The King

In Catholic tradition,  the Feast of Christ the King is the final Sunday of the liturgical year.  And it comes with the quiet of the end of Thanksgiving weekend, a break from bouts of shopping, travel  and celebration.  It offers the chance of looking back and pushing forward, an ending and a beginning with all the paradoxes that life offers.

There is irony, of course, in the principle of a king in modern eras.  With power vested in parliaments and diets, assemblies and bureaus, there is a certain nostalgia for the loyalty and unity that monarchy implies.   Closing the year  this way is a recognition of the centrality of Christ, the shared sense that this ending is about the relationship between King and subject, King and community.  Images embedded in  the sacred music of the day summon both the grandeur and the tenderness of a monarch and the trust and confidence of a people loyal and unafraid.  Past transgressions, the weaknesses, are forgotten in a celebration of connection and peace.  Subjects and monarch proceed together to face the challenge of inevitable change of new beginnings.

There is a tidiness to the concept which somehow obscures and makes manageable the messy details of life.  It is a reminder that each of us is part of a kingdom far greater than self, and no one of us is alone on the journey of becoming and believing.  To trust so radically in a kingdom not vested in the earth-bound is, by itself, supernatural.  And so, the feast which marks the end of the year opens a treasure chest of questions about relationships, trust, courage and strength, about desires and belonging and becoming.  It invites reflection, self-evaluation, purpose and hope.  Most of all, it is a reminder that  power rests in the hands and heart of the subject; the choices and decisions theirs alone.  The monarch waits.



One another

We live in increments of time, wedged between emotions and thought, possibilities and tragedies.  We desire what is best, safe, comfortable and peaceful.  We search for increasing ease, quality lives, renewed purpose.  And so we scrap and struggle, attack and defend, yearn and mourn.  We judge and adjudicate,  label and choose,  point and profess.  Frustration pleads with its own persistence, spills into deliberate action and bursts unbidden into quiet spaces.  Somewhere, Love wrestles with the whole of who we are, navigating the channels of human incompleteness with courage and compassion waiting to be called upon.   So it is, and so it has been.

Here we are, at the end of a liturgical year littered with scandals and scoured by shame.  Here we are, staggering towards the end of a secular year pronounced with polarization, weighted by fiery disasters, punctuated by mass shootings.  Here we are, a nation of cynics harvesting the fruits of our own history with palpable distaste and mistrust of our greatest asset: one another.

“One another”, as a term,  layers its connotations  with varied shades of hospitality.  Some are characterized by the consciousness of the past, others by physical appearance and some by shared experiences and labels: victim, patient, survivor, addict, widow, elderly, poor, privileged.  There is a shape yielded by self-awareness, and the one awarded and communicated by the world.  Sometimes, those generate a sense of “other” rather than “one”.  Sometimes difference is easier to see and grasp than similarities which dwell at deeper levels.  To embrace “one another” means embracing the uncertainty and ambiguity of the implications of belonging to more than self.

“Catholic”, too, is a term understood in meaty layers.  There are the institutional dimensions and structures, and then there is the simplicity of the small “c” “catholic”: universal.  There is a universality of human experience that has existed since humans began carving lives and worlds from geographic and historical contexts.  There are common denominators of journey and struggle, hope and possibility, idealism and brokenness, betrayal and failure.

Here, as experience fades into memory and the struggle to make sense of all that the year has wrought begins, here is a critical moment.  Catholicism is a bid to dare to believe that Love does have a home within all of us, that Courage and Compassion can heal the brokenness of the past, that there is room for “one another” within and among all of us.  Catholicism names the personal dimension of every journey with each sacrament and recognizes that each journey takes place within the whole of humankind.  Catholicism images the stream of humanity that courses through centuries, and somehow shapes tiny increments of lives  into a vast human journey.  And it offers courage and compassion for the inevitable twists and bends, issues and challenges.





In the wake of November’s heady start,  with mid-term elections and Presidential controversies,  gun violence and wildfires, there is time now for a moment of quiet.  It is time to consider who and what we are, what we value and how we live.  It is time to reclaim a deeper identity: who we are as human beings.  

Nobility, after all, rests somewhere within each of us.  Now is the time to draw on our better selves, to trust in the grace of mystery and to remember that it is when we are powerless that we are strong.  

Strength is a grace that is birthed within and manifest without:  it is a connection to something greater than self.  Strength is not born of ignorance but of experience;  it is nurtured not simply by hope but by action.   Strength is the moment of realizing the more within, that there is something other than what we knew before within each of us. Strength is the sense that life is difficult; it is meant to be negotiated and there are moments of failure along with moments of triumph.  

We are capable of being better than we were, more than we are, in the awareness that being human is not actually about one person.  It is about all of us, together, with weaknesses and strengths, mores and norms, values and choices.  Strength is the understanding that human is not done alone.  Human is done in concert, as part of a symphony of reality, and a horizon of hope.  To be human is to acknowledge limits and failures, to strive to be more.  To know strength is to realize weakness.  Strength admits that we are better together than totally alone.  Strength trusts that there is universe beyond this, and there are moments when grace floods into fear, weakness, sorrow, despair, brokenness.  Strength is other; it is the promise of a God who asks only for awareness.  It is the mark of the Spirit;  it belongs not only to the Letters of Paul or the confines of Scripture stories.  Strength is about learning to live in balance in a world of clashing controversy and weeping with conflicts.  


The fight, political ads  say, is “for the soul of America”.  I wondered what exactly that meant:not the fight, but the “soul”.  The “fight” is visible everywhere in protest movements and campaigns, literature and social media.   But “soul”  is  far less easily defined; the use of the term itself evokes a last grasp for some transcendence of the reality we have fashioned.  Ours is  a world grounded in the scientific, in data and digital expression, in immediate gratification and measurable results.  On the other hand, Merriam-Webster .com describes “soul” as immaterial essence, animating principle, a central cause or, secondarily, a spiritual principle embodied in human beings…or in the universe. The very use of the term provides an intimation  that the America we see, we live in, is only a glimpse of who we really are.  In that way, “soul” invites us to consider what are the principles that animate our lives, our country.  “Soul” invites us to believe that there is more to us than the rigor of law or the nature of failure or even the violent bitterness that characterizes public discourse at this time.  And in a very real way, that word enables us to go below the surface, to look beyond the diatribes, and to begin taking critical steps.  “Soul” represents the possibility of discovering that well beyond the physical and material boundaries of race and gender, sexuality and income inequality rests a reality that actually binds us one closer to the next.   It literally means that “soul” is the one thing that might actually be shared, that can be discovered, explored and adhered to.

The term asks  that we look not at what divides us, but at what is easily recognizable: a shared life within, a sense of principles and purpose.  It is accepting that there is an “innermost aspect” of human beings that is of great value ( That belief has animated Catholicism for centuries; it has been a reassuring foundation for dealing with the flawed nature of humans, the challenges of living in the physical world, the conflicts and controversies that erupt with disturbing frequency.  It is a promise that the spark of the divine is alive in each of us somehow, and that those tiny flames illuminate the darkness of discrimination and divisions.  It is a reminder that hope is eternal and choices can adhere to and honor and challenge long-held principles and ideas.  It is a signal that there is more to the world, to the person than what is seen and judged.  And so it is a reminder that there is a something far greater than self in this life.  For me, Catholicism was always a reassurance that the human family is a broad and diverse, beloved and becoming; the concept of the soul simply affirmed a oneness of shared humanity.

Perhaps “soul” exists as conjecture.  But in so many ways, political use of the term postulates that there is, in fact, something beyond the tangible in human existence. The call to a common soul is not a call simply for America.  It is  a chance to recognize that there is, in fact, a spiritual dimension to life that merits 21st century exploration.