Crowned on the Cross
Homily on the Solemnity of Christ the King, 20 Nov 2022
Last night I was struck by what Fr Boni shared with us during the Good Night Talk. It was about an experience he had when he was still studying Theology in the Holy Land. He said that one day he had an interesting conversation with a taxi driver who introduced himself as a Palestinian Christian. The driver shared that his house was just hit by a missile right after he took his taxi to flee away from the danger zone created by the Muslim-Jewish conflict. At one point Fr Boni asked why he has not yet gone abroad when all his family members have already left the Holy Land and are immigrants in other countries. The driver just looked at him and replied saying “I chose to stay because this is the land of Christ. If I too will leave like the rest, then who else will be left to inhabit this Holy Land where Christ has saved the world as King?” While narrating this story Fr Boni admitted feeling so naive to have ever asked that question. But he admired the courage of that Palestinian who chose to stay in the midst of wars and even preferred to die there rather than see the Land of Christ turned over to non-Christians and non-believers.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have come to the end of the liturgical year. And today we gather to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ our King. Looking back at our past history as Filipino Catholics, we realize that all these years we as a nation have slowly grown strong and firm in our faith in the Lord. And we have even brought this faith in other countries where we work. In fact the most recent statistics show that as of 2019 we have become the third largest Catholic country in the world after Brazil and Mexico. If we include the Protestants and other non-Catholics, we Christians all together make up more than 90% of our Philippine population. This means that out of every ten people you will meet outside today, nine of them believe in Christ Jesus as our Lord and King.
The bigger question however is this. While there are now billions of Christians all over the world, after two thousand years, how many people are there who still do not know Christ? How many are there who still do not honor Him as the King and Lord of all? Let’s check out the most recent statistics on this matter. The good news is among all world religions, Christianity still ranks as the first and the biggest religious group in terms of population, with 2.4 billion Christians scattered everywhere including Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and other denominations. Sad to say, however, the world’s total population today has reached eight billion, and if Christians make up only 2.4 billion, that would be equivalent to only 30 percent! Isn’t that quite disappointing? It means only three people out of every ten believe in Jesus Christ and accept him in their lives. The rest of the 5.6 billion have not yet been gifted with faith, and somehow they still do not belong to God’s Kingdom of love, joy, justice, peace and mercy. Now what is even more alarming is that Islam is the second biggest religious group with 1.9 billion Muslims continually increasing in numbers. And they say that in less than 30 years, by the year 2050 Islam will have overtaken Christianity in terms of population.
Come to think of it, around 2,000 years have already passed since Jesus died on the cross and rose again. And yet billions of people still live their lives not knowing that they have already been redeemed, loved, gifted and empowered by Christ. Doesn’t this affect you? Doesn’t this disturb you?
The Gospel today brings us back to that historic moment when Jesus hang upon the cross with a mission to conquer the world by the power of his love and thus save us from the power of the evil one. When I read this passage last night, at first I didn’t feel anything. I just thought that this passage was more appropriate for Holy Week. But when I read it again more reflectively I found something very striking and it left me not only disturbed but also in great awe.
While Jesus hung on the cross people who were there on Mt Calvary showed mixed reactions. First the religious leaders came forward to mock him, insult him and push him to his final test, saying “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” The next were the soldiers who crucified him. They did the same, saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” The third was the thief crucified with him. He also said something similar, “Are you not the Christ? Then save yourself and us.” Brothers and sisters, didn’t you notice that all of them were actually testing and tempting Jesus to come down from the cross? While Jesus had all the power to come down from the cross because he knew he was the divine King, he also knew that he was facing the last and the trickiest temptation. And I’m sure it was what made him struggle much and suffer most on that cross. The good news is… Jesus chose not to come down as he was fully aware that that was not the way the Father wants him to save the world. He knew perfectly well what was God’s plan, that the most powerful way to save us was not through the easiest way but through the hardest way, the most difficult and most painful way by remaining on that cross naked, humbled, broken and helpless ‘til his death. That was the only way to make us and the whole world feel how great and overwhelming his love is despite humanity’s sinfulness.
Today how many of us can truly claim we have tried to love as Jesus did? … that we have tried to be the best person God wants us to be in the worst kind of situation we can ever be? The solemnity we are celebrating today should not make us fall into pure sentimentalism. To proclaim Christ the King carries the challenge to love in the same way that he did… total, sometimes silently suffering, but always selfless. Do you think this kind of love can still be found in our families today?
The saints we have been celebrating since November 1 have shown us inspiring examples and they have proven to us that loving as Jesus did is still very much doable even in a time of hate, conflict and wars. For example St. Martin de Porres (we commemorated him last Nov 3) was an illegitimate child abandoned by his father. But despite his lowly status he became a lay brother and with a magnanimous heart served the needs of others, including the sick, the beggars, and the African slaves transported in great numbers to America.
St. Martin of Tours (Nov 11) was a Roman soldier, brave and strong, but when he met a beggar almost naked along the road, his heart suddenly melted. And feeling pity for him he come down from his horse, cut his military cloak in half and gave half of it to the poor man. That night, he had a dream in which he saw Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away to the beggar.
St Elizabeth of Hungary (Nov 17) was married to a crowned prince, named Louie IV. After she was widowed at twenty-one years old, she started to give away her wealth and possessions to the poor. She never wanted to marry again for she felt so strongly the love of Christ who called her to dedicate her life totally to God. She even had a hospital built for the poor making use of all the money she had, and when it was completed, she spent her time everyday taking care of the sick and the suffering.
St John Bosco, the patron saint of this parish, was born from a poor family of farmers in Italy. But he felt he was called to become a priest to minister to young people. Despite the lack of resources, he succeeded to finish his studies as a working student, entered the seminary and soon was ordained a priest. From then on he dedicated his life for the poor, abandoned and exploited youth of society. He even founded the Salesian congregation of priests, brothers, sisters and lay people who would continue the work he has begun for the poor.
Dear brothers and sisters, the lives of a multitude of saints are a big source of inspiration for all of us to come out of our comfort zones, to wake up from our slumber, to leave the pews of this church after the Mass and just try to love as Jesus did silently, sacrificingly, selflessly beginning from our families and overflowing to neighbours esp. those most in need, and including those who have hurt us. Keep this in mind: we are called not only to be firm in our faith, and to celebrate the sacraments in church, but above all to share the good news & do little works of kindness, mercy & love.
May this Eucharist, in which we encounter Jesus as King, empower us to become more and more like him in our thoughts, our kind words and good deeds, so that we too may one day reign with Him forever in the Kingdom prepared for us in heaven. GiGsss!
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