Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B
November 26, 2000
Dn 7:13-14; Rev1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37
1) Christ is king of time, universe, every single person, not just Christians. Son of God. Kingdom not of this world, so we don’t have to see it. But one day we will see him rule over all people. Although he is all-powerful, his kingdom is not principally one of power as the world understands it, but of love. The King showed us the way, when he mounted his definitive throne, the Cross, and stretched out his hands in the greatest gesture of love any king could possibly have ever shown.
2) Christ inaugurated the kingdom of God in this world. He said that the kingdom of God was at hand, was in our midst, because he, the king, was in our midst; but he also said the kingdom would come one day in all its glory when he returns at the time of time. The kingdom Christ established by his coming among us to redeem us didn’t die when he ascended into heaven only to wait until his second coming. He founded the Church to remain in the world as the vehicle by which he would continue to reign as King in the kingdom of love he died to establish. He founded the Church on St. Peter and the apostles and promised them that he would be with them until the end of time. This is the only Church Jesus ever founded and how fortunate we are that we belong to that one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church has come down to us in our own day through the successors of the Peter and the apostles, the Pope and the bishops. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and he has established the Church, which is his body, as the only means we know of to come into contact with Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life in time. The Catholic Church is the only Church in which Jesus’ truth is preserved infallibly through the protection of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to Peter and the Apostles, “The who years you hears me!” Jesus came, as we read in today’s Gospel, to testify to the truth and he built his Church to continue giving that witness throughout time. This is the Church that preserves Jesus’ own very life in the Eucharist and in the sacraments, in which we really receive Jesus’ body and blood, in which we really receive his forgiveness of our sins, in which we receive his power in holy orders, his healing hand in the sacrament of anointing, his Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, his blessing on two person’s love in marriage. This is the only Church in which we are assured, by the Lord of the way to salvation through the sacraments and living the truth. The early fathers of the Church looked at the Church like Noah’s ark during the flood. To be saved, you had to be on the ark, and the ark is the Church, Peter’s boat, floating on the rough seas throughout time. Jesus, the King of the Universe, continues to guide that boat to its eternal port, heaven. No one can be saved outside of Christ and Christ established the Church as the universal means of salvation, to continue his kingdom of love in time and space until the King comes again in all his glory at the end of time.
3) Now Jesus himself promised that false prophets would arise who would try to preach a different Gospel. “Beware of false prophets,” he said, “who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” He added, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” They’ll claim to produce great signs and omens in order to lead the elect away. And over time many false prophets did arise in the form of various heresies. Some denied Jesus really became incarnate, because they believed all material things were evil. Hence God couldn’t have taken on a material body; therefore, Jesus couldn’t have died on the Cross, he couldn’t have given us the Eucharist, etc. The Church refuted this terrible heresy by citing Sacred Scripture, by citing God’s own words pronouncing all of material creation very good in the beginning of Genesis and by Jesus’ own words that his flesh was true food, blood was true drink, and so forth. Others said that Jesus had imparted a secret teaching to only a few of the elect and therefore in order to be saved, you had to be part of this secret teaching, called Gnosticism. The Church responded by saying, rightly, that if there were a secret teaching, why wouldn’t Jesus have given it to his apostles? And why didn’t Peter pass it down to Linus, to pass it down to Cletus, Clement, etc., all the way to the present day. There was no secret teaching outside of what Jesus revealed to the Church. But such prophets have continued down to our own day.
4) In the past several months, within our parish boundaries, four new ecclesial communities have opened up within the parish boundaries, what are commonly-called “store-front churches,” three on Pleasant Street and a fourth on Alden Street. Why are so many coming here? We presume because they think there is a market for what they’re selling here; in other words, that our neighborhoods are a good area to gain “converts.” These communities are influenced by the Assemblies of God, a Protestant denomination which thrives on coming into Catholic neighborhoods to try to raise doubt in Catholics’s minds about their faith so that they might get them to leave the faith and come to their communities. Their method is well-known and it has worked in other parts of the country. They go door-to-door in a neighborhood and when a Catholic answers the door, they ask them if they have been saved. Whatever the Catholic says in response, they start to cite several verses from Sacred Scripture out of context in order to try to make the Catholic doubt his or her faith and therefore be open to leaving the Church. And with many Catholics who are not very quick with answers, they’ve been successful. Over half of the members of the Assemblies of God in the United States are ex-Catholics. That’s now going on here in our parish. People from these various Churches are going door-to-door asking those very questions, giving out literature to try to get converts. Two people actually came to the rectory this week!
5) And hence Father Jim and I have been praying a lot about this in order to formulate the proper response to this phenomenon, in fidelity to Christ, to the Church he founded, and to you. We love you and feel as spiritual fathers, in a certain way, much like you would if some trouble-makers came into your neighborhood who were pretending to try to be your children’s friends but whom you knew would be very bad influences on your children. You’d hope that your children would be capable on their own of discerning the wolves in sheep’s clothing and dismissing them, but you want to make sure that they recognize the wolves — and sometimes, we know sadly, they don’t! Hence both of us are preaching on this new phenomenon this weekend on the Solemnity of Christ the King. We want to make sure that all of God’s children here at Espirito Santo know of these false prophets and know something about why they’re false. We also hope that this sad occurrence can turn out to be a hidden blessing and an opportunity for Catholics here to come to know their faith even better and to appreciate and live it even more.
6) These particular types of Protestants who are founding their store-front communities in our parish have published books and been giving talks on how to steal Catholics and why they think they’ve been successful at it.
• The first thing they say is to use Scripture verses against Catholics when they meet you at the door, because, most often, Catholics don’t know Scripture well enough to be able to respond.
• The second thing they say is that Catholics are often very bored and unenthusiastic about Mass, and hence don’t have much of an appreciation for what’s going on. If someone can show them great appreciation for their own services, that will be attractive to many. The simple fact, they say, that they’re going door-to-door shows, in their opinion, that they take their faith more seriously than Catholics do theirs and that’s attractive.
• Lastly, they say that Catholics don’t have a very good understanding of their faith and hence, if you call on them to defend something about the faith, like Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, or Mary or the saints, and challenge the Catholic teaching by citing a couple of Scriptural verses that seem to be against the Catholic understanding, Catholics often will give up.
These are the reasons why they in their own literature say they often have an easy time converting not just fallen-away Catholics, but oftentimes practicing Catholics too. And hence we should address each of these.
7) They’re right sometimes that Catholics don’t know Scripture as well as we ought to, and hence feel at times intimidated and embarrassed about how little we know Scripture, which is something they can use against us. What’s the solution here? It’s kind of obvious: get to know Scripture better. We use a lot of Sacred Scripture at Mass, but oftentimes people don’t really listen very well. It goes in one ear and out the other. What was the responsorial psalm again from earlier today? But very few Catholics actually study Scripture outside of Mass like the Protestants do, and there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t be studying it as much as they. Scripture is not just for priests, but for all of us. Over the course of the summer, the seminarian, Kevin Cook, led an introduction to Scripture. We hope to get started on a Scripture course in the upcoming months. But these will do no good for Catholics unless they come, and unless they start to study Scripture on your own. When was the last time you opened the Bible?
8 ) Secondly, they’re also right that Catholics are often very bored and unenthusiastic about Mass, and hence don’t have great appreciation for what’s going on. The Mass, Catholics believe, is the greatest event in the history of the world, because we participate right here in Christ’s actual death and resurrection and receive his flesh. If Pope John Paul II or Pedro Martinez or the Queen of England were here right now, and if everyone had a chance to come up and greet him personally, people would be on the edge of their seats with excitement and enthusiasm. But we have something so much greater here — we have Jesus Christ himself, the King of the Universe. And yet when people come to communion, to receive his flesh and blood, sometimes it’s almost as if they’re coming up only to receive what they think is mere cheap unleavened bread. They’ll come up with dirty hands, no excitement, etc. Many don’t even respond during Mass. Sometimes only about 10% of the people even open up a hymnal to sing hymns of praise to God. At times people have commented to me that it seems that most of the people are here only because they feel they have to be here, rather than because they want to be here. On occasion, we have to say it, the Church seems basically dead. Now please ask yourself: If you were a lapsed Catholic who was thinking about coming back to Mass, or who was being visited by these Protestants, and you came to a Catholic Mass in which everybody just basically sat as distinterested spectators at a boring ritual, would you think seriously about coming back? That’s why the Protestants, with their lively and energetic services often are attractive to these fallen-away Catholics, because at least the Protestants seem to be excited about what they believe.
9) Finally, they say that most Catholics don’t have a very deep understanding of the faith, can’t easily express their faith in words and have an even harder time defending the faith. For example, they’ll come up to the door and say, “Catholics worship Mary, but the book of Deuteronomy says in the first commandment, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord your God. Him alone shall you worship.’” Catholics often won’t know how to respond. The simple fact is that Catholics don’t worship Mary, but we venerate her. We worship God alone. But if a Catholic doesn’t know his or her faith well, they’re vulnerable. Moreover, oftentimes Catholics are unaware of just how lacking most of these Protestant Churches are. They don’t have the Eucharist. The don’t have priesthood. They don’t have any sure way to have their sins forgiven. They don’t have the charism of infallibility residing in the Pope and the Bishops on matters of faith and morals. Now in order to help Catholics come to a better understanding and appreciation of our faith, Father Jim and I in January will be doing a short series on these questions, to tackle the typical Protestant attacks on the Catholic faith and to give the definitive responses. More information will be in the bulletin in upcoming weeks. But we hope that you will do everything you can to come.
10) One last thing before closing. I’m not trying to imply that every one of the members of these new Churches are bad people. Far from it! Many of them are good and committed people who honestly think that they have the truth and that Catholics are in the possession of the devil and hence, at the behest of their ministers, are going door to door to try, in their minds, to save Catholics from the Church. You have to admire their commitment, going door-to-door. Would that Catholics had the same zeal for the true faith that they did for their very watered down and often-mistaken version! Some of these members of their communities in fact would be baptized members of Espirito Santo! But many of them, and many of their ministers, are not good people; they are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. The target Catholics like wolves target sheep to take advantage of them, of their desire to love and serve God, and then try to scare them away from the Catholic Church and the means of salvation so that they can benefit from them. Story of Igreja Universal at cancer wards trying to take advantage of them for money. Not everyone who claims to speak in the name of God does.
11) I mentioned above that Fr. Jim and I hope that something good will come out of this, namely that this will be the occasion for all of us here to grow in love, appreciation, knowledge and zeal for our one, true, Catholic and apostolic faith. In the early days of the Church, any time the Church was threatened, the Church defeated these threats and the Church was stronger as a result. We pray that this may occur on this occasion as well. What a great treasure we have in our faith, the greatest treasure the world has ever received. We have Christ the King ruling over his Church in love, teaching all of us through his word and through those he himself has sent out through Holy Orders to preach in his name; we have Christ the King feeding all of his subjects on his very own flesh and blood, healing their sins, caring for their sicknesses, binding them in love, sending His Spirit into their hearts. We have the great gift of knowing what that King’s will is for us because he founded a Church that he said he would be with until the end of time. That Church is the Catholic Church! Together with the Church in heaven and on earth, let’s now thank and worship and profess that King together!