Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King

“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”   For TV viewers of a certain age, this phrase takes us back to the bridge of the 1970’s USS Enterprise, with Doc McCoy telling Captain Kirk about the alien lifeforms on a newly-encountered planet.

When Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, asks Jesus, “Are you really a king?”, Our Lord’s response could be paraphrased as, “A King, Pontius, but not as you know it.”

Jesus is not a king after the fashion of the local warlords who plagued the frontiers of the Roman empire.  Nor is he even a king after the fashion of King David – the original model for the  shepherd-king, the king  who represents God to his people as he pours out his heart in the Psalms.  David was a warrior, and Jesus is the one who enters Jerusalem not at the head of a war-band, but riding on a donkey.

“I am the king who was born to witness to the truth,” says Jesus to Pilate, “And anyone who seeks the truth listens to my voice.”

This might remind us of a well-known verse in the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse.  “Behold!” says the Risen Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter in, and eat with him, and he with me.”  (Rev. 3:20)

This verse was famously represented by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt.  Jesus – crowned with thorns, stands somewhat wistfully outside a locked door – lantern in hand, waiting to be let in.

On the prayer cards recently distributed  by the diocese for the Year of Faith, there is another representation.  Very faintly, behind the words of the Angelus or the Anima Christi, we see a Christ figure, robed as an ordinary Roman, stooping down to knock at a door that only reaches up to his knees.

Our King is a king who stoops to knock.  The door to our heart is so small.   How can such a great King enter through that tiny door?  But this is the wonder of our faith – that the Word which thrilled the universe at its creation could become small enough to fit in Mary’s womb, humble enough to hang on the cross, and gracious enough to come to us in Bread and Wine.

33rd Sunday of the Year – Starring Pascal and Lewis

“The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.”

In the calendar of Saints, the Church presents us with a yearly “programme of study” into the great and the good of Christian history.

But it’s good to remember, too, the anniversaries of those who are not on the official list, but still made a great contribution to learning and virtue.  Two such anniversaries fall this week.

On the 22nd, shared with John F Kennedy, we commemorate the anniversary of C. S. Lewis.  Jack Lewis, an Irish Protestant, became famous during the Second World War for his radio talks on basic Christian doctrine.  After the war, he produced a series of “children’s” books which, in an accessible way, introduced many to the truths of Christianity.  Though he never showed any Romeward leanings, his work (even his fiction) is quoted by major Catholic theologians, including the current Pope.

The 23rd is a good day to remember the French polymath Blaise Pascal.  Pascal, who made contributions to physics (which is why pressure is measured in pascals) and maths (Pascal’s Triangle is a staple of A level probability), was an accomplished Catholic philosopher of the 17th century.  Challenging the thinking of Descartes, that he could see would lead ultimately to the loss of faith in God, he was famous for keeping a notebook of his “Pensées” (thoughts).

On the night of the 23rd November 1654, he wrote in his diary, “Fire.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Not the God of the philosphers or the wise…”

Pascal clearly had had some sort of powerful encounter with God, that reminded him that faith must descend from the head to the heart, if it is to be expressed in our lives.  He wrote elsewhere, “One drop of love is worth an ocean of understanding.”

As these two men shine out like stars at this dark time of the year, let us ask God that our lives, our learning, might lead others to wisdom and virtue.

Jumping Josaphat!

Yes, there really is a St Josaphat.  A bishop in the Ukranian Orthodox Church in the early 17th century, he worked hard to bring the church back in to union with the Pope and other Catholics.

This wasn’t popular with everyone, and he paid for his vision with his life.

32nd Sunday – Remembrance and Sacrifice

Since I first went on the Battlefields Pilgrimage in 2010, Remembrance Sunday has never been the same.  During the silence we observed before Mass this morning, I saw in my mind’s eye the row upon row of gravestones at Tyne Cot, and the names of the “missing dead” engraved at Thiepval and on the Menin Gate.  The Pilgrimage changed me, as it changes our students.

The readings this morning were about sacrifice, too.  The old woman, who puts two ha’pennies in the collection box, and the widow who gives her last handful of flour to make a “scone” for the prophet Elijah.

Just as learning really only takes place “at the limit” – where we have to make sense of something just beyond our current understanding, it’s “at the limit” that true giving, true sacrifice, takes place.

Many of us do not miss the odd pound coin that we put in a collecting bag, or even the  odd fiver.  We give from our surplus.  But the two women who are offered us as models today give “at the limit”.  They give from what they need.

Often, the giving that affects us in school most is the gift of time.  It is so precious, and we need every minute to plan that lesson, or answer that email.  Spending ten minutes with someone who needs us can feel like a real sacrifice.

But our readings tell us three things about that sacrifice,

First, that God sees it, as our Lord saw the sacrifice of the old woman at the temple.  He sees is, as Helen said to us recently, not because he is spying on us, but because he loves us so much he can’t take his eyes off us.

Secondly,  he will resource us in honour of our sacrifice.  As with the widow, he will not let us go hungry.  He will bless our sacrifice of time or money.

And lastly, if we give “at the limit”, then we are developing in ourselves the character of God – the one who gave the most precious thing he had, his only Son, for our sake.  That Son, who, as eternal high priest, lives for ever to take our sacrifices – on the altar or in or lives – into the eternal Temple in heaven.

May God bless our service and sacrifice this week, and may the souls of the faithful, through the mercy of God, rest in peace, and rise in glory.