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November 24, 2019
[Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Pearl City; Vietnamese Holy Martyrs Community, Honolulu]
This week saw impeachment inquiries against the President of the United States. Two of our Supreme Court Justices were investigated for sexual harassment issues before they were finally seated on the bench. The former Police Chief and the Deputy Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County were convicted on fraud charges. Bishops are being investigated for not dealing diligently with priests who molested minors. Several teachers have told me that they love teaching the children but dread interacting with parents who have very little respect for their authority. We have so many examples in our world of abuse of power and corruption. Is it any wonder that there is a widespread mistrust of people in authority? Or that there is a general erosion of authority in general?
While, unfortunately, there are many true examples of people who misuse their authority, I often wonder if the constant barrage of news about this phenomenon is really making us a weaker society, with a growing sense of mistrust rather than trust in our public servants, whether civic, religious, or corporate. If we continue along this trajectory, no authority will be taken seriously and the legitimate leadership of communities will be seriously undermined.
It is therefore very important that we celebrate this feast day of Christ the King, remembering that he is the greatest authority of all, and that our salvation depends upon his leading us to the Kingdom. He alone, who is without sin, can purify us and save us from the self-destructive path we are on. But this can only happen if we accept his authority and follow him wherever he leads us. Only by following him can a sense of trust in true authority be restored, an authority that does not dominate but that serves. And those of us in authority – whether parents in authority over their children, bishops or priests in authority over the parishes, civic officials in authority over their constituents, or leaders in our places of work who are in authority over some of their fellow workers.
The first thing we can learn about authentic authority from Christ our King is that humility is key to governing others. He was in the form of God, yet he did not grasp at equality with God, but rather made himself a slave. God the Creator of all things became a creature so that he could better translate into our own language the principles that would authoritatively lead us to serve one another in our homes, places of work, churches, and body politic.
We also learn that he insisted on living in the truth and proclaiming the truth, even when others did not want to hear the truth, and when speaking the truth cost him his life. No amount of criticism, ridicule, or persecution could make him water down the truth or back off from its clear proclamation. How easy it is for us to twist the truth or ignore the truth when we receive criticism. In the end, this serves no one well. But if we ask Jesus for the courage to live the truth as he did, we will be able to restore trust in authority – at least for those who are honest with themselves.
From this beautiful Gospel passage today, we learn that, while he was committed to this highest principles and standards, he is always ready to forgive when someone admits their mistakes and give them not only second chances, but seven times seventy chances – as long as there is true desire to change. The criminal who recognized his own crime and the innocence of Jesus was given the only second chance he needed by being granted admission into Paradise, where life is eternal and without any sufferings whatsoever.
How beautiful the world would be if all of us who are in any kind of authority could follow the example of Christ the King. It would not be without its sufferings and injustices, but whatever sufferings we undertake would be transformed by the power of his resurrection and his merciful love. If the constant erosion of authority, which will negatively affect us all, is not stopped, there will be chaos and great sufferings. How desperately we need to cling to this example of an authority that is authentic, humble, honest, and self-giving rather than self-serving. We find it in Christ the King, who longs for us to live in the ways of his Kingdom of justice, love, and peace. It may take us some effort to learn his ways, so it is important that we return to him again and again in this encounter with him in the Eucharist, in our private prayer and reflection, and in making him the center of our lives and our decisions. Only then can the trust the world longs for become a reality, for the benefit of all and the great glory of God.