Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Age of Mercy - Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King (C)

This morning we celebrate the great solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. On this day, the liturgical year draws to a close and, in that, we are given a chance to reflect on the End of All Things. Today also happens to be the close of the great jubilee Year of Mercy; a year when we have been given special graces and opportunities for confession and indulgence, most especially in the pilgrimage Doors of Mercy. I do hope you were able to take advantage of our Lord’s consolation.

Already, however, we know that some of us did not. We missed out. At which point, we may ask: “Is it too late?” This is the Great Question which all of us face—not only at the end of this Year of Mercy, but at the end of our life. At the end, we will be tempted to think that it is too late; indeed, some of us may already think so: “It’s too late for me. I can’t make it into heaven. I’ve messed up too much. I’m too old. It’s too late.”

But it’s not too late! Notice the two thieves on their crosses. They are on their death bed. This is their last moment. And who is with them in their last moment? Jesus is. Jesus, the King who can save them in an instant, who can pardon a lifetime of sins with one word of mercy. Both thieves have spent their lives doing bad. Neither deserve heaven. It would seem to be too late. But the one, in his last moment and with his last, gasping breaths, asks our Lord for mercy. “Remember me, Lord…”

Jesus, suffering on the Cross, could have said “No, it’s too late.” Or “I’m suffering here, leave me alone.” But this Cross is Jesus’ throne; this is the place where He rules; and on this Cross, He is bestowing Mercy. And so, even though the thief has had a lifetime of sin, Jesus answers his last request and the King responds: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” And so the good thief enters heaven and becomes a saint: St. Dismas.

So take a breath right now.

That’s proof that it’s not too late. So long as you have breath in your lungs, it is never too late. We live not simply in a Year of Mercy, but an Age of Mercy. And Jesus is giving that Mercy to you right now from the Cross. If only we use our breath to ask for it: “For the sake of His sorrow Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!”

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Naturally, there are some who become afraid when we consider the End of All Things. To some degree, this is expected—we know that we will be judged and we are afraid of God’s justice. (What would be worrisome would be those who pass through this life without any fear of judgment. To humanity St. Dismas, the good thief, asks: “Have you no fear of God?...  we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes…”)

But there is some sense that God does not want us to be afraid of our death. St. Augustine writes (in a Discourse on the Psalms): “[W]hat sort of love of Christ is it to fear his coming? ... We love him, yet we fear his coming.” What does he mean? He means that if we love Jesus, why would we fear the approach of the one that we love? The only reason why we would fear his arrival is if we have loved sin more and have refused mercy.

Think of Jesus’ coming (again) like a sunrise. Those who have become accustomed to the light of Jesus’ Truth and the warmth of His Love and have basked in that and themselves given it—they will be eager and will indeed rejoice when that eternal son rises! Those, however, who have not embraced this Light—however much or little was given to them in this life—those who have not grown accustomed to it will be startled by it at the end of their life. Like a man hungover, they will shield their eyes and revile its arrival.

Eternal life, therefore, begins now: in whether we love Jesus and live in the light of that love, or push Him to the side and dwell in darkness.

*          *          *

When humanity realizes that this light is piercing and non-negotiable and eternal, there comes not only the divide of those who love versus those who fear and revile; but there also comes the frantic cries for help. “Save us! Save yourselves! Every last man for himself!” The bad thief on the Cross says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself. And us!”

None of them realize that this is exactly what the Christ the King is doing. The bad thief is so self-centered, so self-concerned on saving his own life that He overlooks the Messiah’s saving and suffering love. We may recall the words: “Anyone who wishes to save his life will lose it. But anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Why is it that anyone who tries to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for Jesus's sake will save it? Because of love. When Jesus is on the cross, He cries out: “I thirst.” For what? For our love. For someone to love him, to be with him, to remember him (“do this in memory of me”) and to say “I am with you.” When St. Dismas is on the cross and defends Jesus ("this man has done nothing criminal") and declares his faith in "the kingdom," St. Dismas is giving Jesus that little cup of water which is love. That’s all that Jesus wants. “At last, there is someone with me,” Jesus is saying, “I am not dying alone.” And so He saves St. Dismas' life.

We who console Jesus in this life will receive consolation at the hour of our death. Console His Mother, too, and you will receive her as well. And that’s a good thing, that: to die in the arms of Jesus and Mary…. It is the definition of a happy death. And we pray for that grace.

*          *          *

Certainly there are many applications from our reflection today. But let us consider one in particular.

We are about to embark upon the season of Advent. What does the word “Advent” mean? It means “Coming.” Whose coming? Jesus.

But when does He come? We want to say “Christmas” and that is true. But we’re not talking about a past coming; we are also talking about a current and future coming. There will come a day, soon, when we will see the Advent of Our King—not as a humble, little babe, but as the glorious Son of God. This is an Advent that we must prepare for: the Advent of Christ at the hour of our death or at the hour of His Second Coming.

The liturgical season of Advent, therefore, is not just simply four weeks before Christmas. It is actually a microcosm of life itself: it reminds us how we are or are not preparing ourselves for The End of All Things.

For the bad thief, Advent was the carrying of his cross and Christmas was dying next to Jesus—but the bad thief had no room in his heart to receive the Christmas gift of mercy. For the inns at Bethlehem, Advent was the call of the census and everyone going to their towns and Christmas was Mary and Joseph knocking on their doors to bring them the Savior. But their hearts were not prepared; there was no room for them to receive the Christmas gift of the Holy Family.

For us, Advent is both the liturgical season and our life's preparation; Christmas is both the liturgical day and the End of All Things. The question is: will we be prepared? And that is answered by what reigns in our hearts.

Will we have received mercy in confession or will it be too late? Will we be in love with Jesus who comes or be anxious of The Day? Will it be every man for himself or every man for Jesus?

These next few weeks will give us a good indication of where we are in our preparation for The End.

Practically, then: while the world speeds up, we will slow down. While the world forgets Jesus, we will remember. While people pile up sins of drunkenness and licentiousness at so-called Christmas parties, we will be confessing our sins and getting ready. While people grow selfish in their own gifts and have no room in their hearts, we will become selfless and simple and poor like the manger that receives Jesus. 

And by Christmas we will either be closer to the reality that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Peace—or farther away. Indeed, even Thanksgiving on Thursday will help us to see how much we need to prepare: when family comes to our homes or we to theirs, we will see: when differences of faith and politics ruffle feathers, will we remember Jesus and His mercy? Will love and peace reign in our hearts? Will we be quick to speak and judge-- or quick to pray?

The Year of Mercy is over. But the Age of Mercy is here... until He comes again.

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