matthew 22:34-40
I taught freshman and sophomore religion classes at a Catholic high school for three years. It was easily one of the most fulfilling jobs I ever had. Every Friday, I would cut my lecture short to allow time for what I called “Question Box Friday”. I would pass around a shoe box and students would anonymously write down whatever questions they may have about God or religion. Morality, specifically sexual morality, was always a consistent theme, and those kinds of questions often centered on how much one could get away with before committing too serious of a sin. The second most popular subject focused on how to know what God’s will is for our lives.

In the passage above from Matthew’s Gospel, taken from the readings for the 30th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus provides a deep, yet simple answer to these kinds of questions: Love God and Love Others. I would often explain to my students that rather than focusing on what you can or can’t get away with, or what is or isn’t a sin, that our focus needs to be on loving and following Christ. If we can keep our eyes on him then we don’t need to worry about these things because he won’t lead us to sin. If we could just put our effort into learning to love Jesus and others as he loved then we could find peace. In the end, this is all that God asks of us.

The problem is we don’t know how to love. Our efforts at love can become clouded and confused by our need to be loved. Jesus showed us that love requires that we put the needs and wellbeing of the other before our own. It also requires obedience to the one who made us and knows us for himself is love. This struggle to put God first is the first and most difficult challenge. Pope Benedict pointed out that when we adore God we are putting ourselves face-to-face with him (adore comes from the Latin, “ad ora”, or mouth to mouth). When we turn our focus to God we align ourselves with him, and from him we are then able to love others.

We were taking a family trip to visit my in-laws not too long ago. We had all the kids and all of our stuff loaded into our minivan. Everything was going well until a loud noise erupted from the front of the van. We had blowout. Fortunately, I was able to safely pull over, but the front driver’s side tire was shredded. Apparently, the alignment was off and we didn’t know it, but that shift in the alignment caused the inside of the tire to wear unevenly until it finally burst. When our love isn’t fully aligned with God, when we let our ideas or desires about love to influence us, our spiritual alignment gets out of place, and if left uncorrected can lead to counterfeit “loves” that are disordered, distracted, or disappointed. The world holds these false loves out as the ideal when in fact they are mere superficial, self-centered sentimentality. May we respond to the grace God offers us to learn how to truly love from him and him alone.