November 22, 2009 - The Feast of Christ the King “Year B”
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Picture the scene in today's Gospel. Alone and unarmed Jesus stands in front of Pilate on trial for His life. He has been falsely accused by the Jews of stirring up trouble among the people, and of telling them that it was wrong to pay taxes to Caesar.
Pilate soon saw that Jesus was innocent of all those charges. He even said so. He declared Jesus innocent before the religious leaders. But the religious leaders began to exert political pressure on him. They threatened to report Pilate to Rome for letting someone whom they claimed was an enemy of Caesar, go free.
Now the focus shifted from Jesus to Pilate. Pilate was now the one on trial. Would Pilate do what was right even though that might make his life difficult or would he bow to political pressure and give in to the demands that might appease the crowd and make Pilate’s life more bearable?
Jesus tried to help him make the right decision by assuring him that Jesus' kingdom was no threat to Caesar. To Pilate’s questions Jesus replied “ Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.”
And you can tell that that answer did bother Pilate because he struggled with it. But then he began to compromise. He considered what doing the right thing would cost him. He tried to appease Jesus' accusers — first by having Jesus scourged, and then by releasing Barabas. That should silence them and save the innocent man’s life. When even this didn't satisfy them, Pilate bowed to the political pressure and handed Jesus over to them.
Pilate knew what he had done. He called for water and scrubbed his hands in the vain hope of cleansing himself of the stain of innocent blood. And so, in the end, he is the one who stands condemned. He was in control. He had all the power. With just a snap of his fingers he could have set Jesus free. He knew that what he was doing was wrong.
Yet out of fear for his own position, he choose to do what he figured would take the pressure off of himself. He chose to do what he figured would make his life easier. Pilate allowed the most innocent person ever to walk this earth to go to his death. For the sake of convenience Pilate allowed Jesus to be crucified.
His cowardice contrasts sharply with the quiet courage of Jesus.
How many times in our lives have we bowed to pressure and for the sake of convenience, denied Jesus and His teachings in order to take the pressure off; in order to “make our lives bearable”, for the sake of convenience. Today our political leaders are frequently subjected to similar pressures. Pressure groups get on to them, threatening to put them out of office unless they get their way. And so at one time or another, all of us come under pressure. All of us find ourselves on trial. We have to constantly make decisions about right and wrong. By the way we live, but especially by our attitude towards faith and morals, we declare whether we are on the side of Christ and His kingdom, or whether like Pilate we take the way of evasion and cowardice or convenience.
Because, my friends, it is not possible to remain neutral. Our consciences won’t let us stay neutral. If correctly formed, our consciences will tell us whether or not what we have done violates the law of God. However, if not properly formed our consciences will mislead us and might even let us think that what we have done was the right thing. We won’t even feel bad about it.
Have we been misled by our poorly formed consciences?
We all hold positions now on Euthanasia, on abortion, on contraception, on same sex marriage, on divorce, on pre-marital sex, on adultery. Is our position the same as the Church’s on these issues? If not, why not? Have we made certain that the moral decisions we made were the right ones based on full knowledge of the teachings of the church.
Have we made decisions which will affect our eternal life based on lack of the truth, half truths or on the whole truth? How many people who have practiced contraception have ever read the encyclical Humanae Vitae (on Human Life)? If we have not then how could we in good conscience have practiced contraception? Could it be that we have formed our consciences based on the opinions of others rather than church teaching?
That is why not knowing what the church really teaches on any particular subject keeps us in the dark.
No wonder we can feel good about it and say it doesn’t bother us therefore it must be ok. What is ok? We have made decisions without educating ourselves and forming our consciences properly. We have dulled our consciences as to what is right and wrong. Why would we expect to feel bad about something we know nothing about?
Sometimes we may have let ourselves be led astray by someone in the Church whom we respect and whom we thought should have all the right answers. In that case it may not be our entirely our fault but rather the blame would be shared with those who have led us astray. But that still does not take away our responsibility to find out what God thinks about what we are about to do or have done.
There is a great deal of confusion—even among Catholics—about what our conscience really is. Some people think that if you don’t feel bad about something, if it doesn’t really bother you then what you are doing or have done must be ok. Unfortunately that is not the case. Conscience has very little to do with how you feel about it.
Sometimes we confuse our conscience with our emotions or our opinions, but conscience is neither of these either. It is not our conscience that decides whether something is right or wrong. Rather, the conscience tells us whether or not we have violated a known law of God. It stands to reason then that if we don’t know what the law of God is how can we violate it? We need to know what that law is and what God says about it before we can violate it.
It’s not our conscience that tells us that murder is wrong. Rather our conscience properly formed will tell us that we have violated God’s law against killing. Educating ourselves about that law is what we call forming our conscience. One of the main ways that Catholics form their conscience on any particular matter is to educate themselves on the topic through the teaching of the church.
The teaching of the church will tell us what God thinks about it. That’s the way God set it up. Not the church’s opinion but the church’s teaching. We need to know what the church teaches.
Otherwise we might think we are doing right and even feel good about it but could be acting in direct opposition to God’s law.
How many of us have turned away from the teachings of the Holy Father and the Church choosing instead to form our consciences from popular opinion or the teachings of dissenting theologians, bishops, priests, sisters or lay people without even bothering to read the church documents.
If we do that then we cannot say that we have properly formed our conscience. When we reject the church’s teachings without even reading them that may very well put us in a position of denying the truth.
Not the church’s opinion but the church’s teaching. Everyone else has an opinion – it’s the church who presents God’s teaching on the matter. And that’s why it’s the church’s teaching that should carry the most weight in forming our conscience.
After all, not educating ourselves as to what the church really teaches on the subject, and then doing something contrary to what the church teaches is in fact choosing to tell ourselves that we are right and the church is wrong on this issue.
And we need to know - that when we do that knowingly and purposefully - we are not exonerated from the guilt of the wrongful action we are about to commit or have committed.
We may just be washing our hands, and like Pilate proclaiming our innocence, but like Pilate we are not innocent but rather we are guilty as charged. Don’t you find it amazing that sometimes when we act contrary to church teaching we act as though we believed that the Holy Spirit has given us the truth because we wouldn’t want to do anything contrary to God’s will - and yet we fail to realize that in order for the Holy Spirit to have given us the truth, He must at the same time have misled the Holy Father and our Church in order to do so.
And if that is the case then Holy Scriptures are contradicted and Jesus is a liar. Think about it. This means that Jesus must not have meant it when He said to His Apostles and to their successors “Whoever hears you – hears me “. And, Lo, I am with you until the end of the age. He also told His disciples that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven.”
If we are in opposition to the church on any teaching, which one do you think is being guided by the Holy Spirit and which one is being guided by popular opinion and the world? If we are in opposition to a church teaching - one of us has to be wrong.
My friends, there is a battle being waged between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, the kingdom of lies and the kingdom of truth, the kingdom of evil and the kingdom of good. The culture of life and the culture of death. In the end what side do we want to be on? Where do we want to spend eternity with our King or away from Him?
In the end our decisions now will tell which side we were on. Because in the end that is the side we will be on for all eternity. Let us never forget, however, that the Father's love and mercy are at the heart of the Kingdom. Jesus didn't tell us to fear the last day, only to be ready for it.
What a joy it will be for us to belong to Christ and His kingdom. We can always repent and turn back to God. It’s never too late until we are dead. Salvation is always a gift of God. He gives it most freely to those who know they are poor and who ask for it with empty hands and expectant hearts.
And that’s the way it will be my friends if we turn away from sin and let our lives be ruled by His spirit. In our own small way we need to work for the spread of His kingdom – which is a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, a kingdom of happiness and justice, a kingdom of love and peace.
God Bless you
Deacon Bernie Ouellette