Fr. Paul MacNeil
November 20: Christ the King
I have a confession to make, well, several. First of all, I love action movies, all kinds of action movies! They don't even have to be that good. I particularly love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and all the superheroes that go with it. I must also confess that I'm a bit behind; I haven't kept up very well with some of the latest series. But last year, I did see an early instalment of the "new" cinematic universe from Marvel, a movie called “the Eternals." This movie was very apocalyptic - I enjoyed it.
But have you ever noticed how much great science fiction franchises start with human problems, particularly with the advancement of science and technology, and then, as they look for more powerful villains, become truly apocalyptic? For example, The Hulk, Spiderman, ant man, Captain America and Iron Man - were based on technology - sometimes in response to a problem (iron man), based on a mistake (hulk), or on science that went wrong (Captain America). But then the villains got nastier and nastier until Thanos could snap his fingers and eliminate half the universe's population. As the villains got more apocalyptic, so did our response. And now we have Eternals and celestials - mythical god-like figures who are masters of a universe far beyond our own. And here we are in these imaginative stories - and that’s all they are, just stories - caught in the middle and increasingly powerless.
And the questions change as well. No longer about good conquering evil in our human world, even with advanced technology, the question becomes this - a theme that I noticed throughout the Eternals as well:
Is humanity worth saving?
The question is relevant because we have done much to screw this up. All a movie has to do is show a picture of a mushroom cloud, and it’s like — why bother? The fifth element is another science fiction movie that questions whether humanity is worth saving.
So… is humanity worth saving? One of the Eternals, Thena, was asked this very question. Her answer was enlightening - "when you love something, you protect it.” Remember that; I’m going to get back to it.
Our faith also has certain apocalyptic imagery associated with it; you don’t have to read very far into the scriptures to see it. The only difference is that I take the truth underneath these beautiful stories at face value. The message is that humanity is worth saving; it can and will be saved through Christ.
Here’s how our catholic faith tells the story. Let’s go back to the very beginning of the garden of Eden. I’m going to tell you something about the garden of Eden that you may have never realized: In the Garden of Eden, there were two trees - the one we are most familiar with is the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. This is the tree that Adam and Eve were ordered not to eat from. But did you know that there was a second tree? The tree of life. As far as I can tell, Adam and Eve ate from that tree and enjoyed eternal life. They would never get sick or grow old or die in the garden of Eden, and I’m sure the tree of life had something to do with that. But then, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and could no longer eat from the tree of life or the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, for that matter. So not only is our universe shrouded in mystery, sin, suffering, old age, and death also entered the world.
But God never gave up on us, ever. He could have just stopped what he was doing. But God loved humanity, so He sent his only son to be our saviour. But his appearance is so different. He’s not like the celestials or the Eternals with superpowers. He came as a new Adam, like us in all things except sin. Born as a helpless infant, dying on the cross. Isn't it interesting how we refer sometimes to the cross as a tree? In Acts: 10:30, for example, we read, "We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Jesus is the new tree of life. If we could only eat the fruit of the tree of life - yes, but we can. John 6: 47-51:
47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In the book of revelation, the author refers to the tree of life as part of a new heaven and a new earth: Rev. 22:1-2:
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
A beautiful passage allowing us to come full circle: Remember what Adam and Eve originally used the leaves for? To cover their shame. Now, those same leaves will be used for the healing of nations.
So when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden of Eden, they could no longer eat the fruit of the tree of life. And then sin, suffering, old age and death entered the world. Now, we can eat from the tree of life, and the leaves from that tree will be used to heal nations. Christ the King is the tree of life.
I want to conclude by sharing with you something that happened last year at one of the schools I was at. I decided to bring the monstrance and a consecrated host over to St. John Henry Newman school so the children could pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I explained to them that even though my grandmother, for example, who died in 2004, is still with me, she’s not with me the same way my mom and dad are when we go out to dinner. It’s the same with Jesus. He is always with us, but when we receive communion, he is with us even more closely. So, I said to the children, when you look on this host with the eyes of faith, you are looking at God himself. See in that small round window a window that allows you to see god with the eyes of faith.
And so I let them gaze upon the eucharist for about five minutes. And honestly, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life, but this enraptured those kids. And after it was over, I asked the children what their experience was like. They said something that surprised me. They said they felt safe. They said they felt protected. They said they felt like nothing could harm them. Now, remember my comment earlier about why humanity was worth saving? If you love something, you protect it. My dear friends, if you want to experience Christ the King, if you want an answer to why humanity should be saved, come to communion, pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament in our chapel, and taste the fruit of the tree of life. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." "Today," Jesus said, "you will be with me in paradise.