“The Accolade”, by Edmund Leighton
(Just some trivia — this is the image on my ordination card as well, so I’m serious about this post….)
The Solemnity of Christ the King marks the end of the liturgical year, and heralds the fact that Advent is on its way. There are some Solemnities that are celebrated that have their direct roots in historical events in Scripture – things like the birth and death of Christ, or his Transfiguration. But just because today’s Feast doesn’t refer to a specific historical event, that certainly doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its roots in Sacred Scripture.
The feast itself was officially instituted by Pope Pius XI in the year 1925 specifically because of the rise of secularism and nationalism. Secularism essentially holds that “this world” is king, and nationalism that your country is king. That might sound silly to you at first, but if you spend more time watching CNN and reading the newspaper than you do in prayer, then guess what? Secularism and nationalism might be your king.
You can imagine what the Pope at that time might have been concerned about. The First World War had been fought, the Communist Revolution had just occurred, national socialism was on the rise, and the Communist party had almost taken control over China, and still holds sway there today. In other words, it seemed that people all over the world were accepting the fact that their nation was much more important than their religion – they were considering their country or their political party as king, rather than the King of the Universe. And there is little doubt that this poisonous way of thinking is still in vogue today. This is simply not acceptable. There is no doubt that one’s country is important. There is no doubt that one’s political views are important. These things stand for values that have great meaning for us, and well they should. But exactly what do we really accept as KING? Is it money? Is it our country? Is it our political views? Is it simply ourselves?
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the innermost meaning of the entire Old Testament is summed up in the expression of the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Matthew alone, the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven or of God is mentioned 47 times – It is a major key of understanding the whole of Jesus’s message. There is a major battle going on between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness. I think deep in our hearts we know this is true. The most popular movies in the world are still those where there is a clear hero and an obvious villain, and there is some epic struggle between good and evil. We can think of movies like the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, nearly all the superhero movies, Harry Potter, Katnis against the Capitol in Hunger Games, and a host of war movies, and many, many more. Why are these movies (and their books for that matter) so popular? Could it be because they are TRUE? Let me put it to you this way – haven’t you ever been listening to a comedian and you cracked up laughing speficially at the parts when he was talking about something that you sympathized with and felt, or was describing in a funny way something that has happened to you? I am suggesting that the movies that I just mentioned are so popular because they respond to a very real truth that we have in our hearts – the truth that there REALLY IS A MASSIVE BATTLE GOING ON BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL, EVEN RIGHT HERE IN THIS CHURCH, IN SLIDELL, AND THAT THERE ARE VERY REAL HEROES AND VILLAINS IN THAT STORY. But the worst tragedy of all is when you live a life where you are neither one of these. At the end of time, Jesus says in the Book of Revelation – “would that you were either hot or cold, but you are lukewarm – and so I will spit you out of my mouth.” God forbid he ever say such a thing to us.
Have you ever left one of those movies feeling actually kindof sad or somehow unnerved? I know I have. I remember leaving the Hobbit feeling sad, and I sat and prayed for awhile why that was the case. And I came to an answer. I was actually sad that I was not living such a beautiful, epic battle. My life felt boring in comparison to these other people who were acting heroically and having adventures. (And most of that movie is about dwarves and hobbits – creatures even shorter than I am – and they are still greater heroes.) Has anyone in here ever felt such a feeling or had such a thought?
But is that really true? When I question my deepest heart, I actually think it is NOT TRUE. Do you know why many people are leaving Christianity, other than plain selfishness and disobedience? One of the reasons why they are leaving is because we have forgotten that we truly ARE in an epic battle. We have forgotten that we really DO have a king – Christ the Lord. That is exactly what we celebrate today. We have often failed to support one another in this battle, and many priests have not preached this truth effectively enough or passionately enough with both their words and their lives. It’s no one’s fault, and it is everyone’s fault.
Here’s just a random thought: Much of the Muslim world seems still faithful enough to be able to fight a Jihad, but is the Christian world still faithful enough to fight a Crusade?
And I don’t even necessarily mean a physical battle. We Christians can never forget that this battle manifests itself in prayer, and in the little things that we do for our brothers and sisters – things that in the great scheme of things are no so little. Jesus himself says, “The one who is faithful in small things will also be faithful in greater ones.” He tells us to accept the kingdom of God like a little child. He tells us that even a person who gives a cup of cold water to someone, God will not forget it. Did you know he said that? Matthew 10:42 says: “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Remember our gospel = at the end of time when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, what does he ask us? He asks us a series of questions about how we treated the least of his brethren, and then tells them that he actually lives within these poor little ones. DON’T YOU SEE? The king is all around us. The epic battle is all around us. There are angels in our midst aiding us, there are demons in our midst trying to lead us astray, and the King is waiting to be served, hiding in the people sitting next to you.
C.S. Lewis once illustrated this point very well for us when he wrote:
“It is a serious thing,” says Lewis, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
This battle doesn’t have to be openly with super-villians or with tons of Hollywood special affects. That is Hollywood, and Hollywood is built on lies, fantasy and illusion. This is real life. The real life battle is in the small things that we do for God and for one another each hour, each minute of our life. We are losing this realization, and we must get it back. It can give us the strength that we need to move forward into the serious but joy-filled epic story that Christian life is supposed to be. As G.K. Chesterton has famously noted, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
I realize that entering into this battle is hard. Living a truly Christian life is hard. But what I am suggesting, and what G.K. Chesterton is suggesting, is that it is much harder to be a Christian “halfway” than it is to throw yourself fully into it. Because that means you are trying to keep all the rules without knowing why. That is a hard thing for anybody to do. If I were convinced my life were an epic battle, I would fight harder and love stronger and even suffer more, but I would also feel more glory, more joy, and understand my place on this earth that much more deeply.
One day the real thing is going to look far more epic than anything Hollywood can ever produce, or even imagine. Imagine Jesus Christ hurling death itself into hell, and the final judgment with all the trillions of people who have ever lived, with armies of angels providing the soundtrack. It’s going to be big. It’s going to be huge. It is going to be epic.
But what we need to realize is that this huge epic story is hidden inside what is so small, like the most beautiful flower hidden in the tiniest seed. One Saint who understood this very well was Therese of lisieux, often called the “little flower. And this is how she understood it:
“Yes, my beloved, that is how my life will be consumed. I have no other means of proving my love for You than to throw flowers, that is, not to pass up any little sacrifice, any look, any word, to take advantage of all the little things and to do them out of love. I want to suffer out of love and even rejoice out of love, so I will throw flowers before your throne.”
She understood that she served a king, and it gave her strength. St. Francis constantly thought of himself as a kind of knight serving the Lord. St. Ignatius of Loyola thought of himself as a warrior for his king, and it gave him strength. As for Therese of Lisieux, she barely left her convent and now her story spans the globe in hundreds of langauges, and her autobiography is one of the most translated spiritual books other than the bible in the history of time. Isn’t that a pretty amazing example of a life of little things that became something epic – something far greater than all Hollywood’s super-hero movies combined?
May we, too, be given the grace to see that shot through our entire lives, inside very ordinary person, and in every so-called boring circumstance – there is an epic waiting to be lived and a King waiting to be served. May we have the grace to see it. May we be found so faithful that we hear the Lord say to us, “Well done, you who are blessed by my father. Enter upon the reward planned for you from the foundation of the world….”
Rev. Dr. Basil Burns