Friday, November 20, 2015

The Once & Future King

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We come to the end of the liturgical year in the Church. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent, that time of preparation for the coming of Christ.  Advent is both a looking ahead (to the time when Christ will come in glory) and a looking back (to the time when Christ came in the nativity).  So it is fitting that before we begin the Advent season the Church celebrates this great feast which reminds us that Jesus Christ reigns as King right here and right now among us.

It may not seem that way when we look at the world around us.  ISIS terrorists destroyed more than a hundred lives in Paris and Beirut last weekend. Thousands are fleeing from their home countries and other countries are afraid to take them in.  How can we say that Christ is King?  People lose loved ones every day.  People suffer broken hearts.  How can we say that Christ is King?

Is the Kingdom of God something that exists now or something we only hope for in the future?  When we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom come," we pray for a future reign of God where justice and mercy will prevail. We pray marana tha because we know the suffering of the world around is not God's kingdom.  We long for that perfect reign of God where we will know unending love and peace.

In that respect, the Kingdom of God is a future event.  We await the final coming of Christ in glory when His reign will achieve perfection.  But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality. Jesus did not come 2000 years ago in the Incarnation to tell us what He was going to do in some distant future.  He came to inaugurate His Kingdom then and there.  The Kingdom is not yet fully manifest in this world, because it is not of this world.  But God's Kingdom is present to us now and we are called to be citizens of it.  It is vital that we understand this.

It is Christ, not King Arthur, who is the real "once and future king," whose reign is both present to us now and enduring through all time.  "The Kingdom of God lies ahead of us.  It is brought near in the Word incarnate, it is proclaimed throughout the whole Gospel, and it has come in Christ's death and Resurrection.  The Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, it is in our midst" (CCC 2816).  All those who belong to the Church are citizens of the Kingdom of God here and now.  "The Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery" (CCC 763, LG 3).

The Kingdom of God is not identified with the world, but with the Church -- yet the Church is called to serve the world and be present in the world.  The Church acts as a leaven, infecting the world with the glory of God's Kingdom until that day when Christ comes in glory.

In John's gospel Jesus tells Pilate, a mid-level administrator of the Roman bureaucracy, that His kingdom is not of this world.  But He, the King of the Universe, entered into this world to testify to the truth.  Christ entered the world, and His Kingdom entered with Him.  Wherever the King is, the Kingdom will also be.

"The Kingdom of God means Christ Himself," St. Cyprian said.  "For as He is our resurrection, since in Him we rise, so He can also be understood as the Kingdom of God, for in Him we shall reign." The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a Person.  To know Christ now is to know His reign in your heart.

So yes, as Christians, we await the fullness of the coming of His Kingdom.  We pray marana tha as we look forward with hope to His final manifestation.  But that does not mean we are do not live under His reign right here and now.  Christ reigns from eternity, which is not some future time, but an ever present time.  And so we pray "Thy Kingdom come," into our hearts right now, this day, O Lord, and reign within our lives.  To be a follower of Christ is to be a citizen of His Kingdom, both now and for all eternity.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Giving From Your Poverty

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A few weeks ago, in a reflection discussing temporal vs. spiritual goods, I made the point that those who have the least are often the most generous.  The example I used was that of a CEO who donates 1% of his income to charity compared to a homeless man who only has two dollars giving one dollar -- half of his wealth -- to a friend so each can buy a sandwich.  The rich CEO may have given a higher dollar amount, but the poor man has made a much greater sacrifice by his gift.

Like most of the insightful points I make, this one is not my own!  Jesus was the first to make this point, in today's gospel (Mk 12:38-44).  He contrasts the rich people putting a lot of money into the treasury with the poor widow who only gives a few coins. Our Lord says, "this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."

It is easy to see that the poor man who gives away half of all he has gives a higher percentage of his wealth than the person with $100 million who gives $1 million away (50% vs. 1%).  But Jesus' point is not just about percentages.  It's about giving from your surplus vs. giving from your poverty.

If I asked how much the $1 million gift cost the multi-millionaire, the obvious answer is "$1 million."  But that is not the correct answer.  The correct answer is "nothing."  Because the multi-millionaire did not need that $1 million.  He is not hurt by the loss of it and so to give it away costs him nothing.  He gives from his surplus.

By contrast, how much did the $1 gift cost the poor man?  That $1 represents a sandwich off of the dollar menu.  It represents his next meal.  Food in his belly.  To give it away means he has to accept the very real possibility of going hungry.  So what does that $1 gift cost him?  It costs him dearly because he gives from his poverty.  That's what makes his gift an act of sacrifice.  That's what makes his gift an act of love.

This is the model of giving that the scriptures hold up before us.  In our first reading (1 Kgs 17:10-6), another poor widow gives the prophet Elijah bread that, practically speaking, she could not afford to give.  But because she made the sacrifice, God rewarded her and she and her son were able to eat for a year.  The people of Israel were expected to tithe 10% of their income and produce to God.  The 10% was to come from their first fruits, not what they had left over at the end of the year.  In other words, they were commanded not to give from their surplus.  They were to offer their first and best to God.  These lessons are there to teach us how to give as God gives, which is totally and completely, even when it comes at great personal cost.

Our second reading (Heb 9:24-28) mentions the priest of ancient Israel sacrificing "blood that is not his own,"  in reference to the animal sacrifices intended as atonement for sin.  This is contrasted with the sacrifice offered by Christ, who offers His own life's blood.  This is the ultimate example of giving from your poverty, for Christ's gift cost Him dearly.  Jesus gives from His poverty because He loves without counting the cost.  He loves fully and so He gives fully.

This is how Jesus wants us to give, because this is how Jesus wants us to love.  The poor widow contributed more to the treasury than any other because her gift was more than monetary.  She gave her love.  If we only give to others when it costs us nothing -- if we only give from our surplus -- we do not truly love them.  Love demands that we give even from our poverty, even when it costs us dearly.  Love requires sacrifice.  Likewise when we give to God -- whether that be treasure, time or talent -- we must give from our poverty.  If we truly love Him we cannot hold anything back.  Like Christ, we must offer God our very lives.

How much of yourself to you offer freely to others?  How much of yourself do you offer freely to God?  And what of yourself are you holding back?  Let us follow the example of the poor widow, and give from our poverty.  Let us follow the example of Christ and give ourselves in love.