The Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The very most important piece of the Gospel today comes right at the end, when Jesus says to the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That’s actually a pretty remarkable thing for him to say, because he was always berating the scribes and Pharisees for not getting it, for being so concerned about dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” of the law, that they totally missed the spirit of the law.  Jesus always maintained that they were going to completely miss out on the kingdom of God because of this blindness.  So here is a scribe who actually gets it, who knows what the first of all of the commandments is.  But somehow, in the tone of his congratulatory statement, I think Jesus is throwing in a bit of a challenge to the scribe: now that you know it, it’s time to live it.

That challenge is there for us, too, of course.  This Gospel reading is foundational to our call as disciples.  In order to be on course for the kingdom of God, we have to love God and love our neighbor.  Living these commandments from our hearts is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  So love of God and love of neighbor, the heart of the Christian life, needs to be the center of everything we think or say or do.  Love of God and love of neighbor needs to be the lens through which we see everything.

With that lens in mind, I want to say a few words about Tuesday’s election.  You’ve heard a lot about the candidates, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it frustrating.  If you’re like me, you’ll be glad for Wednesday when you don’t have to hear any more rancorous political ads on television, or receive robo-calls from the candidates.  Enough already.  And I’m not going to stand here and tell you who to vote for or who not to vote for; we’re not permitted to do that, and I think that is disrespectful of you as a Catholic and as a citizen.  My job is to make sure that you know what the Church teaches about our responsibility as citizens, and help you form your conscience so that you can exercise your right to vote in a responsible manner.

Toward that end, I want to leave you with a few basic principles that the Church gives us for voting responsibly.

The first principle is that if you can vote, you have to.  We don’t get to choose whether or not to be a good citizen.  Discipleship requires that we do everything we can to make the place where we are living a good place to live.  We are required to make our voice heard so that God’s will can be done.  Voting is one of the most important ways that we Catholics witness to our faith; we strongly believe that our faith has much to say to our world, and that our faith should help to shape the world in which we live.  We accomplish that, in part, by voting.

The second principle is that we vote according to our conscience.  Doing anything contrary to what our conscience tells us is always seriously sinful.  But voting according to our conscience is not the same thing as voting according to what we like or what we think sounds good for us.  Voting according to our conscience demands that we form our conscience; that we actively seek to understand our faith so that we vote in accord with it.  This is what the sticking point can be for many of us; because our faith, which informs our conscience, often requires that we vote in a way that is not popular, or not convenient for us, or in a way that requires that we take a position or give witness to a precept that is unpopular.  That’s hard to do, but it’s sinful not to.

The third principle is that, of the many important issues that confront us in any election, there are some that are most important, and that bind our consciences.  Abortion and respect for life is the paramount issue for us as Catholics.  And today’s scriptures tell us why: we can’t begin to love our neighbor if we support a policy that could kill them, and we can’t love our God if we don’t reverence life, the most fundamental and important of his many wonderful gifts.  Voting for a candidate who is not pro-life violates our conscience, manifests something far less than love of God and neighbor – the greatest of all the commandments, and therefore is sinful.

The fourth principle is that we don’t live in a perfect, black and white world.  Would that we did.  Would that our decisions were easy.  But they’re not.  I don’t know of a candidate who is perfectly pro-life; certainly neither of the major gubernatorial candidates can claim to be.  Man times, none of the candidates in a given race is perfect for the job whatever the office.  That makes our job so much harder: voting according to our conscience is a real conundrum, and generally very frustrating.  The principle though is that we sometimes have to vote for the lesser of the evils with which we are presented.  We vote for the candidate who supports life and rejects abortion in more circumstances, we vote for the candidate who allows religious organizations to function according to their moral teachings.  This takes study and discernment.

The Liturgy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, calls on us to work with God to establish, here on earth, a kingdom of love and peace, a kingdom of justice and truth.  Voting in a way that follows our conscience is a way to do that.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all as we go to the polls this Tuesday.  May the results of this mid-term election help us all to manifest a deep and enduring love of God and love of neighbor.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.  It’s one of those feasts that I think we can say, yeah, okay, I believe that.  But it really doesn’t affect me.  I mean, we don’t even have the political reference of being ruled by a king any more.  Not only that, I think we as a society have pretty much bracketed the whole idea of authority.  Basically if an authority gives us permission to do whatever we want, then fine, he or she can be in authority.  But the minute that authority tries to limit us in any way, then whoa: hang on a minute.

Yet there are times when we do want an authority.  Whenever we are wronged, we want an authority to give us justice.  Whenever we are in danger, we want an authority to bring us peace.  Whenever we are in need, we want an authority to bring us fulfillment.  But other than when we need something, we hardly ever seek any kind of authority.  Certainly not as a society, and if we’re being honest, not as individuals.  As an example, take the days after the tragedy of 9-11.  Our whole world was shattered.  I wasn’t here then, but I would be willing to bet the old church was filled to overflowing; I know my home parish was.  In those days, we wanted an authority to bring us peace and comfort and rest.  But now that we’re eleven years on the other side of it, look around.  Not so many people in the pews, right?  If Christ was the authority then, what makes him less of an authority now?  We certainly did not come through those harrowing days with our own feeble efforts, but when we don’t have buildings crashing down around us, we don’t seem to remember that.

Still, the Church gives us this important feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe to remind us that there is an authority.  Christ is King in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  Christ is king of the Universe and king of our own lives.  And if that’s true, we have to be ready to live that way.  So no, we can’t just do whatever we want.  And no, just because we believe something with all our hearts, that doesn’t make it truth.  And no, the idea of living according to our conscience doesn’t mean that it’s okay as long as it works for me.  The world would have us believe that, but the world will one day come to an end.  If we want the possibility of eternity, then we have to be open to the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe!

In today’s first reading, we have the promise of the king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion.  This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution.  This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.  The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life.  But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea.  They figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better?  The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.

We clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world.  And there are so many seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us.  Relativism and intolerance for Catholic values seem to be winning more souls every day.  Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it.  Why not just give in?  Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?

Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him.  This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them.  This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.

The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ.  He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting.  He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people.  He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.

But the problem was, he didn’t return right away.  People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day.  The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient.  Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

As we end this liturgical year and take a look back, maybe we can see some areas for improvement in our lives.  Much like the resolutions we may make January 1st, we may be able to make some resolutions for our spiritual lives in the coming liturgical year.  I don’t mean losing weight or getting more exercise: those you can make in the new calendar year.  But maybe in this liturgical year we could resolve to pray more or work for justice and peace, or reach out to the needy, or truly witness to the faith and live what we believe.  If we were to make some constructive resolutions for our spiritual lives, we could begin to take away the hold the pagan forces in our world have on us.  We could even proclaim with our lives that Christ is our King, personally, and also King of the Universe.

Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world.  That should be the red flag for us.  When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place.  Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and mercy, a kingdom of grace and comfort, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy.  The choice is ours, though.  Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom, not of this world that will certainly pass away, but the kingdom of eternity and the live of heaven?