Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Feast of Christ the King
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Sunday, November 20, 2016
“He delivered us from the power of darkness.” Colossians 1:13
Troubled times bring out the best and the worst in us. That we live in an age of upheaval goes without saying, and these times require of us a deep and strong faith. As we observe the events that disturb our hearts and minds profoundly, two special messages come to us through our liturgy today. We are closing the Jubilee Year of Mercy and celebrating Christ the King. Let us turn first to mercy.
No better lesson of mercy do we have than the one in the Gospel. We call him the good thief who cries out to Jesus in a supreme act of faith to remember him in the Kingdom (Luke 23:42). Jesus responds that the wretched convict will without delay be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43).
I was recently reminded in my meditation of the grisly circumstances of Roman crucifixion. Our crucifixes do not always adequately convey how dreadful it was. Our Lord is depicted as modestly draped. However, the condemned in Roman times were not just nailed to crosses. They were crucified naked. Historians tell us that there is no reason to believe that our Lord was not similarly treated. Imagine the sight.
The humiliation of being entirely exposed was the ultimate commentary of the Roman state on the disdain with which it held the condemned. Under the circumstances, what Jesus said to the “good thief” must have appeared absurd to the crowd gathered around the cross.
But, as God so often does, He takes the absurd and gives it meaning. In this way our crucifix becomes for us the ultimate victory over sin and death. And Christ is a king. He is victor, a triumphant hero, who has delivered us from the powers of darkness.
As I watch the despair so prevalent in the world, I wonder where our faith is in this Gospel message. Do we really believe the proclamation of St. Paul in our second reading today: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). As I listen to the remedies proposed to counter the despair, I am truly puzzled. Do “therapy dogs” and “cry-ins” really satisfy the hunger of the human heart? I truly wonder. We all should.
History tells us that human beings have always struggled and suffered through great calamities. But for Christians to fail to recognize the power of the King from the cross is the real tragedy. The cross reassures a people of faith that the kingdom is never established on the world’s terms. All of our human efforts, even the most noble and well-intentioned, are nothing in comparison to what God can do if we only have faith.
How defeated and absurd Calvary must have seemed. Three men, dying naked on crosses, rejected, defiled, and from that human catastrophe an appeal for mercy and like a king in a royal court, “Jesus of Nazareth” proclaims, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is not the crucified who should be shamed but instead those who lack the faith to see the obvious, to comprehend the victory. “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
Bishop Glen John Provost