Christ our eternal King

Some of the great saints, including Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, who had served in the courts of powerful earthly monarchs, were inspired by the concept of serving the almighty king of heaven and earth. In our day the notion of kingship is more difficult to grasp. We tend to think of kings as aloof and far removed from the concerns of everyday men and women. And yet, Our Lord did say he is a King. He declared that although his kingdom is not of this world, it does begin here and now and is in fact among us.

To understand the kingship of Jesus, it is helpful to reflect on the Old Testament portrayal of kingly office. Among the people of Israel the role of king was vastly different from that among pagans. The people of Israel were God's people, and they belonged to him alone. The king's function was transitory - to lead and direct God's people according to his law. The king was a manifestation of God's presence and power. Thus, if the king wins a victory, it is really God who wins it. At the same time, the office of king is a sacred one for he is the anointed of the Lord. Through him God manifests his presence to the people. The king is also a symbol of God's sovereignty, power and glory. He also serves as a visible reminder of Israel's trust and hope for the future. Individual kings are mortal and subject to criticism, but the kingship itself is a guarantee of God's presence to his people.

At his birth, angels, shepherds and magi came to reverence the newborn king. At his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus consecrated himself to do the Father's will, and was anointed by the Father and the Holy Spirit for his priestly and kingly mission. Before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, Jesus declared his messianic and royal identity. The inscription over the cross, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, read; Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews! In response to the good thief's plea: Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus promised: "This day, you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus is a king like no other. Far from being remote or uncaring, He urges us: "Come to me, all who are heavily burdened and I will refresh you." Like the ancient kings of Israel he is the constant manifestation of God's presence among us, especially in the Eucharist and other sacraments. He has made his victory over sin and death our own, and he calls us to share his life in heaven. When we reflect on the many facets of the kingship of Jesus, we can understand why the last words of many holy martyrs were: "Long live Christ the King!"

To our veterans we give thanks

"O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife; Who more than self their country loved; And mercy more than life!" (from "America the Beautiful," by Katharine Lee Bates).

God has "shed his grace" on America precisely in this time of war by stirring up in human hearts the virtue of patriotism: a sense of piety for our country. St. Thomas Aquinas describes these virtues as the reverence due our parents and family and our country and countrymen (Summa Theol: II-II, Q. 101). Perhaps God has awakened in us this deep appreciation because he knows we need it to survive the travails and worries of the hour.

We will grow in the Christian virtue of patriotism - love of the fatherland from the motive of love of God - by practicing it: expressing reverence for our country, while maintaining at the same time the proper reverence due God, family, and all human life.

The recent commemoration of Veterans Day and Thanksgiving next week provide us with a welcome moment to say thank you to all who have sacrificed so much and who, even now, put their lives on the line to protect and defend us. As individuals, families and as a country we render ultimate thanks to God, the giver of all good gifts.

The justice and the law

On Nov. 13, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the annual Peter Richard Kenrick lecture at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. The justice, a lifelong Catholic, addressed the seminarians, faculty and guests in a lecture entitled "The Religion Clauses of the Constitution." Justice Scalia's lecture was powerful; his intellect is impressive and his rhetoric persuasive. And his faith is clear. We are grateful for his time, his talent and his gift to the nation and the Church. The Review will provide coverage of the talk in next week's issue.

Watching Scalia speak on the Constitution, our nation and the service of the law, one could not help but notice the power and majesty of the legal profession. Although often the subject of jokes, the legal profession is one of honor and opportunity. In particular, men and women of the legal profession can influence our effort to build the culture of life.

The natural law, which establishes right relations between God and his creation, must have an ally in positive law. The law is a tool for affirming just relationships and must forever give itself to changing the disorder that otherwise creeps into society. The law can help life to regain its rightful place and dignity in a culture tending toward death. The law can help eliminate abortion. It can assist Catholic families in schooling and family education. It can limit the promotion of suicide especially among those of us who are vulnerable. The law can be an instrument for empowering men and women - in relationships, in work, in all aspects of life. And, the law can promote and protect the most important social unit - the family.

All of this is not easy work. We can ask Scalia about how being a lawyer and a judge can bring criticism and challenge. We remember and invoke the intercession of the great St. Thomas More who served the law and his nation but ultimately gave his life in martyrdom for his faith. Some of us may be called to martyrdom; more are called to a life of worldly service grounded in supernatural faith. For those who are called to the legal profession, your faith demands responsibility. You are agents of the Gospel, building a culture of life. For these lawyers among us, we ask the Lord's guidance to serve him and build a better nation and a better community. And we offer our gratitude to lawyers and all who build a better world.

Here's to us Catholics

We Catholics today don't tend to wear our religion on our sleeves. If asked to tell about ourselves, "I'm a Catholic" would probably not be the first words out of our mouths. Those words would be somewhere in our description, however, because our Catholic beliefs are an integral part of who we are. Those beliefs are an ingrained guide for our thoughts and actions. The results are evident everywhere, even if we don't take time to acknowledge them.

Maybe it's time we Catholics gave ourselves a pat on the back. We're not perfect, for certain, but we are persistent followers of Christ. Although we hold certain beliefs in common, we are a diverse lot in ways we pray, celebrate and volunteer. We also have diverse views on a wide variety of issues. Yet our commonality and our diversity are complementary components of our makeup. Our commonality is our foundation as well as the mortar that holds us together. Our diversity is the fuel that enables us to accomplish so much in so many different areas.

This is particularly evident in the area of social justice. For the past six weeks, small groups of Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis have been gathering to pray over, study and share their faith experiences on that topic.

The Renew study guide prepared by the Catholic Education Office listed more than three dozen archdiocesan programs actively working in such social justice areas as pro-life, support for families, racism and prejudice, assistance to the poor, disability ministry, protection of the environment and world peace. For each program listed, a half dozen or more related programs and projects exist within our archdiocese alone. All are funded by Catholics and fueled by our volunteer time and sharing of talents.

These organized activities, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. As the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote in 1998 in "Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice," Catholics are called "to be instruments of God's grace and creative power in business and politics, factories and offices, in homes and schools, and in all the events of daily life. Social justice and the common good are built up or torn down day by day in the countless decisions and choices we make."

The Renew program and similar faith-sharing programs enable us to take a close look at the decisions and choices we make in business dealings; in community activities; and in relating to others, including co-workers, elderly parents, adult children, young children and even strangers. We can take pride in what we have accomplished with God's help, learn from our mistakes and be open to new opportunities to do God's work. Such programs also help us to connect with God and to gather strength and support through one another. It is well worth our time to participate in a faith-sharing group throughout the year because, while we have accomplished much, there is still much more to do.

Responsibility for terrorism

Since Sept. 11 we have seen a parade of journalists and experts discuss the "reasons" for the terrorist attacks. We have even heard from many within the Church who believe that the economic inequality among nations is at the root of such violence. If only we could redistribute wealth such violence would be eradicated. This kind of explanation is alluring, but it seriously misses the mark. During the 20th century such rationalizations undergirded the defense of Marxism and other ideologies, which all contributed to an unprecedented loss of human life worldwide. Let's not make the same mistake at the new millennium. Let's be clear about the immediate cause of the terror: a kind of fascist fanaticism by those who have transformed religion into a vision of violent domination to be imposed upon those who do not see God and human existence as they do. This is religion morphed into an ideology where the confusion between good and evil becomes absolute. When this happens all barbarity no matter how immense can be justified because it is at the service of a "transcendent" value only the ideologues can know and understand.

It is certainly true that serious inequalities exist between First and Third World nations. But as Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver has lately observed, "The injustices in the world can never be used to 'contextualize' or excuse mass murder. And the United States is by no means the only source of the world's social and economic inequalities." According to Catholic moral teaching, America does bear a weighty moral obligation in the world because of its enormous prosperity and power that it has often misused. As Luke's Gospel says, "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more."

Nevertheless, we must distinguish between responsibility and moral guilt. We may be responsible for the less fortunate, but this does not mean we are morally guilty of their plight. The United States, despite its participation in training the Afghan rebels in the 1980s, did not create the current situation in Afghanistan. To the contrary, the refugee problems, the unequal distribution of food, the subsequent famine, the oppression and persecution of Christians and women since 1989 are not the primary responsibility of the United States. In his Oct. 16 letter to President George W. Bush, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, sums up this position well. He cautions us not to think, "that they (terrorist attacks) were an inevitable and deserved response to United States foreign policy. These were the acts of men with evil in their hearts, perpetrated against innocent human beings. No reason can be given to explain them or the loathing which inspired them."

Many leaders in the Third World and the Muslim world must examine their responsibilities regarding continued exploitation of their own people. For too long they have turned a blind eye to the terrorist ideology of resentment. It is completely appropriate to ask why wealthy Muslim nations have done nothing about the criminal violence of the Taliban toward the people of Afghanistan. Likewise, it is completely reasonable to ask why affluent Arab countries have not helped to ease the plight of the Palestinians. Also, recall Sudan's enslavement of Christian women and children in the south, or Iraq's gassing of the Kurds, Pakistan's oppression of Christians or Indonesia's violent persecution of the East Timorese. We should remember that sin, exploitation and moral indifference are not the exclusive purview of wealthy Western nations.

Responding to terrorism

The news release arrived via fax. The headline - underlined and in bold type - "PRESS RELEASE - Mailroom Respiratory Kit for Biological Terrorism Response."

The release noted that "upon strong request," a Long Beach, Calif., firm "has put together a Mailroom Respiratory Kit For Biological Terrorism Response." It said, "As the war is moving closer to home and we are having more civilian casualties than military casualties it has become essential to improve safety on the domestic level."

For only $29.95, you can be protected for a month. A smaller kit, "for single use when a suspicious mail or package (sic) needs to be checked out," will run you just $9.95.

In a sad way, the company that wrote and distributed the release shares a goal with those who have sent the anthrax-containing letters. The news release preys on people's fears. The difference is the Long Beach company also wishes to make money off the hoped-for panic.

Should we be concerned about the increasing number of anthrax cases discovered in recent weeks? Of course we should. Our nation is at war and we must understand that life as we know it has changed. But the daily bombardment of scary news we see on television or read in the newspaper oftentimes seems to overstate our vulnerability. The media ask: Is our air safe to breathe? Is the water supply safe? Is our food safe? Is it safe to fly? Should we open our mail?

The news release for the Mailroom Respirator Kit promoted the device as a "response" to terrorism. As people of faith, our response to terror must be both practical and spiritual. On the practical level, we are called to a certain sensibility sorely lacking in the media hype surrounding anthrax. On the spiritual level, we must keep our eyes focused on Christ, the model of God's love and the perfect communicator. He assures us that goodness wins in the end, and his services are provided free of charge. Order now.

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