Thursday, April 17, 2014

The kingdoms of this world fadeth away...

Regna Mundi Corrunt [1]

Homily for Palm & Passion Sunday
Thirteenth of April, MMXIV

Parish of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Union Street)
Parish of Saint Joseph (Troy, NY-Extraordinary Form)

Rev. Michael Taylor

And the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying,
“Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
Hosanna in the highest!” [2]

And Pilate saith to them: “Why, what evil hath he done?”
But the multitude cried out all the more: “Crucify him!” [3]

Todos tus monstruos son de papel...
One of the many tales told by Hans Christian Andersen was that of “The Court Cards.” The story goes something along these lines. A young boy named William decides to construct for himself a castle, using thick packaging paper to help make his dream come true. He drew and colored the castle, even creating a little moat where a draw bridge could be lowered and raised. William populates the castle with the royal members from his father’s pack of playing cards, the court cards, if you will. There stands the King of Roses, majestic in his attire, the Queen of Clubs, with long and eloquent veil, and all others attired in similar fashion. As the young boy is playing with the cards, one of the Jacks, the Jack of Hearts to be exact, comes alive, and begins to speak to William. He asks William what audacity he has to intrude upon the castle of his Lord and Lady, the King and Queen of Hearts. William informs him that the castle is actually his, for he has built it. The Jack informs him that this is pure folly, and that, truth be told, any of the royal cards could leave the walls of this castle, only, it more convenient, more conducive, more agreeable to staying where they are.
Sic transit gloria mundi...
William asks the knight if they were at once human beings, to which the response is, “Yes, were, but not so good as we ought to have been!” The Jack informs young Master William that he ought to light a candle for him, the Jack, out of respect. William goes and finds a red candle and offers it to the Jack who begins to tell him the tale of the reign of the House of Hearts. The Jack begins, saying, “The Golden Age was so very good. In fact, when they dined, they dined buttering both sides of their toast, which of course was then garnished with a generous topping of brown sugar. The King and Queen never had to go to school, but could just spend all day playing. But they got tired and the realm passed to the House of Diamonds.” At this the Jack of Hearts ceases moving. William, frustrated, tries everything, but then realizes he must go to the Jack of Diamonds, who of course, demands a candle, out of respect. Not only for him, but for his Lord and Lady, the King and Queen of Diamonds.

"In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
that on the ashes of his youth doth lie…"
Shakespeare, Sonnet 73
The Jack of Diamonds says, “You’ll note both my Liege and Lady have within their breast, a glass window, wherein all their subjects could look into their lives, and marvel at the splendor of the royal court. A monument was erected to them, which stood for seven years. It should have stood forever, but for some unknown reasons it fell.” The Jack of Diamonds thus froze, his eyes fixed upon the fire. At this point, William moves to the Jack of Clubs, who cried out, “Wax Candle! Wax Candles for all the members of the House of Clubs!” The Jack then went on to tell his tale. “We didn’t get butter on both sides of the bread, much less did we see brown sugar. My King and Queen did not get it. They had to go to school to learn what had not been learnt before. They too had windows within their chests, but here the kingdom only seemed to look into the windows in order to find something to criticize.” With that, he too froze, eyes fixed upon the candle.

"Those banners come to bribe or threaten,
or whisper that the man's a fool
who, when his own right king's forgotten,
cares what king sets up his rule.
If he died ling ago,
why do you dread us so?"
Yeats, The Black Tower
William had candle white as snow at the ready for the last Jack. The Jack of Spades limped into the middle of the drawing room. Tired and worn, he began his tale. “The history and trials of my Lord and Lady are well known and attested. So poor their lot, they have a gravedigger’s spade adorning their clothes. Surely, my Lord and Lady deserve more candles in respect for what they have suffered.” William goes and gets even more candles so that now the whole of the interior of the castle is bathed in light. The Kings and Queens of the all the Houses begin their waltzes, going through their motions and bows, their customs and courtesies. But of course, when you put too many candles into a castle built of paper, a mishap is certain to happen. First the tower went, and then the walls, and then the very playing cards themselves. William runs to his parents, tears streaming down his cheeks, crying out, “I am innocent of the destruction of the castle.” And, as Hans Christian Andersen concluded, it was not his fault that the castle was burnt down.

"Thus hath the candle singed the moth.
O, these deliberate fools! when they do choose,
they have the wisdom by their wit to lose."
Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
Why do I tell that story? Well, Hans Christian Andersen, being born in 1805 and living until 1875, lived through a rather rough transition period within the European continent. Andersen himself came from a line of Danish nobility which had fallen on harder times. As such, Andersen had to leave home at the age of 14 to work as an weaver’s apprentice and tailor. As to the Continent, the concept of monarch was a rather bruised and tattered one. Whether it was the ruins of the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, the restitution of the French Monarch, only for the French Republic to reestablish itself. There were the wars in Greece, the Crimean Wars (which of course would never experience any drama afterwards) and the wars within the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.  There was of course the unification of Italy in the 1860s (creating the Kingdom of Italy, and with it the fall of the Kingdom of Naples, Venice, Sardinia and the Two Sicilies. There was the move towards German unification (which would occur in 1871), and with it the loss of many of the Germanic kingdoms, principalities, and duchies. Andersen published the above story in 1869, and so right in the midst of all of these developments.  It’s easy to criticize power and to imagine that we hold knowledge of the way things ought to be.
Heavy the Head that wears the Crown

Now think of the juxtaposition of our gospels today. The multitude cheers for Jesus as he enters the city of David. Yet that very same multitude cries for his death not even a week later. Why? Because Jesus was not the king they expected. He did not do what they wanted him to do. Think of the person of Judas. In Matthew’s gospel, he is known as a Zealot,[4] belonging to the group of people that thought that the messiah would be the one to overthrow the Romans and cleanse Jerusalem of corruption. Some hypothesize from this that Judas, having seen the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, was trying to force Jesus into revealing himself and starting the revolution. In Mark and John’s Gospel, Judas is greedy and corrupt, the keeper of the purse and the thief thereof, [5] thus his willingness to sell Jesus out.  Regardless, Judas, like almost all the rest, didn’t know who Jesus was and therefor didn’t understand the kingdom of God. The Cross is the throne of Christ, for by it’s power, the kingdom of sin and death are conquered. It is why Paul said, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. [6] Yet the world could not see that. Even Christ’s own disciples could not see that which is why they fled as soon as he was arrested. It’s easy for us to stand by Christ when his teachings are popular. It’s easy to stand by Christ when he’s doing things the world admires. Can we stand by him when his teachings invite ridicule? Can we stand by him when it means embracing the cross? As our Lord said, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.[7]

It's not always a figure of speech...

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to pray solemn vespers with now Bishop Sharfenberger. One of the requirements before ordination to any level is to make an oath of fidelity in the presence of the people of God, usually with one's hand on a book of the gospels. I’ve actually had to do it three times, once before becoming Catholic, once before diaconate, and the last time was before priesthood ordination. In addition to reciting the Creed, the oath contains the following words,

“With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.
 I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith morals.”

"God's mercy and grace allowing,
This is the faith by which
I intend to live and die within."
I wonder how many of us could make the same oath. Because when we want to accept the easy parts, but not the entirety, we become like Peter. We begin distancing ourselves, pushing ourselves away from the suffering of Christ, from the cross of Christ, from the truth of Christ. When we say that “sure we’re Catholics, but I don’t believe this” or “I’m not one of those Catholics”, we deny Christ, because we deny that he is king of our lives. Either he is king of all or he is king of nothing. We deny the Holy Ghost [8] who enlivens and quickens the Church.[9] It’s easy to proclaim Christ Jesus on Palm Sunday. Today we lifted palms in the air, but Good Friday is coming. Today we cried out, “Hosanna in the highest; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” but Good Friday is coming. Today we proclaimed Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But Good Friday is coming. On whose side will you be found on the day of the cross?

"And they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced;
and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for an only son,
and they shall grieve over him, as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn."
Zechariah 12.10

[1] The kingdoms of this world fadeth.
[2] Matthew 21.9
[3] Mark 15.14
[4] cf. Matthew 10.4- The name Iscariot, indicates membership in a group of zealots known as “dagger-men” from the sicarri. See Bastiaan van Iersel, Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary. Continuum International. 1998, p. 167. Other scholars hold that it was more a denotion of where he was from, the city of Kerioth.
[5] John 12.1-6; cf. Mark 14.1-6
[6] Galatians 6.14
[7] Matthew 16.24
[8] Catechism of the Catholic Church §79: “The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: ‘God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church- and through her in the world- leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.” [SEE II Vatican Council. Dei Verbum. 8 #3 and Colossians 3.16]
[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church §749: “The article concerning the Church also depends entirely on the article about the Holy Spirit, which immediately precedes it. “Indeed, having shown that the Spirit is the source and giver of all holiness, we now confess that it is he who has endowed the Church with holiness.” [Roman Catechism 1,10, 1]. The Church is, in a phrase used by the Fathers, the place, ‘where the Spirit flourishes’ [St. Hippolytus, Traditio Apostolica, 35].”

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