Saturday, November 25, 2006

Viva Cristo Rey! (Sunday homily)

As I was preparing this homily,
I noticed we had a series
of martyrs’ days last week.

That was fitting,
because to proclaim Jesus Christ is King
is to face some degree of martyrdom.
The world that nailed him
to a cross 2,000 years ago,
would just as readily crucify him today!

In many parts of the world
the Gospel is not welcome.
Our holy father is on his way to Turkey;
we pray for his safety and success.
But even where we have religious freedom,
the Gospel is resisted.

Often it is indifference,
such as that of Pilate,
who shrugged and said to Jesus,
"What is truth?"
Sometimes it’s mockery,
like the soldiers who tormented the Lord
just to pass the time.
Sometimes, we look around
for support from others,
but they remain silent, and we’re alone.

Long before we face full-blown martyrdom,
we face these types of "soft" martyrdom.
In a way, it’s harder.
If we faced a firing squad,
the choice would be crystal-clear.

But what about making the sign of the cross,
and saying grace, when we eat out?
Or when someone expresses bigotry,
or vengeance—do we say anything?

Visiting the sick,
writing letters opposing the death penalty:
these are small martyrdoms
readily available to us.

"Martyrdom" may sound scary,
but it also thrills our hearts—doesn’t it?
We don’t want to suffer;
but we do want to be the kind of people
who aren’t afraid of it.

At this Mass,
I’ll use the First Eucharistic Prayer;
it comes to us from the early Church of Rome.
You’ll hear names that are included
because their martyrdom
gave the early Christians courage.

You’ll hear Lawrence,
a deacon who fearlessly
served the poor of Rome;
Chrysogonus, a teacher;
Sts. John and Paul,
who refused to serve the emperor,
like St. Thomas More, a thousand years later.
We’ll mention Alexander.
We know nothing about him,
except he was faithful.
Think of him if you ever feel forgotten.
St. Perpetua was a wife and mother,
and Felicity was her housekeeper—
they faced death, together, as equals.

Agatha and Lucy died,
rather than be prostituted—
some things never change.
St. Agnes was only 12:
old enough to bear witness.

If these martyrs seem too remote,
here’s one from only a few decades ago:
Miguel Agustin, a priest
who died, in Mexico, in the 1920s.
As the firing squad executed him, he cried out,
Viva Cristo Rey!
Long live Christ the King!

That’s what those facing martyrdom still say:
in Cuba, and in other languages,
in North Korea, in China, Sudan,
and many, many other places.

Viva Cristo Rey!
That summarizes why Pope Pius XI
established this feast day in 1925.
He saw Nazism and Communism
claiming absolute authority
over every part of life.

In our own lives,
so many things likewise tyrannize us:
work, money, addictions,
anger, pride, success.

You might like to know
our nation’s contribution
to this feast day.

The year was 1941,
during the Second World War;
and demonic forces were triumphant
from the beaches of France
to the islands of the Pacific.

A German priest, working in this country—
Father Martin Hellriegel—
was horrified by what was happening
in his native land,
but he was inspired
by the message of Pope Pius XI;
and wrote a hymn to counter
the blasphemy of the Nazis,
and we sing it on this feast day:
"To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King,
who is the world’s salvation."

When we sing that hymn,
sing it, realizing
how many people have died
for the faith of those words;
How many spoke such words
with their last breath.

Their courage gives us courage,
so that to everything
that claims our heart’s allegiance,
and with the martyrs of every age,
you and I can say:
Viva Cristo Rey!
Long live Christ the King!


Rachel said...

Father, I love the history lesson in that homily. I went to Mass tonight and heard the priest say the saints' names, but I didn't know a dang thing about any of 'em! Nor did I know that the prayer isn't just *about* the early church, but is actually *from* early times. It was great to come home, read your blog and find out all this stuff. :) At Mass they also read the names of the first five popes, which I did recognize, and it was inspiring to think of them, faithfully witnessing in a dangerous world nearly 2000 years ago, and us today still remembering and honoring them.

It's so true; if someone ordered me on pain of death to deny Christ the choice would at least be clear, but what we face are sacrifices that are easier to make, yet harder to recognize as necessary. There are times I hesitate to speak something I ought to say, and then the moment passes, and I realize I've failed to be faithful in the little things. Sometimes I pray God will just help me to be alert to what I need to do.

My understanding of our holy father's position on the death penalty is that he's very uncomfortable with it and urges against it, but does allow that it may be all right in some circumstances. Probably in his opinion there are too many executions in the US, but he doesn't seem to have taught so authoritatively (or has he?) I come from a Protestant congregation where we mostly supported the broad application of the death penalty, thinking it the government's duty to uphold justice as much as possible, and thinking that only death does justice in cases of murder (we were fond of Genesis 9:6). I know most Catholics don't see it that way any more, and one of these days I should look up what the pope has said about it and think about his reasons carefully. But anyway, do you think it's a good idea to use opposition to it as an example in the homily? It sort of gives the impression that the Church has definitively come down against the death penalty, which isn't the case as far as I know...

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your comments.

My reason for using the example of opposing the death penalty simply to highlight it as a good thing to do.

I agree the subject is fairly complex.

Anonymous said...

We should remember that JPII saw firsthand how horribly the death penalty was abused during the occupation of his homeland.

Indeed he would have been guilty of a crime meriting the death penalty had the people in charge been aware of it His crime? Studying for the priesthood.