WITNESS TO JESUS
This is the prepared text of Bishop Silva’s homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, delivered Nov. 26 at Christ the King Church, Kahului, which is also celebrating its 85th anniversary of establishment.
It would not be a stretch to say that the Catholic Church is one of the largest social service agencies in this country and in the world. If we just look at the second collections, to which you contribute so generously, we can see numerous ways in which we, as a community of faith, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick and imprisoned and all those things the Lord mentions as our ways of recognizing and honoring him as our King.
We have Catholic Relief Services, which works overseas to bring hope to those who live in dire poverty. Catholic Charities Hawaii and Catholic Charities USA serve our local populations when they are in need. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funds grassroots projects that help the poor help themselves and break out of the cycle of poverty. We have healthcare systems and visitors to the sick and homebound. We have prison ministry to those who are incarcerated and to their families. We have outreach programs to the homeless and the hungry right here in our backyard.
If today were judgment day, perhaps we could stand tall before the Lord and have a reasonable hope to be among the sheep on the right who are admitted to the Kingdom, rather than the goats on the left who are condemned to everlasting misery.
But I wonder if this really would be enough for the Lord, or whether he might be looking for something more. Will he look only to see whether we contributed to a program that helps the poor, while we ourselves keep our distance from them? Or does he prefer our personal engagement with those who are in need? I think it would be a safe bet to say that, while it is important to fund programs that help the needy in ways we could not help as individuals, there is something very important for each of us to interact personally with those who are poor and forgotten.
I remember a story told by Father Bill Petrie, who for many years worked with St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Every week they would go to a very distant village to deliver medicines. One weeak the medicines were not delivered to Mother Teresa, so she and her companions did not go to the village. When they took the medicines there the following week, one of the men of the village asked why they had not gone there the prior week. When he was told it was because they had no medicine to deliver, he said, “You should have come anyway. Your presence is also a medicine to us.” And so we see that encountering Jesus does demand a personal commitment and a personal encounter with those who are in need.
But there is much more than service. We are not here, after all, to hone our skills as social service agents. We are here to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth. Our worship must not only be devoted attention to our King here, with our songs and prayers, but we must sing and pray to him in our daily lives in our families, in our service to the unborn, to the immigrant, to the sick, and to the lonely.
The Lord gathers us together so that we can encounter him in a special way here in the Eucharist, where he is physically present to us. But from here he sends us out on a mission to make him King not only in the safety of a church but also in those places and hearts where he is not yet enthroned, where he is not yet present as the good Shepherd who feeds and shepherds his flock. It is both here and in our service to the most vulnerable that we are challenged to see, not just what is obvious before us, but the person of the living Christ himself, present in word and sacrament, and present in our service.
I was very impressed with a reflection I once heard from the late Father Eugene Boyle of the Bay Area in California. For decades he was known as the “Social Justice Priest.” He was a personal advisor of Cesar Chavez, the organizer of farm workers in the Central Valley of California. He was the person that mayors and governors would consult when they needed advice about how to deal with racial tensions.
Father Boyle spoke about the many people he had met over the years who were dedicated to the downtrodden, to make life better for them. But he said the ones who scared him the most were those who had no spiritual base, who did not pray, but who were activists simply to be activists.
He said they were so committed to a particular ideology that seemed good that they often failed to see the people they themselves oppressed in the process. While they may have fed the hungry and given shelter to the homeless, it was not Christ they recognized in those in need, but their focus in the end was more on themselves. This is why service of Christ the King and our awareness of his presence in the suffering and the poor leads to the fullness of life, while pure social service, while meeting some real needs, ends up draining life from the community.
As we celebrate 85 years of the faith being celebrated in this parish of Christ the King, we remember how Sunday after Sunday and day after day we have honored this King by bowing down before him in worship here at this altar. But we are also challenged to honor him as well by putting that faith into practice by our service to the poor in response to the love of Christ for us, who ultimately have nothing but Him.
But it is our privilege to remember that if we recognize him in all the strange forms he may take, we will want to go out and share him with others, so that serving them, we may more effectively worship and praise Christ our beloved King.