Sunday, November 24, 2013
St. Joseph's Basilica
On this solemn feast of Christ the King, we gather in union with our Holy Father and the Church all over the world to mark officially the end of the Year of Faith. These past twelve months have been a wonderful gift to the Church, since in this period Catholics everywhere have reflected upon the gift of our relationship with Jesus Christ in the communion of the Church, and hopefully have by the grace of God grown closer to our Lord and to one another. In this same span of time we have also been witnesses to an extraordinary historical moment. 2013 has been the year of two popes, Benedict XVI and Francis. Each has, in his own way, taught us in this Year of Faith what it means to be people of faith, to be believers, followers of Jesus Christ.
From the beginning of his pontificate Benedict took us to the very heart of faith. He taught us that faith, in its essence, is a relationship with the person of Jesus. Our Christian life begins, he said, from a personal encounter with our Lord, an encounter that he famously described in his first encyclical as an event. Something happens, things change, when we truly meet Jesus and come to terms with who he is. Furthermore this encounter calls forth from us a response to Jesus which is radical, given with the entirety of our lives.
The Scriptural foundation for this teaching of Benedict XVI is given in the Scripture passages we have heard proclaimed for this feast of Christ the King. They lay before us the wonder of Jesus and the fundamental choice placed before us as we respond to his mystery.
In his letter to the Colossians St. Paul gives expression to the astounding claim of the Church in respect of Jesus: that he is "the image of the invisible God" (1:15), and that "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (1:19). Jesus is God, who became a human being for us. His purpose in becoming incarnate was, St. Paul continues, to reconcile us to God and to one another, and to do so "through the blood of his Cross". (1:20)
It is precisely from the Cross that Jesus invites our personal response to what God offers us in him. Consider the Gospel passage. The scene is Jesus hanging between two sinners, themselves crucified for their thievery. Before any words are uttered the image itself speaks. In Jesus Christ, God has entered so deeply into the reality of our human condition as to assume to himself even sinful human flesh, that we might be fully redeemed, forgiven. Here we see our King. He is king not only of the Jews as proclaimed by the inscription but also universal king, because he has been sent to all in order to displace the evil reign of sin with the divine rule of mercy. Foreshadowed centuries before in the anointing of King David, Jesus has come to us as our shepherd king, to gather those scattered by sin into one in him, to be the one in whom the Father would rescue us from Satan's dominion of darkness and transfer us into Jesus's own kingdom of light. (Cf. Col 1:13) In Jesus Christ, and in him alone, we are offered salvation: freedom from sin and its consequences so that we might live with him forever. There is no one who does not need the saving love given in Jesus. Those two thieves hanging on either side of our King represent the need of us all.
At the same time the thieves also stand for the fundamental choice that the truth of Jesus Christ places inescapably before us. That choice, as we respond Jesus, is either repentance or rebellion. Each thief was a sinner, yet their personal responses to Jesus differed radically. One sided with the leaders and the many others gathered at the cross. He mocked the Lord and taunted him. His heart, in other words, was completely closed to Jesus. His response was rebellion. The other thief, however, acknowledged his wrongdoing and somehow recognized Jesus as the one who could forgive his sin and lead him to life. His response was repentance, and that was the response that led to eternal life: Today, you will be with me in Paradise.
While Pope Benedict stressed the essence of faith as this response of sinful humanity to the saving truth of Jesus, Pope Francis has continuously drawn our attention to the moment when our life of faith begins, which is in the sacrament of Baptism. He teaches with great emphasis that baptism makes us disciples, and time and again he is asking us to take seriously the full meaning of our baptism and the consequences of being a disciple. Of particular concern for him is the missionary dimension of discipleship. Because Jesus was sent, so too are we. Because Jesus was sent to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release to prisoners and freedom to the oppressed, so too are we. Frequently we hear our Holy Father speak of the peripheries, of people who live on the margins of our society: the poor, homeless, disadvantaged, disabled, addicted and abandoned. To them we are sent. When in faith, we accept the healing and transformative love of Jesus Christ, that love moves us out of ourselves and into mission, particularly toward those who otherwise remain neglected. In the Year of Faith, Benedict has reminded us that faith begins with encountering Christ, and Pope Francis, as he has continued with this year of grace and brought it to conclusion, has been teaching that this encounter turns us inside out, living no longer for ourselves but for Jesus Christ and for the people to whom he was sent.
In the Archdiocese of Edmonton we have been marking this special year by underscoring the effect that faith brings to the life of the believer. The Year of Faith has coincided with our year of Jubilee: one hundred years as an Archdiocese. We have undertaken a number of activities to celebrate the blessings God has poured out upon us in the past century, and we have placed all of this under the banner of Jubilee. Jubilee speaks of joy, and this is precisely what faith brings: joy. On a calendar we mark jubilees only periodically, but the deep joy of the heart to which our jubilee points perdures always. Later today, after the Grey Cup is decided, we will see images of frenzied happiness displayed by fans of the winning team. This happiness will be keenly felt, but because it is superficial it will soon pass and life will return to normal. In fact, so much of what passes for happiness today is like that. But God wants so much more for us than surface feeling. He has created us for joy, the joy that comes uniquely from knowing, loving and following Jesus Christ in faith as his disciples. Christian joy resides deep within our hearts and remains with us always, even in moments of sadness and pain, because it arises from the depths of our encounter with Christ and the consequent assurance that he, our saviour, is present with us always with his gifts of love and mercy.
Encounter, response, mission, joy. These are the hallmarks of our life of faith and discipleship. It is an extraordinary adventure, one initiated, sustained and brought to completion by God's grace and mercy. In our Eucharist tonight we give thanks to God for this great Year of Faith and its many blessings, and we pray that our witness of joy will draw many others to join us on this wonderful journey.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
November 24, 2013
St. Joseph's Basilica, Edmonton