Is Christ The King Sunday Oppressive?

Jesus carrying the cross by El GrecoToday Christians in many churches celebrate Christ the King Sunday.

When I was in Theology graduate school, some students didn’t like the imagery of Christ as “king.” They felt the idea of Christ as king was outdated and even oppressive.

However, that is totally missing the point of Christ as king. Christ is not an oppressive, earthly king. He didn’t establish an earthly kingdom supporting a particular nation, race, or class.

No! The good news of Jesus is that he came to establish a spiritual kingdom for everyone: Jew, Gentile, slave, free, rich, and poor. Christ is a king who is on the side of the poor, oppressed, and outcast.

It is this radical image of king which we celebrate today. Have a great Christ the King Sunday.

Who Is God?

Image of Jesus on the crossOver the next few months, as part of Ordinary Time, we are going to explore some basic aspects of Christianity. I want to start with God, which is obviously the best place to begin.

The basic Christian understanding of God is that he is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere). There is also only one God, meaning Christians are monotheist, sharing this belief in common with Jews and Muslims.

Christians have a unique brand of monotheism, Trinitarianism (celebrated on Trinity Sunday). I prefer to call this a “dynamic monotheism” because we believe God is one, but also “three.” The Catholic (and majority Christian), view is that God is one substance (i.e. whatever makes God “God”) existing as three separate persons (separate realities). Thus, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but each is not the other.

Christians also believe in a personal God, i.e. that God is active in the lives of humans. God reveals himself to humans, and this happened gradually throughout history, beginning with covenants with Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and reaching its fullness with the New Covenant in Jesus.

While some religions and movements tend to see God as distant (such as Deism), Christianity believes God is actively seeking out his creatures for redemption. Because of this, St. John could describe God as “love.”

Welcome Back To Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time is when the Church celebrates “all aspects” of the life of Christ.  Far from being a “summer break” or time when there are no celebrations, Ordinary Time is really quite the opposite. It can be viewed as an integration of the other seasons. Whereas the individual aspects of Christ’s life are celebrated in the other seasons, Ordinary Time brings them together into a whole.

Far from a summer break or vacation from Church, Ordinary Time is the “meat” of Christ’s entire life: his person and teachings.

Finding God In The Winter

shed in winterIt’s a hard time of year, emotionally, for many people, especially those in the Northern hemisphere. The weather is cold, the world seems dead, and seasonal depression can be a problem. However, for Christians, the winter can be a good time to reflect on the nature of God and life (and find great meaning and joy).

First, while the winter is “dead” it’s not really. There is a lot of life within the winter months, but we may have to look for it. It’s not all around us like during the summer months. Finding a green leaf, a roaming animal, or a sign of life is a challenge. It’s just like finding God’s presence in our everyday lives. Sometimes it’s very obvious. But, during the other moments (especially the difficult ones), we may have to look. But, like winter life, God is always there.

Second, Christianity has always recognized the role of death in leading to life. Just as we can’t appreciate and understand the resurrection without the crucifixion, so the joy of spring cannot be understood without the winter.

Third, the winter is actually a great time to get outside and meditate on the wonders of God. It’s typically quiet and empty. The distractions are gone and it’s a great season to communicate with God outdoors. I challenge you to get out in nature and make an effort to pray in the silence of winter.

Lent comes as winter ends and spring begins, which is very appropriate too. We sometimes have to force ourselves to do penance, but, in time, that penance can become natural and even joyful. This too is like the transition from winter into spring.

God bless you this winter. Don’t just hope for spring, but enjoy what winter has to offer (and appreciate the amazing symbolism built into God’s creation).

Celebrating Ordinary Time

Statue of JesusNow that we’re in Ordinary Time, it’s essentially “back to normal.” We return to the color green, the hymns lack any unique emphasis, and the Scriptures are more cyclical than celebratory. In essence, we’ve been through Advent and Christmas and ordinary time can seem a tad, well, ordinary (note: I’m aware “ordinary” comes from the numbering pattern, but bear with my analogy).

In the Church, it’s actually possible to have a little post-celebration letdown. I am somewhat guilty of this as well. I always became excited during Advent and it continued through Christmas. Then, once Ordinary Time started, I began looking forward to Lent. However, this is a mistake. There’s actually a lot we can do to celebrate ordinary time and make it more exciting. Below are a few possibilities.

Celebrate the Saints

There are many feast days during ordinary time. It’s a good time to read up on the saints, ask for their intercession, and generally observe their life and their days. If they’ve left us written writings, maybe even read up some of their wisdom.

Find the Unique Themes

The different appointed prayers and Scripture readings at mass have some unique and fascinating themes. But, since there’s not an overarching theme (like waiting for Advent or penance for Lent), we can miss some of the smaller topics. Pay extra attention during mass and pick out the emphasis and then…

Live the Theme

Each week, focus on living that theme or emphasis throughout the week. Maybe it’s grace or gratitude. Whatever the focus, try to center your week around what you heard read and prayed during the Sunday mass. This will allow you to appreciate the richness of the entire Church Year, not just the larger topics like Advent and Lent. After all, lots of people have put a lot of time into developing these prayers and readings.

So, as we enter into Ordinary Time, I hope you can celebrate it. If you start digging deeper, you’ll find there doesn’t have to be anything ordinary about it.

Happy Thanksgiving From ChurchYear.Net

A table set for Thanksgiving

We hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving 2012!

God has blessed us with life – and therefore abundance. All of us are created in God’s image and have a chance to enjoy the beautiful created world that God has deemed “good.” Below is the Thanksgiving Day Collect from the Book of Common Prayer, as included on our Thanksgiving Prayer page.

Almighty and gracious Father,
we give you thanks
for the fruits of the earth in their season
and for the labors of those who harvest them.
Make us, we pray,
faithful stewards of your great bounty,
for the provision of our necessities
and the relief of all who are in need,
to the glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Standing Up For Thanksgiving Over Black Friday

A table set for Thanksgiving dinnerWhen I was growing up, Thanksgiving was magical in every way. We would pick up Aunt Margaret as dad drove across the winding roads and over the foothills of Southern Ohio. The landscape was beautifully sparse – and brown…lots and lots of brown. Sometimes a delicate layer of snow covered the world, which, in my young mind, was a preview of Christmas. There was barely a car on the road, except other families who were picking up relatives for their own special dinners. There was something “right” about this, about people focusing on what really matters for one day.

American Thanksgiving is coming up tomorrow. Soon, Americans that give little thought to gratitude and blessings in their life will sit down, dine with family and friends, and rest for a change…unless of course they decide to take a cue from corporate America.

Unfortunately, many retailers have decided to start “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving, so Americans can buy things they can’t afford and won’t have time to enjoy a day early. Even though most Americans seem disgusted by these tactics, other businesses will follow suit for fear of losing out on the business.

I am not a curmudgeon at all, but I do believe it is time to reconsider our priorities if we are willing to cut short a day of rest, gratitude, and seeing family and friends, so we can wait in line to get a better deal on cheap crap. I believe we need to stand up and let the businesses know that some things are more important than deals. It would be great if businesses opened on Thanksgiving and nobody showed up.

I honestly believe that people have the right to open their businesses whenever they want, so this is not a plea for a government to step in. This is a plea for sane people to stay home on Thanksgiving and pay attention to what matters. For a few days a year we get a break from the “rat race.” For a few days the world stops and ponders what life is really about. Yet a lot of people don’t have these days anymore.

So, what will children’s memories consist of twenty years from now? Will it be waiting in line with their families to stampede each other, to buy something that will either break in a few years, or else take up space in the basement until it is left to rot in a landfill? Will Thanksgiving be a celebration of God, friends, and gratitude or greed and cheap Chinese crap? Something just seems wrong about this.

Happy Feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran

the front of the church of saint John Lateran by  Marie-Lan Nguyen

Images courtesy of Marie-Lan Nguyen

Today is the feast of the dedication of Saints John Lateran, a church in Rome. The church of dedicated by Pope Sylvester I in AD 324.

It is the cathedral church of the diocese of Rome. It is actually dedicated to both Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. This feast raises an interesting point about Catholicism, in that we believe in holy places.

Because we believe that God became human in Christ, the created world is a fitting vehicle for God’s activity in the world. Because of this we believe that people, places, and things can be holy, i.e. specially full of God’s grace and love, and that others can benefit from this holiness. This is why the Church is full of shrines, cathedrals, basilicas, tombs, and places where saints lived and died. As Catholics, we have access to the grace of God through many people, things, and places.

Happy feast of the dedication of St. John Lateran!