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Homily - Feast of Christ the King - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 21 November 2021


The public message of Jesus began with the proclamation that the Kingdom of God was close at hand. During his life, he showed what an upside-down kingdom that would be with an emphasis on the little ones and those at the edge. Now, close to the end of his public life and a prisoner before Pilate, Jesus still proclaims that he is king – but not like the kingdoms of this world. What might we, his disciples, learn from our scripture readings today?

Firstly, Jesus showed that the battle of life is not between competing human power blocks but between the realm of good and the reality of evil. The Kingdom of God and the rule of Christ the King would mark the end of the battle that started in the Garden of Eden where human stupidity destroyed the equilibrium for which human beings had been created in God's image and likeness. Christian have always recognised both the dignity of the human person and the capacity of making self-centred, destructive, short-sighted choices. Today's feast celebrates the belief that the merciful grace of God will overcome the human ability to make sinful choices, that base themselves on the assumption that I am the centre of the universe, that I know best, that what I want is right and my right.

All of Jesus' teaching and miracles were intended as signs that evil could be conquered by good and grace. Thus, the first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is not merely believing in God. In a world drowning in sad news. the first challenge is whether I can believe in good. Our culture constantly rails against the past and its faults, and delights in shocking revelations about the present. But it does not offer healing hope, just compensation, based on the shallow assumption that healing can be bought. And if money does not solve the pain, then there is nothing else that will. Today's feast proclaims that, in the end, mercy and grace will be victorious – and that this victory can begin here and now. The Kingdom of God is close at hand, Jesus says. Christ the King, who reigns from the Cross, tells us that power and pomp offer little. We can dream of better than succeeding in the rat race. He tells us that life comes from dying to ourselves, not from indulging ourselves. He witnesses to the belief that generosity and goodness are not wasted, and that self-control is a source of grace and liberation, not merely an unhealthy repression of our potentially destructive animal instincts. Do those who do not come to Church see our Sunday gatherings as powerhouses of that grace and mercy? Today's feast calls us to build the Kingdom of grace in our day.

Secondly, Jesus does not merely call us to work hard for him. Our second reading tells us that he has made us into a line of priests to serve God the Father. Through baptism we have become co-workers with Christ in building the Kingdom. Thus, our faith begins with recognising that Jesus Christ is Lord. There is a temptation to see the Church mainly as an organisation, maybe even as a holy organisation working for God. And some people feel turned off the organisation because of the sins of some or specific teachings that seem out of touch with modern Western tastes. But we have been made into the Body of Christ and Temples of the Holy Spirit. That is why we gather each weekend to celebrate that God - centred identity and to be strengthened by Holy Communion. That is why on-line services are only a poor and temporary substitute for the real thing. Jesus gathers us, not just so that we can feel nice but so that we can worship him together as his people, to give him glory and power for ever and ever. The Feast of Christ the King is not just about Jesus at the end of time. It is about how we are church today, how Christ's uncomfortable teachings are at the centre and how we bear witness to the Kingship of Christ's strange wisdom.

Thirdly, our Sunday Mass may be experienced as repetitive. But it was never meant to be home-made religious-themed entertainment where we do our best to attract people with gimmicks. The Mass is not anything that we do for God. It is not us showing off how well we do things. In the Mass, the powerful one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is made present again, is re-presented. We join in with what God has done for us. We enter into the mystery of Christ's kingdom being built in our day through the power of the Cross. What happens at Mass is God's work in which we are privileged to partake. We are invited to enter into the never-ending chorus of angels and saints who sing out praising God as holy, holy, holy, the God with whose glory all heaven and earth are full. A late start, a distracted mind and a quick getaway make it difficult for us to take seriously the mystery that we celebrate each weekend as the holy priestly people of God. Unless the weekly Eucharist is a deeply prayerful engagement with the mystery of God at work, then it cannot compete in the entertainment market with sport and retail therapy. Church renewal begins, not by tinkering with rules, teaching and Liturgy but through a renewed spirit of communal prayer, especially the weekly Eucharist. Unless Jesus the King is at the centre of the Church, we reduce it to a human organisation with great artistic and musical tradition – but no divine content. Did you come here to worship Christ the King? That is the question that he asks each of us from his throne on the Cross today.

Today's feast is the last chapter in the story that we tell about God. Each season of the year highlights one element of the Good News that we want to share about God. Today's celebration of the end of all things being placed under Christ's rule is meant to reassure us as we face the task of building his kingdom – and not ours – in 2021. As we know from Jesus' words before Pilate, his followers do not have to be strong or powerful in order to be effective. Today we give thanks for all that God has done in Jesus to heal the world. We wait in joyful hope for his coming in glory. And we pledge ourselves to be a holy, priestly people where signs of the Kingdom can be visible in our day.

+ Donal McKeown

Walking together in hope - Bishop McKeown
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Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302

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