Sunday, 25 November 2001

Christ the King: “Do this in memory of me”.

On his way to his crucifixion Jesus called those people who would renounce their wealth his disciples. When he died he hadn’t a single possession to his name. He was naked but he had other wealth, which he bestowed lavishly on people – his humanity. He made a lot of Nathaniel and won his friendship. He cured the Roman official’s son. He had room for Mathew, the tax collector, among his friends, in his intimate company. He had room too in his heart for Simon the political zealot. He joked playfully and affectionately with the Syro-Phoenician woman. He never forced his power on anybody. He was a noble person. He promised paradise to the criminal beside him on the cross.

On Calvary, one of the criminals hanging there abused him. “Are you not the Christ?” he said. “Save yourself and us as well”. But the other spoke up and rebuked him. “Have you no fear of God at all?” he said. “You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong”. “Jesus” he said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. “Indeed, I promise you”, he replied, “today you will be with me in paradise”.

Look how intimately and directly the wrongdoer speaks to ‘The Christ’. He has just met him and is on first name terms without any qualification. He calls him ‘Jesus’. Yes, Jesus was human to the core. He was a proper king, not a king of earthly power, control and wealth. He was the lowly Galilean, near to the worries and problems of ordinary people whom he came to serve and not to be served. He was the wandering preacher who healed the sick and proclaimed good news to the poor. The good shepherd who mingled with the outcasts and sinners in order to bring back those who seemed lost. He did not gain his victories for his kingdom by military conquest or by violently crushing his enemies. On the contrary, it was through his suffering and death that he fulfilled his mission and conquered evil. In Irish spirituality he is appropriately call Ri na gCréacht, ‘King of the Wounds’.

Over the past thirty years nearly four thousand people have died in our conflict, in Ireland and Britain, and some on the continent. We are remembering them now. We are calling them to mind, not to cause renewed distress to their relatives and friends gathered here, but to meditate spiritually on their human lives. When the news of each death was broken, families and friends reacted with shock and grief.

Neighbourhoods and communities showed their sympathy. Relatives can still feel the pain. Sometimes emotion comes back again. You knew them as individual persons, and experienced at first hand, the very texture of their lives. Their characters were absorbed into yours. You knew the depth, the very flavour of their needs and aspirations. We would want them to be happy for all eternity. That is our prayer – simple, intimate and human. “Jesus remember them in your kingdom”.

When we recall the mercy of Jesus from the cross our emphatic answer is ‘No, they are not dead forever’. This evening’s commemoration and the story of the ‘good thief’ is a reminder that paradise lies beyond the grave for all who seek God’s mercy. Every human person is important and unique to God. After all, he is our Father and we are His children. The individuals whom we have loved in time, have conversed with, eaten with, drank with, travelled with, played with, lived with – they are loved eternally now by God.

But this evening is not only a loving remembrance of those who died and who now see God face to face. It is a remembrance for all of us. We come here to exchange among ourselves a kiss of peace – the peace of Christ the king. The peace the world cannot give. The world too often offers us pain and death, tears of the bereaved, a mountain of sorrow and suffering. We come here today for peace, God’s gift to us, peace even in worry and anxiety, peace in bereavement and healing. We come to pray for peace and tolerance and understanding in our country – peace in our communities. Peace in the most beautiful of all communities – the family. An old Irish Gaelic prayer expresses this desire beautifully.

Peace between neighbours
Peace between kindred
Peace between lovers
In the love of the King of life.
Peace between person and person
Peace between wife and husband
Peace between women and children
The peace of Christ above all peace
Bless, O Christ, my face
Let my face bless everything
Bless, O Christ, mine eye
Let mine eye bless all it sees.

Ours is a world that knows need and distress, hatred and strife, inequalities and injustice, prejudice and discrimination. All these things and many more are contrary to God’s will. We pray in the Our Father ‘thy kingdom come’. We beg for the manifestation of God’s kingdom in its fullness. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom. He manifested his own kingship when he cured the sick, called sinners to repentance, showed concern for the poor and the outcasts, comforted the bereaved and preached the law of love. Now, as the ‘firstborn from the dead’ as today’s Second Reading calls him, we ask him to bring all those who died in the ‘troubles’ into the kingdom of Heaven. Having returned to the Father he has left the work of building up that kingdom to his followers, that is, to us. As St Teresa put it ‘Christ has no body now but ours, no hands but ours, to advance the kingdom of truth, honesty, justice and love which the preface in today’s Mass speaks of. We pledge that we too will play our part in His kingdom.

May the God, who created you and recreated you in baptism, strengthen you in holiness and grace to be witnesses of love and peace of truth and honesty.

May the human Christ who leads you with gentleness and love, give you mercy and consolation on this Remembrance Day.

May the humble king, whose reign shall never cease, receive into paradise all who died in the conflict in our country and unite them with him in glory and everlasting peace.