24 November 2019

Who rules your heart?

Christus Rex
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Every year on this solemnity I ask you the same question: who or what sits on the throne of your heart? Who or what rules you? Someone or something has always ruled you and will always rule you. Christ sacrificial death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension makes it possible for us to choose who or what that someone or something is. We are free to choose our master. My annual question may seem an odd one to ask of a church filled with Catholics for a Sunday Mass. Isn't it obvious, Father, that we have all chosen Christ? We're here, aren't we? Well, in my long experience, even Mass-going Catholics can choose someone or something else to rule them when their lives in faith become too easy, or too difficult, or too routine. Christ can easily become second, third, or even fourth fiddle when the powers of this world offer us shinier, newer, cheaper, better-looking options. Therefore, the Church – in her wisdom – gives us this solemnity to reawaken in us the zealous need to place no one and nothing on the throne of our hearts other than Christ Jesus, and him crucified! He is the King of the Jews, and King of the Universe!

What does it mean to say that Christ is the King of the Universe? Turn to Colossians: “. . .in [Christ] were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible [. . .] all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” IOW, Christ is the principle of creation, the design; he is the blueprint and the final result; the logic, the reason, and the Word of reality. He is king not just in terms of power and influence but king in terms of fundamental matter and energy, of space and time; the Alpha and the Omega, first and last. Choosing Christ to rule from the throne of your heart is much more than just a moral choice or a religious/spiritual choice; it's a metaphysical choice. That is, to choose Christ is to choose to accept and live in a universe created to reveal God to human reason; a universe created to be observable, knowable, and explicable; it means understanding yourself as a person, a rational animal, a body+soul composite gifted with a supernatural end; it means accepting freedom from sin and death so that you can grow in holiness toward that end. Most importantly, it means choosing to become Christ for others by choosing to live and die in sacrificial love.

What does it mean to say that Christ, King of the Universe, rules from the throne of your heart? While Jesus hangs on the cross btw two thieves, the Roman soldiers mock him, saying, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” One of the thieves reviles Jesus with, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” What the soldiers and the thief fail to understand is that Jesus can save himself. . .but he chooses to save us instead by dying on that cross. That's what good kings do. They not only rule justly and wisely but they die for their people if necessary. They die to protect, preserve, and give their people whatever they need to flourish. Christ died to free us from sin and death, giving us the choice of who or what will rule our hearts. He gave us the apostolic faith, the Church, the sacraments. He gave his life – body and soul – so that we might have life eternal with his Father. He gave us the Holy Spirit to bind us together as One Body, offering one sacrifice through his priests to bring heaven to earth and to show us what's possible in faith. How do you choose Christ to rule your heart? Remember the Good Thief and repeat after him: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

I could spend a solid week listing the someones and somethings that we regularly choose to rule us: food, drink, sex, politics, careers, revenge, despair, cynicism. The big ones: pride, envy, wrath, you know the rest. Any one of these or some combo is deadly to the follower of Christ precisely b/c – given your permission – it will usurp Christ from his throne in your heart and corrupt everything you think, say, and do. And we know: we become what we worship. If you worship a created thing, an idol – alcohol, porn, food, a movie star/athlete, a politician – if you worship an idol, you become that idol, a thing of this world. . .blind, deaf, mute, and, inevitably, dead. For good dead. The way you keep Christ on the throne of your heart is simple: daily prayer; regular fasting; good works done for the greater glory of God; regular and worthy celebration of the sacraments, esp. confession and Mass; reading the Scriptures and other good religious books; and making sure that every morning upon rising and every evening going to bed, you give God abundant (extravagant) thanks and praise for all of the blessings He poured out on you that day AND for every blessing He is going to pour out on you tomorrow. “Today, Lord, I want to be with you in Paradise.”

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