The Incarnation is defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia as a mystery, and the dogma of the Word made Flesh. Perhaps an easier way to think about this is that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be one with us. Jesus the Christ: Human and Divine.
Here is a question to ponder: are we afraid of the incarnation?
Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gangs in L.A., asked this question in a recent interview. He raised it as an issue because he thought there was a general feeling among some Catholics, especially the hierarchy that we were in danger of losing our sense of the sacred in the divine.
Feasts like Christ the King seem to have as one of their purposes the goal of reminding us of Jesus’ divine nature, that He is the king of the universe.
Listening to Fr. Greg, however, you will notice that his fear is the opposite. He wonders if we have lost the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary. Boyle suggests that the followers of Christ the King are comfortable with his divinity but less able to embrace and accept his humanity.
Can we embrace a king who is also a humble carpenter?
One place where we fully experience Christ’s humanity is on the Cross.
Jesus says very little while hanging from that tree, but his final seven words (or sentences) are powerful and challenging.
Today I would like to examine three of them with the first being from today’s Gospel (Luke):
The First Word: “I assure you; today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus dies in the company of two thieves. The one on his right is given the name of Dismas by the Church. We are not sure what interactions Jesus and Dismas had during those last moments of their lives but whatever it was Dismas was transformed by them.
Dismas is the lost sheep found at the last moment and fully welcomed into the kingdom. He asks Jesus simply for one small kindness- “Lord remember me today when you come into your kingdom.” Without any hesitation or long protracted sermon or the requirement for a public confession, Jesus finds Dismas worthy, and he says the word and the thief is healed.
I have been asked many times if I think there are sins Jesus will not forgive. I always reflect back on this scene at the foot of the cross. Christ has been arrested, humiliated, tortured, falsely convicted and has had nails driven through his hands and feet. The pain must have been unbearable when they lifted the cross from the ground and slammed it into place.
The first comment from Jesus were not words of hate and rage but simply, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” If Jesus can forgive his tormentors, then he can forgive us as well. It would seem all sins are forgivable.
In John’s unique telling of the crucifixion, we find the disciple that he loved at the foot of the cross with Christ’s mother. Both are unnamed.
Jesus looks to the disciple and says: “My dear friend, this is your mother- remember and care for her.”
Taking care of each other is at the heart of our tradition at St. Patrick’s on this Christ the King Sunday. It is the weekend, we remember the poor, and the marginalized in our midst and we care for them. These are the ones it might be easy to forget.
It would have been easy for us to forget Tina-Joy.
I talked about TJ in a homily before. I recounted a dinner I shared with her at Harvey’s where we prepared to visit a church together so she could share her story with a small group of the faithful.
TJ was an aboriginal girl born into a highly dysfunctional family. She was placed into an adoptive home where by all accounts, her new parents did the best they could, but they were not up to the task of raising this energetic, spirited and troubled girl.
At 14, she left home, and she supported herself as young runaways with no skills often do, by selling her body. She became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and you can guess the rest of the story; she ended up in prison on more than one occasion.
Two years ago, she came out of jail again. This time things seemed different. She had a number of friends, some from right here in St. Patrick’s around her offering support. She had community and she seemed happy for the first time in years.
Every Christmas she would get one of the Christmas baskets that a St. Patrick’s parishioner, family or school made possible. It is not important to know who specifically gave these gifts of hope, but I can tell you every year when the basket arrived it would bring tears to her eyes.
TJ knew she was not alone.
Tina-Joy, died a week ago at the age of 32, and she was surrounded by friends. When her two hour, (yes two hour) funeral service was held many of her friends shared how they had been touched by Tina-Joy. I received a note from Harry Nigh the community chaplain thanking the 8-10 folks from St. Patrick’s that attended the service and walked with TJ over these past few years.
This kinship is what Fr. Greg calls being able to see the divine in the ordinary.
Fr. Robert Barron shares that “[the] wonderful irony at the heart of the Christian proclamation is that the King of the Universe is a crucified criminal, who utterly spends himself in love.”
What did the King of the universe, this crucified criminal share with us as he was dying for us on that cross?
He told us that we were all worthy of the kingdom- we just have to ask: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
He promised us that we are all worthy of love when he said Father forgive them. Jesus showed us that God’s compassion is vast.
Jesus than trusts that we too will do our best to offer the same vast compassion to those in need when he looks at us on the cross and says: My friend here is your mother, please care for her.
That is what we do today when we leave mass and go into the hall and say I would like to help.
If you can adopt a family, please do so, or you can help by taking an envelope and donating some gift cards.
Today we are reminded that the king of the universe is a crucified criminal who utterly spends himself in love, and he challenges us to spend ourselves in love as well.
We do this by going in peace glorifying the Lord by our lives by following the example of Christ who is both king and humble carpenter.