November 26, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe (Year B) on November 25, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:5-8; and John 18:33b-37.
At the center of our gospel passage today lies one of the greatest questions of philosophy: “What is truth?”
It’s a fascinating question to ask in the last week of our liturgical year, on the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. All of our readings today speak of kings, kingdoms, and kingship. But the images of the LORD as almighty in our first two readings and psalm give way to a very different image in our gospel passage.
In a scene filled with dramatic irony in the Gospel of John, Pontius Pilate claims that he holds the power of death over Jesus. But in raising Lazarus, Jesus has shown power over death. Pilate asks “What is truth?” to the person we Christians believe to be the embodiment of absolute truth.
Let us allow Christ’s truth to reign in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. Then, in Eucharist, let us take Christ himself into our bodies without fear, confident in God’s mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are the way, the truth, and the life. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you are our light, our feast, and our strength. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you are our joy, our love, and our heart. Lord, have mercy.
One of my professors said that every philosophy major must go through a relativist phase. So, if you have a philosophy major that you know and love who hasn’t gone through this phase yet, give them two gifts for Christmas this year: (1) black clothing and (2) gift cards to overpriced coffee shops. Eventually, they’ll be hanging out at these venues, wearing all black, sipping double espressos, and lamenting in a dispassionate tone that there is no purpose to life. Smoking cigarettes and skipping classes? Those are optional.
I’d like to speed the philosophy majors through this phase so they can more quickly rejoin us here at church. Here, we believe that we have purpose. We believe that truth exists and it is definitive. But it will take our entire lives and all of our energy to come to understand that truth: the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We come to see truth – and to understand our purpose – as we build a personal relationship with Jesus.
The passion of St. John is simultaneously simple and complex. On one level, Jesus appears to be powerless. He is arrested by armed soldiers. He’s sentenced in a rigged trial. He becomes the latest victim crucified by the ruthless Pontius Pilate.
But John’s dramatic irony tells another story. In the presence of Christ, the corruption of the soldiers, the Jewish leaders, and the Roman government comes to light. Pontius Pilate, who tries to portray himself as all-powerful, becomes a fool. Even as he asserts power over the Jews, he shows how desperate he is for their support to stay in the good graces of Rome. As Pilate interrogates Jesus, it is Jesus who remains calm and places Pilate and the world on trial. As Pilate sneeringly asks Jesus if he is a king, Jesus responds with certitude and nobility. Because Pilate does not belong to the truth, he looks straight into the eyes of Jesus Christ and asks, “What is truth?” How ironic. How sad.
In late November 2018 across the street from the University of Texas, our idea of seeking “truth” probably comes in at least two different forms. First, with final exams rushing upon us, we probably think of concrete “truth” — something human beings can find through hard work, reading, memorization, and research. But second, when it comes to the vexing problems facing us as individuals and as a society – as we question if we’ve chosen the right major or career path, as we listen to the speeches of politicians, as the world grapples with how to face the scourge of terrorism – determining “truth” is much harder. We can’t know the right answer for sure even after we invest the hard work, reading, and research we do – although many people on the internet and cable TV seem convinced that they have the answers.
When it comes to seeking this second kind of truth, what should we do? Obviously, we should pray. That prayer should attempt to place us in conversation with Jesus Christ. Even though Jesus lived in very different circumstances than us, we believe that he is king of the universe, even our little corner of the universe in Austin in late November 2018. As we face these difficult decisions, do we allow Christ’s thoughts to enter our minds, Christ’s words to cross our lips, Christ’s love to permeate our hearts? In John’s gospel, everyone who encounters the truth of Jesus Christ is forever changed. They see their own failings and they feel the love of God. Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the woman caught in adultery are transformed in the light of this truth.
But maybe your prayer doesn’t seem to bring you to Christ’s truth. Maybe you’re paralyzed by all the less-than-ideal choices facing you and our world. Maybe you’re still not sure what choices to make. What else can you do?
Well, there is another kind of person, beside the relativist philosophy major, who hangs out at overpriced coffee shops, wearing black clothing: the Catholic priest. But priests don’t necessarily go for the caffeine (although the owner of Square Peg Coffee knows the standard orders for several of us living in the rectory). Coffee shops are a great place to talk with people who are sincerely seeking to discover the truth, whether or not they think that the truth is embodied in Jesus Christ. If you or a friend are looking for a companion on the journey toward truth, please know that I would be glad to grab coffee with you or your friend. Just call the office or e-mail me. And even though they doesn’t wear as much black as Fr. Chuck or me, the rest of our pastoral staff is glad to journey with you, too. The baristas at Starbucks would start preparing our previous Faith Formation Director’s order when they saw her outside the window! Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And the Truth will set us free.