Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” - John 18: 36, 37
The liturgical year comes to a close this week as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. The cyclical nature of the life of the Church is a testament to the wisdom of God. It is fitting that we end the year meditating upon the King of the Universe, who reigns from heaven, but who desires to reign in all of our hearts. When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world,” this is what he means. He does not desire worldly power, but kingship over our hearts, our minds, and our souls. We await the Second Coming of Christ the King with the promised “new heavens and new earth,” but we can help usher it in when we allow him to rule our lives. When we do this, the Kingdom is very near, indeed.
Next week, a new liturgical year begins with the joy-filled, anticipatory season of Advent, where we prepare for and await the birth of the King, our Savior. The church year begins and ends with the same waiting. This unending cycle reflects the eternal nature of the God we long for, the God we wait for, the God who is also very near to us.
In the midst of all of this waiting, what do we do?
It is fitting that between the last Sunday of one liturgical year and the beginning of the next, there is an American holiday squeezed in called “Thanksgiving.” We naturally begin to look at life through a new lens at this time of year. We recall the blessings in our lives and recognize that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). What better way to usher in a new year than with a heart filled with gratitude?
The Greek word for gratitude or thanksgiving is “eucharist” -- the same word we use to describe the precious Body and Blood of Our Lord that we have the ultimate privilege of receiving at every Mass. Through this holy Sacrament, our God and King becomes a part of us in order to reign in our hearts.
Thank you, Jesus.
Whenever I think of gratitude, I am reminded of an impactful passage in one of my favorite books, “The Hiding Place,” by Corrie ten Boom. This book tells the true story of Corrie and her sister Betsy and their horrific experiences in the concentration camp, Ravensbruck, during World War II. In this passage, Corrie and Betsy have been moved to a new dormitory. Barracks 28 was filthy. The plumbing had backed up, the straw bedding was rancid and soiled, and the room claustrophobic from overcrowding. Even worse, they discovered that the pallets upon which they were to sleep were infested with fleas. At this point, Betsy, always a faithful Christian, had been transformed by the suffering she had endured. In fact, the weaker her body became the stronger her faith grew. Corrie was devastated finding herself in such a vile and hopeless situation. Betsy, however, immediately turned to prayer, remembering the passage they had read just that morning: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).
So, Betsy began to pray, thanking God for the crowding (more people would hear the Gospel), and for the fleas. When Corrie protested, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea,” Betsy replied, “Give thanks in all circumstances. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has placed us.” The sisters later discovered that they had a lot of freedom in this loathsome barracks and couldn’t understand it. They were able to hold bible studies every evening because the guards, strangely, left them unsupervised. One day, Betsy discovered the reason for the freedom they had--the guards refused to come to their barracks because of the fleas.
One could say that 2020 has been a “flea-infested” year. For the remainder of this calendar year, let us focus on Eucharist. We must thank God wholeheartedly for our many blessings. He is so good! It is also important to remember that despite all of Corrie and Betsy’s prayers and gratitude, he did not remove the fleas. They still suffered the stinging bites, intense itching, and filthy conditions that came with those fleas. However, they held a bible study in a concentration camp! They were able to offer and receive grace, comfort, and peace because of those fleas. God did not take away the suffering, but transformed the situation and the hearts of those afflicted women.
God does not promise to take away our sufferings either, but he does promise to be with us in them, just as he was in that concentration camp. In his wisdom and mercy, he does not remove the difficulties of our lives, because it is most often through the challenges and obstacles that we grow, and when God is closest to us. To truly live a life of Eucharist, we must be willing to thank God for the hard things -- not reject or resist our sufferings, or even merely endure them. Without minimizing the reality of our hardships, let us try, with profound trust in His goodness, to “give thanks in all circumstances” believing that our loving God is already there, transforming our sufferings into blessings. Then, He will truly reign in our hearts.
May you and your families have a blessed Thanksgiving.
-Mrs. Lisa Sweet, Academic Dean