Homily: 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
For those of us of a certain generation, “reality TV” has shaped much of our television experience. In spite of what it looks like today, reality TV began as a simple project: stick seven strangers in a house together for a certain period of time and record their lives. To see their “real, unscripted reactions” to each other, it was thought, would be just as entertaining as any scripted story-line. And, for the most part, they were right. “The Real World”, which was the name of this first “reality show”, was a big hit and the concept of “reality TV” quickly blossomed and saturated our televisions with variations on the same theme.
Just as quickly, though, it moved away from the basic concept of real people in real-life situations into sensationalism. In other words, each new show had to do more to “manufacture” drama, and its participants, it seems, had to be all the more willing to respond to it. Instead of being an opportunity to look into the lives of other human persons, and perhaps glean an insight into the mystery of human relationships, reality TV has morphed into a voyeuristic fantasy land where the only thing connected to reality, it seems, is that these people still have to eat and sleep once in a while. As a result, “reality TV” no more resembles real human life than do any of the Harry Potter films. ///
It shouldn’t be too hard for us to see that this notion of “manufactured reality” reflects our culture today. The dominant culture that we experience in the media, and which is put forth in certain politics and academia, wants us to believe that truth is relative to the person and the reality that he/she experiences in which it is interpreted. In this model, we equate experiences with truth. One example of this is “transgenderism”. In this a person experiences “gender dysphoria”: that is, that the gender with which one identifies him/herself does not align with his/her biological gender and thus experiences an internal conflict (or “dysphoria”). This experience is real. The interpretation of the experience, however—that this person must now live as if he/she is the gender opposite to his/her biological gender (possibly going to the extremes of bodily modifications in pursuit of it)—is a reality manufactured on the false notion that what this person has experienced is not just reality, but is the truth: in spite of the obvious physical data that exists to the contrary.
All of this is to highlight that to live in reality—that is, to experience the world as it really is and to flourish within it—one must interpret reality (that is, our experiences) based on what is true. In order to do this, one must begin with the most fundamental truths. The first and most true thing that we can say is that God is being itself. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and Moses asked him, “What should I tell them is your name?” God replied, “Tell them ‘I AM who AM’ sent you”: in other words, “I am existence itself”. If, therefore, God is existence itself, then he must also be the source of all that exists. And because he has shown us that he is not a distant, aloof creator, but rather a creator that cares for his creation, we know that all things that exist (which come from him) are, therefore, ordered to him. This is reality. This is true. When we get this idea backwards, however—that is, when we believe that things and experiences in existence are ordered towards me (or to some other reality that isn’t God)—is when we fall into trouble.
Given this, the dialogue that we heard in today’s Gospel is poignant. This exchange between Pilate and Jesus is the stuff of which great reality TV is made: tension, drama, suspense… and real consequences for decisions that are made. Although we didn’t hear it in today’s reading, Pilate’s next words in the Gospel—the ones that follow Christ telling him that he came to bear witness to the truth—are some of his most famous: he says “What is truth?” As a governing officer in the Roman Army, Pilate had spent years of his life following orders without question—even if it contradicted what he thought was true—and now, in the face of Truth incarnate, this “manufactured reality” distorted his view of what was really real. In other words, he could no longer see reality for what it was. Thus, he was trapped in a conflict between Truth (capital “T”) that stood before him and the truth (small “t”) under which he had been living for most of his life. He had ordered his reality to the false truth that all things are ordered to Caesar and the empire and so, in the conflict between his truth and Truth itself, he ignored what was really real and chose to live in his falsehood.
The abuse crisis that we have been suffering through in the Church has this disordering of reality as part of its cause. The actions of individual priests were reprehensible and the result of a criminal indulgence of the temptations to sin. The responses of some in authority over those priests was also reprehensible and betrayed, it seems, that those men had ordered their reality to the truth that the institution of the Church was the ultimate good, instead of God (and, specifically, his commands to protect the most vulnerable). It is a sad reality from which we must now recover.
And we will recover, if we re-order our reality to the truth that we celebrate today: that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe: that is, that he is Lord—Dominus, in Latin, he who dominates—over all that exists. If we see that all that exists comes from him who existed before all things and is, therefore, ordered to him, then we have a solid truth on which to interpret our reality (that is, all that we experience); and, thus, we can live in confidence that our reality is not a manufactured reality, but a true reality that will lead us to true happiness and peace.
Friends, it is no mere coincidence that this feast also closes our liturgical year. Celebrating the kingship of Christ at the end of our liturgical year invites us to rejoice: in the truth that all things in the universe are created from and subject to a king who has suffered and died for us—and who now lives again forever—so that we, too, can live forever in him; and to lament and repent from the ways in which our lives have not conformed to that truth and thus strive (making a “new year’s resolution” even) to order our lives completely to this truth and to work so that the world around us might also be ordered to this truth. This Eucharist is the foremost way in which we do this: ordering our praise, worship, and thanksgiving to God, who is its source. Our 40 hours devotion, which begins tonight, is a privileged time to reflect on this truth, as well, and so I hope that you all will find an hour to spend with our Lord in adoration during these 40 hours.
My brothers and sisters, in a few moments we will have the opportunity to look directly at Truth Incarnate: the King who reigns over all existence. If we have any doubt about what is true, let us not fail to ask him—not like Pilate, who asked in frustration, but in humility—“Lord, what is truth?” and then listen with open hearts for what he will reveal to us. Friends, if we can do this, we will then be prepared for the greatest reality show of all time: the triumphant return of Christ our King.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – November 25th, 2018