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  • Writer's pictureChurch of St. Mark

From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jun 23, 2024)

Twelfth Sunday

I am no socio-political analyst. But I do think we have witnessed a decline in both the prestige and dignity of the office of our nation’s president in the last 30 (60?) years. Whether on the part of the press, the populace, or other politicians, the person of the president simply does not command the respect or reverence that it once did, even from members of his own party. Bush, Trump, Biden… gone are the days when punches directed at these men will get pulled on account of their office. 

That development can be understood as part of a larger process of generalized self-disillusionment our nation is going through. After maintaining an exceptionally high conception of our institutions (surely exaggerated in some ways, but also based on the recognition of some extraordinary gifts and accomplishments), patriotism is perhaps at an all-time low. Case in point: according to my sister (who works in the industry) a major U.S retailer (based in MN) is sourcing merchandise decorated with stripes or stars in its entrance-area discount display, but not products with stars and stripes. They might as well burn George Washington in effigy!   

The effect for the nation, surely, is a negative one. But for American Catholics, it is an opportunity both to correct some in-bred idolization of our political order, and to better appreciate a long-neglected but oh-so-important aspect of our faith. Namely, that our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil 3:20). And not just in Heaven: our primary “nationality” is to the Kingdom that is not of this world (cf. Jn 18:36) yet is called to be salt of the earth and light of the world. St. Peter even calls Christians “aliens and exiles” in this life (1 Pe 2:11), who long for their heavenly homeland as they sojourn in this valley of tears. 

In fact, if one reads the Acts of the Apostles, especially its descriptions of the early Church in Jerusalem (but also the communities Paul founded throughout the Mediterranean), a key truth emerges: the apostles were inviting people not just into a new religion, but a new, divinely-instituted polity. A kingdom in the full sense of the word. One complete with its own customs, morality, legal system, leadership, language (to an extent), and system of social assistance. Rome was right to consider this sect a threat to its power. But it was powerless to stop it. And with astonishing rapidity, that mustard seed of a Kingdom quickly grew, put forth branches, and conquered the civilized world. 

As a Church we now find ourselves back at the beginning, needing to proclaim Christ anew to those who have never (really) heard of Him. But it is well to remember that if Christians in our time succeed in truly evangelizing our nation, it will result in the Gospel permeating and transforming everything: business, culture, education, sports, science, art… and even the discount displays at the convenience store (if those survive the renaissance). 

But the most important aspect of the polity to which we belong by right of Baptism is the fact that we have a King. And what a King! A King of Love who reigns from the Cross, to whom all power in Heaven and on earth has been handed over, who now reigns until His enemies have been put under his feet, who dies no more, who always intercedes for us before the Father, and of whose kingdom there shall be no end. Christians in Paul’s time made it their politically-charged chant, “Jesus is Lord!” In our time, that cheer has become “Long live Christ the King!”

As Americans, we are naturally suspicious of monarchies. “For the people, by the people” is how we like our government. One could debate how much that ideal is actually realized in our own. But even if it were, there is an impersonal character to even the best of democracies. It’s not so much about the man as it is the office; civil servants, after office hours (or term expiry), go back to being private citizens. In contrast, a king’s subjects live in permanent, personal, direct, relationship with their sovereign. The king is for them, and they live for him. The people don’t just respect the king, they love him. And he, in turn, makes their concerns his own. 

Surely many monarchs failed to live up to that ideal. But in Christ, we have such a King. As we enter the last week of the month of the Sacred Heart, a month that will take us to the doorstep of celebrating our great nation’s founding (whether our city will recognize it with fireworks or no!), I think we have a perfect season for rejoicing to be subjects of so great a King, and to recommit to placing all things in our control under His domain, so that the kingdom of Heaven might come and leaven the land we call our home!

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