The Yes of Jesus Christ

This homily was given at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA on the memorial of St. Scholastica, February 10, 2023. The audio is available here.

Father Mark often warns us about the masculine tendency towards disintegration.

“After Eden,” after the Fall, we have to fight against this tendency to live a compartmentalized, disintegrated life. 

And a particular danger for us men “after Eden” is that we might keep our supernatural love for God separate, compartmentalized away, from our “natural, human love” for others: our family, friends, parishioners.

By drawing a sharp line down the middle of our hearts—love for God, love for others—we might think that we’re giving God His rightful priority.

But this disintegration of our hearts gives rise to conflicts and wounds.

We hear in today’s Office of Readings how St. Benedict’s love for God causes a little conflict with his sister, St. Scholastica.

She begs him to stay; he says he can’t.

But St. Scholastica prays to God, and a storm rolls in that’s so intense, St. Benedict has to stay the night!

We hear that St. Scholastica received more from her prayers … because she loved more.

In the words of Pope Benedict, of happy memory, to love is to give an unconditional yes to the beloved: “Yes, it is good that you are here; I am for you; I love you; I am all yours.”

Scholastica loved with a more integrated, whole-hearted love, unconditional, unreserved: yes to God, yes to her brother! And God heard her prayer.

Today, in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus gives His unconditional yes to us, as He gave it to Adam in the beginning: “Yes, you are very good. I love you. I am yours.”

And this yes of Jesus Christ transforms and integrates us, making our hearts whole.

Having received the yes of Jesus deeply into our hearts, we are made capable of true, integrated love, which is not only natural or supernatural, but the fruit of divinized humanity: transformed from within by the love of God.

Our hearts are no longer divided, but whole.

Our love is one God’s love, His love becomes ours, and we can begin to love God and others with God’s own love, which is ours, now, as well.

Today, at this Holy Mass, ask Jesus to open our hearts, as He opened the ears of the deaf man, to hear His unconditional yes to you.

Ask Jesus for the grace to share in His yes to others, by affirming them through love: “Yes, it is good that you exist. I am for you. This is my Body, my heart, my life, given up for you.”

This is what our people long for.

This is the very heart of spiritual fatherhood in Christ.

And like St. Scholastica, we who have received the yes of Jesus Christ and who share it with others will receive whatever we ask from the Lord, because our hearts are one with His in the communion of love. 

God Saves

This homily was given at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Cottage Grove, OR on the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, January 2, 2023.

“Hear, O Israel: the LORD is your God; the LORD is one!”

This prayer, called the Shema, is the essential prayer of the Old Testament.

It set the Israelites apart from all the other peoples of the ancient world.

Unlike the other nations, Israel had one God, who revealed himself to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua and the prophets.

But the name of this God was wrapped in mystery.

When Moses asked his name at the burning bush, he replied, “I am who am.”

Only in the Incarnation are the name and the face of God revealed.

And the name of this Child-God is the fulfillment of Israel’s faith.

Gabriel says to Mary, “You shall call him Jesus.

And this holy name means “God saves.”

God not only saved and delivered his people in the past; he will not only come to save them in the future; here and now, God is saving his people.

And here and now, at this Holy Mass, we are caught up in that saving work.

Today, call upon the holy name of Jesus, that name which many Hebrew generations longed to hear, but which has been revealed to us.

At the name of Jesus, every knee must bow; every spirit is taken captive; the wounded are healed; strongholds are broken, hopeless situations are resolved.

Call upon the holy name, then, for whenever our lips pronounce his sweet name, God comes with power and might to save us and set us free.

And on the last day, we who have pronounced his name on earth will hear him say our names in heaven: “Come, you beloved of my Father, enter into your Master’s joy.”

A Word for the Year

This homily was given at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Roseburg, OR on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, January 1, 2023.

You might have seen a picture going around recently on the internet. 

It’s a comic in three panels. 

First it shows a woman smiling and laughing; the caption says “2019.”

The middle square is completely black and empty.

Then it shows the same woman, waking up, confused: “2023.”

That sums up the experience of the last few years pretty well: going from one thing to the next at breakneck speed, hardly knowing how we got there.

Today we’re on the threshold of a new year, but for many of us, the last one passed like a blur, not to speak of the one before that, or before that!

Today we are on the eighth day of Christmas … and it seems like just yesterday we were wrapping the presents and lighting the tree.

As we live faster and faster, hurrying from one thing to the next, even against our will or better judgment, the pace of our lives drives out recollection.

Recollection is that spirit of attentiveness, listening, staying alert, paying attention, being present to the present moment.

Like a fragile flower, it takes time and effort to cultivate, and it’s easily lost in a stormy season.

As we lose the spirit of recollection in our busy lives, we live more and more on the surface of things, becoming frazzled, burnt out … and we miss the deeper story of the passing years and seasons: what God is about.

We forget, in fact, that in each of our life’s stories, God is the author and the protagonist, and He is about something good, here and now.

Jesus Christ calls us to go deep this year with Him: to live our lives with him, to be attentive, listening, present to all that He is saying and doing.

And Mary, the ever-Virgin mother of God and our mother, goes before us this year, showing us how to live a life of recollection, a life with God. 

First: Mary listens. 

At her Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel arrives with a message from heaven which changes the course of her life and all human history, she is not busy or preoccupied. 

She’s listening, in prayer.

It may seem a small thing, but this posture of listening receptivity is the first principle and foundation of the Christian life.

As we listen, we become still and silent, waiting on the Lord in patient hope.

The silent, listening heart is ready to receive the words from heaven when they come: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

Second: Mary believes. 

“How blessed are you,” says Elizabeth, “who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”

Hearing the voice of the Lord, she places her trust in Him.

As we believe what we have heard from the Lord, we choose to place our trust in Him and in His promises, not in ourselves or in any other power.

But we know it is not always that simple for us, to hear and believe.

We are beset with many doubts and distractions.

That’s why Mary’s third disposition is a very important example for us.

She not only hears and believes … she reflects on all these things in her heart.

Reflecting on the Lord’s words, His actions, His promises, His providence, His faithfulness, His mercy, His love, increases our trust in Him.

As we remember the goodness of the Lord, we can choose more easily to trust Him, here and now, even in the midst of storms and busy seasons. 

And then, fourth and finally, Mary acts. 

She does not live on the surface of her life; she acts out of the depths of her listening heart, from the fullness of her reflection and contemplation.

Having heard the word of God and placed all her trust in Him, she carries it out with hope and faith and love.

Today, at this first Holy Mass of the year 2023, we are at a new beginning. 

Here and now, ask Jesus to speak a word to you for the new year, and following the example of Mary, be patient in listening for the answer. 

When it comes, write down this word in a place you’ll see it throughout the year—the front of your prayer book, the visor of your car—and return to it often, telling Jesus you believe in the word He speaks over you. 

Use this word as a reminder that God is active, that He is present in your life; use the word He gives as a lens to interpret what He is saying and doing.

In your prayer times this year, reflect on the events of the year, the desires and movements of your heart, the graces and trials that will surely come, in the light of the word of God. 

And after listening, believing, reflecting … strive to act each day in accordance with what the Lord says and what He shows you. 

As we live in Mary’s spirit of recollection, listening, believing, reflecting, and acting, we become more like Jesus, her son. 

And on the last day of this year 2023, Jesus will be proud to stand before his Mother and Father in heaven and call us his brothers and sisters, for all who do the will of God, like Mary, belong to the family of God, and have a place in his home for ever. 

The First Martyr

This homily was given at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Cottage Grove, OR on the Memorial of St. Stephen, December 26, 2022.

The Roman liturgical calendar places two feasts side by side: the birth of Christ and the death of Stephen.

Yesterday, the Church was clothed in white and gold to celebrate the newborn Christ-child; today, in red for the blood of the Church’s first martyr.

“Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin Mary’s womb and graciously visited the world … Today his soldier, Stephen, leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.”

Yet we know the child, laid in the wooden manger, would in fact be the first of all martyrs on the wood of the Cross; Stephen, on the second day of Christmas, is the second, first to follow in Christ’s footsteps on the royal road to heaven.

Love, self-giving love, unites them, the King and the first among his soldiers, as St. Fulgentius of Ruspe writes in a sixth-century sermon for this feast:

“The love that brought Christ down from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.”

“Stephen’s love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. 

“Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.”

“Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayers of Stephen.”

“This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy … It was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.”

“Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven. He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.”

“My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity; give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.”

Who is God?

This homily was given at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Sutherlin, OR on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022.

One dark night, a child was born.

He was born into a thick and heavy darkness, not only covering the eyes, but the minds and the hearts of man.

The darkness had weighed on us for centuries upon centuries, from generation to generation, as the whole world cried out with one question, one greatquestion: 

Who is God?

It’s the greatest and most important question of our human existence, because who He is determines who we are, the meaning and purpose of our life on this earth, and what comes after.

The Greeks sought God in philosophy, with reason and logical proofs.

They concluded, thousands of years before Christ, that there must be one Supreme Being, one Uncreated Creator of everything else there is.

They knew by reason that God must exist … but they did not know him.

They could not reason their way to discover this Supreme Being’s name, or his nature, or anything at all about who he is, what he’s like.

The long history of philosophy and human religions is the story of man seeking God in the darkness, groping for the truth by night, seeking but not finding, only seeing partial and obscure glimpses of the mystery.

Centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah sang: “Truly you are a hidden God, dwelling in inaccessible light!” 

As long as God remained hidden, the hearts of humankind were restless and unsatisfied, searching everywhere for the deepest truth of our existence.

Who is God?

Who is this Supreme Being, who is this Creator, who is it who holds the keys of life and death, who is it in whose image and likeness we are made, who holds the secret of our being, the reason of our existence, the purpose for which we were made and live and suffer and rejoice?

Some became afraid of finding the answer to the question: maybe there was no God there to find; maybe we are children of an absent Father!

Or maybe God is a tyrant, an abuser, who inflicts pain and suffering without lifting a finger to help.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come among us to answer the greatest question of our human hearts.

He reveals the whole mystery of God in Himself. 

“God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, but to us he has spoken through His Son.”

The Son of God, who reveals the face and the heart of the Father.

Who is God?

Look at the Nativity scene and see for yourselves!

God, who made the heavens and the earth, who set the stars in their courses, who created the universe and all humankind, God … is a little baby.

As we gaze upon the Nativity, so familiar to us, we discover that in these simple figures, the mystery of God is laid bare for our eyes to see: God made visible, touchable, adorable, unveiled, exposed, vulnerable before us.

God becomes a little baby precisely to reveal the depths of His heart for us.

For a God who can become a little child, laid in a manger among the straw, is a very different God than the philosophers could have imagined … different than the Jews ever predicted!

This is a God overflowing with love, a God who makes Himself poor and lowly so that we, little nothings that we are, might be lifted high, saved from the misery of sin and death, and filled with light and life.

This is a God who descends from the heights of heavenly glory to the depths of our poverty and hopelessness, into our darkness, into our sin and weakness, to save us and transform us and bring us back to Himself.

Now, today, all the ends of the earth have seen God and his saving power. 

Not power as we would expect; not power to force and coerce us to bend to God’s will.

No, the power of God is His glorious weakness: His making Himself the smallest, the weakest, to show us his heart and win our hearts for himself.

Christmas is God’s love story to humanity … and the Nativity of Christ is the beginning of the divine rescue mission to save mankind.

Jesus is the answer to which every human heart is the question.

So we come to Jesus, seeking the truth revealed in Him, today, and at every Holy Mass: We see Jesus born for us again, making Himself smaller than ever before: not wrapped in swaddling clothes this time, not lain in a manger, but clothed in bread and wine and laid upon our lips.

As we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we ask Him to reveal to us the Father’s face and the truth of the Father’s heart He knows so well, and to draw us into their divine life, their communion of life and love.

Our hearts find rest in God, as we discover in Jesus the pattern of our human existence, made and modelled as we are on the very life of God: to give ourselves away in self-surrender and let ourselves be loved; to seek to be little, preferring weakness to domination and love to power.

And on the last day, when life is changed, not ended, as we have learned God’s heart and conformed our hearts to His, we will return to the Creator, not as strangers, groping in the darkness, but as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus, rejoicing to return to the home of our Father and enter into his rest, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Return to Joy

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, South San Francisco, CA on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 11, 2022. The audio is available here.

When we were little, around this time of year, Grandma and Grandpa would start coming round to ask what we wanted for Christmas, and we would tell them: 

I want this one book, I want that new game, I want a BMX bike.

And on Christmas morning, when we saw that big present under the tree from Grandma, and we just know under the wrapping paper was the bike we’d been dreaming of, our hearts just about exploded with delight.

As we get older, though, the things we want at Christmas tend to be a little harder to put on a shopping list.

We want rest from the busyness of our daily life.

We want time with our families and friends.

Maybe we want the kids to come home and gather around the table again, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

If we dare to say it out loud … we want joy!

The innocent, rapturous joy of the boy with the bike on Christmas morning. 

But these days, joy so often seems frustratingly out of reach.

We can’t order it off Amazon with free 2-day shipping.

We can chase after that joy with more and more stuff: a better vacation, a nicer car, new clothes, fine wines… 

But the more we look to creatures—meaning created stuff—the more we look to creatures to satisfy our deepest longings, the more frustrated, bored, hopeless, and empty our hearts become.

Because the truth is, even when we were kids, it wasn’t about the bike.

The childlike joy of Christmas morning is the joy of feeling loved…

Feeling, for one moment, for one morning, like everything, everything is right in the world, and I am safe, and I am loved, and we’re good … and I’m gonna ride my bike. 

Joy and love are inseparable; “joy is the fruit of love’s enduring embrace.”

So joy requires another person, just as love requires another person.

The boy on Christmas morning wouldn’t feel that same joy if he got a gift card to REI in the mail from a distant uncle he barely knows.

Maybe he could buy the same bike, but it’s not the same gift.

Joy is that simultaneous delight and rest we feel deep down in our hearts when we love another who we know loves us, who delights in us, who gives us the gift of their loving presence as we are present with them.

That’s why, today, the Church cries out with a wild, childlike joy: “rejoice!” – return to joy, that childlike Christmas joy – “rejoice! … in the Lord.”

And in case we missed it, she says it again: “Again I say, rejoice!—For indeed, the Lord is near.”

Jesus is near.

He is the one we’ve been waiting for.

Jesus is joy incarnate. 

In Jesus, all the deepest longings of the human heart are satisfied.

“The blind regain their sight; the lame walk; the deaf hear; the dead are raised.”

The busy find rest; the lonely are loved; the empty are filled with His goodness, and the hopeless and the bored come alive in His presence.

Today, at this Holy Mass, we rejoice in the presence of the Lord.

Here, in this church, we have the secret of that childlike Christmas joy the whole world longs for and strives for without knowing where to find it.

Jesus, the Christ-child, is born for us again on this altar in the Holy Eucharist, not wrapped in swaddling clothes this time, not lain in a manger, but clothed in bread and wine and laid upon our lips.

As we receive Jesus, the joy of the Father, the Gift of Gifts, we lay aside all earthly cares and rejoice in communion with the One who loves us so well.

Ask Jesus for the grace to remain in that joy, not just for a few minutes, not just for today, but all week long, from this Holy Mass to the next, and from that Holy Mass to the one after that.

As we live in His Christmas joy, we taste that love and delight and rest even now, “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

And on the last day, when we are crowned with everlasting joy, we shall enter the endless communion of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in the eternal Christmas morning of God’s own delight, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Fight, Flight, Freeze

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, South San Francisco, CA on the Second Sunday in Advent, December 4, 2022. The audio is available here.

Fear usually causes one of three reactions: fight, flight, or freeze.

Whether it’s a lion coming after you on the Serengeti or a call from your mom, who you’ve been avoiding, we tend to react in the same way.

Some of us get fired up right away, ready to fight back and defend ourselves.

Others run from danger. 

We see the name on caller ID and send it straight to voicemail.

“I’ll deal with them … later.” 

And others freeze up.

Sometimes, fear has so much power over us that we just stand there like a tree, rooted in place, powerless and paralyzed.

We feel afraid whenever we’re unsafe, whether that’s from physical danger, or emotional or moral danger that threatens our well-being.

It makes no difference to our nervous system; our bodies don’t distinguish between the prowling lion and the scary phone call.

It just perceives them both as threats and triggers the fear response.

And God designed our bodies this way to protect us from danger.

The problem is that sometimes, we perceive situations that aren’t really dangerous to us as a threat … and we respond accordingly.

Some of us fear God as a threat.

We’re afraid He’s going to punish us, that He’s not trustworthy, that He’ll abuse His power over us and reject us if He sees what we’re really like.

So we may fight against God by sinning to keep Him at arm’s length…

Or we fly from God, avoiding prayer, not going to Mass…

Or we might freeze up in His presence, our hearts going cold and numb without knowing why.

Fight, flight, freeze…

One response that we don’t typically have when we’re afraid is delight.

Yet, confusingly, that’s what today’s prophecy says about Jesus: “His delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”

Clearly, this is a different kind of fear than we’re used to.

But if you’ve ever stood on the edge of a cliff, or at the top of a raging waterfall, or a mountain peak overlooking the wide world spread out below, you may have tasted something of this other kind of fear.

If you’ve had a real, overpowering experience of God, in prayer, or at some difficult moment in your life, then you know it as well.

This is a holy fear, produced, not by danger and feeling unsafe, but by wonder and awe and love … and we can tell the difference at once by the kind of fruit it bears in our souls.

It’s not a fear that triggers us to fight or flight or freeze; this fear awakens something deep down within our hearts, making us feel alive, very small yet part of something great.

It produces peace, freedom, confidence, delight.

Jesus is not afraid of His Father, not the way we sometimes are.

Jesus gazes on the face of His Father with wonder and awe and love.

His delight is in the holy fear of the Father because He knows His Father’s heart; He knows Him, and He loves Him, and so He strives to please Him, never doing anything that would hurt His heart.

Jesus walked this earth the freest, most whole-hearted man who ever lived, because He lived at every moment in the holy fear of God. 

Take a good, hard look at our own hearts.

Which kind of fear do I have of God?

Look at the fruits in our own lives: is there sin, shame, coldness of heart, avoiding God, hiding from God … or delighting in God, seeking His face, striving to please Him, avoiding anything that might hurt His heart?

The first kind of fear, unholy fear, comes from a distorted image of the Father, from lies we have come to believe about Him.

So today, we repent of the lies we have believed about the Father…

And as we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we ask Him to show us the Father’s face and the truth of the Father’s heart He knows so well.

“Now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

“Come, let us set things right,” says the Lord.

As we repent of the lies we have believed and return to the Father, we find that unholy fear loses its grip on us, and we begin to delight, like Jesus, in the holy fear of the Lord, the wonder and awe and love of God.

We begin to experience what it is to walk this earth in freedom and whole-hearted confidence as sons and daughters of the Most High God.

And on the last day, at His glorious and second coming, when “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea,” we will not run and hide our faces…

We shall rejoice with Jesus and all the saints in the all-holy presence of God, for we know His heart, and He knows us, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Busy and Blind

This homily was given at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA on the First Friday in Advent, December 2, 2022. The audio is available here.

Archbishop Sample says the greatest avenue of spiritual attack facing priests and bishops and seminarians right now … is busyness.

Busyness causes a kind of blindness: we see the trees, but we miss the forest.

We see the 101 things on our to-do list, but we miss the purpose.

Wherever the spirit of busyness takes over, there is worry, hurry, anxiety, restlessness, a lack of peace, deep exhaustion. 

And at the end of the day, we’re tired but wired, unable to rest, and we try in vain to treat our weariness of soul with our familiar addictions, which only leave us more empty and hopeless than before.

Make no mistake: the spirit of busyness is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus.

There is no beatitude that says, “Blessed are the busy.”

The demons and the damned are busy in hell, burdened under Satan’s yoke. But the angels and the saints live lightly, rejoicing in the presence of God.

Jesus offers us, blinded as we are by busyness, the choice to live differently.

We may have 100 things to do before this semester ends, but remember, onething is necessary: to live in the presence of the living God.

Today, Jesus calls us to declare war on the spirit of busyness: to keep our Holy Hours; to take a day off; to go for a walk and listen for his voice; to turn our laptops off at the end of the day and go to bed, trusting in Him.

As we receive Jesus today at this Holy Mass, we release the spirit of busyness and we receive the gentle yoke of Jesus, saying: “Lord, one thing I ask: let me hear your voice; let me see your face; let me dwell in your house, with you, all the days of my life.” 

For those who keep God before their eyes, not keeping busy but keeping close to Him, will see the bounty of the Lord even now in the land of the living; we will live lightly, and on the last day, we will enter into His rest, in the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Give Thanks in Everything

This homily was given at St. Joseph Parish, Roseburg, OR on the Thirty-fourth Friday in Ordinary Time, November 25, 2022. The audio is available here.

Yesterday, at the Mass for Thanksgiving Day, many of you shared things you were thankful for. 

Family, friends, kids, health, life, and pie were among the responses. 

Others identified spiritual goods: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in our hearts.  

But one response was so bold, so unexpected, it stood out among all the rest. 

”I thank God for my sickness.”

We can all understand setting aside a day to give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, above all for the gift of Himself, Jesus Christ, who gives Himself away to save us from slavery to sin and death and raise us up for eternal life.

We give thanks for that gift, not just once a year, but every time we come to Holy Mass, where His sacrifice is renewed!

But in light of that supreme gift, everything else takes on a different meaning. 

We see everything in life comes to us from the hand of our Father who loves us, who is saving us, who allows even the most difficult and painful circumstances of this life for the sake of our ultimate good: eternal life. 

Because Christ is with us, in us as “the hope of glory,” the seed of eternal life sown in our souls, we “give thanks in everything,” even in sickness, even in suffering, even in those terrible trials we cannot change—because the winters of this life, terrible as they are, are passing, and summer is near. 

Today, now, at this Holy Mass, “our redemption is at hand.”

As we prepare to receive Jesus once more, lift up our heads and our hearts to Him and say: “Thank you. For everything that has come to pass…”

And we shall rejoice with Jesus among the saints in glory in the Kingdom of Our Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

The Poorest King Who Ever Lived

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 20, 2022. The audio is available here.

In the Lord of the Rings, there is an ancient kingdom called Gondor.

For many generations, Gondor was ruled by a royal family of kings and queens.

But when the last king died and his heir disappeared, the king’s steward took charge of the kingdom.

And for almost a thousand years, the stewards, who had been the servants of the king, ruled Gondor as if they were kings themselves.

So when Boromir, the son of the steward, meets Aragorn, the last, secret descendant of the line of kings and the true heir to the throne, he says:

“Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.”

It’s not very appealing to have a king when you’re used to ruling yourself.

If there’s a king on a throne, then suddenly, my authority to make up my own rules, to determine my own destiny, is limited.

There’s another, higher authority that I must answer to. 

We think a king must be a tyrant.

We think someone ruling over us will only have his own interests in mind.

A king will use and abuse us, whereas if rule, then I can make sure that my needs are met, that I’m happy and safe and live a good life.

But Gondor, for all its pride, is on the verge of collapse.

The steward in charge has brought the kingdom to the point of ruin.

Gondor needs a king. Gondor needs a savior! … And so do we. 

I need a king, because if I look honestly at the kingdom of my own life, I have to admit that I am a useless steward—incapable of meeting my own needs, unable to engineer my own happiness, powerless to save myself from sickness, from loss, from grief, from despair, from death.

If that describes you, too, then this Sunday is very good news … because we have a king, and this king is no tyrant.

Ours is the poorest king who ever lived.

His throne is the cross.

No golden crown for him, but a circlet of thorns; not dressed in rich clothes, but stripped naked and exposed before the mockery of the crowds.

“Save yourself, you king; if you are the king, then get down off that cross and save yourself and us!”

Even in mocking him, they reveal the depths of their desperation for a savior, a true king with the power to deliver them from themselves, the terrible tyranny of self-rule, the desperate need to succeed on their own.

But our king, Jesus, does not get down from that cross.

He just … hangs there, between heaven and earth.

Jesus, who is God, created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, could have conquered the world without lifting a finger.

But he, the All-Powerful God, chose to make himself powerless.

He humbled himself as far as that, because He was after a greater prize than earthly kingdoms, greater by far than wealth and power and glory.

Jesus Christ came to win our hearts and souls back for God, His Father, and to win that kingdom, He had to show us what the Father is really like: 

Not a tyrant, not a bully, not an abuser in the sky, not a threat to our freedom, but a loving and kind and tender Father, a merciful Father, who gives everything He has away out of love for us.

Jesus Christ, the King on the cross, is the perfect image of the Father’s love.

And to all of us who admit that we need a king, Jesus gives us a simple invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-burdened; come into my kingdom, and I will give you rest. Come and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” 

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive Jesus Christ, the crucified King of the Universe, veiled here under the appearance of bread, we ask Jesus to rule over our own lives, in every detail.

And as we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we ask our most humble King to teach us how to live in His kingdom:

Jesus, teach us your way of humility instead of pride, meekness instead of insisting on our own way, powerlessness before God instead of grasping for control.

As we surrender our lives to the gentle rule of Jesus and learn the way of life of the kingdom of God, we begin to taste the peace, the happiness, the security, the freedom that we could not achieve on our own.

We will suffer, as our King suffered, but we will suffer like Jesus on the cross: in our suffering, we will be free, and no one will be able to take away our joy. 

And on the last day, when the veil is torn apart and the Heavenly King is revealed in all His glory, when every knee shall bend before the King of All, we shall cry out with all the angels and saints: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”

And we will hear him say: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”