Deeper in love with His Majesty, our divine Spouse

Listen to mp3 file
Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, Year A: Nov. 20, 2011
Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Matt 25:31-46

For the Secular Discalced Carmelite (OCDS) Community of Frederick Md. at its semiannual Profession Mass.

Each year, the Church gives us this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, as the final Sunday of the liturgical year. And this is fitting, Pope Pius XI wrote when he instituted it in 1925, because the feast thus “sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year.” (Quas primas, 29)

And, by establishing this feast, he hoped to reverse the trend of people excluding Christ and his law from both the public and private lives. How appropriate that we should celebrate it soon after our Maryland bishops, and indeed all the bishops of the U.S., have warned us about recent troubling erosions of religious liberty in our state and country. We have reason to remember who is our Lord and King.

And surely Carmelites have special reason to have an affinity for this feast, as we recall how regularly our Mother, St. Teresa of Avila, spoke of the Lord Jesus as “su Majestad,” “His Majesty.” Surely, her use of this title communicates respect and reverence, awe and adoration, for this King whom she knew and loved so well. For her, clearly “His Majesty” was not someone distant or offputting, but one who had given her so much, transformed her, and drawn her into union with himself.

What does it mean to know Christ as King—especially in imitation of St. Teresa? Perhaps we can consider three answers to that question.

First, to know Christ as King means to cooperate with him in bringing into subjection everything within us that is not holy, that is not true. St. Paul speaks of this in our second reading today, in the broad picture—as he speaks of Christ putting all his enemies under his feet, destroying every sovereignty and every authority and power, until everything is subjected to him. And this project of bringing all that is wrong and sinful under his rule must also take place within our lives, within our minds and hearts, within our smallest day-to-day actions. St. Paul says elsewhere that we “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:4) The Second Vatican Council wrote that “Christ has communicated this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.” (Lumen Gentium, 36)

And isn’t this what happens in the Purgative Way, that first of the three classical spiritual stages?—as St. Teresa speaks of in the first and second dwelling places of The Interior Castle, saying that serious sin darkens and blackens what should be like crystal filled with light; and lesser sins being like “snakes and vipers and poisonous creatures” that must be kept out. So that, more and more, we may bring ourselves and others under the kingship of Christ.

Second, there is the growth of a mutual love between Christ the King and us. The initiative is his, of course: for he stepped down from his throne, as it were, emptying himself to be made man (Phil 2:6-7). He sought us out when we are lost, bound up our injuries, healed our sicknesses, guides us in right paths; he refreshes our soul. And he sealed this proof of his love for us by dying for our sake, even death on the cross. And he calls us ever closer to himself—we whom he has pulled out of the mire—join us into ever closer, more intimate relationship with himself.

Early on, St. Teresa found a way to respond with a love of her own. How do you show love to an infinitely powerful King? She wrote that, in an early method of prayer, she represented Christ within her in those scenes where she saw him more alone—especially the scene of his prayer in the garden, with the sweat and agony he underwent there. For there, in his suffering humanity, she found her King alone and afflicted, as a person in need—someone who needed her love and comfort. (Life, ch. 9, 4) Much later, she would be led into spiritual betrothal and spiritual marriage—his Majesty having brought her soul to it through union. (Interior Castle, VII:2, 3-5) And so she could love her “divine Spouse” with that special love of true marriage: with true, undiminished reverence and gratitude to His Majesty for his kingly person and favor, while also loving and caring for him with true tenderness.

Third, out of this divine espousal comes a true cooperation in His Majesty’s values and goals in the world. In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard Christ’s parable about the man who left on a journey, leaving his servants to carry out his business practices while he was away. And in the first reading, we heard that description from the 31st chapter of Proverbs of the “worthy wife,” who is portrayed as a true, active partner in her spouse’s activities. And so we should be toward our divine Spouse. If this Shepherd has emptied himself to seek out and heal and guide his sheep, then he rightly expects the same from us.

And so Christ gives his description in today’s Gospel reading of the King judging every person according to whether he has shown mercy for the least brothers of his. The actions he lists—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison—become six of the seven corporal works of mercy. And the church has supplemented this list with seven spiritual works of mercy—of which the seventh is “to pray for the living and the dead.”

And so St. Teresa wrote:

All [the soul’s] concern is taken up with how to please him more and how or where it will show him the love that dares him. This is the reason for prayer, my daughters, the purpose of this spiritual marriage: the birth always of good works, good works.” (Interior Castle, VII:4, 6)

So that, intimately united with His Majesty in mind and heart, we also may be united with his hands in works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, for the least brothers of his.

And so, on this feast of Christ the King, we rejoice and recommit ourselves: to bring into subjection to him all that is not holy within ourselves; to grow in our mutual love with him, receiving his and responding with ours; and to cooperate with his works of mercy in the world.

And let us pray especially for all those who, in just a moment, will make their first promises, as they respond to His Majesty’s invitation to them to draw closer to him, tending toward his perfection, as they find themselves closer to him in love.

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