Christ the King

The Feast of Christ the King is a footnote, an inauspcicious closing to the liturgical year. The wonder of its voice is a whisper of the world past, of the time monarchy actually reigned.  Monarchies rested in the realm of the ideal where the possibility that a leader could be born to practice goodness,  live to become wise and merciful, be willing to sacifice for the benefit of others.  Today, that message makes sense of the life of Jesus and our lives as well.  

The King celebrated today is the one who enchants and enthralls, who tenderly relates to each subject with consciousness of individual paths and the collective whole.  The relationship is two-way, based on the perception that each matters deeply to the other,  and that trust has a fundamental role in being.  There is an intimacy that becomes formative,  that shapes purpose and identity.  There is a sense that at every step, there is learning going on, people becoming better than they were before.  That King who inspires and reimagines reality, that King is named and celebrated today.

There is a whole other dimension to this: this King rests on a throne that is both simple and humble, that intersects vertically and horizontally; it is a humble representation of hope.  And there is the truth that each person is called to.  That intersection itself brings each of us closer, it is a locus point that reminds us of the connection to one another.  This is a King who walked the very ground and being we share, one who was attuned to the rhythms of human existence with both its vagaries and wonders.  This is the King celebrated today.

And so the year closes with a tenderness and a  promise of relationship that goes on and on, both because of and in spite of the humanity shared and honored.  It is representative of lives that change and hope that is endless and reality that shifts.  It is a reminder to come into the quiet, to dare to walk with memories and to find the deeper messages in what is actually happening in the routines and vicissitudes of everyday.

There is fealty involved, the concept of real faithfulness.  Medieval though it might be, there is a nobility in daring to keep discovering who we are.  The relationship between subject and King is something to be lived out in the simplicity of every day.  It is not detached from the realities that we experience: work, family, frustration, learning, tragedies and triumphs.  It is a relationship that undergirds all of that; in its richest form, it is challenging.  For the King to be known, for the Kingdom to be celebrated, each of us must become better than what we are, live better than where we have been, and discover over and again all that we are and all that we can be.

This is a cleebration for a King who calls out even today.  It is not about triumphalism or merely vanquishing evil: it is about embracing a King who dares embrace us, such as we are, with every breath in every moment.  No apologies. No mistakes.  Instead, a journey together toward a kingdom where peace and mercy are alive in hearts and spirits. For His is a Kingdom made visible in and through us.


Wars are raging; politicians are lashing out at one another nationally and globally. Nations are angling for power and undemining one another in ways that generate economic and social turmoil.   Peace is an elusive ideal found only in the most optimistic and perhaps naive hearts.  In the midst of these realities, the Gospel message still speaks: “Love one another as I have loved you.”   These days offer the chance to do that, in even the most timid of ways, to somehow begin to stem the tide of adversity, violence and cruelty that has come to characterize this millennium.

As a Catholic, I remember the stigma that came with family size, family planning and the abortion issue.  And as a Catholic, I remember a singular moment of awareness about how little I understood about the functions of the systems of the Church as an organization or hierarchy and how I knew even less about the actual practice of faith in daily life.  I knew the customs: Mass attendance, the rosary, even scapulars, by name.  But I had not yet found life in those customs.  For me, learning how little I knew opened the door to curiosity and learning more.  It was not strictly through books or research.  It came through people.

There was Charlie, this neighborhood character of a certain age.  I had seen him sorting through trash for bottles to re-cylce for the nickel.  I had seen him work street to street, greeting the elderly, avoiding the landlords and crossing himself every time he passsed the block occupied by the Catholic Church. And I had seen him in church frim time to time, too.   On a warm Sunday afternoon when I was standing on a corner by myself, he approached me.  “I been wathcing you,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid to live your faith.  be true to your call.”  He walked away and I was left to consider whether it was synchronicity in the universe or a moment of craziness.

There were my students.  The school was adjacent to the Cross Bronx Expressway.  In the middle of a lesson, they stood up as one body, all forty of them, and started reciting the Hail Mary. I just watched.  Two days later, the same thing happened.  I asked what they were doing.  “Didn’t you hear the ambulance?” they said incredulously.  “Someone’s in tourble.  It is the least we can do..,”  “We’re better off than they are,” another chimed in.  “We can do a little something…”  I stared at them.  By and large, they were children of the poor, of inmates and tragedies.  I wondered again about synchronicity.

There was a simplicity in those actions, in the interactions, that told me about what really matters in life.  It was never about the Magisterium or its layers of rules.  It was always about having the courage to dare to love on another, to be part of something greater than self, to wonder and wander with people who treasure the concept of a God who dares to journey with us.  There is a stigma to being Catholic.  Embracing it is part of the journey and the learning is just beginning.



The spires that towered over our neighborhood were a comfort to me, a reminder that there was something inspirational and strong beyond the daily struggles.  I liked the simplicity of metal crosses against the city skyline and I defined their message: there is something transcendent, something that at its depth unites rather than divides.  The very height summoned the reality of depth.

Those thoughts, I learned, shape my soul.  But for others, perceptions of those symbols are entirely different.   Spires are cursed by hypocrisy, discrimination and prejudice.  The concept of depth is trapped; stereotypes and ignorance thwart curiosity.  Real discussion or exchange about the symbol, the community or faith are virtually impossible.  And so the symbols that comforted one generation fall into anonymity for the next; the voices are unexamined, the wealth unknown, and the labels heavy burdens preventing movement or growth.

As a Catholic, as a believer, I am conscious of both the wonder of belief  and the uniqueness of that experience in the contemporary world. For me,  mindfulness practices and the proliferation of community groups, online contacts and the endless scrolling through sites speaks of the human need for connection.  But for me, too, the flying buttresses of medieval cathedrals carry the same message:  humans need both place and purpose.  We are evolving new ways of being and becoming.  But we are still, inevitably and purposefully, fully human.  Technology changes and perspectives evolve, but humans remain who we are: searching for meaning, hoping for more, believing in better.

Place and purpose in the world is ours to define, of course.  We can seek sources of wisdom, change directions, scramble for action, and bemoan circumstance.  We can judge one another, deny one viewpoint to choose another, and immerse ourselves in rigorous debate over issues and perspectives.  We grapple with moral choices and the complexities of the universe we are born into.  We do it as so many have before us:  we are living out humanity in the only ways we know how.  But we are doing it in essentially the same ways those who have gone before us; they too  grappled with issues and problems, divergences and truths.  Our tools may be different; our institutions less powerful, but the human journey remains.  Human beings are seekers.  One generation’s findings cannot satisfy the next.   Each life is born to that task; this generation, our generation,  is no different.

To be connected to something greater than self is both gift and responsibility.  Whether it is a network of Instagram users or a potpourri of acquaintances and friends,  presence and nurturing are necessary to sustaining the bonds.  And so it is with the life that I lead and have chosen.  The sustenance is both public and private.  There is communal celebration of the Mass, a weekly opening to learning more about self and one another and others.  And there is the quiet of personal prayer: grace before meals, gratitude prayer in the morning, moments of examining conscience and a final review at the end of the day.  Always,  the hope to become a better person, one who can live the Gospel message, someone who can follow Francis’ admonition, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words. ”  The spires remain; the foundations are multi-faceted.








There she is: 18 months old and tottering into a locker room independently, announcing she is about to swim.  There they are:  the grandma wrapped in a down coat, tiny and dark, with the grandson close to her height grandly pointing out the sights along the road.  There is the couple shuffling down the main aisle, hands held on the walker’s frame. There is the door held open: a teenager waits with as a young mom escorts twins across the threshold.  Goodness surrounds us.  A moment’s glance tells you the world is changing, but goodness and kindness still provide the tempo of being.

Celebrating those moments, even recognizing them, are antidotes to the polarization and stereotyping that has captured the national consciousness.  Beneath the differences, the fears and anxieties, the resentment and blame-placing, there are undeniable similarities among us. To see one another with the awareness that each carries a story,  lives a depth of memory and experience, is to appreciate the essential fact of humanity: existence is complicated for everyone. 

To be Catholic is to trust that humanity is so complicated that there will be moments where understanding self, never mind others, will be virtually impossible.  There will be times when life seems completely unfair, unjust, untenable; to be a Catholic is to know that life is not fair.  But that does not preclude living and loving and enjoying.  To be a Catholic is to believe that on the very complicated journey, there is a very patient and gentle God who companions, encourages, supports and at times guides.

That understanding is captured in the reading from the Book of Wisdom, and reiterated in the story of Zaccheus.  Both Wis 11:22-12:2 and Luke 19:1-10 carry a message deeper than the words themselves.  In both, the essence is about God’s love and care for all creation, the gentle forgiveness for those so loved, and the view that imperfection, fault and flaw, are simply part of what it means to be human.  More importantly, God is with us for the long haul.  Consciousness of the divine in the midst of the human pre-dates Catholicism and the Church.  While new scientific research provides plausible explanations for what was once considered “acts of God”, there is still the human urge to seek and be touched by that divine spark.  Scripture confides the possibility, and human behavior and interaction provide the examples of that.

The Church, vilified as it is today, is actually intent on representing, sharing and providing some of that support.  That is what the sacraments are about; earlier generations saw those sacraments as the escorts through the complications of life, the tangle of choices and decisions.  At every stage of life, the sacraments intimate the idea that as human beings, we need the support of a community with shared values and vision.  It is never simply about one alone.  It is always about all of the imperfect gathered together, offering what we can to each other in that moment,  confident in one another’s support even as limited and imperfect as it is.

To belong means to make the decision to accept the flaws, to trust that change is part of the path and that strength lies in the relationship with God rather than in the exercise of power over one another.  It means believing that the Church itself is an imperfect human mechanism, striving as to become better just as we all do.