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Posts Tagged ‘Chartres Cathedral’

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Is Christ Our King?

Six evenings a week, during dinner, one of the monks reads to the rest of us as we eat.  He opens with a short chapter from the Rule of Saint Benedict, during which we sit in silence.  Then he turns to some book, and as he begins to read we begin to eat.  And so it goes, and we usually go through that book cover to cover, no matter how many weeks or months it takes.

As you can imagine, it’s tough to find a book that suits every taste.  Still, every now and again there’s a text that grabs our collective attention, at least for a while.  This fall we read just such a book, one entitled The Pope Who Would Be King.

To me it was fascinating to learn how Pope Pius IX struggled to hold on to the Papal States in the 1860s, even as the Italian nationalist armies closed in on Rome.  For a thousand years popes had ruled a big chunk of central Italy, and they presided not so much as popes but as kings.  They administered justice, tried to keep the peace, and managed an economy.  A few of them even put on armor and led their troops in the field.    Likely the most famous of these was Julius II, who earned the title The Warrior Pope for wearing armor at the siege of Bologna.  And then there were the mixed messages that resulted from being both pope and king.  Just a few days ago Pope Francis spoke of the thief whom the papal executioner beheaded in the 1860s.  Francis recalled the story with regret, but he also noted that that’s the way it was back then.  For better and largely for worse, many in the Church could not imagine an independent pope without an independent papal state to protect him.

57C125FB-C6BB-421C-83D5-131150E5D696Well, the Papal States fell anyway, despite the prayers of Pius IX.  And if he never got over it, popes like John XXIII and John Paul II and Francis have never regretted the loss for a minute.  Who could possibly want the responsibility of governing central Italy?!

I bring all this up as a preamble to a few thoughts I’d like to share on the feast of Christ the King.  To me it’s always seemed oddly out of place to think of Jesus Christ as king.  Granted that there have been many good kings, it’s also true that the word king carries a lot of baggage.  So when I think of kings I recall Henry VIII and Louis XIV and the Russian tsars.  Their royal authority seemed to be all about power and its arbitrary exercise.  And as for the common people and individual rights, those concerns scarcely mattered.  This was the sort of authority that marched young men by the millions into the trenches of World War I, and it was a march from which those same millions never returned.  So for better or for worse, that’s what I think of when I hear the word king.  And king is a word I don’t usually pin on Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel Jesus goes out of his way to stress that he is no earthly king.  To Pilate he protests that he has not come into this world to take and exercise power.  He has come neither to crush the opposition nor to force people to live by rules he would impose on them.  If he were a king, Jesus told Pilate, he would be a different kind of king and his kingdom would not be of this world.

BAE143F4-491A-4EA6-B1B2-55E2900D5D62If Jesus is king, then what in the world does that mean?  Is it merely longing for the good old days when churches exercised power in contests with secular authority?  Perhaps a few yearn for a return to those days;  but if we are to believe the words in today’s gospel, it cannot be that way for a follower of Jesus.

Obviously there’s a lot more to kingship than the exercise of raw power, and that’s what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with Pilate.  The kingship of Jesus is an intangible one.  It’s one that looks forward to the day when Christ will be all in all.  Jesus anticipates the day when he as king will wipe away every tear and clothe each one of us in the dignity for which he created us.  And that is when we will finally set foot into the kingdom of God.

But if that describes the day of resurrection, what might the kingship of Jesus mean for us here and now?  Ought it make any difference when we walk out of this church?  Well, I’d like to offer two points for us to mull over.

First, as king Jesus asks us to take stock of the direction of our lives.  Down what paths have we chosen to walk?  What are our values?  To what or to whom do we orient ourselves?  Do we exploit other people?  Do we live mainly to acquire stuff and push other people around?  Do we live for the moment, with no regard for the feelings of others?  Certainly people choose these options, and I confess that there have been moments when I’ve been in that number.  But unfortunately these are traits of the kingship that Jesus rejects.

8F66A809-EF03-4747-AF09-117F1C74B381For his part Jesus as king offers an alternative model to earthly kingship, and it’s one that has a focus on the needs of others.  As king Jesus begins and ends by asking us to make the most of our talents — wasting neither the opportunity to develop them nor the chance to use them in service to others.  In short, Jesus invites us to share in his nobility, and it’s a nobility not of blood but of service.

Second, when Jesus asks us to clothe ourselves in a nobility of spirit, we must remember one important bit.  His is an invitation and not a command.  Jesus respects our freedom, and he does not determine in advance our success or failure.  Each of us must choose how to live our lives, and so we have the option to make the most of our lives or the option to choose blind alleys and dead ends.

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, who as king awaits us with open arms at the end of time.  But life with Jesus also begins now, and he sets before us his invitation to live in a nobility that has little to do with power and everything to do with a service of love to one another.

So today let our prayer be simple and pure.  “Lord you have called each of us to share in your royal priesthood, and you have set us apart for sacred duties.  Be with us always as we try to translate into deeds the words with which you encourage us.  Amen.”

7BEE6903-076A-49E2-B4E1-BE90D460F054NOTES

+On Sunday November 25th I presided at the abbey Mass, and today’s post is the sermon I delivered.  It is based on the gospel for the day, John 18: 33-37.  The book to which I refer is by David Kertzer and entitled The Pope Who Would Be King:  The Exile of Pius IX and the Emergence of Modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 2018.)

+On November 24th I attended the football game between Saint John’s and Whitworth University, which Saint John’s won 45-24.  Saint John’s now continues into the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.  That game will be in Texas, and I won’t be there.

+On November 24th we celebrated the memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and his fellow Vietnamese martyrs.  Brother Emmanuel, a Vietnamese Cistercian monk studying with us, read the first text Vietnamese, which I think must be a first in the abbey church.  Then he and three of his confreres sang the meditation Psalm in Vietnamese, which also had to be a first for us.

+Thanksgiving, as usual, was a lovely day and dinner in the abbey refectory was both festive and good.  That afternoon I celebrated by taking a walk and by spending two hours watching and listening to John Rutter music videos.  I am a major fan of English choral music, and I thoroughly enjoy Rutter’s work.  And as for Thanksgiving, I count it as the official start of  the choral Christmas music season.

+The photos in today’s post all show images from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres.  Typical of medieval cathedrals, Jesus sits in majesty in the tympanum over the entry, from which perch he greets pilgrims and reminds them that someday he will have the final word.

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imageThe Pilgrimage to Santiago

For the last three weeks I’ve followed the travels of a friend who is making the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela.  Santiago sits in the far northwestern corner of Spain, and pilgrims have been going there since the 9th century.  They’ve gone primarily to venerate the relics of the Apostle James, which are enshrined in the venerable 12th-century cathedral.  But as often as not it’s the trip itself that has drawn pilgrims by the tens of thousands;  and the tide shows no sign of letting up as we’ve entered the new century.

Several years ago the Spanish government caved into the popularity of this pilgrimage route and repaired and repaved the dangerous pathway that runs across the north of the country.  In the middle ages the road was much longer, with four trailheads that began in the middle of France.  Once in Spain the routes converged, only to split into northern and southern routes.  Today scarcely anyone has the time to begin the journey in France, which is just as well since there likely is no road to follow.  And today everyone takes the southerly route via León, which is still a challenge despite any modern amenities.  Whether by foot or bike, the trip requires a major investment of time and energy, but at least it’s not dangerous like it was in the middle ages.

imageI confess that I’ve only done this pilgrimage by coach, so I’ve never had the blisters and aching knees that those who are truly pilgrims continue to enjoy.  Nonetheless, I’ve been able to hear enough stories from bonafide pilgrims to appreciate what they go through en route.

First off, one naturally asks why anyone in their right mind would want to do this.  Why take off weeks from a job or abandon a comfortable home just to tromp through crummy weather and a rugged and often lonely landscape?  Well, there’s one reason I long ago crossed off the list.  People do not make the trek to Santiago because they have nothing else to do.  People who are addicted to the recliner in the den are the least likely candidates to do this.  People who are chronically bored rank a close second.  People who wonder what to do to fill up their day rank third.  In short, almost all the people who walk to Santiago do so for a reason, and the non-adventurous need not apply.

imageThose reasons vary, of course.  Some do it because they are at a crossroads in their lives and have to sort things out or do some serious soul-searching.  Others go because they have lost someone dear to them.  Still others go to mend fences or come to terms with broken relationships.  And others do it for the sheer joy of testing their limits by walking several hundred miles.  Can they do it without taking a week off at the spa?

A second important lesson about this pilgrimage is that one never travels alone.  People may take their first cautious steps out onto the road, thinking they don’t know a soul.  But within a mile or two people tend to link up and travel together.  En route they share their stories, and soon enough therapy and camaraderie blur together.  People begin to support one another;  and as is the case with life, they sometimes move on to join new clusters of pilgrims, only to rejoin friends they had made a hundred miles earlier.

imagePretty soon a pattern emerges, and the parallels to normal life start to emerge.  Of course absent from all this walking is the busyness that crowds the daily routine at home.  Shorn of trips to the mall and time spent at the office or in front of the television, the pilgrimage route tends to reduce life to its bare-boned basics.  What the pilgrim soon confronts is the endless horizon, but in getting there each step counts for something.

Pilgrimage to anywhere is a metaphor for life in general and Christian life in particular.  The nice thing about Santiago is that there’s a clear destination and a decently-marked trail to get there.  One also has roughly some idea of how long it will take until arrival.

Unlike the road to Santiago, normal life isn’t quite so tidy.  There are all sorts of uncertainties about destination and duration, and there may be lots of detours along the way.  But in common with Santiago, how one gets there is all-important.  Each step along the way counts for something.

imageVeterans of the road to Santiago all comment on the renewed appreciation for life that they’ve come home with.  They’ve learned to savor the little things, which is one lesson that comes from miles and miles through endless fields and forests and mountains.  And most of all, they come home with a renewed respect for their fellow travelers.  On the road to Santiago there are no strangers, because everyone eventually becomes a fellow pilgrim, and together they walk the road with the Lord.

In a few days my friend will reach Sahagún, which is the site of a once-great Benedictine abbey.  It was in Sahagún where I learned my last and best lesson from the pilgrimage.  It was there that I met a  young German woman who had decided to start her pilgrimage in Seville, far in the south of Spain.  Nobody does the pilgrimage from Seville, because there is no hiking path from Seville.  My first thought was that she must be crazy.  Then I recalled the parable of the wedding banquet, when the host went out to the byways and invited any and all into the feast.  That’s when I realized that this woman may have been eccentric, but she was a metaphor for the Church.  Whether we start in Seville or Arles or in Barcelona, it is the Lord who will gather us in.  And many other surprises will await us as well.

imageNotes

+On May 18th and 19th I attended the annual retreat of the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University, held at Saint John’s.

+On May 23rd Saint John’s Preparatory School held its graduation exercises in the abbey church.

+The pictures in today’s post were taken by Michael Becker, who photographed the recent ordination of Fr. Nick Kleespie as priest and Brother Lew Grobe as deacon, with Bishop Donald Kettler presiding.  On May 24th Fr. Nick celebrated the Eucharist at his home parish in Morris, MN.

+Santiago Compostela was likely the most popular medieval shrine in Europe, after Rome itself.  But it held no monopoly on pilgrimage, and many local and regional pilgrimage destinations emerged to entice visitors from near and far.  In the gallery on the Cathedral of Chartres you will see samples of the sculpture and stained glass that dazzled visitors from France and beyond.

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