Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Christ the King, 2018.
Christ is our king. We know that because prominently displayed in both our churches is not only Jesus on the Cross, but Jesus on the Cross as King. Christus Rex is the proper name. Christ is victorious over Satan, victorious over sin, victorious over death—and in His victory He gives us the food of celebration of the victorious cross in the Eucharist. Evoking the realization that Christ is King is the only purpose of Saint Mark’s gospel, and all the gospels—that in the most complete understanding of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, is divinity—Jesus is truly man, and truly God. He is divinity definitively revealed. That as King, He shall reign for ever and ever, His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; His kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed.
In a highly dramatic passage from Saint John, Jesus answers Pilate’s question, “So you are a king?” by saying, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” Again we have this emphasis on hearing, an emphasis that pops up from time to time in the teachings of Jesus, as well as throughout the Sacred Scriptures as a whole. The truth of “who Jesus is”—the truth of His identity—is truth that is heard: not seen, nor touched, smelled, or tasted, but heard. Now, we must ever have in mind the teaching of Saint Paul: that the Christian faith involves spiritual truths and is interpreted using spiritual language. And so, we can break open the words of Jesus: “Every one who is of the truth hears my voice spiritually.”
And yet even to hear spiritually presupposes that we are listening spiritually. The state of listening—of having the disposition of listening, the attitude of listening—of being open to God’s direction, His providence, His guidance—this is the true meaning of obedience in the Christian sense. And so we can further break open Our Lord’s words this way: “Every one who is listening for the truth hears my voice spiritually”; or “Every one who is obedient hears my voice spiritually.” This is why Jesus praised Mary Magdalene in His teaching to Martha: “Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” That is, listening comes first in all matters spiritual. Listening—putting oneself in a state and attitude of openness—comes before hearing the voice of Christ; of hearing the voice of our King.
There is this sense that listening is the primary means by which we love God. And how do we love God, or more specifically, how does Our loving Lord Jesus teach us to love God? He tells us to love the Lord with all heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. So how do we love God? Jesus teaches that we must do so with our whole selves; that we must love God with everything that we are, in all ways that we are: in words and deeds—in both what we say and how we behave. Jesus of course goes on to teach that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Yet there is the subtle sense that Jesus told the thing about God first, and the thing about neighbor second. Let us assume this is for a reason. And that reason is that for “our love of others to be wholly right, God must be at its root. No one can love his neighbor perfectly, unless it is in God he holds him dear. And nobody can love his fellow-men in God who does not love God himself. We must begin by loving God; and then we shall be able, in him, to love our neighbor too.”
And yet again: to love is to listen, is the way we have broken open Jesus’s words to Pilate. All of which suggests something that is worth pondering, which is that what we do (which includes what we say, because speech is an action, so “words and deeds” are really one, because both are actions)—our actions in all ways are to be listening actions. Listening is the primary way to love, and we are to love in all ways with our whole selves. And so with our whole selves, we are to listen: our actions are to be listening actions.
“Listening actions” is a good way to speak of prayer in all its variations. Personal prayer we do on our own spontaneously, certainly; but even more so the prayer we do together, the prayer of Mass and daily Offices. The Mass, week by week, and the Offices, day by day, are the historic forms for performing listening actions: our whole selves are open to God’s voice—so that in hearing His voice, hearing the truth, Christ may grow in our hearts, in the arena of our deepest choices.
We are embarking over the next long stretch of time—Advent through Pentecost at least—in an experiment. Our experiment can be framed in this way: What might we hear if we listen to Jesus on the Cross? This is not a careless experiment, of course: it is a thoroughly devout experiment. Together, as a whole Parish, we will be facing the cross. The Latin for facing the cross is “ad crucem.” What might we hear, how might Christ speak, what of the truth might be brought further to light? So this is a period of discovery, even for those who remember this liturgical orientation of the whole gathering facing the cross together. And let us take as our guides Blessed Mary with the rest of the small group of women, and the beloved disciple John. All they did at the foot of the Cross was listen for any words Jesus spoke. Let us join them in being of the truth, so that at the foot of the Cross, Sunday by Sunday, we too may hear His voice.