Friday, November 18, 2016

Remembering the Kingdom

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (C)

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One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the Catholic Church is her universality. The Church knows no borders. She is bigger than our national, ethnic and political divides. It is good to be reminded of this always, especially during times of division in our society.

This is why the Church was able to become such a powerful force in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was the only institution that transcended the boundaries of every kingdom. And it kept the kings in check. No matter how powerful or ambitious any human ruler became, there was always the Church to remind them that there was something more powerful yet.

It’s common these days for folks to look back on the past and denounce the Church of that era for being too involved in government and the politics of secular society. And that criticism is not without historical foundation.

But when we evict the Church from the secular world, what do we leave in its place? When we no longer accept God as our Master, we don’t become free. We become slaves to other, smaller masters. When we no longer recognize Jesus as Savior, we look for salvation in other, smaller saviors.

One of the things that bothered me the most in the 2008 presidential election was the near-Messianic status that Barack Obama’s supporters endowed him with. He promised Change. He offered Hope. He was going to be the magic pill that united our nation. He was going to make everyone’s lives better. His supporters seemed almost cult-like in their following, and that worried me. I recalled Psalm 146, which warns us to “put no trust in princes.”

Fast forward to 2016. If there was one silver lining to this presidential election, it was that no one (or very few at least) was tempted to make either candidate into a Messiah.

Our campus ministry volunteers every Tuesday afternoon at the Community Table. One of the things I like about going there is that it puts me in contact with people from all sorts of backgrounds -- and I don’t just mean the people that we serve. The other volunteers we work with run the gambit from staunch conservatives to far-left liberals, with plenty of apolicital unaffiliateds. As we served meals to the hungry on Tuesday Nov. 8, all of us shared the same concerns about the election: we were afraid that someone might win.

Someone did win. Now a significant number of our population thinks it was the wrong person. There are protests and demonstrations. There has been violence. Rightly or wrongly, people belonging to certain demographics are afraid. Some of that fear may be warranted; some is no doubt overblown. But it is real fear, nonetheless. We, as Christians, do not have the luxury of belittling the fears of others. We are called to be a healing balm, to offer hope and peace.

I think one cause of our national angst is a tendency we have developed of making our political candidate into a savior and turning the opposing candidate into a demon. When this is how we practice politics, it is no wonder people despair when their party loses. We like to think of our country as paradise. Maybe we think it is paradise already or maybe we want to change it into a paradise. Either way, we don't like trouble in our paradise.

What can we do as a Church to sooth people’s fears and work toward healing in our nation? The only answer is to look beyond our nation, to direct our gaze to something -- to Someone -- who is greater than our fears. We need to remember that God is bigger than the Republican Party, God is bigger than the Democratic Party, God is bigger than America, and indeed the whole world. As St. Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, "For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).

We may be members of a political party; we may be citizens of our country. We may be members of an ethnic class. But beyond all of that, we are citizens of a kingdom. And unlike the mighty Roman Empire, which fell, and even our great nation of America, which will also one day fall, Christ's kingdom is everlasting. It will not fade away. Is our place in that kingdom secure? If so, then we have nothing to fear.

America may be many good things, but she is not heaven. And no politician is Jesus Christ. The best thing I think we, as a Church, can offer people in this time of turmoil is a heavenly perspective; a perspective that recognizes, as we do today, that Christ is King. We should work, first and foremost, to be faithful citizens of His kingdom. Only then we will have peace, knowing that we will never be lost.

So let our prayer today and every day be that of the good thief on the cross, who recognizing his own sins and inability to save himself, called out to Christ in faith, hope and love, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Lk 23:42).

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