Deacon Cornell's Homily


2 Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43


November 24-25, 2007, Feast of Christ the King, Cycle C

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

What is our image of what it means to be a king?

In these three readings we have a number of different images of what a king is. In David, we have the somewhat conflicting images of the conquering military hero and the caring shepherd. In the second reading Paul recites a very early Christian hymn that reveals the power and cosmic scope of the kingship of Christ. In this passage we have an image that stretches our imagination to take in all creation. What a contrast to the limited vision of the Israelites for a king who was very local to them.

And then in Luke's account of the crucifixion, we have the jeering mockery of the leaders and the soldiers who can only see a king who is exerting power in this world contrasted with the insight of the dying criminal hanging next the Jesus.

What kind of a king is Christ? Despite the many clues that we have in scripture and in the person of Jesus, so many of us still have the image that the people who put Jesus to death had: A king is one who exerts power and might and justice in the manner of so many earthly kings, a judge and ruler who wields justice more than mercy. The problem with this image of the kingship of Jesus is that is produces all sorts of dysfunctional ways of thinking and speaking of God: God as scorekeeper, sin as some external behavior, salvation as a settling of accounts.

One of the wonderful Catholic contributions to the nature of the kingship of Christ is Purgatory. From even before Jesus was born, the Jews had started to develop an understanding that there was more than heaven and hell after death. In the story of the Macabees, we hear the statement that is good to "make atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." (2 Macabees 12:46). If those who had died were in hell, then no atonement would save them; if they were in heaven they would not need any atonement.

But many of us were taught an image of Purgatory that retains the notion of God as stern judge, demanding retribution. We continue to hear of images of purgatory as suffering and punishment and unfinished penance, all of which contradict the most basic tenet of Christian belief that Jesus' sacrifice is perfect. Heaven is not a reward for being good; it is the completely free-will gift of a loving God which we cannot earn or deserve. It is a pure gift which is guaranteed by the saving work of Christ.

So if purgatory is not a little min-hell, what is it? To start answering that question we can reflect on the kind of king we have in Christ as revealed in today's readings. Christ is the one in whom all fullness resides, who reconciles all, who makes peace in all. He is the one in whom we have redemption and forgiveness of sins. He is the good shepherd. C. S. Lewis called purgatory "A process by which the work of redemption continues... "

As the beatitudes tell us, only the clean of heart can see God. It is not that by having a clean heart we earn the right to see God; without a clean heart we literally are unable to see God. I liken this to the situation of a child who has been terribly abused while young, perhaps in a series of dysfunctional homes and foster homes, who finally ends up in a good and loving home. It is very likely that it will take that child a long time to start to see the love and care that is there from his first day in the home. He is blind to it because he has never experienced love before. For those of us who have not used the time before death to open ourselves to true love, we are not capable of seeing true love, God, immediately after death. We must learn to love and be loved perfectly. That is what purgatory is. It is a continuing effect of the redemption perfectly won by Christ's death and resurrection.

Our wonderful Catholic doctrine of purgatory reflects our belief in the communion of saints. Death does not sever the connection we have as part of the oneness in Christ's kingdom. Our prayers and good works can affect those in purgatory. We also believe that the reverse is true.

How many people remember the movie It's a Wonderful Life? What do you think Clarence is all about? I would suggest that he is a perfect example of someone in purgatory called on to perform a work of charity so that he might become clean of heart himself, and thus be able to see God face to face.

So as we celebrate this feast of Christ the King, let us reflect and pray on this image of king our readings give to us. This king is one who died for us and who came that we might have redemption and salvation. He is a king who promises that we will be in paradise with him. And this can start today. Let us pray for those in purgatory for their benefit and for ours. In order to be with Jesus in paradise we must have a clean heart. Why wait for death to start working on that. Remember Jesus promises that we can have a taste of paradise right here and right now. All we need to do is love.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom

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