Sunday, November 22, 2015

Out of this World

   Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe    

On my way to retreat two weeks ago,
I needed to drop off my computer for some repairs
at the Apple Store in Syracuse. 
It’s located in Destiny USA: 
a six-story shopping mall,
with more than 200 stores, restaurants, and attractions—
the largest in New York State, 
and the sixth largest in the country. 
It’s huge 
(I used a map to find my way around)
and, even early on a Monday morning,
it was loudly bustling with people.

My very next stop was the Trappist monastery
where I’d be making my retreat:
home to 28 monks who’ve dedicated themselves
to quiet prayer, hard work, and simple living
among some woodlands and farm fields
not far outside of Geneseo.

The contrast couldn’t have been much more dramatic. 
I had only driven a couple of hours from one to the other,
but I’d passed between two completely different worlds.

One of the monks—Fr. Eugene—
preached a very thought provoking homily
while I was at the abbey. 
He related that, in sociology, they speak about “going native,”
when somebody gets too involved in the community he’s studying
and moves from being an “outsider” to an “insider.”  
Fr. Eugene didn’t then go on to describe
some exotic tribe living on a far-distant island;
instead, he used this “going native”
to discuss the Church’s rightful place in the world. 
He pointed out that we Christians
are actually “outsiders” in this world;
we’re citizens of a different Kingdom. 
And when the Church has gotten herself in trouble in ages past,
it’s generally been because she’s become too much of an “insider, “
taking on too many characteristics of worldly culture—
grasping for money or prestige or power;
in other words, she’s “gone native.” 
Those who have worked for reform in the Church at those times
did so by calling her back to the simplicity of her beginnings—
to become an “outsider” again.  
Fr. Eugene wrapped up by pointing out—rather astutely—
that this situation seems
to have been turned around 180 degrees in recent years. 
When we hear voices
calling for “reform” or changes in the Church today,
they’re generally calling for her to become
more like the surrounding world, not less.

Especially here, not far from the border,
we’re rather accustomed to folks
who have dual national citizenship. 
That, of course, can happen
between two countries that are at peace. 
Many Christians, likewise, live their lives
as if they hold dual citizenship between this fallen world
and the Kingdom of God—
as if you could keep one foot in each…
…but that is not a viable possibility. 
That’s because we’re dealing with two realms
locked in long and bitter conflict,
and if you don’t believe they’re at odds,
you have only to look at the Cross and see
what the powers at work on earth once did to the King of heaven. 
Sometimes the contrast between them is startlingly obvious—
like leaving the mall for the monastery. 
But most often, it’s pretty subtle—
or at least escapes our notice.

Which kingdom holds sway in my life? 
Which is the king to whom I’ve made myself subject? 
Since it must be one or the other, a quick test is to ask,
“Do I most wish that the Church would ‘get with it’
and become more like the rest of the world? 
Or do I work and pray that the world would respond to the truth
and become more and more like the Church
has always said it could be?”

“My kingdom,” says King Jesus, “does not belong to this world.”  
And yet we know that the Son of God
is not at all aloof from this world’s suffering and sadness;
in fact, wearing a crown of thorns rather than gold,
he could have hardly entered into it more completely. 
Christ’s victory is won and his dominion established,
not by any earthly force or success,
but through a love that’s stronger even than death. 
While his kingship is from above,
it has the power to transform this world from the inside. 
Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again thoroughly in the world
while never being of the world.

Those who acknowledge—in both word and deed—
that Christ is their true King,
like him do not belong to this world (cf. Jn 17:16). 
With him, we too can be agents
for this world’s transformation from within…
…but  only if we remain “outsiders.” 

You’re a subject of the eternal King! 
You’re a citizen of his heavenly Kingdom! 
Resist every temptation to "go native."

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