Sunday Homily for November 23, 2008
Thirty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (34A)
By Fr. Phil Bloom
Bottom line: God invites us to accept Jesus as "the first fruits."
Many stories are told about Fr. Richard Roach - a Jesuit priest who died on November 7. Fr. Roach spent most of his life as a university professor before becoming pastor of one of the islands in Puget Sound - Vashon Island. His homilies were like condensed university lectures. Using the Bible and human reason, he helped people understand God, Christ, the sacraments and the Church. He drew Catholics, others Christians - and the plain curious.
One was a lawyer who grew up believing all religions were fables and Catholicism was the worst of all. The lawyer listened intently and met privately with Fr. Roach. After much study, he told Fr. Roach, "what you say attracts me a lot, but I just can't decide."
Fr. Roach looked at him and said, "You are a lawyer. Why don't you ask yourself where the preponderance of evidence leads you?" The man soon accepted baptism and received confirmation and Communion. He is now an active member of the parish.
I tell this story because today is Christ the King Sunday. For an entire liturgical year you have heard Jesus' teaching and miracles. Now on this final Sunday of the Church year, you are asked to make a decision: Where does this evidence lead you? For me the preponderance of evidence is this: God exists; Jesus is God and he founded the Catholic Church.
On Christ the King Sunday we affirm that Jesus is the key to creation and human history. St. Francis de Sales makes a helpful comparison.* He writes about how a vineyard owner plants a vine and cares for it. The first things that appears on the vine are leaves and flowers, but the grower is not so concerned about them. He focuses his attention on what comes at the end: the grapes. Just so, observes St. Francis, when God created the universe, first came the stars, then life, animals and human beings.
The final goal, however, is Christ. Many generations came before him, just like the leaves and flowers appeared before the grapes. Like the grapes, Christ is the goal of the entire process. He is, as St. Paul tells us, "the first fruits." When the first cluster of grapes appears, the owner knows that many more will follow.
As we conclude the liturgical year, we have a decision to make. God has placed a beautiful and awesome universe before us. He has filled our lives with mystery. He has left us a record of the words and acts of Jesus. He invites us to accept Jesus "the first fruits."
Sometimes you will hear a Protestant brother ask, "Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" When we recognize him as the first fruits of redemption, we are doing that. We are acknowledging him as our Lord, our Savior, our King. When the first grapes appear on the vine, when the first apple forms on a tree, we know that many more will follow. Today we look to Jesus, we accept him as the first fruits of salvation. By doing so, our own redemption will follow.
Recognizing Christ as First Fruits - as the source of our redemption - is something you and I must "own." You know, one of the reasons communism failed was because it diminished the idea of ownership. If everyone owned the factories, well, it turned out nobody owned them. No one saw them as a personal possession. The same can happen to our faith. We can believed that Jesus died for all - but never apply it personally: Jesus died for me. He is my Savior. On today's Feast of Christ the King, let's "own" Jesus - just as he owns you and me. He belongs to me - not as some kind of toy - but like grapes on a vine. He is the first fruits of our redemption. He belongs to me - and to you. And you and I belong to him. He is my - and your - personal Savior and King.