Luke’s gospel for the Feast of Christ the King presents Jesus, not in a royal palace, but on a dark desolate hill. He’s not surrounded by cheering crowds, but by people cursing his name. He has no crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. His robe lies torn from him, heaped on the ground soaked in his blood. His throne is a cross, and over the cross is the inscription: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The temptation is to see this scene as a failure. But listen to the gospel. One of the criminals calls out to the wretched figure hanging next to him: “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” And power goes out from him. “This day you will be with me in paradise.
The thief is an interesting figure in the gospel. He has no name, nothing is known of his life or his crime. There he is, desperate, thinking all is gone. Powerless, no one would take a chance on him. Who would bother with him or think him worthwhile? Who would come close to him? Only a God who in the person of Jesus Christ would come so low as to share a cross with him.
The thief has no name, but we believer that he bears everyone’s name. In the thief we see ourselves, our desperate, poor, powerless selves. Yes, that is how much Christ loves us. He is close to the sinners of this world, to us..
The other day a priest in my community, Father Theophane Cooney, CP, gave me a short instruction that he gives to people about reading the scriptures; it’s based on an old method called in latin “lectio divina” or “sacred reading.” I put his instruction on my blog yesterday and a surprising number of people read it, so I’d like to share it with you today as we read from the Gospel of John.
What is Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading)?
It is a spiritual, rather than academic, reading of the Bible. It enables the reader to get to know Jesus in a more personal way, through reading, above all through listening.
It is to experience a personal meeting of an intimate kind with the God who loves you and comes to meet you in the sacred reading. You should not feel obliged to read a complete passage, you are there to listen. God can say an awful lot in a few words.
Avoid opening the scriptures at random: choose rather the Sunday gospel, for example.
Time: set aside 10 or 15 minutes when you will be free from interruptions.
Place: somewhere free of interruptions, no telephone, no television, no computer.
1. Take some moments to calm down.
2. Invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Pray to be enlightened with an inspiration that may inspire your life.
3. Read calmly, very slowly, the biblical text. Read it again. Take the time to listen to the Lord and the message he wishes to share with you from this reading. Don’t expect blinding revelations. God is teaching you to listen and seek him in silence.
4. Meditate: ask yourself–“What does this word of God, which I have read carefully say to me.”
5. Pray. Speak to the Lord who has spoken to you in the text you have reflected on. Let your attitude be that of the Virgin Mary: “Be it done onto me according to your word.”
6. Contemplate in silence. Remain fascinated and impressed as you calmly allow the word of God to inspire you as though it were the heat of the sun.
7. Act. Make a commitment that springs from this encounter with the Lord. Inspired and filled with the word of God you return to daily life with a renewed attitude.
If you are faithful to this practice, your life will begin to change. The word of God will lead you to a change of attitudes, values and feelings. Love the word of God. Study it and allow it to form your personality.
This Sunday’s gospel’s a good gospel for practicing the lectio divina. Do you remember how it begins? “Jesus said to his disciples.” Who are his disciples? Aren’t they us? Jesus said these words when he was with his disciples at the Last Supper. Isn’t he with us now?
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower…I am the vine and you are the branches. Can God be so close that we are branches on the vine? “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remain on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” “Remain in me,” Jesus tells us. “I remain in you,” he tells us. “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”
If we cut ourselves off from our God, we become lifeless branches.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
If we remain in Jesus, we have life and bear fruit, and listen to his promise: “Ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
You can see how these words bring us into the presence of the Lord, how fascinating they are, how they bring close to God and God close to us.
“If you are faithful to this practice, your life will begin to change. The word of God will lead you to a change of attitudes, values and feelings. Love the word of God. Study it and allow it to form your personality.”
Our gospel today is from the first chapter of Mark. Jesus has come from his baptism in the River Jordan, gathered disciples and is living at Peter’s house in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. He enters the synagogue in the town and amazes people with his teaching. They’ve never heard anyone like him.
But a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit challenges him. I’m not sure what an unclean spirit is, and neither do most of the commentators on this gospel. The man certainly reacts violently to Jesus, shouting out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1,21-28)
In other words: “Keep away from us; you’re only going to bring us trouble.” The man just wants to be left alone. Even in the synagogue he wants to be left alone. Even if Jesus is from God, the man just wants to be alone. “Get away from us!” he says.
That strong reaction to Jesus was not limited to the synagogue in Capernaum. It continued as he made his way to Jerusalem. The rejection was sometimes strong, sometimes people just ignored him. Mark see that rejection as diabolic.
No matter how wise his teaching, how compassionate his healing, how loving his words, Jesus was rejected. In the end, his enemies killed him.
We believe the gospel repeats itself, and so it’s repeated today as we hear it. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Can we reject Jesus too? As we sit in our synagogue today, do we reject him in signs of his presence and in faith?
Belief in Jesus Christ is at the heart of everything. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Believing means hearing Jesus, listening to him, offering ourselves to him, entering into friendship with him, hoping in his strength, waiting patiently to receive what he promises.
Believing is not something we do occasionally; we believe day by day. There’s always the danger of losing faith in him. “Leave us alone,” we say, “You want to destroy us.” We can prefer isolation to communion with the One God has sent.
So maybe an unclean spirit is not rare at all. Maybe we could call it that cloudy, dark spirit that can take hold of us, so we don’t see the light. Deliver us, Lord, from an unclean spirit.
Rejection of Jesus was not unusual in his day, as the gospel of Mark reminds us, and it’s not unusual today. Today, however, it’s influenced by some different factors.
For example, our western world resists the idea of Jesus as a unique Savior and Teacher. We live in a pluralistic society, and so when we say Jesus is a unique Savior and Teacher, we seem to deny the truth in other religions and religious teachers.
What about the Dalai Lama? What about Buddhism, Hinduism, the religion of native Americans? Don’t they teach the truth? When you claim that Jesus is unique, do we deny there’s truth in other religions and religious teachers?
In answer to that, we can say that we believe a human search for God goes on from the beginning of the human race. The human spirit is always searching for God and its search has been blessed by wisdom and spiritual insight. So other religions religions have been blessed with truth.
But the uniqueness of Jesus comes from the fact that God approaches us. He sends us his Son. Jesus is his Word to us. His revelation is something we couldn’t arrive at on our own. We didn’t earn it. “This is my beloved Son, hear him,” God says from the heavens when Jesus is baptized. God takes the initiative and calls us into friendship with him, eternal friendship. It’s a promise beyond what we could dream of.
And Jesus not only promises new life, but he takes away what hinders us from enjoying a life with God. He takes away sin. He took away the unclean spirit that was there in the man in the synagogue.
I think there are other factors today that contribute to the rejection of Jesus, particularly in our western world. We’re proud of our individuality and there’s a fear following Jesus causes us to lose our own personalities and dreams. Jesus will take over our lives and impose on us a mold of his own. We don’t like losing our individuality–not at all.
There’s a fear too that a code of morality will be imposed on us that will deaden our lives and make us scared to love and to live. For many Christianity appears to be a religion of cold moralism, but it isn’t.
The man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit may not be too far from us, then. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Jesus cried out. We may need that healing ourselves.
To listen to the audio for the Homily, please select the link below:
One of the most important things we do as Catholics is to come to Mass and pray. I’d like to reflect on the prayers of the Mass, in particular the Eucharistic Prayer. They’re good guides to prayer at Mass, but before reflecting on the prayers themselves I want to say something that has to be said today.
Praying at Mass begins with us being there. Praying at Mass begins with us showing up.
Someone once said “Most of life is showing up.” I don’t think we realize how much we need each other “showing up” in church. Suppose the music ministers didn’t show up, the readers, the ministers of communion, the altar servers, the ushers, the deacon, the priest didn’t show up?
We notice people at Mass week after week, year after year. We encourage each other. I often feel in awe watching someone coming into church in a wheelchair or on oxygen support, or mothers and fathers dragging their kids in. Showing up together is a key to praying at Mass.
We’re at Mass to give thanks. “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” the priest says at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. When we celebrate Mass, the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we give thanks to God together.
What does it mean to thank God? The English writer, C.S. Lewis, has a wonderful reflection on thanking God in a little book he wrote on the psalms. (Reflections on the Psalms) Lewis turned away from God for awhile. When he returned and began to pray again he was bothered by the way our prayers urge us again and again to thank God. Why do we keep on praising God, he wondered? Was God a “prima donna” or a dictator looking for our adulation?
After thinking about it, Lewis said he realized that thanksgiving and praise are embedded in ordinary human life. To be thankful and to praise are actually signs of a healthy life. Ordinary life rings with praise and thanksgiving, he wrote:
There’s “…praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars.”
Healthy people praised most, Lewis noticed; cranks and malcontents praise least. He came to the conclusion that praise and thanksgiving are indications of an “inner health made visible.”
That’s true, isn’t it? People who are inwardly healthful praise most; cranks and discontented people praise least. The self-absorbed see only themselves and their little world. Those who lose an appreciation of life because of hurt, loss, or disappointment can lose the ability to enjoy and give thanks and praise.
When we come to Mass, it seems to me, we’re looking for the inner health God wants us to have. It’s so easy to sink in smallmindedness, self-absorption. It’s so easy to let the hurts and sufferings of life get us down. We need to be lifted up to a higher vision of things.
That’s what happens in the mystery of the Eucharist. Do you remember the prayers at beginning of our Eucharistic prayer, the little dialogue that introduces the prayer?
“The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.”
“Lift up your hearts.” “We have lifted them up to the Lord.”
“Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God.” “It is right and just.”
The Lord is with us, lifting up our hearts and minds to a greater world that God wants us to see. Like the water poured into the wine, we enter the prayer and vision of Jesus Christ and are lifted up into another, higher world, the world of God’s creation. We give thanks to the Lord, our God in that world, and it’s the right thing to do.
In the Eucharistic Prayer we give thanks for the special gift of the God of Creation: Jesus Christ, who came into the world as God’s Son. Remembering the mysteries of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection, we give thanks for him. And he blesses us with the blessings of his birth, his life, his death and resurrection.
He refreshes us by these mysteries. We’re fed by them. They’re food from heaven that gives us a heavenly vision.
Listen carefully to the prayers of the Mass and make them your own