Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Last Sunday in Ordinary Time B
John 18: 33-37
November 26, 2006
Mass in Thanksgiving For My Twenty Years of Priesthood
Worthy is the Lamb
As we crossed the threshold into the Sacred Mysteries today, we sang of a breathtaking vision. John, the Beloved Disciple, in solitude on the island of Patmos, lifted his eyes to heaven’s open door. And what did he see? He saw the throne of God, and “the Lamb, standing as though it had been slain” (Ap 5:6). John’s eyes were opened, and so too were his ears. “Then, I looked,” he says, “and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and blessing’” (Ap 5:11-12).
A Glimpse and Foretaste of Heaven
In a word, John was given a glimpse and foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. And then he heard “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said. ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and adored” (Ap 5:13–14).
Heaven in the Heart and the Heart in Heaven
The priest, every priest, is a poor man, “a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5) at the service of this glorious mystery. When the priest, whoever he is and wherever he may be, enters the sanctuary for Holy Mass, the angels enter with him, myriads of myriads of angels and thousands of thousands. Heaven descends to rest upon the altar and, from the altar, the whole Church — that is all who gathered about it — are assumed into heaven. Holy Mass is just this: an hour in heaven. The priest and, with him, anyone who partakes of the Holy Mysteries, believing, hoping, loving, desiring, and adoring, leaves church with heaven in his heart and with his heart in heaven.
From the Altar and For the Altar
It is this that makes all the rest possible: weakness, failure, sorrow, tears, struggle, and uncertainty. Without that daily hour in heaven nothing is possible for me, for you: coming from it and going toward it, all things are possible. The priest — every priest and every person entrusted to his spiritual fatherhood — lives from the altar and for the altar, from the Mass and for the Mass, and this until the glimpse and foretaste of heaven given here and now in sacred signs gives place to the glorious reality.
The King Powerless and Humiliated
If the Introit alone pointed to the mystery of today’s festival, it would be enough. But there is more. Together with the sounds and sights of glory, there is the sound and sight of One “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3). Does it not seem strange that on this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the Gospel should draw our gaze to Jesus in the mystery of His powerlessness and humiliation? We come to Mass on the festival of Christ the King expecting a Jesus crowned with glory, a Jesus shining with majesty and splendour, a victorious Jesus “robed with might and girded with power” (Ps 92). Instead, we find a powerless Jesus, a humiliated Jesus, a Jesus “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (Is 53:5).
His Hands Are Bound
His hands are bound and fastened: hands all-powerful and all-merciful, hands used to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and bless the little children. In vain do we look in today’s Gospel for a crown of gold and precious stones. See instead a crown of thorns, fashioned out of hatred and scorn. He whom the angels escort with fear and adoration, is abandoned by men. “You have taken away my friends, and made me hateful in their sight,” says the prophetic psalm. “Imprisoned I cannot escape; my eyes are sunken with grief” (Ps 87:9-10). Truth stands trial in a court of corruption. A dark and awful solitude surrounds Him. “Truth has gone from the sons of men; falsehood they speak one to another, with lying lips, with a false heart” (Ps 11:2-3). “Friend and neighbour you have taken away: my only friend is darkness” (Ps 87:19).
The Priest: Man of Sorrows and Acquainted With Grief
The Gospel sets before us the icon of the sorrowful and humiliated priesthood. Every priest is called in some measure to become with Christ “one despised and rejected by men, an man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3). Every priest is set apart in Christ to bear the grief of others and to carry their sorrows. Every priest is called not only to the power of hands anointed with Sacred Chrism, but also, in certain situations, to the powerlessness of hands bound like those of the suffering Christ.
The Priest and the Pierced Heart
Every priest is destined to bear the wounds of Christ — not emblematically like Saint Pio of Pietrelcina — but inwardly as the marks of his identfication with Christ the Sacrificial Victim “by whose wounds we are healed” (1 P 2:24). In the chapel of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart in Hamden, Connecticut there is a crucifix that depicts Christ the Priest; He is vested in the chasuble, and His arms are spread wide upon the cross. There is a remarkable detail: His wounded Heart is shown on the outside of the chasuble. The mediatorship of Christ the Eternal High Priest passes through His wounded side and His open Heart. The man configured to Him by the sacrament of Holy Orders to share in that mediatorship must, necessarily suffer in some way the opening of his own heart by the lance. A priest without wounds is not a priest of Jesus Christ.
The Priest in Darkness
In today’s Gospel there is no trace of triumph. It is the eclipse of the Sun of Justice. The darkness began in Gethsemani after the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and climaxed on the Tree of the Cross. In the tomb the darkness will be complete. The priest, every priest, is called to become a man familiar with the darkness: the darkness of Gethsemani, the darkness of Calvary, the darkness of the tomb. This too is integral to his identification with Christ of whom the prophet says, “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of His wrath; He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light” (Lam 3:1–2).
The Hidden Kingship of Christ
The kingship of Christ is hidden, His power concealed, His majesty inward, His glory veiled. Pilate scrutinizes the young rabbi from Galilee. What is this delusion of kingship? What is this rumor of a kingdom? Pilate, the all-powerful representative of an all-powerful empire, is intrigued by Jesus in His weakness. Where is this kingdom of His? Can its boundaries be located on a map? Has He palace, court, or army? He appears to hold sway over the hearts of those who believe in Him, and yet He was betrayed by one of His chosen collaborators, handed over by His own people and by the chief priests.
Yes, I Am a King
Pilate asks Him: “Are you the King of the Jews” (Jn 18:33)? Jesus is not duped; He sees into the secret of Pilate’s heart, probes his intentions, sifts his motives. “My kingship is not of this world” (Jn 18:36) says Jesus. “Mine is not an empire built up by bloody conquests and defended by armies.” “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight . . . but my kingship is not from the world” (Jn 18:36). “So, you are a king then,” says Pilate (Jn 18:37). “It is you who say it” (Jn 18:37), says Jesus. Then, solemnly and deliberately, Jesus affirms it: “Yes, I am a King” (Jn 18:37). “I am a King, but in a way that is above and beyond any notions of kingship that you may have.”
Way, Truth, and Life
Jesus exercises His Kingship by revealing revealing Himself as Truth, and Way, and Life (cf. Jn 14:6). “No one can come to Me,” says Our Lord, “unless the Father who sent me draw him” (Jn 6:44) and “no one comes to the Father, but by Me” (Jn 14:6). The priest, every priest, is at the service of the Kingship of Christ; that is to say, at the service of the Truth by preaching it; at the service of the Way by walking in it humbly; at the service of Life, by dispensing it in the sacraments.
The Priest: A Man of Silence
Jesus establishes His Kingdom in the gentleness and inexhaustible patience of the Holy Spirit; so too must the priest. It is this that obliges the priest, every priest, to be a man of silence, a man who listens. “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still, small voice” (1 K 19:11-12). The Kingdom of God is revealed in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. This is what Pilate failed to hear; this is what we, more often than not, drown out in the noise of our own hearts: the first stirrings of the Kingdom. “None of the rulers of this age understood this,” says Saint Paul, “for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8).
Holy Priests Engender Holy People
The Kingdom of God is established in the earth when hearts are established in holiness. The priest, every priest, is called to nothing less than holiness. Holy priests engender a holy people. The priest, every priest, is called to father holiness in souls. Hearts are established in holiness when they surrender to Jesus, the King of Love. Not only is holiness compatible with freedom; holiness is freedom, and true freedom is holiness. Jesus manifests His Kingship not by taking us captive, but by making us free, and He makes us free by the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is”, says Saint Paul, “there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).
Priests to Serve His God and Father
In a few moments I will go to the altar, just as I have done day after day for the past twenty years of priesthood: a complete Rosary of years with mysteries joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious. To all of you I say, with John, the Seer of Patmos, that Christ the King “loves us and has washed away our sins with His blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve His God and Father” (Rev 1:5).
Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Come, Holy Spirit, Anointing of every priest of Jesus Christ, and of the priestly people sanctified by His Blood. Allow us, like the prophet Daniel, to “gaze into the visions of the night, so as to see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Dan 7:13). Open our eyes to gaze upon the altar so as to see “the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by angelic hosts” (Cherubikon, Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom). Give all of us today, by the sacramental mediation of the priesthood given me in my unworthiness, to taste the joy and glory of Christ’s Kingship over our hearts and in our lives, that we may sing with one voice: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!” (Mt 21:9).