Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church – Naperville
21 Naperville 2021
(Scroll down for the audio!)
Pondus meum amor meus. How’s your Latin?
On this great solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, I want to throw it back to someone who can be a great friend to us as we stand together today before the mystery of Jesus Christ. And no, I’m not talking about Kanye and his album from 2 years ago, “Jesus is King”. (Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A…Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away…Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray” – it’s pretty good advice).
I’m talking about St. Augustine, who was the Bishop of Hippo in modern-day Algeria until his death 1,591 years ago in the year 430. He’s known as one of the most important philosophers of early Christianity, waxing and waning on topics like time, eternity, nature, and the cosmos. But he’s probably most famous for writing a spiritual autobiography called The Confessions, wherein he discusses how was able to go from a pagan young man, born to a Catholic mom and pagan dad, through a life of lust, concubines, a child out of wedlock, to one of the most influential and saintly figures of the very early Church.
In his characteristic way, he states very emphatically: pondus meum amor meus. Meum/meus means “my” or “mine.” “Amor” of course means “love.” And Pondus means “weight.” Think of our English word “pounds.” “Pondus meum amor meus” translates to “my love is my weight” or, better, “what I love gives the inertia to my life.”
“Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.” (Pedro Arrupe, SJ)
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. How true this is! Think back to your very first love – how that experience of seeing someone with the eyes of true love for the first time, how this changed everything. Love doesn’t always last, and that’s a sad part of life for sure…but in the moment, it has a power that gives motion and inertia to life.
We “know” on an intellectual level that we ought to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, strength, etc etc. But more and more it seems difficult to put our finger on quite “who” God is. Early on in The Confessions, Augustine asks a timeless question: “Who is that I love when I love my God? Not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes, and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as the body delights to embrace. It is not these when I love my God.”
Augustine knew that the goodness, truth, and beauty of God could be found in the natural realities of life – even in food, romantic relationships, and music. But even in the most sentimental and fuzziest feelings, those moments which we often call “spiritual”, Augustine recognized that while these might reveal something about God, they aren’t necessarily helpful in moving closer to understanding who it really is we love when we say we love God.
I propose today that our Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe can help us answer this question, or at least approach it in a new way. Recall the second reading from the Book of Revelation, and think about all the ways it describes Jesus:
Jesus, Christ, God, Alpha, Omega, Lord, Almighty.
Yeshua. Christos. Theos. Kyrios. Pantokratore.
What’s in a name! When it comes to these names of Jesus, everything is in these names.
Yeshua – Joshua – means “God saves.” Or “The salvation of God.”
Christ – Christos, in Greek, means the chosen one, the anointed one. In Hebrew, the word is Meshiach, Messiah. (A man who owns a yarmulke shop in Jerusalem found out my name is Ryan, and he asked me what it means, so I told him that in Gaelic it means “little king” and he said, “Aha! You are the little Messiah!”)
So right away, we learn from the name Jesus Christ that the person who bears that name is the one Chosen, anointed, set apart for the specific task of offering, bringing, proposing (whatever you want to say) salvation…and not salvation, redemption, freedom…and not in a worldly way or by worldly means, but through some method, some means that is divine; he is the anointed Savior, who brings God’s salvation.
God – “theos” in Greek. It’s where we get the word “theology.” And in Greek it refers to “the only and true God.”
So Jesus Christ is not only the salvation of God, but Scripture uses language that suggests he is one with God, or might even somehow be God…and not just one God among many Gods, but that this one who is the anointed salvation of God is unique, perhaps we can go as far as saying that he is the one God, the only true God, the only name under heaven by which women and men can be saved. Jesus himself affirms this in John’s Gospel when he writes that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that no one can come to the Father except through him. (John 14:6-7)
Kyrios – you already know this word from the Mass’s use of “Kyrie Eleison”…Lord have mercy. Kyrios means Lord. Paul is the first to use this word in reference to Jesus, and he does so as a making fun of Caesar. In Jesus’ time, the common greeting between citizens of Rome was “Caesar Kyrios” – “Caesar is King”. But Paul, and the other New Testament writers, and now the whole tradition, make a very different claim: If Jesus Christ is the salvation of God, and offers something beyond the worldly government and means of the Roman Empire and its emperors, something more truly and more uniquely divine…then it makes sense to say that maybe Caesar and his successors are not the truest kings after all; Jesus Christ is King.
Jesus Christ is the one chosen by God to bring salvation to the whole…town? Nation? Israelites only? Only those with a certain political/social viewpoint? Orrrrr…..something else?
The Book of Revelation uses one last word to describe Jesus: in addition to being alpha and omega, beginning and end, Lord and God, Revelation tells us that Jesus is “the Almighty.”
Pantokratore. If you’ve ever been in a Byzantine Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church, or if you’ve ever seen the inside of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, you will observe a larger than life depiction of Jesus – a huge painting, showing Jesus as a figure who is ripped out of his mind, holding the world in his hand, seated on the stars and clouds; a majestic, powerful, figure. This image of Jesus is called the Pantocrator.
Pantokratore in Greek means “the ruler of all” and “the one who holds sway over all things.”
So who is it that we love when we love our God? He is the Anointed one, chosen and set apart from all creation to be the bringer, the proposer of the definitive and unique path of salvation for the whole human race, for all of creation, and for the entire cosmos. He is the King, not only of heaven but of earth as well, because he is ruler of all. He is the one who holds sway over all things, who is somehow a part of every person, of every circumstance, of every situation; and not a passive part merely, but one who, in every moment, holds sway if only those he came to save would give him the power and the time to do what he came to do;
If only those he came to save would love him enough to truly be moved by the inertia, the weight, of his presence.
Can I throw one more thing into the mix?
This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. In one week, it will be Advent. All the fanfare and triumph and light of this Solemnity will come to an end, and everything will be dark. One week by week, we will walk as if by candlelight toward something, toward someone new: a baby, a child, a boy wrapped in swaddling clothes, too poor for a bed. And yet, a king. A king whose birth and arrival is not announced by royal decree and trumpets, but by angels…to shepherds…out in a field.
We speak today of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, and we accept him as Lord and King and Almighty God. But that can feel huge, and impersonal, and out of touch.
So remember in these days that this Jesus really is who we proclaim him to be, and the power he has, the inertia of a new life which is being proposed to you is as real as it gets. But we Napervillians must begin to learn, as if for the very first time, how to recognize the presence, the voice, the call, the correction, the encouragement, the truth which the Shepherd King comes to speak to us.
When I lived in Israel, we went one day to a real pasture and the shepherds there gave us the chance to walk amidst the sheep and shepherd them. They taught us that sheep are some of the dumbest animals on the planet, and that they are tender and vulnerable – so trusting of and completely dependent of the direction of the shepherd. They explained to us sometimes the shepherd stands in front of the flock, leading them and showing them the way; sometimes the shepherd stands behind the flock, and uses his staff to kick the flock into gear and even use a little force to get them moving back toward the path; but most of the time, the shepherd stands in the midst of his flock, and walks among them.
Dear friends, if we are never challenged by Jesus then perhaps our conception of him is not one that adheres to reality. If we approach Jesus in prayer, if we approach the scriptures and the sacraments and the teachings, and we find that everything we already thought, and every way we already behaved was upheld, we probably did not really approach Jesus. Likewise, if we go to him and we feel that everything is challenged, criticized, struck down, and we don’t have a sense that some goodness within us is being affirmed, encouraged, and even appreciated by Jesus, then, again, we probably did not really approach Jesus.
This is the beauty of the example of someone like St. Augustine. He recognized that the inertia of his life, the weighty thing that propelled him and motivate him was as powerful as the mightiest King, and as a gentle as the most competent Shepherd. And in such a person, Augustine found what his heart, restless as it was, had been looking for in all of his wandering and in all of his sin.
This Jesus is yours today if you give yourself to him. This Jesus is yours today if you purify your heart before him. This is Jesus is yours today, and all the wandering and rebelling could be over for you. This Jesus is yours today, and all the lying and pretending and posturing could be over for you…not in one second, of course; but a new path, a new way, a new inertia is being offered.
Who is it that I love when I love my God?
Listen to Augustine’s words when he finally realizes who it is that he loves:
Late have I loved you, o beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you! For you were within me, but I was outside; I looked for you, but in my unloveliness I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you…You called to me, and shattered my deafness. You sent forth your beams of light and chased away my blindness. You breathed your fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath, and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and now I burn for your peace.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!