Jesus himself spoke of his kingdom

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. All the parishes in Emmitsburg: Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist and United Church of Christ celebrate today the feast of Christ the King. Doesn't it seem a bit anti-democratic, however, to be honoring Our Lord as king?

Actually, Jesus himself spoke of his kingdom. The "kingdom sayings" in the gospels are one of the four sets of sayings of Jesus that Scripture scholars tell us that we can be sure come directly from Jesus himself. The other three sayings are the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, and the words of Institution of the Eucharist. The kingdom of God is central to Jesus' message and mission. The word kingdom appears 150 times in the New Testament. Most of these references appear in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Only a handful of times does the word kingdom appear in the gospel of John, and only a dozen times in the letters of St. Paul. Even Jesus' foes spoke of him as king. Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" (Mt. 27.11) Above the head of the crucified Jesus was written the message "This is Jesus, King of the Jews." (Mt. 27.37)

The point of this feast lies not in the political correctness about calling Jesus a king, but the concept of kingdom of which Jesus speaks.

Two hundred years before Christ's birth, the Old Testament apocalyptic literature, especially the Book of Daniel, began referring frequently to the kingdom of God. The kingdom was to be universal and everlasting. Its citizens were to be the Son of Man and the saints of God. The kingdom would consist of God's glory and power. Its coming to fruition was to involve a catastrophe. The God of Israel was to reign over all nations.

Because the most recent Old Testament Jews had been familiar with the concept of kingdom, the New Testament Jews were accustomed to hearing that term. Matthew writes of the "kingdom of heaven" because his audience was Jews who did not, and still do not, speak the word "God" out of reverence for his name. Luke, writing for a non-Jewish Gentile audience, uses the word "God" to convey the full impact of the kingdom to which the evangelist was inviting people. The New Testament begins with John the Baptist announcing: "Reform your lives! The kingdom of God is at hand." (Mt. 3.2) Jesus describes the worth of the kingdom in this way: "the kingdom of God is like a buried treasure which a man found in a field. He hid it again, and rejoicing at his find went and sold all that he had and bought that field." (Mt. 13.44) The kingdom grows rapidly, Jesus asserts: "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which someone took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest seed of all, yet when full-grown, it is the largest of the plants." (Mt. 13.31-32) Jesus declares that the kingdom will be like a messianic banquet (Mt. 22.12), wherein "the righteous will shine like the sun" (Mt. 13.43) and where "the disciples will sit on the twelve thrones of Israel." (Mt. 19.28) Who will enter the kingdom of God? The criterion for judgment is: "when I was hungry, did you give me to eat; when I was thirsty, did you give me to drink; when I was sick or in prison, did you visit me?" (Mt. 25.31-46) To enter the kingdom of God is to enjoy eternal life with God. What is the relationship between the Church on earth and the kingdom of God in heaven? Jesus founded both. The Church, however, exists only on earth; it will not last forever. The Church serves as a leaven for the kingdom of God; the kingdom of God will last forever.

How can we continue to spread the Kingdom of God on earth? How might we fulfill our Christian responsibility in a post-Christian democratic society? Today in the parish bulletin, in our church and in all Catholic churches across the USA, is included an insert from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops urge us to tell our Senators regarding the current bills to reform health care to "follow the House [of Representative']s lead on removing abortion funding, protect conscience rights, ensure affordable health coverage, and allow immigrants to purchase private health insurance." As your Catholic pastor, I urge everyone to do what the Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking us to do. As the bishops' previous insert says: "Health care reform is supposed to protect lives, not destroy lives."

Why has this aspect of health care reform become such an important issue? The right to life is foundational. If someone is not granted the right to life, all subsequent rights philosophically and practically are moot and meaningless. Is God pro-life or pro-abortion? Once God is taken out of any equation, the most unimaginably immoral activities become allowed and promoted. Two generations ago, your grandparents would have been shocked at the discussion of the legal but immoral supposed "right" to abortion. Today, we are shocked by the historically unimaginable unnatural supposed "right" of homosexual marriage and the charge of hate speech for those who oppose homosexual misbehaviors. Granted, homosexual orientation is different from homosexual activity. One of my questions is this: "what supposed 'rights' will non-faithful people be asking for down the road? What's coming next as a supposed political right? Whatever sinful acts you are thinking of, are already in the process of being promoted either philosophically and/or legally. Be attentive to what is being written for TV and on internet sites. Why are sinful actions being promoted as "rights" when every Christian knows they are wrong? Because once you remove God from any equation, "anything goes." Once an individual's starting point is not God's will but one's own will, "anything goes." Without faith, reason alone can justify any horrendous deed. Without God in the equation "anything goes."

Let's stop the godlessness. In 1925, Pope Pius XI introduced the Feast of Christ the King. Why? Because the century old seeds of the anti-Catholic Enlightenment had taken root and had born fruit in full-blown secularism. The pope introduced this feast of Christ the King to demonstrate to the world that Christ is our king, and not secularism. Now the United States has its turn to proclaim the same message. All Christians, of whatever denominations, we need each other. Let's contact our two US Senators. We can use this day to re-dedicate ourselves to speaking up and working for "the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven." The currently proposed health care bill is not essentially a political issue; it is a moral issue. We dedicate ourselves to neither political party. We dedicate ourselves to Christ the King.

A clarification spoken extemporaneously after Communion:

In the homily, I mentioned the Church's opposition to abortion and homosexual misbehaviors. The Church teaches from the Word of God, which is interpreted through Tradition and the Magisterium. I wholeheartedly support the Church's teachings, and intend to communicate them clearly. On a pastoral note, may I add a few thoughts. My cousin is homosexual. He is very kind, thoughtful, generous, and would give anyone the shirt off his back. When I celebrated my 25th anniversary of priesthood, I invited my cousin to serve as master of ceremonies. My cousin and his partner happily participated in many family gatherings. The Church teaches what is right and wrong. The Church teaches us to judge behaviors but not the soul. Judging the soul is God's responsibility. All of us are happy that God rather than each other will be judging us. God sees the hearts of people. It might very well happen that my cousin John would have a higher place in heaven than his cousin Vince. Abortion. Dorothy Day had an abortion when she was a young woman. Currently she is an official candidate for sainthood. She made a big mistake, and she learned from it in a big way. The reputedly conservative John Cardinal O'Connor is the person who has promoted Dorothy Day for the process of sainthood. When we look at the biographies of Dorothy Day, we see that she likely will have a higher place in heaven than any one of us here in the church this morning. God does not judge us harshly. God judges us compassionately. Which one of us here has not made a serious mistake or two, or three, etc.? The Church teaches what is true and good, and leaves the judgment of persons up to God. You and I, let's do what the Church teaches, in all areas.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley