Mary Clare’s reflection on the readings for Christ the King, Sunday, November 24, 2019~First Reading: Second Samuel 5:1-3~Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5~Second Reading: colossians 1:12-20~Gospel: Luke 23:35-43
Good morning. Today’s readings are about leadership, it may be called kingship but we are beyond Medieval language and can better understand God’s message to us today if we hear these three Scripture readings as a call to leadership in our Church and in our world. St. Paul describes Jesus and Jesus’ job description as “making visible the invisible God”. When we were anointed at our baptism, we became joined with Jesus in this task of making the invisible God visible. In the first reading we see King David anointed to his leadership role and in the last reading we see Jesus hanging on the cross in his leadership role. What a stark reminder of the difference between the world’s vision of leadership and dominance and Jesus’ leadership model of service and giving your all for the good of others. This could be a good lesson for our modern day leaders and politicians! But it’s too easy to read Scripture and point out how other people should take it to heart and miss the challenge of its message to ourselves. Today I’d like us to focus on our own call to leadership in our Church.
Today our Church faces a crisis of leadership. We already know about the need for strong and decisive leadership around the issue of sexual abuse. But beyond what’s in the headlines there is another growing crisis and that’s the decline of available priests to be our parish leaders. They are aging and retiring at a rapid rate, and measures that have been taken to solve the problem, prayers for vocations, importing foreign priests, and consolidating parishes, have not been able to keep up with the loss. So what is the Holy Spirit doing?! Jesus promised to be with us always and never abandon us. What is your plan for us God?
This reminds me of a story. There was a man who lived in a flood zone and was caught in a major flood. The rivers were rising the streets were flooded and everyone had been ordered to evacuate. This man stood on his porch as a boat came by and the official shouted to all to get out of their homes and into the boat to be taken to a safer area. But he refused to get in the boat and shouted back, I’m a good Christian and God will rescue me. A little while later another boat came by, and by this time the man had climbed to the roof of his porch because the water had risen at an alarming rate. Once again he was ordered into the boat and once again he refused claiming that God would rescue him. Finally, the water had risen to such a height that he was clinging to the chimney on his roof when I helicopter came by and they shouted down to him, “This is your last chance to be saved. Climb into the bucket we are lowering for you and let us rescue you or you will drown”. But he shouted back, “I’ve always been a faithful Christian and I know God will rescue me.” Well, soon the water washed over him and he was a goner. When he got to Heaven, he confronted God saying, “You know I have always been a good Christian. I have always followed your rules and I have prayed continually, so why didn’t you rescue me when I needed you most? And God responded back to him, “I sent two boats and a helicopter what more did you want?!’
Perhaps, today God is calling us to read the signs of the times and to broaden our vision beyond the limitations of current models of being Church, and instead to listen to the Holy Spirit and open our eyes and our minds to new ways of being the Body of Christ and making the invisible
God visible in the world and in our lives. God might be saying to us, “I sent you Jesus, and then I sent you Vatican II to remind you of your birthright in leadership in my Church. You were all baptized into that leadership and anointed Priest, Prophet and Leader, so what more do you want? Get going!”
It seems to me that Pope Francis, with his Vatican II vision, is trying to lead us in the direction of deep lay involvement in Church leadership. He has created Synods or listening sessions around important problems in our Church. And he’s actually listened to the ideas that have come from these gatherings. In the most recent Synod, the ordination of married men the empowerment of women church leaders were both openly discussed. And in a very small way recently St. Mary’s people of God did a similar thing and had our own small synod. We gathered for three Saturday afternoons and shared our hopes and dreams and concerns for our own dear parish and listened and tried to discern how the Holy Spirit might be leading us into the future. Who knows where we may be led when we open ourselves humbly and listen to the Holy Spirit.
There’s much that we don’t know about how our Church will evolve into the future, but we know that throughout history the Church has always evolved and changed in her outward form even as she tried to remain true to the central message of Jesus. One thing I do believe is that this is not a time to leave the Church as I see many doing, even though I understand the frustration that prompts their leaving. Nor is it a time to just sit back and do nothing saying, “I’m going to wait and see what the Church does to shape itself up and fix its problems before I get involved”. Any time fundamental change occurred in past Church History it most often happened from the ground up. I believe this is a time when we on the ground will become essential participants in whatever transformation God is bringing about.
St. Paul makes it clear that we are the Church, the Body of Christ, and that each of us is an essential part of this Body of Christ. And through our Baptism we are anointed into the same servant leadership as Jesus. Maybe now with all the birthing pains our Church is suffering, on a large scale as well as at the small parish level, it might seem that we’re enduring the pains of crucifixion like Jesus did for his efforts. But we know the end of the story, and it’s not death. We know that we are not alone and that God is always with us and that God always brings resurrection and new life out of all of our struggles for good no matter how difficult or painful they may be.
I heard a scriptural scholar once say that in the early Church when they were undergoing persecution, the Church community gathered in the catacombs to celebrate the Eucharist. Each person was responsible for some part of the necessary items. One person brought the cup, another the book, another the bread, another the wine, etc.. And they would come into the labyrinth of catacomb pathways from different entrances and be ready at the slightest warning of danger to take the piece they were responsible for and run in different directions to escape being caught.
We may not be enduring persecution but we are in difficult times in our Church. And it seems that now more than ever, each person needs to step forward and take responsibility for some part of the essential pieces of the Body of Christ that is our St. Mary’s Parish community. We are fortunate to have Fr. Armando as our Sacramental Minister, but the days of one parish priest pastor for every church are a thing of the past. And no one lay Pastoral Coordinator can begin to do all that our parish needs. So many wonderful ideas and dreams were put forth in our own recent parish meetings, but it will be up to us to bring them all to fruition.
Today is the end of the Church year, and we begin a new Liturgical year next week as we enter the Season of Advent. I invite you all to use this Holy Season of preparation and rebirth to have a serious talk with God about what essential piece you feel called to keep alive here at St. Mary’s. I value the lay reflections and so I offered to keep that tradition alive. Many other people have consistently stepped forward to keep other valued traditions alive.
This past year we lost many good and faithful servants in our parish: Jordan Hill, Ella Pitre, Marty Chavez, Sandy Green and Kirby Brown, just to name a few. Often as I pray trying to know what God wants of me, I say to myself, “What would Kirby do”, and it helps me take the next step. If we are to go forward creating a strong future together here at St.Mary’s, many more people will need to step forward and take on leadership responsibility, and many new folks will need to be invited into our community.
Maybe, just maybe, we are the boats; and we are the helicopters that God is sending in to save our Church and our world from that which could sink us. We are the Body of Christ, We are the Church and we will continue. Let the People say, Amen