Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Few Words

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King [A]

On the radio this past week,
I heard a touching interview with retired astronaut Mark Kelly
and his wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
As you no doubt recall,
Gabby Giffords was shot in the head last January 8
while meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
The story of her continuing recovery is truly inspiring.

Learning to speak again
has been a particular challenge for the Congresswoman.
Six months after the shooting,
she still couldn’t formulate a question.
So Mark was taken aback when he came home one evening
and Gabby asked, “How was your day?”
“It was a big event,” Mark says. “It was so big to me…
I could not remember one thing I did all day.…
[Gabby] had this momentous event
where she finally asked a question
and I had no answer because I was so happy about it.”

“How was your day?”
Such a simple phrase--just four words,
so common that most of us wouldn’t give it much thought--
but for this couple, in this moment,
it was absolutely jam-packed with meaning.

We have some very similar moments in the course of the Mass.

I think of one near the very beginning:
The Lord be with you.
> And with your spirit.
This is more than an ordinary, “Good morning!”
These words go back to the earliest days of Christianity:
drawn from the pages of the New Testament,
they unite us across countless generations of believers.
The Lord be with you.
I greet you not as Joe Giroux,
the sociable host of a community gathering;
no, this is a greeting that comes to us from the apostles.
I recognize you not as the citizenry of Malone,
a group of friendly neighbors and acquaintances;
instead, I see before me a family called together by God the Father,
the assembled Body of Christ,
the living temple of the Holy Spirit.

My father was an altar boy years ago.
There’s one part of the Latin Mass he still remembers quite well;
let’s see if there are any old altar boys here this morning…
Dominus vobiscum.
> Et cum spiritu tuo.
The new English translation of the Roman Missal
changes your response to better reflect this ancient Latin text.
And with your spirit.
This unusual formula clearly means something other than,
“The same to you, Father.”
You speak to me in this moment,
not as an individual man, but to my priestly spirit--
to that deepest part of me which was transformed
on the day of my ordination
that I might stand here before you in the place of Christ.
It’s not because I am somehow better than you
that you are to speak this way;
it’s precisely because I am just as human as you are
that the gifts of the Spirit need to be stirred up again in my heart.

The Lord be with you.
> And with your sprit.
In effect, I’m saying, “Remember who you are! 
I recognize that the Lord is in your midst. 
Be the people God calls you to be!”
And, in effect, you’re responding, “Remember who you are!
We recognize that Christ acts through you. 
Be the priest for us now!”  (cf. J. Driscoll)

Another brief exchange so rich with meaning
comes at the very end of Mass.
Go forth, the Mass is ended.
> Thanks be to God.
While most of the new Roman Missal
is just a new English translation of the same original Latin text,
it’s here that we encounter something entirely new.
At the request of the Synod of Bishops a few years back,
Pope Benedict XVI personally selected
a couple of new dismissals with which to conclude the Mass:
Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, and,
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.
These new dismissals are meant to remind us
that when we leave from Mass
we are sent--and sent with a mission from God.
(That’s one good reason why we should never leave early!)
It’s not enough for us to recognize Christ’s presence
for the hour or so we come together at the altar;
we go out to meet and serve Christ in his least ones,
whenever and wherever we find them.
We are to take what happens in church out into the streets:
bread and wine are transformed that you might be transformed;
and you are transformed that the world might be transformed.
In a certain sense, the Mass is never ended;
the work of God in us, with us, and through us goes on
until we return here again.
Go and announce the Gospel.
Go and glorify the Lord by your life.
Go, and keep on going, sent with God’s blessing,
until Christ should come in glory.

It is particularly appropriate
that we should reflect on these words of the Mass
as the Church celebrates the Solemnity
of our Lord Jesus Christ the King.

Christ is a King unlike any other.

First, Christ is a King who is also our Priest.
A king can claim to speak to his people
on behalf of God.
A priest can claim to speak to God
on behalf of the people.
True God and true man, Jesus Christ fulfills both roles.
And through the many priests he has chosen
to share in his one priesthood,
Christ continues to exercise his unique authority
and to offer his perfect sacrifice in and for his Church.

And Christ is a King who is also a Shepherd.
Not aloof and removed
from the troubles of those subject to him,
Christ tends to the sick and the injured of his flock,
seeking the stray
and rescuing those who have been scattered.
He sends us forth to do likewise:
providing for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked;
caring for the sick and imprisoned;
welcoming the stranger.
When our Shepherd takes up his glorious throne,
it will be based on this measure
that he separates the sheep from the goats.

Gabby Giffords now regularly asks her husband,
“How was your day?”
And, Mark admits, it’s already become
just another ordinary question again.

May the words of the new Roman Missal, however,
remain ever fresh and meaningful for us.
Indeed, they are part of no ordinary exchange;
they give shape to the ongoing conversation we have
with our Priest, our Shepherd, our King.
And for that: Thanks be to God!


Fred Zavadil said...

Please remove the image of Christus Rex from your website. It was stolen from
We will notify Google and our lawyer.
Fred Zavadil

Fr. Joe said...

Removed...with my sincere apologies.