NB: from 2013 for the Vigil Mass. . .I'll have a new homily ready for the Our Lady of the Rosary Mass tomorrow.
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic/Tulane Catholic, NOLA
Take a moment to consider the crucifix—a cross made of wood with a dead body nailed to it. What's so special about Jesus' crucifixion? In the world ruled by the Roman Empire, slaves, pirates, and rebels against the empire were routinely crucified. It was considered a dishonorable way to die. In 71 B.C., the Roman general, Marcus Licinius Crassus, finally defeated the gladiator army of Spartacus the Thracian, crucifying 6,000 rebellious slaves along the Appian Way. Just 17 years before this, the King of Judea, Alexander Jannaeus, crucified 88 Pharisees who opposed his rule, and five hundred years before this, King Darius I of Babylon crucified 3,000 of his political opponents. So, Babylonians, Jews, Romans all nailed or tied men and women to wooden crosses as a form of torture and execution. Why then make such a big deal about Jesus' execution? What's so special about a cross with the body of Christ hanging on it? Ask yourself on this Solemnity of Christ the King: how does Christ rule as a king while hanging dead on a cross? How does he rule in your life, your heart and mind?
How does Christ rule as a king while hanging dead on a cross? We can start an answer by turning to Paul and his letter to the Colossians. Paul tells us that God delivers us from the power of darkness – from ignorance, sin, and death – and then transfers us from this world's domination over to His kingdom – to the rule, the governance – of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whom and through whom we have redemption. And what is this redemption? The forgiveness of our sins. So, by forgiving our sins – apart from our good works, apart from our good intentions – God grants us absolute amnesty, free reign to abide in His kingdom as citizens and not only as citizens but as heirs as well! If we accept, if we receive his freely offered amnesty, we are “transferred” to another jurisdiction, to another governing power: the rule of Christ the King. And under his rule, we are brothers and sisters in the Holy Family of God. We live under a new dispensation, a new and eternal law of charity in hope with an abiding faith. Paul says, “. . .the Father who has made [us] fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.” And that is what we are here to do: share in the inheritance granted us by the death of Christ on the cross and by his resurrection from the tomb.
But this is only a partial answer to our first question. Christ rules a kingdom from his cross and an empty tomb, a kingdom to which we are heirs. But how does he rule? Who is he that he can do such a bizarre thing? We turn to Paul again. He writes, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God. . .in [Christ] were created all things in heaven and on earth. . .all things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]. He is before all things, and in [Christ] all things hold together. . .” Through Christ, for Christ, and in Christ “all things hold together.” All things. Including me and you. If “all things” hold together in Christ, then it follows that Christ serves as the organizing principle, the center, the underlying structure for all of creation. He was “at the beginning” with the Father; he is with us now, and he will be with us always. All of this tells us that Christ is God, so when we look at the crucifix, we see God hanging there. Dead. For us. And b/c Christ was both human and divine, we see humanity hanging there as well. Human nature. What you and I are are most fundamentally. But you and I aren't dead. We're alive. How does Christ rule from the cross? He rules through the redeemed human nature that you and I share. He rules – at least for now – through our free reception of his sacrificial love. We are his body and blood, his hands and feet, moving through creation, doing the work he gives us to do.
That's who are we: the body and blood of Christ, his hands and feet, moving through creation, doing the work he gives us to do. That is, that's who we are if and when we freely receive his sacrificial love and make that love manifest in our work. Look at the criminal on a cross next to Jesus. The sign above Jesus' bloody head reads, “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke tells us, “Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.'” In other words, prove your worth, King of the Jews! Prove that you are who you say you are! He almost dares Jesus to rescue them from their fate. The other criminal, traditionally named Dismas, somehow understanding who hangs next to him, rebukes the first, saying, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?. . .we have been condemned justly. . .but this man has done nothing criminal.” Seeing the scandal of Jesus' unjust execution, Dismas freely receives Christ's sacrificial love: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In these two condemned men, we see all of humanity: those who dare Christ to save them from death and those who receive his salvation into eternal life. To the latter, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Earlier, I asked you: how does Christ rule in your life, your heart and mind? One way to answer this is to think of yourself as Dismas, hanging next to Christ on your own cross. You have accepted death as punishment for your sins, and yet, seeing Christ dying unjustly, innocent of any sin, you call out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He turns to you and says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” From that moment, you are “transferred” to another kingdom to live under another law, the law of charity in hope with an abiding faith.
You are pardoned, freed from the sentence of death, and let loose to thrive as an heir to the heavenly kingdom. Christ rules in your heart and mind as the sovereign of your every thought, word, and deed; as the sole ruler of everything you are and everything you do. In you, we see the hands and feet, the body and blood, the face of Christ. Through you, we witness the reign of Christ the King on earth. And with you, we live to bring to the fallen world the Good News of God's freely offered mercy to sinners through His Christ. How does Christ rule in our lives, our hearts and minds? If we receive him, he rules by teaching us to be servants, serving in sacrifice.
By a show of hands, how many of you have a crucifix? At home? On you? A rosary, a necklace? Good! When you look at that crucifix, you see Jesus hanging dead on a cross. From now on, see a king on his throne, ruling your world, ruling you. See the prince of peace, dying to bring his Father's peace to your world, to you. See your Savior throwing open his arms to show you the vistas of Paradise, to guide you through to your inheritance. See the Judge of the Last Judgment showing you his Father's justice and then granting you His mercy. Imagine yourself on a cross next to him. And imagine all the steps you followed to get there. Look down, to the foot of your cross, and take every step back to the beginning, back to the very first time you said to Christ, “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.” From that moment on, Christ has ruled you and through you. He has served you and through you he still serves. “Amen, I say to you, today you [are] with me in Paradise.”
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