Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
N.B.: The English and Spanish homilies are different this week.
First, a caveat. In order to preach a challenging homily, a pastor needs credibility in his community. He needs to have built up enough trust and respect among the people of his parish that they are still willing to listen to him when he says difficult things. I do not believe that I yet have the necessary credibility to preach this homily at Assumption, but I am going to do it anyway, because I think it is important. In doing so, I am continuing to draw from the patience and longsuffering charity of our community. Thank you for enduring a fresh and overzealous young priest.
Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, a day on which we remind ourselves of the powerful truths conveyed to us in the reading from Colossians: “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.”
Jesus is the king of the Church, the king of the universe, the king of everything. So it is arresting and astounding that the image of Jesus given to us by the Church today is the image of Jesus hanging on the cross.
The cross was reserved for the worst criminals, the lowest of the low. Not only were these criminals condemned to death, they were condemned to a slow and painful death in the public square where they could be seen and mocked by all who passed by. They were stripped naked in a show of utter powerlessness and a complete denial of human dignity. The sign on Jesus’ cross refers to him as a king only in the profoundest of ironies.
And yet, Christian theologians have long referred to the cross as the throne from which Jesus reigns as king. The power of Jesus is precisely in his self-sacrifice. It is because Jesus abandoned himself completely, going all the way to the cross, that he has been given power over all of creation. Jesus is king of the universe because true and lasting power comes from self-sacrifice, and his sacrifice was the greatest sacrifice of all time.
This, my friends, is the core moral teaching of Christianity: that true love consists in forgetting ourselves and focusing on the other; that true power comes from giving power away. This demand of utter selflessness is what makes, and has always made, Christianity a true counterculture and a threat to the dominant society of every era.
Now contrast this to our current political climate. With the exception of municipal politicians who are still generally principled examples of faithful public servants, our national politics and politicians have become obsessed with power. Every news clip, every policy statement, has become about shaping public perception, setting up for the next election, and getting that elusive 51% majority so that the other 49% of society can be steamrolled and ignored. There is no desire for consensus or compromise or the common good, because everything is power and the desire for more power. As the ancient Greek philosophers predicted, when democracy loses its civicmindedness, which is to say when democracy loses its care for and focus on the neighbor, it devolves into mob rule, and contemporary American democracy is not far from this point.
But, whether we realize it or not, our politics are almost always a symptom, not a cause. They are merely a reflection of the underlying society. And what has broken down in American society is that we have lost our focus on Jesus Christ. When we lose the cross, when we lose that powerful image of a king who chose to die in humiliation for the sake of his people, why wouldn’t we focus on political self-image and keeping power at all costs? When we forget the Jesus who shed his blood for Jews and Gentiles alike, why wouldn’t we fight unconditionally for our own tribe at the expense of the everyone else? When we no longer believe that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, what is there to stop us from believing that our own accumulation of power is the best thing possible for ourselves and for the world?
Friedrich Nietzsche was absolutely correct in his historical analysis of morality: most of the world and most of history is defined by a master morality, where the strong and the rich are the good and the celebrated, while the weak are pitied and despised. Only in Judaism and Christianity is a slave morality dominant, where the meek, the powerless, the humble, and the outcast are celebrated, protected, and valorized, while the strong are told to exercise control. Nietzsche, of course, believed that the slave morality was a perversion and should be done away with, and that the strong should be allowed to be strong and the willful allowed to be willful. I am sorry that our society has taken this as an encouragement and not a warning. I am sorry that the so-called perversion that is Christian morality has already been so thoroughly eradicated.
My friends, it is for this reason that I am so sad, so disappointed every time I see an indication that a Christian or a Catholic has chosen their politics over their religion. You see, if we follow Jesus Christ first and foremost, our politics will take care of themselves and our society will automatically become just. But if we follow our politics first, there is no guarantee that our democracy will not devolve into vicious power plays and mob rule. If we follow our politics first, and do not base them on Jesus Christ, even our quest for justice is doomed to perpetuate injustice.
Unfortunately, we have every indication that the great majority of Americans now choose their politics over their religion. In national poll after national poll, knowing that someone is Catholic tells us almost nothing about their political positions; but knowing that someone is a Democrat or a Republican lets us guess almost everything that they believe.
This politics-first mentality is less prevalent among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, but I am still going to take us through a political examination of conscience, just to see where we, personally, fall in all of this.
Imagine a ledger with two columns. One column is titled “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” The other column has the name of our preferred political party. Under each column, I want each of us to list of all of the ways in which we disagree with the political positions of either organization.
Let’s start with the Republicans. The U.S. bishops oppose the death penalty in the United States; they believe that climate change is real and needs focused attention; they believe that everyone has a right to basic health care; they believe that our country still has a serious problem with racism; and they strongly believe that our immigration system is unjust and needs reformed, including a way to care for the many undocumented people already here. In all of these things, are we more likely to side with the U.S. bishops or the Republican Party?
Now the Democrats. The U.S. bishops believe that abortion should be outlawed in every case; they believe that marriage should be reserved to a man and a woman; they believe that biological sex is an essential, unchangeable aspect of a person; they support conscience protections for anyone who does not wish to participate in abortion, birth control, or a same-sex marriage; and they oppose to use of tax dollars to fund abortion or birth control, at home and oversees. In all of these things, are we more likely to side with the U.S. bishops or the Democratic Party?
Don’t misunderstand me. Politics is important. Participating in society and structuring it justly is a moral obligation of the Christian faith, and that obligation cannot be carried out without engagement in politics. Politics is also complicated. I have been deeply involved in serious debates about every topic I just mentioned, and I know how people of good will can come to different conclusions on all sorts of political issues.
The point of that exercise was not to say that we cannot have doubts or struggles with the teachings of the Church. I know many of us do. The point was to ask, on the whole, when the two come into conflict, do we generally favor our faith or our politics? When we are forced to make a choice, do we find it easier to ignore our bishops or our party leaders? If we have more disagreements with our bishops than our politicians, we really need to ask ourselves why that is and what it means about our priorities.
As flawed as they may be in many ways, I hope we never get comfortable ignoring our bishops. When all of the bishops of the country or the state speak with a unified voice, I hope we pay attention, even and especially when it challenges our politics beliefs. I hope we will give them the benefit of the doubt and investigate their reasonings and their positions, because these positions are always at least an attempt to carry out the selfless love of Jesus Christ. After all, we are Catholic first and everything else second, because we follow Jesus first and everything else second. When we are looking for a king, when we are looking for someone to follow in all things temporal and spiritual, I hope that we always look first to Jesus, because he is the only king who sacrificed himself for us on a cross.
Mi homilía en las misas en inglés este fin de semana es sobre política y cómo la gente adora a sus partidos políticos más que a Dios mismo. Pero en mi experiencia, los inmigrantes a menudo no adoran a este ídolo en particular, aunque sus hijos sí. Así que voy a predicar sobre algo diferente en esta misa.
Lo que quiero predicar es una extensa encuesta que se publicó hace unas semanas y que decía que la mayoría de los hispanos en los Estados Unidos ya no son católicos.
Piense en eso por un segundo. Todas las familias hispanas en un momento eran católicas. Hoy, con los mormones y los testigos de Jehová y los pentecostales, algunos hispanos ya han abandonado la Iglesia Católica, pero la gran mayoría de los latinoamericanos, y por lo tanto la gran mayoría de los inmigrantes latinoamericanos, todavía son católicos. Y sin embargo, por alguna razón, en los Estados Unidos, estos inmigrantes o sus hijos abandonan la Iglesia Católica tan rápidamente que más de la mitad de todos los hispanos en este país ya no son católicos.
Este es un fracaso horrible de nuestra parte. La Iglesia, tanto en su liderazgo como en sus miembros, ha fallado a la comunidad hispana. Cientos de miles de personas están abandonando la religión de sus padres y abuelos porque no hemos hecho un buen trabajo mostrándoles a Jesucristo.
Ahora, claramente soy un Gringo, por lo que podría estar equivocado sobre algunas de las cosas que voy a decir, pero creo que la pérdida catastrófica de los hispanos por el catolicismo se debe a cuatro factores.
Primero, muchos hispanos no aprendieron la fe en su país de origen. Cuando llegaron los españoles, bautizaron a todos los indios del continente, por lo que cada español, indígena y mestizo era, técnicamente, católico. Pero fuera de las ciudades, las parroquias a menudo tenían y tienen muy pocos recursos, por lo que un número significativo de personas que emigran a los Estados Unidos no conocen su fe para empezar. Es fácil para los mormones, los testigos o los pentecostales separar a estas personas, porque estas personas nunca han aprendido lo que realmente significa ser católico. Esto es especialmente cierto en los Estados Unidos, donde las personas están separadas de una comunidad o familia que reclama una identidad católica. Para servir mejor a estas personas, debemos duplicar nuestros esfuerzos para educar a los adultos, especialmente a los inmigrantes adultos, en la fe católica.
Segundo, tanto en América Latina como en los Estados Unidos, la Iglesia Católica a menudo da por sentado a los hispanos. Asumimos que todos los hispanos son católicos y asumimos que siempre serán católicos. Cuando otra religión llama a la puerta, buscando desesperadamente convertir a alguien, es muy fácil sentirse querido, deseado y buscado. Es muy fácil para las personas desvanecerse de nuestra Iglesia si se sienten anónimas, desconocidas y descuidadas. Para servir mejor a estas personas, debemos desglosar nuestros grupos y nuestras camarillas, y asegurarnos de que cada persona en esta iglesia sea conocida por su nombre y se la extrañe si no vienen un domingo. Debemos asegurarnos de que nadie sea anónimo o ignorado. Nos acercamos mucho a los bancos traseros.
Tercero, en mi experiencia, los hispanos son personas enérgicas y apasionadas, por lo que es fácil para los pentecostales robar a nuestra gente porque la adoración pentecostal es enérgica y apasionada. Algunas personas dirán que debemos cambiar la misa para competir, pero no estoy de acuerdo. La misa es la adoración al Dios todopoderoso instituido por Jesucristo mismo. Es el acto de adoración más perfecto jamás ofrecido por la humanidad. Agregar más instrumentos o aplaudir o gritar no mejorará la Misa, sino que solo nos distraerá del núcleo central e importante de este acto de adoración. En cambio, para servir mejor a estas personas, debemos hacer dos cosas. Primero, debemos enseñarle a la gente sobre la verdadera naturaleza de la misa. Lo haré en mis homilías en enero y febrero. Segundo, debemos enseñar a las personas a orar. Sí, la adoración pentecostal es emocionante, pero ¿realmente nos ayuda a acercarnos a Dios cuando hemos perdido a un padre, cónyuge o hijo por una muerte prematura? ¿Realmente nos ayuda a acercarnos a Dios cuando enfrentamos deportación o desalojo? Tener sentimientos buenos y apasionados es agradable, pero eso no es lo que es la oración. La oración verdadera y auténtica puede acercarnos a Dios en los buenos y malos momentos, cuando estamos alegres y deprimidos, cuando estamos emocionados y cuando tenemos miedo. He visto una increíble devoción a la Eucaristía en nuestra comunidad hispana, y esto es lo que tenemos que transmitir a nuestros hermanos y niños. La devoción a la Eucaristía es una oración verdadera y auténtica, y la Eucaristía no se puede encontrar en ninguna iglesia pentecostal.
Finalmente, creo que estamos perdiendo hispanos en los Estados Unidos del catolicismo porque sus hijos eligen abandonar la Iglesia Católica. Aunque muchos millenniales eligen rechazar la religión por completo, creo que esto es menos cierto con los niños hispanos, que en realidad intentan conservar algo de fe en Dios y en Jesús. Pero rara vez lo hacen en la Iglesia Católica. En parte, esto se debe a que están atrapados entre la identidad nacional del país de origen de sus padres y la identidad nacional de los Estados Unidos. A medida que actúan cada vez más como los niños en la escuela, comienzan a rechazar muchas de las cosas que hacen sus padres inmigrantes, y una de esas cosas es el catolicismo. La otra razón por la que estos niños a menudo rechazan a la Iglesia Católica es porque no entienden lo que está sucediendo en la misa. Sí, padres, sus hijos criados aquí usualmente entienden el inglés mucho mejor de lo que entienden el español. Algunos de ellos tal vez ni siquiera entiendan esta homilía lo suficientemente bien como para sacar algo de ella. Para servir mejor a estos niños, tenemos que hacer dos cosas: primero, tenemos que separar nuestra fe y nuestra cultura, y permitir que nuestros hijos sean católicos, incluso si eso significa no ser católicos mexicanos o católicos salvadoreños o católicos hondureños. La fe católica trasciende todas las culturas y no responde a ninguna. En segundo lugar, todos los padres deben probar la misa en inglés con sus hijos al menos una vez, y luego conversar sobre si esos niños tendrán más probabilidades de seguir yendo a misa si la misa es en inglés. Para algunos niños, preferirán la misa en español. Otros preferirán el inglés. Pero de cualquier manera, lo más importante es mantenerlos en misa.
Hoy es la solemnidad de Cristo Rey del Universo. Hoy es el día en que la Iglesia celebra la victoria de Cristo sobre todas las cosas, incluidos el pecado y la muerte. Hoy también es el día en que la Iglesia nos llama a renovar nuestro compromiso de adorar a Cristo por encima de todo lo demás en nuestras vidas. El día cuando volvemos a llamar a “Viva Cristo Rey”. He visto la devoción de nuestros feligreses. He visto cómo tantos de nuestros fieles han entregado toda su vida a Jesús, y los grandes sacrificios que hacen para seguirlo en todas las cosas y sobre todo. Esta es la misma devoción que alimentó a los Cristeros en la Guerra Cristera, y hoy enfrentamos la misma crisis que enfrentaron los Cristeros. Más del cincuenta por cientos de nuestros hermanos y hermanas han abandonado la fe. No podemos dejar que esto le pase a otra alma. Debemos ir a la batalla, la batalla espiritual, para recuperar estas almas, para asegurarnos de que todos puedan experimentar el gran regalo de la Eucaristía y la Misa, para asegurarnos de que, en cada vida y cada hogar hispano, Cristo sea el Rey.
English Original of Spanish Homily
My homily at the English Masses this weekend is about politics and how people often worship their political parties more than God himself. But in my experience, immigrants often do not worship this particular idol, though their children might. So I am going to preach about something different at this Mass.
What I want to preach about is an extensive survey that was released a few weeks ago that said that the majority of Hispanics in the United States are no longer Catholic.
Think about that for a second. Every single Hispanic family at one point was Catholic. Today, with Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses or Pentecostals some Hispanics have already left the Catholic Church, but the vast majority of Latin Americans, and therefore the vast majority of Latin American immigrants, are still Catholic. And yet, for some reason, in the United States these immigrants or their children are leaving the Catholic Church so rapidly that more than half of all Hispanics in this country are no longer Catholic.
This is a horrible failure on our part. The Church, both in its leadership and in its members, has failed the Hispanic community. Hundreds of thousands of people are leaving the religion of their fathers and grandfathers because we have not done a good enough job showing them Jesus Christ.
Now, I am very clearly a Gringo, so I could be wrong about some of the things that I am about to say, but I believe the catastrophic loss of Hispanics from Catholicism is due to four factors.
First, many Hispanics did not learn the faith in their country of origin. When the Spaniards came, they baptized every Indian in the continent, and so every Spaniard, Indigenous, and Mestizo was, technically, Catholic. But outside of the cities, the parishes often had and have very little resources, and so a significant number of people who immigrate to the United States do not know their faith to begin with. It is easy for the Mormons or Witnesses or Pentecostals to pick these people off, because these people have never learned what is actually means to be Catholic. This is especially true in the United States, where people are separated from a community or family that claims a Catholic identity. In order to serve these people better, we must double our efforts to educate adults, especially immigrant adults, in the Catholic faith.
Second, both in Latin America and in the United States, the Catholic Church often takes Hispanics for granted. We assume all Hispanics are Catholic and we assume they will always be Catholic. When another religion comes knocking on the door, desperately seeking to convert someone, it is very easy to feel wanted, desired, and sought. It is very easy for people to fade away from our Church if they feel anonymous, unknown, and uncared for. In order to serve these people better, we must break down our groups and our cliques, and make sure that every person in this church is known by name and is missed if they do not come one Sunday. We must ensure that no one is anonymous or ignored. We much reach out to the back pews.
Third, in my experience, Hispanics are energetic and passionate people, and so it is easy for Pentecostals to steal our people because Pentecostal worship is energetic and passionate. Some people will say that we must change the Mass in order to compete, but I disagree. The Mass is the worship of almighty God instituted by Jesus Christ himself. It is the most perfect act of worship ever offered by humanity. Adding more instruments or clapping or yelling will not enhance the Mass, but will only distract us from the central, important core of this act of worship. Instead, to serve these people better, we must do two things. First, we must teach people about the true nature of the Mass. I will be doing this in my homilies in January and February. Second, we must teach people to pray. Yes, Pentecostal worship is exciting, but does it really help us grow closer to God when we have lost a parent, spouse, or child to an untimely death. Does it really help us grow closer to God when we are facing deportation or eviction? Having good and passionate feelings is nice, but that is not what prayer is. True and authentic prayer can bring us closer to God in the good times and the bad, when we are joyful and when we are depressed, when we are excited and when we are scared. I have seen such incredible devotion to the Eucharist in our Hispanic community, and this is what we have to pass on to our brother and sisters and children. Devotion to the Eucharist is true and authentic prayer, and the Eucharist cannot be found in any Pentecostal church.
Finally, I believe we are losing Hispanics in the United States to Catholicism because their children are choosing to leave the Catholic Church. Though many millennials do choose to reject religion altogether, I find this is less true with Hispanic kids, who actually do try to retain some faith in God and Jesus. But they rarely do it in the Catholic Church. Partly, this is because they are stuck between the national identity of their parents’ home country and the national identity of the United States. As they act more and more like the kids at school, they begin to reject many of the things their immigrant parents do, and one of those things is Catholicism. The other reason these kids often reject the Catholic Church is because they do not understand what is going on at Mass. Yes, parents, your children who are raised here understand English much better than they understand Spanish. Some of them might not even understand this homily well enough to get anything out of it. In order to serve these children better, we have to do two things: first, we have to separate our faith and our culture, and allow our children to be Catholic even if that means not being Mexican Catholic or Salvadorian Catholic or Honduran Catholic. The Catholic faith transcends all cultures and answers to none. Second, every parent needs to try English Mass with their children at least once, and then have a conversation about whether those kids are going to be more likely to keep going to Mass if the Mass is in English. For some kids, they will prefer Spanish Mass. Others will prefer English. But either way, the most important thing is keeping them in Mass.
Today is the solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Today is the day when the Church celebrates Christ’s victory over all things, including sin and death. Today is also the day when the Church calls us to renew our commitment to worship Christ above everything else in our lives. The day when we call out “Viva Cristo Rey” once again. I have seen the devotion of our parishioners. I have seen how so many of our faithful have given their entire lives to Jesus, and the great sacrifices they make in order to keep following him in all things and above all things. This is the same devotion that fueled the Cristeros in the Cristero War, and today we face the same crisis that the Cristeros faced. More than 50% of our brothers and sisters have left the faith. We cannot let this happen to another soul. We must go into battle, spiritual battle, to win these souls back, to make sure that everyone can experience the great gift of the Eucharist and the Mass, to make sure that, in every life and every Hispanic household, Christ is King.