Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanks to Father Barnes and his Father

Our pastor, Father Barnes, is a superb preacher. He never works from notes, yet even at daily Mass he manages in a few short minutes to improvise a cogent message from the readings and Gospel, a message I can grab and take with me through my day. On Sundays he moves to another level, preaching at four Masses, clearly with much preparation but still without notes—yet always, it seems, hitting the ten or twelve bullet points he has set for himself. I often attend two of the four masses, once as a parishioner in the pew, once as a singer in the choir, and I'm always amazed how organized, yet fresh each new version of his message is.

Today, for Christ the King—Well, don't get me started on the choir. As we began to rehearse an hour early, at 9:30, I texted Katie: "Big choir today with pro singers and timpani!" It was my first chance to sing for an all-stops-out service like this one. Nothing less than a heart- and mind-blower.

But the homily: Today, I have a lot to take with me, and the purpose of this post is mostly so that I will remember a small fraction of the message. 

Father Barnes began by noting that "in a few minutes" we would be saying lines from the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. . . . ” And he made the clear connection between Jesus as king and Jesus as judge. He said that in our culture, almost the last sin anyone is willing to talk about is "the sin of judging," of being judgmental. In fact, he went on, not only do we have to judge to survive (crossing the street: will that car hit me or not?) but we have to judge to be saved. 

Ultimately we have to judge our lives by one standard; we have to judge our lives by Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. Father Barnes went on talking about the standards we commonly judge ourselves by, and I thought of the standards that have applied in my life: In childhood, there was quickness in the classroom, speed in foot races, and (mostly) the judgments of others, whether adults or childhood friends. In adolescence, a new set of metrics applied. I judged myself by grades, SAT scores, and certain body measurements, including but not limited to the circumference of my biceps. In young adulthood, in middle age—and so on. Dollars, percentage increases, accolades, dollars . . . We all know the standards. 

Meanwhile, we all forget The Standard: Jesus Christ. 

Father Barnes told a wonderful story about his father, a retired cop in a small city south of Boston and, to hear our pastor tell it, anything but a theologian. But Officer Barnes had the last word today. 

Father Barnes recalled that in his childhood, his family of five always sat in the same pew, adjacent to the first Station of the Cross: Jesus before Pilate. One day his father, the non-theologian, surprised the young priest-in-the-making, by saying that he always enjoyed sitting in this spot, right next to Pilate. Why? his son asked. Because, the father of our father answered, Pilate had the King of the World in front of him, and he thought he was king. How could he have been so stupid? It's a good reminder, his dad went on, to realize that just when we think we're so smart, we're anything but.

It was the kind of homely example that Father Barnes so often uses to drive a point home. Jesus Christ is King of the universe—but is he King of my heart? And if so, when will I get the message and carry it with me, through this day and all the remaining days of my life?