Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christ The King Year A

There is a movie playing in the cinemas now called “Immortals”. It belongs to the genre that elevates violence into an entertaining art-form. [1] But that is not my interest. What piqued my interest, whilst reading the reviews, was the premise of the movie because it addresses how we acclaim Christ as King. [2]

The premise is located within a familiar phenomenon we call generation gap within which the conflict between the Titans and the Olympians arose. It was a conflict headed by Chronus, a Titan who was the father of Zeus, an Olympian. Caught in the middle of this conflict was Theseus, a stonemason bent on revenge against Hyperion, the cruel Heraklion King because Hyperion had savagely murdered the mother of Theseus. In this epic struggle between good and evil or between different generations of gods, the unspoken subtitle may simply be this: “man coming to the aid of gods”. The subtitle—man coming to the aid of god—is actually a story emasculation; a story where God is cut down to our size.

But cutting God down to size is not something new; it has been a process long in making. You can trace the beginning of this process to the onset of Modernity—an age characterised by the rise of Rationalism. Later I will give a working definition of Rationalism. For now, we may consider the Solemnity of Christ the King as an attempt to stop the march of an unintended development. The year was 1925. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast to remind Catholics that their true allegiance was to Christ and not to any ideology of that era, namely Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany that dared to claim allegiance absolutely.

But, there was more to countering the spread of the ideologies of Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler, for these ideologies were merely the unintended effect of the march of Rationalism. It was a march about 400 years old. At the onset of the Enlightenment, one of the noble projects of the philosophers was to try to prove God’s existence using reason. However, the unintended effect of the Rationalism of the Enlightenment has been the downsizing or the emasculation of God. In trying rationally to prove the existence of God, the unintended result was finally the death of God according to Nietzsche.

God is dead and the downsizing today continues along the path of technology and pop psychology—both offshoots of Rationalism. How? On the one hand, God has been reduced to a concept and some of us are not really searching for Him as we are for a method, a form of yoga, a 10-step programme for arriving at this “concept” whom we believe to be God. On the other hand, if He is not the logical conclusion of a technique, perhaps, we should rap like Eminem: “Will the real Jesus Christ, Son of God, please stand up, please stand up?” But somehow He still cannot, not because He is dead but because we have shackled Him with the chains of cloying compassion, pleasant platitudes and pampered pardon. This Jesus Christ is a really sensitive New Age guru who is not God and certainly not capable of judging.

If both our fascination with techniques and our dabbling with psychobabble have not downsized God, then perhaps, they have rendered Him totally irrelevant. A persistent effort at making Christ more a mirror of ourselves has rendered Christ the King into Christ the Kitten.

What happens when God is cut down to our size or when He does not inspire us with a sense of overpowering awe? He cannot touch us and we will languish. When God is small or irrelevant, according to John Paul II, the reign of the Civilisation of Death has begun. Thus, the Son of God, whom we acclaim Him as King, is relevant. He cannot be a technique nor should He be reshaped according to the mould of the Gospel of Nice. Beyond the success of any method or psychobabble disguised as religion, we encounter the true King to whom we owe our allegiance and to whom we must give our life entirely.

This King, whilst He lays down His life for us, is also a King who judges the world. Before His throne of judgement, we will be asked if we have recognised Him at all and before Him, we will be pruned and when His shearing blades cut, there will be blood. It cannot be that we acclaim Him as King without blood, without sacrifice and without suffering. Christ as King has eternal implications because He is a call to serious discipleship. Thus, are you ready for the discipleship of Christ the King?

What should your answer be? The changes that are taking place in the liturgy may help shape your answer to this question. This week, the Latin-Rite English speaking Catholics will use for the last time a translation they have been accustomed to for the last 40 years. Next week, a new translation will kick in. For this parish, this is academic because we made the switch earlier. The point here is important. The language of the new translation has been criticised as circumlocutory, clumsy and clunky. In truth, the passive voice of the language, the gestures of striking our breast, the head bows at the name of Jesus, the Trinity and Mary and the profound bows and genuflexion when we recite the Creed are attempts by the Church to return to God what really belongs to God. [3] In a sense, our language and gestures indicate a resistance to downsizing or emasculating God, something which we have been doing in the last 40 years especially when we address Him in terms too familiar. Alongside this desire not to downsize or emasculate God, we no longer presume to sing in the name of God, as in the first person: “I am the Bread of Life” or “I, the Lord of sea and sky” because over-familiarity may lead to contempt. [4]

Contempt or irrelevance is to be expected because rationalism is insidious in its intent at downsizing or emasculating God. Here, I make a little digression to give the working definition of Rationalism by contrast rationalism with rationality. In rationality, reason is guided by faith [5] whereas in Rationalism, faith is determined [or circumscribed] by reason [6]. Now, the answer to the question of discipleship becomes clearer. Our willingness to embrace discipleship is in direct proportion to our willingness to restore to God the majesty, the reverence and the transcendence that is rightfully His.
[1] When killing someone has to be slowed down in order that we take in every gory detail then violence has become entertainment.
[2] Today is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. The quality of the readings in these last couple of weeks has been quite apocalyptic in the sense that they point towards the “end-time”, the Eschaton. However, have you noticed the irony of how we frame life today? In the past, when craftsmen built, they seemed to build things to last. Here, I am always reminded of the Cathedrals of Chartres or Notre Dame. But, the buildings or edifices that lasted were not for themselves. Instead, they stood as testimony to eternity—some form of sacramentality. Their aim was not to be lasting. Their aim pointed to the last things. Now, consider the irony. All our gadgets have built-in obsolescence. They often break down as soon as the warranty period wears out. Yesterday, I was sitting in the Santa Maria della Strada Chapel, waiting for a wedding Mass to begin and I was looking at the sanctuary floor and thinking of today’s homily, etc. The edge of the sanctuary floor had broken because a pew had fallen upon it. I was reminded that everything we have was not made to last. We all know that and perhaps that explains our obsession with agelessness, timelessness, deathlessness, perfect life, perfect health and perfect body. Our obsession to be lasting is actually pointing us to that which is more important: the Last Things.
[3] Not that God needs it. But, we do because we are creatures. Sometimes, we are called “co-creators” etc etc… the fact remains that we are creatures before the Creator.
[4] The Jews have got this right. And we are following them. Check out the 29th June 2008 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments’ letter to the Bishops’ Conferences on ‘the name of God’. It gives three brief “directives.” They address specifically “liturgical” situations (official public worship), rather than private reading of the Bible or the printed Bibles themselves. 1st directive: In liturgical celebrations, in songs and prayers the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used nor pronounced. 2nd directive: In modern translations of the Bible “destined for the liturgical usage of the Church,” the tetragrammaton should be translated with an equivalent of Adonai/Kyrios, such as “Lord” in English which has long been the practice of most biblical translations. 3rd directive: When Adonai and YHWH are used together in the Bible, then the translation (again for liturgical use) should be “Lord God,” following the practice of the ancient Greek and Latin translations of the Bible.
[5] Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. According to St Augustine, fides quaerens intellectum meaning that faith seeks understanding. Thus, faith uses reason to understand God and yet reason is guided by faith. [6] Here, faith is circumscribed by reason meaning that where reason cannot go, faith must stop. That is the shortcomings of a scientific mindset which seeks to divide faith and reason.