Author: Fr. John

Christ the King

In religious life, we have a practice of the provincial visit. Once a year the provincial superior visits each person, talks with him about his life, his health, his work, etc.   One year one of the provincials visited a fellow who was known as not exactly a hardworking fellow. This guy said he would like to bring up the issue of retiring from active work. His provincial asked him, “What would be different?”

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. We picture Christ as sitting on the throne and wearing a crown. We can then ask, if He were in charge, if His rule were recognized by all—all over the world—What would be different?  What would the evening news, the local news look like? How would we live.  In other words, what would it be like if the Kingdom of God were among us?

That’s an important question because in our baptized we were anointed to continue the work of Christ Priest, Prophet and King.  As Christ the Priest, we celebrate the Kingdom of God, especially at Mass. As Christ the Prophet, we are called to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Through the eyes of faith we see the world as being a Kingdom of love, justice, and peace. As Christ the King, we are called to build that world. We have a mission to the world.

The goal of evangelization is not just to get people to believe and to pray, but to change the world. That’s why in his document Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI said:

  1. Lay people, whose particular vocation places them in the midst of the world and in charge of the most varied temporal tasks, must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelization.

Their primary and immediate task is (not to establish and develop the ecclesial community- this is the specific role of the pastors- but) to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics (, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media.

In other words, the Church belongs in the world of politics, society and economics, so that we can build a world where human beings and families can live as God intended at creation.

Because of our baptism we are called and sent into the world to so that there is authentic human development, that is, we are called to build a world so that people can live as God had created them to live, according to their dignity as children of God, without poverty, with their talents developed, keeping their families together, living where they can find work and community, and so forth.

At Mass, we are hearing the Word of God: It describes the world as God intended it should be. It describes the Kingdom of God. We will pray together as the Body of Christ, praying to Our Father, asking that His Kingdom come, After we share the Body of Christ we will be sent into the world, as followers of Jesus Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King. We are sent there to build up the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, justice, and peace.

We are on a mission from God.

At 13 Years Old??

Jesus tells us to be careful about what we put our hope in. “Don’t look at this fancy Temple that is being rebuilt!”—It was indeed destroyed around 70 A.D.

But there are other things we have trusted—and with good reason—for a long time, but we are experiencing that they too can fail.

Just take a look at the shift in attitudes of faith and religion, especially in the young.

I am taking most of this from Bishop Barron’s reports to the U.S.C.C.B. meetings. He has headed a committee of bishops on Evangelization for about 2 or 3 years. We face a very serious problem with passing on the Faith in the United States.

  • Currently, 24% of Americans are unaffiliated with any faith.
  • 50% of millennials—born between 1981—1996, those whom we baptized in the last 30 years have left the Catholic Church.
  • For every person coming into the Church now, 6.45 are leaving.
  • 1/6 of millennial Americans are former Catholics.
  • 80% of those who leave are under 23 years old.
  • Perhaps most sobering. The median age of people who leave the Catholic Church is 13.

Demographics of the Church are shifting. In the recent past, the Church has not appeared to shrink because of the growing number of immigrant Hispanics and now the U.S. born Hispanics. But the Hispanic population is affected by the same cultural pressures:

  • Today just under 50% of Hispanics in the U.S. are Catholic. The biggest loss is not to the evangelical churches but no unaffiliated.
  • Only 2% of Hispanic children are in Catholic schools (compared to 5% of African-American children).
  • Only 40% of Hispanic children are in Catholic religious education.
  • 58% of Hispanic children are not affiliated with the Church.

Why do they leave? Bishop Barron says it isn’t just opinions that we have. We have libraries filled with research and answers from those who have left. They leave because:

  1. They no longer believe the Christian “story.” They do not accept the basic tenets of Christianity.
  2. Relativism: “Well, that’s your truth, that’s what you believe.” But there is no objective truth. It’s all relative.
  3. Bishop Barron calls it “The Culture of Self Invention.” I make up my own beliefs and goals.
  4. The clash between religion and science.
  5. Church teaching on sexuality, especially towards gays and transgenders.

Bishop Barron and his committee have 5 suggestions for our work with young people:

  1. “Lead with justice.” Young people value those things which really help people in need: the poor, the hungry, immigrants, the sick, etc. Bishop Barron suggests we become involved in community organizing, soup kitchens, pro-life, the homeless, and so forth.
  2. The way of beauty,
  3. The Lure of Faith: Teach the Faith deeply.
  4. Use the social media
  5. Parish as mission, we need to be missionary disciples. We go out to others. We don’t wait for them to come to us.

The overall takeaway I want you to have is that we have to do things differently. We will need to re-envision how we do religious education: We can’t just think of it as preparation for sacraments. We probably will need to think about how can we make better connections with the entire families in religious education. And we need to take Bishop Barron’s suggestions seriously. The future of the Church and the spiritual well-being of our children and grandchildren are at stake.

God first!

Two stories: both true. They happened to me.

I used to be on call for the big city hospital in Austin, TX. One night I was called to come about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. The hospital was quiet. I got on the elevator, and one of the heart doctors were already on the elevator. He was a tall man. I think he was from India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. I didn’t know for sure, but I assumed so because of his appearance and accent. We saw one another in the hospital frequently, but we didn’t know each other.

Suddenly he turned to me and said, “God first!!  Then my patients, then my wife. My wife…She does not understand this!” The elevator stopped and he got off without telling me the rest of the story, which I am sure was interesting.

The second story. I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a Holy Cross bishop from India. He was very concerned about his country. . India is about 2-3% Christian. There are 200 languages, with 20 official languages. There are Muslims, but most are Hindu.  The current prime minister of India is pushing very hard with the theme: “One nation! One language! One religion!” He wants to unify the nation by having everyone speak only Hindi and being Hindu: no English, no Muslims, and no Christians.  Whether by law or by social pressure, all would speak only Hindi and be Hindus.

Political leaders over history and even today often use religion as a way to unite the country, and usually put it under their rule or influence.

The Chinese today have no problem with Catholicism, as long as it is part of the Chinese national Catholic Church. Foreigners—like a non-Chinese pope—should not be naming Chinese bishops, and the Church should be under the control of the Chinese, at least in their opinion. China and the Chinese Church should be for China.

Our closing hymn today will be “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as a way of honoring veterans. Do you think they will be singing that hymn in Catholic churches in Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas? I don’t know, but probably not.

This is exactly what was going on in the first reading. The king wants to maintain control over his people. They are to obey the king first. Just obey the law—disobey God by eating a tiny bit of pork, and all will be well. But the seven brothers insist, “God first! God is more powerful. His rule extends even beyond this life into eternity.

This question is before us. In church we pledge loyalty to God. We profess our Faith. But there are other voices: political, social, economic that clamor for our loyalty.

In American Grace, Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame, study American society and the role of religion in American society. They point out that when Americans have a conflict between what their churches teach and what their political perspective says, they solve it by changing religions.  God first?

Glenn Beck of Fox News would tell Catholics that if their priest was preaching social justice, it was a code word for socialism or communism, so they should change parishes. I don’t know how he accounted for Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict and now Francis all having a Secretariat for Social Justice, but I find it so ironic that U.S. Catholics would get their Catholic social teaching from a fallen away Catholic who became a Mormon.  God first? Or a political position first?

When we look at the issues before us, is it God first? When we say all human life is sacred from conception to natural death, is it all human life, or just the ones that my political position likes? Does it include the unborn, the undocumented, and death row? If God is first, both liberal and conservative causes stand in God’s judgment.

We are the Catholic Church, a universal church that embraces all peoples, from the rising to the setting of the sun. We believe God’s love is extended to all, regardless of borders, regardless of citizenship, regardless of social status, regardless of race.

Pope John Paul II made a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. As patriots we are called to love our fellow countrymen and women. We are called to help them. But we are not nationalists. Our love—and God’s love and concern—are not extended only to our country. We love our country, but it is God first.

 

A Different Way to Converse

Today’s readings offer us some very practical advice on how to deal with some very difficult situations and issues:

g the pagan conquerors, who have brutally subjugated his people. And he is trafficking in images of a false God—Caesar by handling coins all day. He would have been as popular as a flag burner at the American Legion convention.

He starts with a little natural curiosity. He just wants to see who this Jesus is…what does he look like.

But Jesus does something very dramatic: He takes a first step. He calls out to this little guy in a tree by name and says: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

Jesus does two things here:

1. He takes a first step. He reaches out to Zacchaeus. He doesn’t wait until Zacchaeus repents, wants to meet Jesus…Jesus takes the first step.

2. Jesus begins a relationship. I am going to stay with you—eat and sleep. (Remember: eating for the Jews was a sacred act—it’s a bit like communion.

Pope Francis coined a word in Spanish “Primerear.” Take the initiative, take the first step. Don’t wait for people to come to you—You go out to the edges, you take the first step.

It’s only in relationships that people can grow, change, or develop. We all know this—“Who do you listen to about politics, religion, other things?—Only people you trust.

There’s a saying: Social change happens at the speed of relationship. Relationship happens at the speed of trust.”

Social trust is at a low these days. People are staying within their safe social, political, religious cocoons. We watch the TV news that gives us the news to confirm what we already believe. We don’t have many, if any friends, with different political or religious views. We expect newcomers to town or to the church to be just like us. IT’S NOT WORKING!!!! Our nation and perhaps even the church in the United States are extremely polarized. We will have an election for president exactly one year from today. What kinds of nonsense, anger, bigotry, name-calling, divisiveness will we encounter? We are tearing ourselves apart. We will lose the ability for democracy and self-governance. We will cease to be a church and become political, religious social cliques.

What can we do?

Take the first step. Try to reach out to a person different from yourself. Do an individual meeting. Get to know them.

Try to stand where they stand. See the world from their perspective: their joys, hopes, fears.

We have been trying these cross cultural dinners in very small groups, and they have gone well, but try to do it on your own as well.

Tips for Engaging in Civil Dialogue:

1. Listen first and seek to understand the whole picture.

2. Ask questions for clarification.

3. Use ‘I’ statements—not so much, “you,” or “you people” or “they”; pay attention to body language.

4. Listen to what feelings are present and pay attention to how you respond.

5. Summarize what you’ve heard and ask for feedback.

Whether it is religion or politics or even the weather our conversations can be divisive and\or tense. “How are you thinking of family Thanksgiving dinner?” We are people of faith…with a great political tradition. God has blessed us and expects better of us.

As Pope Francis said a couple years ago in Egypt: “May you be sowers of hope, builders of bridges and agents of dialogue and harmony.”