Happy New Year! We have officially brought the Church year to a close and have entered into a new liturgical year with the first week of Advent. It is a time of new beginnings and yet a profound time of waiting and preparation as we anticipate the joy of the birth of a tiny babe in a manger. I find it interesting that this time of waiting comes right at the beginning of the new liturgical year. In the secular world, New Year’s celebrations are immediate and urgent. We count down to the strike of midnight, kiss our loved ones, announce our resolutions, and toast the entrance of the next phase. Some of us celebrate the end of another passing year with relief. Some feel a deep hope and longing that the year to come will bring with it some rest and release from the trials and tribulations of the previous year. Others celebrate the successes of the year and look forward to hopeful continued success. No matter which category you fall into, the secular New Year brings with it some sense of urgency, of immediate change.
In the Church’s liturgical year, we celebrate our “New Year’s Eve” with the celebration of Christ the King on the last Sunday before Advent. In Pope Francis’s 2013 homily he reminded us, “Jesus is the center of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works.” Pope Pius XI instituted this celebration in 1925 to help remind us that, “while governments and philosophies come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.” Can you feel it? Can you feel the excitement, hope, and assuredness infiltrating you as a believer of Christ, King of the Universe? And then we wait… This stark contrast brings with it the perfect time for reflection and re-evaluation.
In thinking and reflecting on the Advent season at the beginning of this new liturgical year, I’m struck by the images that come to mind. The slow burn of a candle in the window, darkness in anticipation of the light of morning. We are searching, seeking, wanting, waiting.
“Not all who wander are lost,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. Over the years it has become a fairly well known quote. How does this quote speak to you this Advent season? At times we may wander through the ebb and flow of our daily lives and this quote seems to reach out to us in an attempt to comfort us when we find ourselves in this place. But let’s take a deeper look at this particular quote. What does it mean to wander? To wander is to walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way. In what areas of your life have you been wandering? More importantly, do you know where you are going?
Advent is the perfect time for reflection and re-evaluation. “Not all who wander are lost.” Is it true? Sometimes we need the casual and the leisurely. It can be good to have a moment to take a breath. This time of Advent at the beginning of our new liturgical year, though, is a time to challenge ourselves. Are we still wandering? Have we lost sight of our aim? Perhaps Advent is calling us out of our time of wandering and into a time of wondering. To wonder is to desire or be curious about something; to feel amazement, to marvel. What is your heart longing for this Advent season? Where in your life are you being called into a deeper relationship with Christ, King of the Universe? He is coming and His desire to know and love us is so great that He is coming as a vulnerable and dependent baby in a manger. “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Faith-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5) He is coming. Are you ready?
This season, let us remember, all that WONDER as they behold the Christ child will never be lost.
Question for Reflection: What is your heart longing for this Advent season?
For resources to prepare you for the Advent season, please click here.
For some, Palm Sunday was a political event surrounding a political person that led to the greatest, most unexpected revolution the world has ever seen happen. Historically, the week leading up to Jesus’ Passion would have been the time of preparation for Passover, when many Jews from all the surrounding villages were in Jerusalem together. The gospels (Mt 21: 1-11) describe Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to the swaying of palm fronds and shouts of “Hosanna!” These were unmistakable prophetic signs of the Messiah-king, the one many Jews expected would finally overthrow their Roman overlords and re-establish Israel’s reign on earth, perhaps even violently—as a group called the “Zealots” expected. Yet there is a further symbol to this story: Jesus riding on a colt or ass, the sign of a humble and meek king. Jesus did not become the king they expected, but instead, the one God wanted. As Pope Francis said in his 2016 homily on the Feast of Christ the King, “The Gospel in fact presents the kingship of Jesus as the culmination of his saving work, and it does so in a surprising way. ‘The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King’ (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: he is on the cross, where he seems more to be conquered than conqueror.”
Like Jesus’ followers then, today we are susceptible to temptations of limited expectations. It is possible to see Jesus merely as a political and ethical teacher who died a martyr’s death and nothing else. On the other hand, we might project Jesus’ kingdom to a purely “other-worldly” realm. Since Jesus apparently wasn’t setting up his kingdom on earth (so we assume), we are tempted to sanitize Jesus of any “worldly” political or practical implications, and simply assume political engagement has limited place, or even runs counter to our task of evangelization. As Pope Pius XI wrote in his establishment of the Feast of Christ the King, “It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power…although he himself disdained to possess or to care for earthly goods, he did not, nor does he today, interfere with those who possess them.” Both interpretations—that Jesus was strictly political or that his work was merely “not of this world”—fail to take seriously not only Jesus’ public ministry and preaching, but the truly earth-shattering consequences of Jesus’ kingship won at the cross.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Christ, “exercises his kingship by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection.” Jesus’ death and Resurrection are, simply, God’s victory over the world’s powers of sin and death so as to bring about the restoration of God’s people. To say yes to Jesus’ Resurrection is to say yes to life as part of a new creation and kingdom that starts now. Paschal faith involves the risk of making mistakes, being misunderstood or ridiculed, of not conforming to the expectations of the surrounding culture in order to expect something greater. It involves joining in the kingship of Christ in serving others, something we are able to share in as a result of our baptism.
As powers of sin and death today loom heavy on our hearts, it is not enough to “have faith” but to do nothing. Following Christ calls us to witness to our faith in practical ways with full conviction because of Christ’s own experience of suffering, death, and Resurrection that has transformed our fundamental orientation to the world. As Christians, we desire peace, healing, reconciliation, and restoration. We serve our King by building up his kingdom on earth. Pope Francis challenges us, “A people who are holy…who have Jesus as their King, are called to follow his way of tangible love; they are called to ask themselves, each one each day: “What does love ask of me, where is it urging me to go? What answer am I giving Jesus with my life?”
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In today’s Gospel, Jesus turns to Peter saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church…” On the Sea of Galilee, Peter is marked as the shepherd of the Church. He began as Simon son of Jonah, an unlikely character, a fisherman. Now he will be the leader of the followers of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “[Jesus] gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock.” We celebrate this sublime moment today on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, praying in a special way for the pope—St. Peter’s successor—and also all clergy, bishops, priests, and deacons who continue to shepherd Christ’s flock.
Why celebrate a chair? The physical Chair of Peter is fixed in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, but it is a physical symbol that communicates a spiritual reality. Pope Emeritus Benedict gave a concise homily on its significance in 2006, explaining that each bishop sat on a cathedra (his established seat) when entrusted with a specific church. It was not only the place Peter would have sat as bishop, but also where he would have taught, preached, and carried out his priestly tasks. Peter once held a physical space, much like a solitary shepherd who stands with his staff and provides for the sheep he serves. And over time, the chair has been broken, worn, and recreated as a symbol of the apostle’s works. As Peter went from Simon to the rock, petra, the chair became cathedra, the bishop’s seat. Pope Benedict XVI continued in his homily, “the Chair of the Bishop of Rome represents not only his service to the Roman community but also his mission as guide of the entire People of God.” The Chair of St. Peter, therefore, points to the Eternal Good Shepherd: Christ himself.
Jesus instituted the papacy knowing of Peter and his future successors’ humanity. Peter was passionate, dramatic, foolish and courageous. He both loved and held a deep respect for Jesus, but would later betray his friend during his Passion. Yet Peter was also the first of the apostles to profess: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It is for this reason that Jesus replied to him, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.” God works within the brokenness of our humanity and invites us to sanctity, just as he did with Peter. Peter went from a man who betrayed Christ to a martyr who died for him. As the first pope, he became a great leader and model despite his human imperfection.
In addition to the humanity of Peter, the Chair also reminds us of the call to holy leadership and is a sign of the grace given by God to those whom he calls, especially in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Catechism states, “Just as ‘by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another." On this Feast, let us remember to pray for our pope and for all our church leaders!
How can celebrating the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter impact our own lives? Think of the physical and spiritual chairs that you sit in today and each day. Whether in an office, at home, in church, or outside, a chair enables us to perform our daily functions. In the same way, we hold offices in our lives. From being a young professional, mother or father, administrator, businesswoman or postman, we hold a place in this world as Christ’s followers. What chair is Christ asking you to fill in his Church?
In his homily on this Feast Day in 2016, Pope Francis challenged the Curia and all the Church to make Peter’s words their own. He said, “May our thought and our gaze be fixed on Jesus Christ, beginning and end of every action of the Church…Christ is the rock, on whose foundation Peter was also built…He is the ‘rock’ on which we must build.” As we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, let us ask for St. Peter’s intercession as we strive to profess with faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Reflection Questions: What are the “holy offices” you hold in your own life? How do they reflect the great call of St. Peter as rock of the Church? Take time today to pray a prayer for priests in honor of St. Peter.