Christ the King, and honor in worship

Christ the King (try as I might, I couldn’t identify the artist).

This Sunday is the Solemnity of Christ the King — properly “Our Lord Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe” — the last Sunday of the liturgical year, before Advent begins it anew, when we celebrate Jesus’s Divine Kingship over all Creation.

I had a brief thought this morning at Mass, in response to the criticisms of some Protestant friends, that Catholic worship is “empty ritual” or “rote.” When the king of a great earthly kingdom visits — when the President of the United States, or the Queen of England, or a senator or a governor or even a powerful CEO, makes an appearance — there is an expected protocol, an established ceremony, in welcoming that person and celebrating his or her presence. The act of that ceremony — and the people’s participation in it — shows that person the honor, respect, and reverence befitting his or her position.

How much the more should we do the same for the Almighty King of the Universe, the Lord of All Creation! Our liturgy — all the texts, and psalms, and chants; all the vestments and vessels and incense; all the buildings, all the art, all the music — they are to honor our King, to celebrate His Presence, His coming to us in the Sacraments; to lift high His Name, in heavenly praise with the angels — but also to magnify Him before all the world. Almighty God, the King of the Universe, took on flesh and walked among us, and still He is in our midst, in His Holy Spirit — and in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. How can we not do these things?

The Outpouring of Divine Mercy: A thought on the Work of God among all Christians

The Works of Mercy, by David Teniers the Younger

The Works of Mercy (c.1645), by David Teniers the Younger. (Wikipaintings.org)

Hello, dear friends. I’m still around. I’m continuing to struggle with some things — not least of all a real terror of a paper — but I think the sun is beginning to shine through the clouds, and I hope, I pray, that I’ll soon be able to return to you on a more regular basis.

I have been thinking about a lot of things lately — the direction this blog has been taking, the direction my heart has been taking, and the way my heart needs to lead this blog. For one thing, I need and deeply long to return to this blog’s original mission, to extol all the beauties and graces of the Catholic Church, and to ponder the lamentable divide between Catholics and Protestants, and to work in my own way to bring us closer together. I have been lashing out defensively, even aggressively, against Protestants who reject communion with the Catholic Church, against their arguments and even against their beliefs. But the truth is that this all breaks my heart grievously, in being hurt and even more in that my words might hurt others.

I have been spending a lot of time with my Protestant brethren lately, most of all my dear Baptist friends. And I find that the passion, the mercy, and the love of their worship and ministry is true and genuine and full of God’s grace and healing. And that begs the question, as my wandering road as a Protestant always begged — how can more than one thing be true? If the Catholic Church is Christ’s True Church, founded by Him and His Apostles, bearer of Apostolic Tradition, the fullness of God’s plan of salvation for us — and this I firmly and thoroughly believe — what are our separated brethren? And if I see God’s grace and love alive and active in them, as witnessed by the transformation of lives — what does that mean for the Truth? It means, I suppose, that God is so much bigger than us and our petty disputes, than any division we can create; that His mercy is infinitely greater and overflowing to all who love Him.

We of the Catholic faith practice the Christian life as it has been handed down to us. Catholic tradition is just that — that which has been handed down — and it has been handed down from the ages because it is what works, what time has proven to bear fruit, and what Christ and the Apostles commanded us to do. So what about all the other Christians who do differently, who believe differently? The Catholic Church is not in the business of pronouncing judgment on them, on deeming whether they or anyone is “saved.” What the Church teaches is what she knows; what she has received; what has proven to be true. How God moves and saves with other Christians is His business, the outpouring of His Divine Mercy. It is our job to seek His Truth, and to be faithful and obey.

St. Monica, a praying mother

St. Monica (1465), by Gozzoli

St. Monica (1465), by Benozzo Gozzoli. (WikiPaintings.org)

I’ve slowly been trying to read through St. Augustine's Confessions in the original Latin for a while now. I’ve had to lay it down recently, but I hope to pick it up again soon. I am pushed for time today, but it being the memorial of St. Monica, Augustine’s pious mother, I wanted to share briefly. This is a passage from the Confessions that was especially poignant to me, having been a wayward son myself, and having a loving mother who prays for me without ceasing.

Woe is me! And dare I say that you were silent, my God, while I wandered further from you? Were you not then silent to me? And whose, but yours, were those words, which through my mother, your faithful one, you sang in my ears? These to me seemed only womanly advice, which would be embarrassing to obey. But they were yours, and I did not know. I thought you were silent and only she had spoken, but you were speaking to me; and in her, it was you who were being disdained by me, by me, her son, the son of your handmaid, your servant.

—St. Augustine, Confessions, II.3

[I am pretty sure this is my own translation, but I honestly don’t remember for sure (I posted it on my Facebook wall a couple of years ago). Tomorrow is St. Augustine’s memorial, and I hope to be able to share a little more.]

New Every Morning

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:19-24 ESV

Robin on branch

I woke up bright and early this morning after an early and melancholy night last night — feeling a world better, as the dawn light streamed in through my window, and the waking birds sang in the trees around me. And this verse echoed in my head. “His mercies are new every morning.”

This is an easy passage of Scripture to take out of context. I’ve so often heard it repeated in saccharine sentiment as a “feel good” message — but read the entire chapter from Lamentations, and you will find a graphic, painful, heart-wrenching description of God’s judgment on a sinner; on sinful, apostate Jerusalem. But even in the face of this suffering, this wasting away, the speaker turns to God in hope; and God gives His mercy to the sinner.

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone in silence
when it is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust—
there may yet be hope;
let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
and let him be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.
Lamentations 3:25-33 ESV

God’s mercies are new every morning, for His children who turn away from their sin. God is not the “happy, feel-good” God portrayed by so much of evangelical Christian media. Neither is He the God of wrath anticipated by secular society. He is a God of just judgment; but above all He is a God of abundant love. Just as Jesus offered forgiveness “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22), God’s mercies are new every morning, for every morning that we turn from our sin and toward Him.