Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

On the coming weekend of Jan. 13-14, you will be asked to renew your annual subscription to the St. Louis Review, our archdiocesan newspaper, by remitting the subscription fee in one of the special-collection envelopes.Because of the importance of the St. Louis Review to the life of the Church in the archdiocese, I urge you to renew your subscription.

In appealing to you for the renewal of your subscription to the St. Louis Review, I want also to reflect on the importance of the archdiocesan weekly newspaper.In the Church throughout the world, the weekly diocesan newspaper provides an essential contribution to the new evangelization, to the teaching and living of our Catholic faith with the enthusiasm and the energy of the first disciples of our Lord and of the first missionaries to our area.

Pope Benedict XVI

On this past Nov. 25, Pope Benedict XVI met with the members of the Federation of Italian Catholic Weeklies.The 150 dioceses in Italy publish some 161 weekly newspapers.Some of the archdioceses publish not only a standard weekly newspaper but also a weekly newspaper directed to a special group in the Church or a weekly newspaper distributed as an insert in a local secular newspaper.

In speaking about the work of diocesan Catholic weeklies, Pope Benedict XVI used the words with which I have entitled my reflection. He declared:

"The objective of the diocesan newspaper is to offer to all a message of truth and hope, emphasizing the events and situations, in which the Gospel is lived, in which good and truth triumph and in which, with hard work and creativity, people weave and repair the human fabric of small community realities" (Pope Benedict XVI, "To Italian Catholic Journalists," L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, Dec. 6, 2006, p. 17).

The distinctive service of the diocesan weekly newspaper is the communication of the truth of the Gospel, as it is lived in the rich variety of local communities which make up the Church in a particular area. No other newspaper provides such an important service to the faithful who indeed, through the various articles in the diocesan newspaper, read the truth in the context of their daily lives and the daily lives of their fellow Catholics.At the same time, they are given hope that, notwithstanding the many challenges in leading a Christian life in our times, faithful Catholics are giving witness to Christ alive for us in the Church.

Referring to the service of the diocesan weekly newspapers in Italy, Pope Benedict went on to make an observation which surely applies in every nation: "In recounting daily events, you make known that quiet reality woven of faith and goodness that constitutes the genuine fabric of Italian society" (p. 17).The stories told in the diocesan newspaper are not considered newsworthy by the secular press.For people of faith, however, they are most noteworthy, for they give witness to the new evangelization as it is taking place in the many and different situations of life in which faithful Catholics find themselves. As Pope Benedict noted, the diocesan weekly makes important connections for the faithful and among the faithful, connections which lead us to reflect more deeply on the truth of the faith and to give ourselves more confidently to Christ in living the faith.

St. Louis Review: Source of information and inspiration

For me as archbishop, the St. Louis Review is my principal means of communicating regularly with the whole archdiocese.It provides me with an apt instrument of teaching the faith and of drawing together in unity the many individuals and communities who make up the Archdiocese of St. Louis.The weekly newspaper is a familiar way for me to visit the homes of the faithful each week.

The faithful of the archdiocese rightly rely on the St. Louis Review as a source of information about the life of the Church in the archdiocese and in the world.The faithful receive not only information but also inspiration for their own daily living.The stories and commentaries in each edition of the paper highlight the Christian virtues at work in the lives of many Catholics and underline the Catholic culture which enriches so much of our lives.

Through the St. Louis Review, the parishes of the archdiocese make important connections with each other, to use Pope Benedict XVI’s words.The faithful of each parish are enabled to share stories which are mutually encouraging and also inspire new initiatives in carrying out the Church’s mission in the circumstances of everyday living.Making such connections is critical to the new evangelization, providing new ideas for the teaching and living of the faith, and inspiring courage to take up the work of the new evangelization in the particular situations of each of our lives.

Conclusion

As archbishop, I strongly desire to communicate weekly with all of the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis by means of the St. Louis Review.It is my hope that, through the coming subscription drive, all of the active Catholics in the archdiocese will receive the Review into their homes, each week.It is also my hope that our archdiocesan weekly by coming into and remaining in our homes will be read by others who may have grown tepid or cold in their practice of the faith. Often enough, those drifting from the faith will pick up the diocesan weekly in the home of a Catholic relative or friend and will be inspired to return to the active practice of the faith.

Please renew your subscription to the St. Louis Review.Please encourage your fellow parishioners to do the same. Finally, and most importantly, please pray that the St. Louis Review will be always an effective instrument of the new evangelization.

‘Be not afraid!’

Introduction

On Dec. 15, I visited with the members of the St. Benilde Society at Christian Brothers College High School (CBC).The St. Benilde Society is a student organization devoted to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life through prayer and personal vocational discernment.Father Matthew O’Toole, chaplain at CBC, is the faculty adviser of the society.St. Benilde (1805-1862) was a French Christian Brother who, during his years of teaching, was instrumental in more than 200 young men responding to the call to the priesthood or consecrated brotherhood.He was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1948 and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1967.

The St. Benilde Society was founded by a student at CBC who is currently in his senior year and completing his application for admission to Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.Thirteen young men took part in the Dec. 15 meeting, in which Father Michael T. Butler, director of the Office of Vocations, and I participated.Throughout the meeting, I was impressed by the young men’s sincere interest in and enthusiasm for the priestly vocation.Not all of them are hearing the call to the priesthood or consecrated life, but all of them are asking the question regarding their own vocation. As you can imagine, it takes strong faith and character to be active in a club that prays for and promotes vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.The hour that I spent with these young men filled me with new hope and new joy in carrying out my fundamental responsibility to assist those who are hearing the call to the priesthood and consecrated life.

New priestly vocations

My meeting with the St. Benilde Society at CBC is indicative of something happening throughout the archdiocese.God, in a most generous way, is inspiring many young men to consider the vocation to the priesthood.This past September, I admitted 11 new archdiocesan seminarians to the college program at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, four to the pre-theology program and four to the theology program.In addition, three of our archdiocesan seminarians who graduated from the college program in May of this year entered a theology program, two at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and one at the Pontifical North American College.

While new men are beginning their priestly formation, Father Butler continues to help me in assisting other young men who are hearing the call to the priesthood but have not yet entered the seminary.Already, a good number of young men have expressed an interest in entering Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in the fall of 2007 in order to prepare themselves for priestly service in the archdiocese.Three have already completed their application process and have been admitted.

It is certainly not just a question of the number of our seminarians.Through the process of application for the seminary and after entrance into the seminary, I am blessed to get to know our seminarians.I visit with them at length on walks which we take together and at other meetings, and I am with them as often as possible at our seminary.The quality of our seminarians is excellent.Many of you have witnessed the excellence of our seminarians through their pastoral work in your parishes or through their presentations, at this time of the year, inviting your support of the annual seminary collection.God is indeed blessing us.

Priestly vocations and the birth of Christ

Why do I write on priestly vocations just before Christmas?Because the call of young men to the priesthood is one of the outstanding signs of Christ’s faithful coming into our lives in the Church, since He first came at Bethlehem.In the call of priests, we see in a wonderful way the desire of Christ, as our Head and Shepherd, to be with us always and in every part of the world.The profound hope and joy which we experience in young men praying about and responding to the call to the priesthood has its source in the experience of the immeasurable love of Christ for us all through the ministry of His priests.

Yes, the greatest sign of Christ’s faithful dwelling with us in the Church is the Holy Eucharist.Christmas is, above all, a eucharistic feast, for Christ was born in time, in order to sacrifice His life for our salvation on Calvary, the sacrifice which is ever new for us in the celebration of the Holy Mass.Our hope and joy at the new priestly vocations in the archdiocese is directly connected with the Holy Eucharist, for the heart of the priestly vocation and mission is the offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the person of Christ.

So many other encounters with Christ in the Church are directly connected with the priestly ministry. Christ’s gift of new priestly vocations is the gift of Himself to us in many and wonderful ways.

Our grateful prayer and sacrifice

Christmas, then, is a time when we pray for priestly vocations with special fervor.We pray for those who are hearing Christ’s call, that they will have the wisdom and courage to respond with a totally generous heart.We pray also for our seminarians, that they will be granted the graces of purity of heart and perseverance in responding to Christ’s call.

Fittingly, Christmas is also the annual time when I ask all of the faithful of the archdiocese to make a sacrifice from their means for the preparation of the future priests of the archdiocese.One of the greatest blessings God has given to the archdiocese is Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.Having received the gift of the seminary, it is our responsibility to make the sacrifices necessary so that it can continue its more than 175-year tradition of educating and forming men to receive priestly ordination and to exercise the priestly ministry on behalf of countless souls.Please be as generous as you are able, when the annual seminary collection is taken in your parish on Christmas.

Be assured that you and your many intentions will be remembered in my prayers on Christmas, especially at Midnight Mass and Mass on Christmas Day, and throughout the Christmas Season.May God grant you a special measure of His joy and peace through our annual celebration of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!

The power of the final days of Advent

Final preparation of Christmas
Dec. 17 to 23 are days of strong grace for our preparation of Christmas.While the entire Season of Advent is rich in grace for the joyful preparation of the celebration of Christ’s coming, the Church receives especially strong grace to intensify our preparation on the seven days before the Christmas Vigil.
On each of the seven days before the Christmas Vigil, at Evening Prayer, the Church addresses the Savior, with particular ardor and devoted love, by one of the titles given to Him in the Scriptures which announce His coming.The title with an invocation precedes and concludes the praying of the Magnificat. The titles also are used in the Alleluia verse at daily Mass as the Season of Advent reaches its completion.
The special invocations of the Savior are called the "O" or Great Antiphons.Each invocation begins with the interjection, "O," expressing the solemnity of our eager anticipation of the celebration of the Lord’s birth.You will be familiar with the titles and invocations from singing the traditional Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."In each of the seven verses of the hymn, we pray for the coming of our Lord, invoking him by one of the titles in the "O" Antiphons.

The evening of the world
The special invocation of the Savior takes place at Evening Prayer, recalling that Christ came in the evening of the world, when the world was lost in the darkness of sin. From the moment of the sin of our first parents, the rebellion of man’s mind and heart before God and His law has left us and our world in darkness.Made for the love of God and neighbor, sinful man seeks love where it cannot be found, in prideful and selfish pursuits.Man, in his pride, abuses the created world of which, in truth, he is the steward, and, in a particularly tragic way, he violates the inviolable dignity of his fellow man.
The story of the people of God from the time of Adam and Eve repeatedly illustrates the profound unhappiness and other deadly fruits of our sinful rebellion before God. We all know the sad effects of sin in our personal lives and in our society.One of the most frightening effects of man’s sinful pride in our time is the culture of death in which we live, which accepts and even protects the killing of innocent and defenseless human life for the so-called "good" of others in society.
The last days of Advent are a powerful time for us to reflect upon our nothingness without Christ.Had Christ not come and died on the Cross for us, we would not have received the grace which helps us to overcome the disorder of sin in our lives and to obey God’s law which disposes us to the selfless love of God and neighbor.As we pray the "O" Antiphon on each of the last seven evenings before the Christmas Vigil, we are filled with humble gratitude for the light which Christ brought to the world at His birth and through His saving death and Resurrection.We also are given the grace to welcome the light of Christ into our lives, especially into any part of our lives which we have kept from Christ’s saving grace, and to bring the light of Christ to the world in its darkness.

The ‘O’ Antiphons
The seven "O" Antiphons, with the references to the Word of God, from which they are taken, and the days on which they are sung are: O Wisdom (Sirach 24:3; Wisdom 8:1; and Isaiah 40:3-5), Dec. 17; O Adonai or Lord of the Covenant (Exodus 6:2, 3 and 6; 6,6), Dec. 18; O Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 5:15; Hebrews 2:3; Romans 15:12; and Hebrews 10:37), Dec. 19; O Key of David (Isaiah 22:22; 42:7; Psalm 107:14; Luke 1:79; and Revelation 3:7), Dec. 20; O Dayspring or Rising Sun (Zechariah 6:12; Malachi 4:2; Isaiah 9:2; and Luke 1:78-79), Dec. 21; O King of Nations (Haggai 2:7-8; Isaiah 28:16; Genesis 2:7; and Ephesians 2:14), Dec. 22; and O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; 33:22; and Genesis 49:10), Dec. 23.
Each antiphon contains a prayer for the coming of the Lord. The texts of the prayer are drawn from the Holy Scriptures and express not only our desire to celebrate worthily the birth of the Lord in time, but also to receive Him at His faithful coming to us in the Church and, ultimately, His coming at the end of time.
Space does not permit me to comment on each prayer.I offer the text of the prayer for Dec. 17, as an example:
"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God (Sirach 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisdom 8:1).Come and show your people the way to salvation" (Isaiah 40:3-5).
The invocation of our Lord Jesus as Divine Wisdom contains the prayer for the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, so that we may be good stewards of God’s creation, caring for it in accord with the order He has placed in all of His creatures and which He teaches in the Holy Scriptures. The coming of the Lord gives us the grace to fulfill the mission which God gave to man at the creation of Adam and Eve, the mission of stewardship of His creation.

Conclusion
A practical guide to meditation on the "O" Antiphons by Ann M. Brown is published by the St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community at New Hope, Ky. (270-325-3061). It is pamphlet No. 4018 in the Faith Guild Series.If you wish a copy, please request one from my office.
May we respond to the powerful grace of the final days of Advent by welcoming our Savior more completely into our lives.May we welcome Him especially through our participation in the Holy Mass and our eucharistic devotion, and by the making of a good and humble confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

‘Be not afraid!’

Immaculate Conception

Two important liturgical celebrations in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary fittingly occur during the Season of Advent.They are the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, a holy day of obligation, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. The two celebrations are closely related to each other, for Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared for the first time to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531, which at that time in the Spanish Empire was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.In appearing to St. Juan Diego, she identified herself as "the Perfect Ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the Most True God" (Nican Mopohua, n. 26).

By the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God the Father prepared Mary to be the Mother of His only-begotten Son Whom He was sending into the world as our Savior. Mary, daughter of Joachim and Ann, was preserved, from her first moment of life, from all stain of original sin. Her womb was the all-pure vessel in which the conception of God the Son could take place through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
This is the meaning of the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe who identified herself as the "Perfect Ever Virgin Holy Mother."

Mary’s Immaculate Conception

Quite frequently the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is confused with the Virginal Conception of our Lord Jesus Christ.The two events of our salvation are closely related to one another.God the Father ordered the Immaculate Conception of Mary to the Virginal Conception of Jesus in her all-pure womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. But it is spiritually important to understand the distinct event of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, in order to appreciate fully the great mystery of the Incarnation in the Virginal Conception of Jesus in the immaculate womb of the Virgin Mary.

In Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Christ’s work of the Redemption was anticipated, that is, Mary, from the first moment of her life, was freed from all sin and filled with the Holy Spirit.The gift of her Immaculate Conception is the fruit of the Passion and death of God the Son who was conceived in her womb. The Immaculate Conception is a wonderful manifestation of God’s immeasurable love of us, expressed in its fullness by His coming to dwell with us (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 490-493).

The Immaculate Conception is also a striking manifestation of our call to holiness of life. We are called to imitate the perfect cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which we see in the Virgin Mary. We are called to treasure the grace of Redemption, which we see in her Immaculate Conception, and so grow in the likeness of Christ. The Immaculate Conception inspires us to seek the purification of all sin in our lives and to give an ever fuller cooperation to the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Patroness of our nation

The Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, is the patroness of our nation. The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., is a magnificent tribute of our affection for the Mother of God, who has interceded so faithfully for the intentions of our nation.

The patronage of Mary Immaculate also inspires in us a renewed dedication to the common good of all the citizens of our nation. The mystery of the Immaculate Conception leads us to reflect, in a particular way, on how human life, from its beginning, is to be treasured and fostered. It also leads us to restore the respect for all human life in our state and nation. Conscious of the grave evils of procured abortion, the destruction of embryonic human life and human cloning, let us, with Mary Immaculate, pray to God our Father for the end of these evils, which are the deadly fruit of our human pride.

Given the unimaginable situation of our State of Missouri, at present, with the passing of the amendment to the constitution that guarantees the right to human cloning and the destruction of embryonic human life, let us place ourselves once again under the protection of our Blessed Mother, trusting that she will lead us to Christ who alone makes us free from sin and free to serve the good of all our brothers and sisters. As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I ask you to continue the Rosary Crusade for the Safeguarding of Embryonic Human Life.We need the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary now more than ever.

Mother of America

The Mother of God has shown her particular affection for the entire continent of America by her appearances to St. Juan Diego in 1531.The Blessed Virgin Mary came to our continent to show us her loving care in all of our needs and sufferings, and to bring us to her Divine Son, the Mercy of God Incarnate for us.After her apparitions and through her intercession, in a truly miraculous way, literally millions of Native Americans received the grace of faith and baptism, and the horrible practice of the human sacrifice of hundreds of thousands was ended.What is more, the Native Americans and the Europeans who were on the brink of a deadly conflict, were brought together in unity to form a new people and culture, the mestiza culture, which has its identity in the Virgin of Guadalupe, affectionately called La Morenita. Let us entrust our continent to the prayers of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so that the faith may be brought to all and the inviolable dignity of the life of each brother and sister may be fully respected.

The Rosary Crusade for the Safeguarding of Embryonic Human Life on our continent is under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America and Star of the New Evangelization. In the challenges which we face daily to safeguard and promote the common good, let us invoke the intercession of the Mother of God. In carrying out our daily responsibilities, let us imitate the faith, hope and love of St. Juan Diego, her faithful messenger.

Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.

'Be not afraid!'

Advent: Time of consolation and encouragement

We begin a new Liturgical Year with the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent.Fittingly, we begin the Church Year with four Sundays of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the great mystery of the Incarnation.The two principal celebrations of the mystery of the Incarnation are the Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25), in which we recall the conception of God the Son in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; and the Solemnity of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (Dec. 25).

Advent means, literally, coming or arrival, namely, the coming or arrival of God into our midst with the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son made man. In truth, Christ first arrived in our midst at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation.At Christmas, we celebrate the first fruit of His conception, His birth at Bethlehem.

The Advent Season is a time of great consolation and encouragement for us.It is a time of consolation, for it reminds us of how much God loves us.God loves us so much that He has made His home with us first at Bethlehem and now in the Church.It is a time of great encouragement, for it brings us the grace to live more intensely in the company of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Preparation for Christmas

Advent is the season of preparing for Christ's coming, but what do we mean by Christ's coming? We mean, first of all, His birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Bethlehem.If we do not prepare well for the annual commemoration of our Lord's birth, then surely we will not understand the meaning of our Christmas celebration.No matter how many times, over a lifetime, we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, it always seems new to us.The mystery of the birth of God the Son in our human flesh can never be fully comprehended by us. We never cease to wonder at the great mystery of God's love for us.

Preparation for Christ's coming in the Church

We also mean Christ's coming to us in the Church or, better, His dwelling with us always in the Church.The Advent Season reminds us of the many ways, most of all, the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ, Who first came into the world at Bethlehem, now remains with us in the Church, until He returns in glory on the last day.Through our observance of Advent, we overcome the tendency to reduce the life of Christ within us to an idea or sentiment, and we come face to face with the truth that, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are alive in the same Christ Who was born at Bethlehem and Who died for us on Calvary.

Preparation for Christ's coming on the last day

Lastly, the coming of Christ, for which we prepare during Advent, is His final coming at the end of time.Christ, born at Bethlehem and alive for us in the Church, will bring to fullness His saving work, when He returns in glory to restore us and our world to God the Father.As Advent brings us more fully into the company of Christ, it also strengthens us for the pilgrimage of this life, which will reach its fullness, on the last day, when we, body and soul, will be with the Lord in the heavenly kingdom.

Preparing by growing in knowledge

How do we prepare for the coming of Christ?Fundamental to our preparation is a deeper knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation through studying the Word of God, above all, the Gospels, and the teaching of the Word of God in the Church, above all, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I recommend that your Advent observance include a daily reading from the Gospel according to Luke and the study of nos. 456 to 478 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Preparing by growing in prayer

Hand in hand with the growing knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation is the experience of the mystery in prayer and through participation in the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist.I recommend receiving the forgiveness of your sins in the Sacrament of Penance, both at the beginning of Advent and again as Christmas draws near.

Frequent participation in Mass during the week, daily, if possible, is also an excellent means of observing Advent.The experience of our Lord's dwelling with us in the Holy Eucharist is profoundly deepened through visits to the Blessed Sacrament and adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.We are blessed with so many chapels of eucharistic adoration in the archdiocese.

If you do not already have a regular hour of adoration each week, why not make Advent the time to begin spending a weekly hour with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?Why not read the Gospel according to Luke and study the mystery of the Incarnation, as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during your eucharistic adoration?

Advent is also an excellent time to renew devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary" (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and "pierced by our sins and for our salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 478).If you have not enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home, why not request the booklet for the Enthronement from the Office of Sacred Worship?

The rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an excellent Advent prayer, helping us to meditate on the richness of the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.Especially, when the inviolability of human life is under such severe attack in our society, why not join in the Rosary Crusade for the Safeguarding of Embryonic Human Life.What better way to prepare for the coming of Christ Who gave His life to save all men, without boundary or exception!

Lastly, deepening our knowledge of Christ's Coming and our experience of His coming, we are led to witness to Christ's dwelling with us and to draw others to Christ.In our totally secularized society, the need of the new evangelization - the living of our Catholic faith with new enthusiasm and new energy - is more urgent than ever.May the Advent Season also be the time for us all to give Christ to others through the outpouring of pure and selfless love, in our homes, and through the educational, charitable and missionary works of the Church.

Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.

'Be not afraid!'

Christ the King

On this coming Sunday, we conclude the Liturgical Year with the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.Pope Pius XI established the solemnity in 1925, but the reality to which it points has always been celebrated by devout Christians.

Christians have always honored our Lord with the title "King" to express the great and lasting victory over sin and everlasting death, which He won for all men by His Passion and Death, culminating in His Ascension to the right hand of the Father, where He is seated in glory.His enthronement as King at the right hand of the Father is not, however, a static reality, for His glorious royal Heart is pierced and, from His open side, He never ceases to pour out upon us the grace of the Holy Spirit, to purify our hearts of sin and to inflame them with His divine love.And there is more.As King of Heaven and Earth, He will return in glory to bring to fullness His redemptive work.We, His faithful stewards, await His coming with humility and confidence in the eternal life He has made our inheritance.

King, an outdated title?

Today, some say that attributing kingship to our Lord Jesus says nothing to the contemporary mind and heart.Our response to such an observation must be twofold.

First of all, the divinely inspired Word of God repeatedly refers to our Lord as King.For example, when Gabriel announces to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she is to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Savior, he tells her that her Son "will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32).As this year’s Gospel for the Solemnity reminds us, our Lord Himself, brought before Pilate to be tried and condemned to death, did not deny the title of "King" and spoke of His saving work, as He had done throughout His public ministry, as the establishment of a kingdom in which divine truth and love reign (John 18:36-37).In his vision of the Final Coming, St. John the Evangelist sees our Lord Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, reigning over heaven and earth, in virtue of His Passion, Death and Resurrection (Revelation 5:12-13; 7:9-17; 14:1-10; 17:14; 19:7-9; and 22:1-3).As Christians, we do not set aside scriptural images in favor of some passing fancy.We, rather, strive to understand the image, overcoming any obscuring of the image by our culture.

Secondly, it is not true that kingship is an out-of-date image.How frequently we use the title "king" to honor a person! How frequently we use the adjective "royal" to describe what is most pure and noble!In a very particular way, for the faithful of St. Louis, the title "king" has a powerful meaning.Our patron saint, King Louis IX of France, was heroic in faith, hope and charity, as a husband and father, and as a king.We see in his life the practice of the virtues which make a person truly royal, according to the mind and heart of Christ the King.

We are kings in Christ the King

Our life and mission in Christ is described by three titles of our Lord: Prophet, Priest and King.Our life and mission is prophetic at its foundation, for we are called to know God in Whom we believe and to give an account of our faith to others.Our life and mission is priestly in its highest expression, for we are called to make ourselves and our world holy through prayer and participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Finally, our life and mission is kingly or royal, for we are called to open our hearts like the Royal Heart of Jesus in loving service of others.It is from the Heart of Jesus that we draw the strength to love as He loves.Our royal life and mission is the fruit of our prophetic search to know God and of our priestly communion with God in prayer and the sacraments.

I suspect that we are not often inclined to think of ourselves as spiritual royalty, but indeed we are.It is important, in fact, for us to reflect daily upon our royal life and mission.The servant of God Pope John Paul II, in his first encyclical letter, reflected, in a striking way, on our royal mission in Christ. He noted that our sharing in the kingly mission of Christ is one of the richest elements of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium (On the Church)." He describes our kingly nature in simple words which indicate that we are kings in Christ the King: "This dignity is expressed in readiness to serve, in keeping with the example of Christ, Who ‘came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28)" (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis, "At the Beginning of His Papal Ministry," March 4, 1979, n. 21a).

Pope John Paul II continues his reflection by reminding us that life in Christ the King means becoming truly a servant and that becoming truly a servant means acquiring the royal virtue of self-mastery.He reminds us that "our sharing in Christ’s kingly mission ... is closely linked with every sphere of both Christian and human morality" (Redemptor hominis, n. 21a).Our daily taking up of the royal mission of Christ means for us daily conversion to Him, that is, cooperating with His grace to conform our hearts more and more to His own Royal Heart.

Christ the King wins our hearts

I close my little reflection on the Solemnity of Christ the King by drawing your attention to a wonderful passage in Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter.Pope Benedict underlines for us both the distinctiveness of our Christian faith, which is found in the love of God Who enters our history to save us, most wonderfully by the Incarnation of God the Son.He also underlines the distinctiveness of our Christian calling to love as God loves.He further reminds us that our high calling is not some remote ideal but our deepest identity, for God dwells within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father’s own words best express the truth that God the Son, Christ the King, desires to win our hearts:

In the love story recounted by the Bible, (God) comes toward us. He seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of His heart on the Cross, to His appearances after the Resurrection, and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, He guided the nascent Church along its path.Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: He encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect His presence, in His Word, in the Sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist.In the Church’s Liturgy, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive His presence and we thus learn to recognize that presence in our daily lives.He has loved us first and He continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter "Deus caritas est (On Christian Love)," Dec. 25, 2005, n. 17).

Christ the King reigns in our midst, He reigns in each of us, by the outpouring of divine love from His pierced Heart into our poor, doubtful and sinful hearts.We, therefore, can love as He loves.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, may He win each of our hearts more and more for Himself. Our hearts, one with His Royal Heart, will love our neighbor, purely and selflessly, as He has always loved us and never ceases to love us.

Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on us.

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