Back in Apostolic times, some pagans of Asia Minor venerated the fertility god Dionysus. They kept a festival in honor of Dionysus in the latter part of January. One year, during that festival, they killed St. Timothy. That’s why we keep his memorial at this time of year, right after the anniversary of St. Paul’s conversion to Christ.
In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul refers to how he laid hands on him, consecrating him as a Church official. Also, yesterday was the 53rd anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Churchill, who famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms.”
No doubt, democracy has a stabilizing effect. And it corresponds to the dignity of the human person to have a vote. But the Church can’t be a democracy, and here’s why.
She has a King. Jesus Christ is the source of all ministry in His Church. He is the one true “official” of the Church, and He appoints Church officials by His own sacred means.
We participate in the life of the Church for a reason: to submit ourselves fully to Christ’s rule. For us members of the fallen human race, freedom from the slavery of sin comes only when we submit ourselves to Christ.
So we can’t think: This Church ought to reflect the votes of the members. We can only think: This Church ought to reflect the will of Her divine Founder.
We can’t think: I have the right as a human being to influence the constitution and laws of the Church. We can only think: I have the right as a human being to receive the good things that Jesus Christ gave to His Church when He founded Her.
We can’t think: The Church would have a more-stable life if only a majority vote could determine its rules and who the officials are. We can only think: The Church, in spite of all the vagaries of human history, has had a more-stable life than any other institution known to man. We can only credit that to the work of the divine Spirit Who does, in fact, govern Her.
Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter: “You are the Christ.”
An old saw in the Catholic world has it, “The Church is not a democracy.” Indeed, a King rules: our Lord Jesus, the Christ, enthroned in heaven. St. Peter declared it on the first Pentecost: “Jesus is exalted at the right hand of God.” (Acts 2:33)
Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. True enough, when it comes to running affairs pertaining to this world: democracy seems like the best choice from a bad lot.
But Holy Mother Church cannot operate as a democracy, because She exists solely to love and serve Her heavenly King. The Church cannot operate as a democracy for the same reason that creation itself, the cosmos, cannot operate as a democracy. The Creator rules creation, and the Creator rules the new creation–the Church of the Christ.
We need a shepherd. I mean, our souls.
Democracy may offer the greatest prospect for a nation’s prosperity in this world. But if we try to worship democracy as something sacred, we will wind up with a handful of dust.
If we worship the “sacred democratic nation,” the politicians will just wind up looking at each other uncomfortably and asking themselves, “Are these people bowing down? Yeesh! We’re not the worst bounders in the world, but we are egomaniacs who love the sound of our own voices. These people are worshiping a dirty business.”
St. Peter declared the bedrock of all truth, “Jesus is the Christ.” With that declaration, the Lord established the Chair from which Peter and his successors govern the pilgrim Church on earth.
Here’s an analogy. If we can honestly bring ourselves to believe that all the atoms in the universe democratically organized themselves into things like Niagara Falls, or Adele’s vocal chords, or Mt. Kilimanjaro; if we think that the oceans, and the planets, and the sun and moon, arrived at their state of harmonious motion through consensus among themselves—then we can say that religion ought to involve democracy.
But, since the idea that the Hudson River found its course by taking a poll; or that Shakespeare got his genius through a fair election in Stratford upon Avon; or that the city of Savannah, Georgia, has such beautiful trees in its squares because the voters elected them—since these ideas are patently absurd, let’s just rejoice in the fact that the hierarchical organization of our Church makes the same amount of sense as the beautiful, hierarchical organization of the universe.
“We have come to do homage to the newborn King of the Jews.”
The king of the Jews. Let’s pause to consider the significance of the phrase.
The Jews came out of Egypt, with Moses leading the column. Eventually, they reached the Holy Land. Then generations passed. The Jews confronted military challenges. The Lord raised up the generals that the people deserved, based on their faithfulness. Stay pious, and you get good generals to lead the army. Follow pagan gods, and I abandon you to the hands of your enemies.
These generations passed, and the Jews had conflicts among themselves. So the Lord raised up judges to help settle disputes, based on Moses’ law. Again, when the people lived in the fear of God, they got good judges. When they followed the pagan religions, their judges took bribes.
One thing the Jews never had, from Abraham for fourteen succeeding generations—they never had a king. One of the more heartbreaking passages in Scripture can be found in I Samuel 8, when the Israelites begged the prophet to anoint a king for them to lead their armies. They wanted to be like the other nations, like the other kids. The other kids get cellphones, and the other nations have kings, so we want one.
Samuel prayed, and the Lord said to him, “Old, faithful servant of mine, they are not rejecting you. They are rejecting Me.”
To be a people that has only the invisible God for a king: certainly that would be a holy people, and a realistic people. After all, we are a lumpy race, prone to foibles, failings, and foolishness. Who among us has what it takes to stand as a paragon, an exemplar of humanity, a royal?
But God gave Israel a king—meanwhile predicting that the nation would live to regret the request. And they did. Saul disobeyed the Lord. David came closest to the ideal: beautiful, brave, cunning, exuberant, and musical. But he fell from grace, and lust made a schemer and a murderer out of him. His son Solomon achieved great wisdom, but then he, too, fell. The glory of the royal house of Judah passed away from the earth—apparently forever.
When the magi arrived, asking the supposed King of the Jews where the King of the Jews was, a thick irony hung in the air. Herod could have said, “Um. The king of the Jews? I know you fellas ain’t from around here. But did you notice the crown? The throne? Did you notice the framed papyrus from the Roman Senate, addressed to Herod, King of the Jews? I’m not kickin’ butt and taking prisoners around here just for the fun of it.”
But they didn’t have that conversation. Then the travelers from the east did see the King of the Jews. They followed the star to the manger. And then the strange concession that God had made so long ago, the strange concession He made in choosing a king from among the people—it finally made sense.
On the one hand, Yes, it is true: The only way for a people to grow holy is to serve God Himself as the king. God is the only real king. Yes.
But, on the other hand, also true: Mankind needs a human king. We need a king from among our race. Jesus is the king Who fulfills both of these. He is the divine human King.
Now, as we know, the divine and human King of the Jews founded no political organization or party. He founded a Church, which is every bit as lumpy and prone to foolishness as any other human organization, and yet somehow manages to let the Holy Spirit guide Her through every bump and turn of history. The society founded by Christ has extended Herself to every society. The King reigns over a universal Church.
Like the magi, we come to do our homage to the King of the Jews. We have citizenship in His kingdom and do our duty as knights and ladies of His realm.
Here, in this part of the world, we live in a vast and venerable republic, constituted as a nation to be a democracy. IMHO, we should remind ourselves frequently of the immortal words of Winston Churchill. With one sentence, he gave us the right perspective on the work of Thomas Jefferson and Co. Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones.”
That Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem—that He is the divine King: this will be true throughout 2014, and 2015, and every other year, until there are no more years, and His kingdom comes, and God is all in all forever.
The things we hear about on the news: They may or may not be true today, may or may not be true tomorrow, almost certainly won’t be true this time next year.
The great number puts everything in perspective. 2014. Two thousand fourteen. 2,014 years since Obamacare was passed? No. 2,014 years since the Redskins had a playoff win? No. 2,014 years since Columbus discovered America? Or since Bill Gates founded Microsoft? Or since Mahatma Gandhi liberated the people of India from colonial rule? No.
2,014 years since the most important thing that ever happened. 2,014 years since the Virgin gave birth to the King of the Jews, to our divine King, our brother Jesus, Who reigns on high.
Anyone ever hear of Homer? I don’t mean Homer Simpson. I mean the storyteller of ancient Greece.
Homer told his stories in a famous way. He starts you out in the middle. Then, as the story unfolds, he fills you in on how things got to the point you found them at the beginning.
At the beginning of the Iliad, the Greeks have set up camp on the eastern banks of the Aegean. What are they doing there? Read on, and you will find out.
At the beginning of the Odyssey, Odysseus languishes in prison on the isle of Ogygia. How did he get there? Read on to find out.
Perhaps you will recall that, about a month ago, I started trying to review some of the changes in the English translation of the people’s parts of the Mass, the words which we will begin to use in two weeks.
When we first started talking about the new Missal, we discussed how we pray the Sacred Liturgy as our common work together. Liturgy means ‘public work.’