Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: Christ the King

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SOURCE: The Feast of Christ the King Homily, St. Victor’s Church, San Jose, CA. November 2018)

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The Trial before Pilate (John 18:28-38)

28Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.

29So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?” 30They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

31At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” 32*in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.

33So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”

37So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.

Today we celebrate a King – not a czar or a political figure – but a King who’s status ranks second to none. To this king belongs the primacy and priority. Another way of understanding a king is a champion, a chief, a master.

As we celebrate the King of the universe, the question for us, is ‘Are you down with the King? Are you willing to lay your life down for Him, as He has laid His life down for you?

Christ the King desires to reign not only in nations, but also in our hearts. His rule is redemption. He restores all things of who I am and who I am meant to be, and I say that speaking for everybody. As soon as I surrender my life to His, He starts to write straight on crooked lines. He begins to turn my wrongs into right. He desires to reign in our hearts for our sakes, and not for His own, so that He can liberate us from all that can shackle our capacity for happiness.

What shackles our capacity for happiness more  than anything else? — sin and death – but He also came to liberate us from everything in between. For example, fear in all its forms – the fear of death, or even fear as a sole motive of obedience to God. He wants to set us free even of fear of the Lord if that’s the only motive of why we believe.

For He came that we might be free, so that our obedience can come from a place of freedom and love. In calling us to be free, He is calling us to victory. Our identity as believers in Christ is victory; therefore, we are not called to be victims of anybody or anything – not of our past or of our past choices or decisions. Nothing is capable of limiting us but our own selves.

God’s victory is vast and He has a vast vista, a broad horizon for who we are and what we’re capable of. We’re not to be victims of the past, of persecution, of oppression, or of abuse; we are not to be victims of pain because victory is our birthright and He is the King.

As the Psalms says, ‘His throne stands firm.’ Jesus is still seated on His throne no matter how bad things get; no matter how ugly things get in the world, in the Church or in your personal lives, Jesus’ throne stands firm. He’s still in control, He’s still in charge, and He’s still the chief. He is still writing straight out of crooked lines, bringing good out of everything.

His dominion is everlasting – definitive and indestructible. No one has more authority than Him in the whole universe. How did this King, our King accomplish this victory? – by Himself becoming a victim, out of empathy for our battle, and for the fight that we have to fight in order to be saved.

The victor became a victim. And how did He win this victory? In the second reading, it says ‘to Him who loves us and freed us’ – that’s how we won the victory – by His love. His love is the power that allowed Him to obtain the victory on our behalf. It was love that gave Him the strength and courage to lay down His life for our sake in order to lift us up; He lay down His life to give us the victory that we could never accomplish by our own strength.

He won the victory by His blood and by the sacrifice of His life on the cross. He who was pierced allowed His heart to be broken; He allowed His heart to be pierced in order to open up paradise for us through the forgiveness of our sins and the restoring of our lives.

He who was pierced became the victor. In the Book of Revelations, He says, ‘I am the beginning and the end of all time. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.’

Photo credit: The Speakroom

He is the source and summit of everything and everything in between. All life revolves around Him – not us. He is the center of the universe – not me.

The wisest thing we can ever do is to give our lives to worship Him. That’s wisdom, because by worshiping Him, be become united to Him whom we love, and when we’re united to Him whom we love, we’re united to all that belongs to Him. And His life is victory. It is eternal and indestructible.

That’s not simply a hope for our future, like fire insurance or a back-up plan, it is a victory and reality of love; we’re meant to know the power of His love working in our life today, in our concrete circumstances and situation. In whatever challenges you may experience, the presence of Jesus and His victory is taking action, and taking flesh in your particular situation and in the context of your relationships.

Being united and being children of the King means that our blood is royalty. It means we have birthrights to His blessing. We share in His authority.

When we pray, we have the power to pray in the Spirit, to declare His promises over our lives, and to claim His victory in advance in the midst of the trial; knowing that if we trust, the Lord is going to transform this trial into a triumph. I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I know He is. We can possess that kind of confidence when we belong to the King because the victory has been won and it just has to be daily reinforced in you and me.

We heard about His majesty prophesied in the first reading from Daniel, centuries before Christ even came to the world. It was prefigured. And in the gospel, Jesus says, ‘For this I was born, and for this, I came into the world to testify to the truth,’ – a truth that is not of this world, a truth that is greater than common sense or natural wisdom, a truth that sometimes might contradict what you might expect, a truth that will really set you free, more than anything or anybody could or can.

This truth will set us free from slavery from a lesser self and a lesser way of living; this truth is not a something but a Somebody, and is all centered in the person of Jesus, the King of the Universe.

Jesus says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ It’s not political but spiritual; not temporal but eternal. Everything belongs to Him, both seen and unseen – in our physical body, on our health, the health of the planet, and all the cosmos. Everything is in His hands.

Therefore, our destiny is not limited to this world. It’s but the training ground and platform. Sometimes, this place where we must work out our salvation can be a battlefield. But Jesus says ‘I am not of this world’ and we too, if we really belong to Jesus, we also have to say, ‘I am not of this world. I belong to the truth. I belong to Somebody who loves me and who has given His life for me.

His victory is my identity; it is my birthright as a believer in Christ. I am called today to share in the victory of Jesus as King and even if we don’t literally win at everything, which is very possible, even if we don’t always win, as long as we learn and rise up – that’s where strength is found. That’s where true victory lies – in the cross.

Jesus referred to that cross as His glory yet it is seen to be far from glory for those who are worldly-wise. And yet He refers to that cross as His glory because it is the means for His resurrection, the means of His victory.

So too is every struggle and cross in our lives, every sacrifice of obedience of God’s law and will, even when it hurts to love in the way we are supposed and are meant to; it’s in the pain that we find the cross that is life-giving. And it’s by the cross that we shall be crowned.

No cross, no crown. Where there is the cross, there will be the resurrection. Jesus desires and He died so that He could crown our lives with His glory – so that His cross may be our anchor.

Are you down with the King? The choice is up to each of us whether or not we are willing to lay down our life in love, for Him who laid down His life for ours.

O lavish Giver of light, You alone are the fullness of life. Teach us to relearn how to listen, so as to be filled with the love of Your wisdom, and abide in the beauty of truth & holiness. Our heart of hearts is the Holy of Holies of Your dwelling, Lord God of Hosts. Enrich us in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s Effervescence. May his blazing radiance take possession of our hearts, now and forever. Amen.

Father Robert Elias Barcelos, OCD: True greatness

Homily at the Shrine of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist  – Madaba, Jordan

(Click on the triangle on the left to listen to the audio.  Below is a loose transcription of the homily).

Ambition of James and John. (Mark 10: 35-45)

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36He replied, “What do you wish [me] to do for you?” 37They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. 42 Jesus summoned them and said to them,“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In the video we watched in the bus on the way here, I was pretty impressed by the King Abdullah II of Jordan. He was so down to earth and so in touch with his people, in regards to his authentic ways of living with passion, in his heart, and being very, very conscientious of the people whom he serves in a wholesome way. Seeing him dressed in civilian clothes, and the way he greeted his people and sat among them reminds me of the example Jesus is presenting to us in the gospel, where he says that ‘those who want to be great among the Gentiles, lord it over them, but it shall not be so among you.’

The King of Jordan shows us a wonderful example of the proper use of power for the sake of his people and how to serve his people as king. In fact, when he was chosen to be King, he never aspired for the position, and that is exactly why he was chosen. They told him, ‘We see the qualities that you have and you are not hungry for power.’

Gandhi once said, “The world will never know peace until the love of power is replaced by the power to love.” Gandhi also says something like greatness is not a matter of achieving our personal goals, in regards to my accomplishment for my ego’s sake, but rather true greatness is the transformation of the self. And that transformation, that living and bringing out of my better self, and allowing Jesus to show me my best self, that transformation of daily conversion begins with humility.

In today’s gospel Jesus says ‘Whoever wants to be great gives his life for others.’ That’s where you’ll find your greatness — in humbling yourselves to become a gift for others. First, you have to recognize that you are a gift. Know that you are a gift! Don’t underestimate the gift that you are. Your life is a precious gift.

We all acknowledge the sanctity of the unborn and we’re willing to sacrifice our own comfort to stand up as a witness to the gift of life. We have to allow that acknowledgement of that gift of life to begin with ourselves, in order to have the proper courage to allow God to bring out the greatness in us. In other words, God who desires the best for you, wants you to be the greatest of who you can be – in Love.

Your life is meant to be a transformation and resurrection, a finding the greater beauty of who you are us a gift. But that can only be discovered when we give our life away, when we give of yourselves — especially when we give out of our comfort zones, beyond what we thought we were capable of, beyond the limitations we put upon our own striving.

In order to be great, we first have to recognize that the greatness of God lives in me and loves me. Therefore, what I have to give is important and is treasured by Him. This humble recognition gives Him glory, no matter how small it might be, and Therese is the great prophet in teaching us that. The smallest act of kindness, even if it’s a smile, if it’s done out of pure love and the glory of God for the good of the other, is utterly important in God’s eyes.

We celebrate in this church, the Shrine of the Beheading of St. John of the Baptist; after our Blessed Mother, Saint John the Baptist was the greatest saint. Jesus himself acknowledged that. He not only baptized Jesus, but he was also the first one to enter into Jesus’s baptism, as in this gospel.

Two of the most passionate apostles, Saint John and Saint James, the Sons of Zebedee, were known as the Sons of Thunder and as great apostles. Yet they too had to undergo a conversion process. They weren’t born saints. They too had to mature in what it means to be a faithful friend of the Lord.

They approach Jesus and ask a question that sounds egotistical. They start with ‘Teacher,’ and not ‘Lord,’ which shows an earlier state of spiritual growth. They haven’t fully surrendered themselves and acknowledged Christ as Lord. They haven’t given their lives to Him. He’s still just a teacher. What do they ask? We want you to us give what we want from you. Give me! Give me! Give me!

This is not the attitude we’re called to foster. Our disposition, in order for us to draw new life, new spiritual life out of our spiritual pilgrimage is to recognize that it is Jesus who says to us, ‘Give me, give me, give me… of you, your heart, your trust, your hope, your life.’ And we must come to give ourselves more, and more, and more to this living encounter with Him, and through Him, and in Him.

This is the pilgrimage we are seeking to foster, this living exchange with Jesus of our heart for His heart for ours, that we may know him as our Beloved. “My Beloved is mine and I am my Beloved’s,” says the Song of Songs.

Jesus acknowledged St. John the Baptist as the greatest among the saints, but where do we see his greatness most? In John 3:30 in which St. John the Baptist says, “I must decrease, that He might increase.” This means – to learn how give our lives in order to receive new life; to know how to empty ourselves, in order to be filled with Himself.

 

This is the purpose of humility. It’s not becoming a doormat, not taking on a martyr complex or a victim complex. It’s meant to be liberating. It’s meant to lead to a fuller sense of self as God’s child and friend. That’s the fruit of true humility.

Another fruit of true humility that leads to this greatness that God wants for us, this greatness of living in Him, with Him and through Him – as St. Therese says, this humility – bears the fruit of great confidence in God. This is what Jesus wants from us. God delights to see His children full of joyful confidence; it charms and brings joy to the heart of God when he sees us full of this audacious trust.

In Hebrews, Chapter 4, it says, “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy in need, in time of help.” God wants us to receive His grace and mercy. And as our Lord taught Saint Faustina, in the measure that we trust, have a living hope, in the measure that we are confident with this trust and that our heart is open to a resurrection faith, in that measure can we receive. We receive in the measure that we believe and hope.

And God wants us to receive a lot of who He is because there’s no greatness without Him. Left to ourselves, whatever greatness we might imagine is passing away. We’re only great in the measure that we are united to God in love. God’s love in us is our strength. That’s what lasts forever, the greatness of God.

He wants us to be confident to draw from Him and assures us that in having this humility to recognize that I cannot be great by my own will, by my own strength, my own ideas, my own gifts, my own plans. That’s not going to bring greatness. Surrendering my will to His will brings greatness. Bringing my weakness to His mercy will bring greatness.

We have such a Great High Priest who knows how to sympathize with our weakness. He uses His authority as Good Shepherd by coming to us at our level. He engages in our weakness. He knows our weakness from within our skin. He Himself knows what it’s like to be tested, crushed, and afflicted.

The Passion of Christ was prophesied in Isaiah “that the Lord was pleased to crush Him in infirmity because he gives his life as an offering for sin that the will of the Lord to save us may be accomplished through Him.” Through His suffering, says the Lord God of Hosts, my servant will justify many.

And Jesus knows the daily responsibilities of your life. For those of you who are married, Jesus knows your battles to be faithful to your spouse, to be faithful to your children. And if you’re not married, He knows your battle to be faithful to the Church in a secular world. He knows your battle to be faithful to whatever other obligations or responsibilities you might have. And he sympathizes in everything that you have to go through.

Christ in His Passion is the full expression of divine empathy. God empathizes with the process of everything that we have to go through that grows you. As we enter into the sacrifice of our Great High Priest who gave His life for us, may we give our lives to Him, and for Him, to others, and find our greatness in God alone – in giving ourselves us gift to others as He has given Himself as gift to us. In this process, we come to the throne of grace, the cross, with confidence, to draw mercy from the heart of Jesus and to find grace for every detail and need that we present before Him.

Unlike the apostles, we don’t say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” We don’t come with that kind of confidence. Instead, ask God for His kingdon to come in a particular situation in the way He knows best and our soul waits for the Lord.

We wait with hopeful expectation that God will come in the way He knows best. With peace, we let go, we let God, and we thank Him in advance.

 

Teresa Linda, ocds: The praise of glory of Lebanon

LEBANON

Between miles of half-constructed phantom buildings
Along steep-mountain climbs hugged by rocky cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea,
Lebanese men smoke from hookahs and drink Turkish coffee
Over a small table of friends – Where are the women?
One boy watches intently as our bus passes by
Soldiers, holding machine guns wave us on into Holy Christian sites.

A country torn by a history of wars and conflict
Multiple attempted annihilation of both Christians and Muslims.
A land artificially pieced together by neighboring Arab countries
A refuge for Palestinians, exiled from their countries,

As we pass by each building, each olive grove, each turn
The story of this land changes.
But one thing is certain.
She cries inside while smiling with radiant beauty.

“If there is anything that Lebanon does not have a shortage of, it’s rocks,’ says our guide to humor us as we round a sharp curve along a thick wall of limestone. It is past 6:00 pm, and the sun has already set, but our bus continues to make its way through a precipitous mountain climb downhill, with dangerous cliff drops just inches from our windows.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

I close my eyes and recall the majestic tranquility of our earlier walk through the forest of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley. In ancient times, these trees once thrived in Mount Lebanon, and are called ‘Cedars of God’ because they are said to have been planted by God.

“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted,” says the psalmist (Psalm 104). Though we are far enough from what remains of the cedar forest, I inhale its woody evergreen scent in my imagination to keep myself calm.

The tour group is on our way to the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great of Qozhaya in the Quadisha Valley. Finally, we pull up to what looks like a dead end, with a small number of seemingly abandoned cars parked alongside the street.

“What are we doing at this forgotten place at the bottom of a deep valley, in the pitch black night?” I wonder.

“Get out, get out the bus now,” our tour guide encourages us on.

And with very little to go by, we all walk toward a small gleam of light further ahead, which then opens up into a spectacular spiritual haven. Shadows of worshippers, walking with deep reverence, seem to come out from the walls.

“You must know, that to understand Lebanon, you must understand the conflict of our multiple confessions,” explained our guide earlier. “Lebanon consists of Muslim Shias and Sunnis. The country also has twelve Christian confessions: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic…” he continued to list them but I couldn’t keep up.

According to recent statistics, Lebanon is 54% Muslim, 41% Christian, and 5.5% Druze, along with a small number of other faiths. The most recent Civil War, from 1975-2000, mostly between Christian Maronites and Palestinian Muslims, involving shifting international alliances, has resulted in a Lebanese society whose faith lives have been tested and strengthened by the crucible of conflict and death.

Most Lebanese Christian families (as with Muslims) know someone who has died as a result of one war or another, or has fought in the Civil War. No wonder then that they cling to their faiths as young children who have been hurt clasp onto their mother’s hem – most with great love and forgiveness, but some with terrified hatred.

Almost immediately, I am drawn to the Grotto of Saint Anthony, a natural cave dedicated to the saint. At the altar in front of the cave, a young couple both hold onto a grey, oblong, smooth stone with a hole at each end. They are praying quietly, he in Arabic and she in French, their lowered dark lashes veiling their eyes, as the candle smoke cuts through the cave’s mustiness. They are probably praying for a child, as this grotto is known for such miracles.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

Countless supernatural phenomenon are attributed to Lebanese saints, most of whom are unknown to much of the world, like Saint Charbel, whose intercessions after death have healed many.

For me, the saint who most embodies the country of Lebanon itself is Saint Rafqa (1832-1914), a Maronite nun who, despite her intense share of Christ’s suffering through blindness and paralysis, continually gave praise to God, and maintained her peace and joy. And she used her hands, the only part of her body she could move, to weave beautiful patterns displayed throughout one museum.

Saint Rafqa is very much like Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose feast day Carmelites celebrate today; she continued to sing in her heart and offer herself as God’s praise of glory through her painful death brought on by Addison’s disease.

“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself,” said Saint Elizabeth.

That is the way of the Lebanese Christians I encountered. Their witness , I believe, is one of the most accurate modern day examples of faithfully living out the Carmelite spirit in the secular world.

Without a doubt, every Lebanese I saw, personally knew the pain of crucifixion in one way or another. Yet rather than giving visitors bitter gall, they offered – without cost – golden wax candles, scented frankincense oil, and incense of myrrh.

Lebanese saints with the Good Shepherd: Saints Nematala Al-Hardini, San Maron, Charbel, and Rafqa