| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

Bishop Raica Marks Feast of Christ the King With Festival Mass

On Nov. 19, Bishop Raica marked the Feast of Christ the King with an evening Vigil Mass at John Carroll Catholic High School for the first ever Christ the King Music Festival. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My dear sisters and brothers, it is good that we are here on this magnificent evening. You have been engaged in activities all day, listening to talks, and engaging each other in reflecting on your relationship with Christ. Thank you for opening your hearts and your lives to Someone Who offers an alternative and promises greater freedom, joy, and peace. Today is the culmination of the Church year, the last Sunday in Ordinary Time devoted to Christ the King! I cannot but think of the impact young people make by lives of optimism and enthusiasm, as you engage all of reality. My dear young people, you have an experience of Christ that must not remain hidden. Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis, both made it clear to young people – to “make noise,” living your Christian faith boldly and without apologizing. Christ is working through you to keep the Church young and vibrant. Through your parishes, through Carol Wiget, and many others, we want to hear your stories of faith. Your witness encourages us to remain faithful because your stories are ones of hope. You know Bishop Baker always likes to talk about Blessed Carlo Acutis. He introduced this young man to me when I came here two years ago. He lived until about 2005 and died of leukemia at the age of 15. I’ve heard about him and read about his amazing story. Among the things he said was this – and I’ve never forgotten it – “All people are born original, but many die as photocopies.” Each person has meaning and is worthwhile. We complement each other like different pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle – unique, different in shapes, sizes, and opinions, but necessary to see the image that emerges. For us Christians, who are the presence of Christ, we are reminded that He promised He would remain with us until the end of time. Today, we are going headlong into our Thanksgiving celebration this coming Thursday. It is a time of family, faith, and country. It is a pivotal celebration that invites us to ponder where we’ve been and where we are going. I pray you will take time to do so this week.

On this final Sunday of our liturgical year, we look ahead to prepare for our Thanksgiving holidays. I trust that you will all have some good quality family time as you tuck into your Thanksgiving meal. We truly look forward to this time of year because of the great memorable family experiences. It is a moment to give things for the blessings we have received from God, gathering around a table, enjoying the company of one another, and renewing our familial bonds. From Thanksgiving, we segue immediately into the preparation we make for receiving and welcoming our Lord at Christmas time. Oh, yes, we don’t forget about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and so on, leading up to Giving Tuesday, all designed to transition into our Advent/Christmas season.

If you will permit me for a moment, on this the last Sunday of our liturgical year, we ought to remind ourselves that we have been accompanied throughout the year by the evangelist St. Luke. St. Luke’s Gospel brings us one of the most cherished Christmas stories touching our imaginations with choruses of angels, wayward shepherds, and the poverty of a lowly stable in Bethlehem. It is also the Gospel of the lost and found – the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal Son. St. Luke’s Gospel is one filled with mercy. Perhaps, one of the more gripping and dramatic episodes is the one we have just heard in the Gospel read a few moments ago. At this culmination point, we find ourselves going from the crib to the cross – from the moment in which the shepherds, accompanied by angelic choruses, make their way to the crib moving us to the ignominy of the cross illustrated in this Gospel today. There are the soldiers jeering and the cynical criminal on Jesus’ left. Along with him was another criminal on his right whose life also was less than exemplary and who, like Christ, was sentenced to death on a charge of capital crime. Perhaps, in my own reflection, here was a man, whom we identify ironically as the good thief, that God was relentlessly pursuing – and he kept running away. And the only way that God could get to him was when he was pinned down on the cross. He couldn’t run anymore. Yet, he could never be closer to the Lord than in this moment. I often wonder if I was next to the Lord, what question would I have? What would I want to know? What would that experience be like? What was on His heart? What words would He want to hear?

Here is this so-called “criminal,” who merely asked, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” And then, in that moment of silence what would the response of Jesus be? Would it be, “You, wretch, you committed terrible crimes – you deserve what you’re getting?” I can only imagine that Christ, the King of kings, crowned with thorns in all of His horrific suffering, could still look into the heart of that man who was condemned and see a glimmer of hope and desire. And then to hear those words, “This day, you will be with Me in paradise.” An unexpected act of mercy once again!

There’s nothing more beautiful and outrageous at the same time in all of this. Beautiful because even, then, at this moment of desperation, our Lord demonstrates that His mercy is stronger than sin and that, as Pope St. John Paul II would say, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” Here was a vivid display of God’s love and mercy. Outrageous because many of us strive all of our lives to live a life acceptable to the Lord, hoping that the day of judgement won’t be so harsh. Yet, here is this criminal who had one chance and snuck into Heaven. It’s like he stole Heaven! But God’s mercy is like that – for some of us it takes a lifetime, or, like St. Paul or this criminal whom we know as St. Dismas, it took an instant. All we can say is, “Lord, Your ways are not our ways. Thanks be to God!”

There it is! We can become the image of His Son. We can live as His Son – a life of love, a life of mercy as He demonstrated through the Gospel. It is a life that offers us the incredible opportunity to have a journey of a lifetime not stuck on the wrongs we have done but on the experience of hope, mercy, and life. Our Lord offers us this hope as we turn our lives over to Him. Only Jesus, all yours – we say! In this way, we have the prospect to experience a freedom like none other – not a freedom from the burdens of our daily burdens but a freedom that comes with belonging to the only One Who promises us life and the gifts of His grace and that reaches for a fulfillment that we can never know in this life. I pray that I, too, can hear these words: “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” What we are invited to is beyond our imagining and yet characterized by the fulfilment of our deepest desires because we know to Whom we belong.

So, today we reach the final Sunday of our liturgical year – a pinnacle, an apex, a zenith, a festival of the only One Who is the common thread in our lives, Christ Himself, Son of God, Son of Mary Who is the Lord of lords and King of kings, our world’s salvation, and our only hope.

With this celebration of Christ the King, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I ask you, “What you’re thankful for?” I’m grateful for each of you. I’m grateful for this community of faith in the Diocese of Birmingham that inspires me immensely. While there may be tough times, or your faith may be tested, you remain a source of optimism and hope for our Church going forward. Thank you for your witness and God bless you!

For more coverage of the festival, click here.