Sunday, May 31, 2009

11-23-2008: Christ the King (A)

Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17/Psalm 23/1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28/Matthew 25:31-46
Anyone would be impressed upon entering the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and seeing Michelangelo’s interpretation of today’s gospel of the Last Judgment with flailing bodies dropping into the fiery flames of hell and faces melting into oblivion. Michelangelo originally painted those figures as nudes with exposed genitalia, causing quite a stir. Cardinal Carafa vehemently protested to Pope Clement VII that the painting seemed better suited for a bordello than serving as the backdrop for Mass. But Clement (who had commissioned the work) insisted that his jurisdiction didn’t extend into hell so the painting would remain as it had been created. It wasn’t till after the Council of Trent (1565) that the exposed genitalia were draped in fig leaves and the like, suggesting rather foolishly, that even hell might have a dress code.

From the apocalyptic parable in today’s gospel to Michelangelo’s Last Judgment to contemporary frenzy about global warming, we human beings have a penchant for drama especially when it mingles with the prospect of the end of things. And things did get a bit dramatic after Proposition 8 passed in California on Election Day, effectively doing away with same-sex marriage. Although passing because of the support of black and Hispanic voters, it was the Mormon Church which was accused of financing passage of the bill, drawing the ire of the gay opposition. Mormon temples and some churches became the object of protest and derision; some were defaced and damaged. Meanwhile the Knights of Columbus, in full regalia, marched in favor of the bill’s passing. On the other hand, those in favor of same-sex marriage (gay and straight) bitterly protested the passage of Prop 8, claiming homophobic prejudice. The fact that the proposition defined marriage as between one man and one woman, stressing gender and not number, was not lost on those who are familiar with Mormonism’s own difficulty concerning number if not gender.

Then there are those of us who just don’t see the issue as all that important or culturally defining in any significant way. If gay people are let to marry, does that really portend the end of the institution of marriage. And if civil unions are permitted nation-wide, duly protecting the rights of couples in a relationship, is it really that important they call it marriage. Both sides seem to think that if their side loses, the end of the world will most surely be next. Catholics should know that whether or not same-sex marriage is permitted or not in the civil sphere, it will have absolutely no effect in the religious sphere. As it is, Catholic marriage law doesn’t make it especially easy for anyone to marry. Two baptized Catholics, for example, can’t even validly marry in Crocheron Park -- whatever their gender.

The Feast of Christ the King marks the end of the church’s year and, by liturgical extrapolation, reminding us of the end of the world as well. There are many things infinitely more important than Proposition 8 which now cause a lot of anxiety about the future. If anything we need less fear, a less judgmental attitude, more calm and equanimity. Our daily prayer at Mass suggests a more fruitful direction as we face those formidable challenges ahead: Protect us Lord from all anxiety and grant us peace in our day.

Perhaps the Feast of Christ, King and Lord of the Universe, a bold and audacious feast, encourages us to face those daunting challenges with a bit more optimism and a bit less fear, embracing the future with a grounded equanimity rather than a free-floating anxiety. So, don’t get sidetracked by unimportant distractions. Take a cue from a renaissance pope like Clement VII who, though accused of many things, steadfastly refused to sacrifice beauty for a false modesty. When we end up fighting over fig leaves, we blind ourselves to the crisis. And did you know that the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters: one meaning “danger” and the other “opportunity.” Solutions to wide-scale problems and remedies for injustice depend on our awareness of both.

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