Homily, Christ the King, Cycle C
St. Joseph's, Dalton, Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.
Over the years, my mother has always had a knack for getting her letters to the editor published. For some reason, they really like her down at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Well, years ago, they published a letter of hers in the “Faith and Values” section that focused on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the personal rituals of many different families. So I thought I’d share with you parts of her letter.
She starts by saying, “My husband of 33 years died from cancer in September of 1995. In my grief, I particularly dreaded Thanksgiving that year because it had been his favorite holiday. I felt an obligation to continue our family tradition of a large gathering of family and friends, but my heart just wasn’t in it. In my despair, I decided on a plan. I bought a small wire basket and placed a pad of post-its and a pen beside it. Every time I had something to be thankful for, I made myself write it down on the post-it and then I tossed it into the basket. Everything that lifted my spirits – simple things like a cardinal at the bird feeder, or answered prayers like the birth of a new grandchild – all were written down and tossed into that basket. By that Thanksgiving, the basket was already overflowing and I celebrated the holiday with a grateful heart. This year, over two years later, I am preparing for another Thanksgiving. In late summer, I married again to a fine gentleman who lost his wife to cancer a year before my husband died [And I would add that he is a fine gentleman, else I would not have let him marry my mother, and I’m a priest and can do that!]. Prominent in the great room where our now combined families and friends will gather is a very large laundry basket filled to overflowing [with little notes of thanksgiving].”
My mother learned the necessity and benefit of giving thanks always, of the need to give God praise for all of his gifts. I’m sure that all of you, as well, if you look at your lives honestly, can find so many ways to be grateful. If you are married, thank God for your husband or wife, and if you have children, you already know the great miracle of God’s gift of new life. And if you are a young person, you can thank God for the gift of your parents. We also give thanks to God for everything in our lives: our work, our recreation, the joys and pleasures. But we can also thank him for the hardships, the sufferings, and the sorrows of life, for it is by them that we grow in virtue and character, and come to realize our constant need for God’s protection and strength.
I think one of the problems in our culture today is that we take so many things for granted, and do not realize how gifted we are… Marriages often grow cold because spouses take each others love for granted. Children become rebellious because they don’t realize the sacrifices their parents have made on their behalf. Friendships fall apart because we grow selfish and forget to think of others needs. And because we are so blessed with prosperity in this country, we take our daily bread, shelter, and comfort for granted. This attitude gives us the impression that perhaps we are our own masters, self-sufficient, turning to God only on occasion or as a last resort.
But being thankful for God’s many gifts means more than just expressing our gratitude, it means realizing that we are totally dependent on him, that we can take nothing for granted. And if that is true, then the only authentic response is to totally abandon ourselves to him, accepting his will in each and every situation, so that he is truly Lord and King or our lives. This is hard for Americans to do because we value our independence and freedom. But this should really be a joy. And the reason is simple: Christ earned the right to be our king by dying for us on the Cross. As the second reading says, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus does not exercise his kingship by lording it over us as worldly leaders do, the strong oppressing the weak. Instead,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
And we should respond in the same way, serving him by totally giving him our lives. His kingdom is not of this world, as he said to Pilate, because he wants to reign first and foremost in our hearts.
One of the ways I remind myself of the need to always be grateful to the Lord for all he has given me, especially my priesthood, is with a picture I keep in my bedroom, the first thing I see on rising every morning. It was given to me by a friend when I was ordained a priest, and it’s a simple sketch of a bishop laying hands on a young man, at the moment of ordination to the priesthood. And at the bottom, it says, “Great is this mystery, and great the dignity of priests, to whom that is given which is not granted to angels.”
And this is referring, of course, to the Eucharist. For in Communion, we receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, something which the angels can only adore and wonder at. And I have been given the great privilege of offering the Eucharist. But you, as well, can participate in this mystery by receiving Communion. And in doing so, you give thanks and praise to the heavenly Father, for that is what Eucharist means, “thanksgiving.”
The new catechism says this (CCC 1360): “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits… [it is a] sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he united the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.”
You’ve probably heard that the Second Vatican Council encouraged the active participation of the laity in the Mass. But, the Council wasn’t referring to mere externals, it was referring first and foremost to a spiritual thanksgiving in the Eucharist. The Council said this about the laity, (LG 34) “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshiping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”
So, as we gather to celebrate this Eucharist today, especially as we approach our uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we should put everything on the altar, and offer it in thanksgiving, for Christ himself will in turn unite it with his prayer and offer it to the Father. Offer him your family, your friends, your children, your parents, your work, your blessings and hardships, your pleasures and sufferings, your joys and your sorrows. Offer it all to the heavenly Father through this sacrifice of thanksgiving, and ask in return for only one thing: that Jesus be Lord and King of your life.
I look forward to this upcoming Thanksgiving, because my mother has another tradition which we all enjoy. Every year, right before the big meal of the day, she makes everyone gather in a big circle, hold hands. And then we go around the circle as each of us states one thing that we were thankful for from the past year, and then one thing that we would like to pray for for the coming year. Usually, by the time we get to the end of the circle, my mom and all her friends are crying, and the men are fidgeting, trying not to show any emotion. And certainly I have a lot to be thankful for: my new parish, a family that keeps getting bigger and bigger, another year as a priest. But of course, the thing that I will most be thankful for, the gift that gives meaning to all the gifts in life, is the gift of my Savior, Jesus Christ, my Lord and King.
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