Sunday, November 26, 2006

Do You Think Of Yourself First As American Or As Christian?

(Christ the King (B): This homily was given on November 26, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Daniel 7: 13-14; Revelation 1: 5-8; John 18: 33-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christ the King 2006]

The Pew Research Center (which, despite its name, is actually a secular organization with no direct ties to any church) recently conducted a poll in which they asked 820 self-identified Christians in the United States the following question: “Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?”

Before I tell you the results, ask yourself how YOU would have responded had you been a participant in that poll. In all honesty, do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?

The actual results were as follows: 42% of those surveyed said, “I think of myself first as Christian;” whereas 48% said, “I think of myself first as American.”

7% said they see themselves as both equally—which may simply mean that they couldn’t commit themselves one way or the other. Apparently “sitting on the fence” is a virtue to some Americans. Unfortunately, in the Bible it’s not a virtue: it’s just the opposite! As some of you know, Jesus had some tough things to say in chapter 3 of the Book of Revelation to the members of the church of Laodicea—men and women who were “neither hot nor cold” when it came to living their Christian faith.

I should also mention one more key finding in this survey: 62% of those who identified themselves as Evangelicals said they think of themselves as Christian first; whereas 62% of those who identified themselves as Catholics said they think of themselves as American first.

The present political situation in “Catholic” Rhode Island makes much more sense, doesn’t it, when you hear that statistic? You see, if a person thinks of himself as American first, then his faith will only be a secondary consideration when he goes to the polls! And that’s precisely the way it is for a majority of Catholics in “Little Rhody” in almost every general election—which is why pro-abortion politicians usually win here so easily.

All of this has a direct connection to the important feast we celebrate in the Church today, the Feast of Christ the King.

In our first reading, from Daniel 7, the prophet sees a vision of an individual he describes as “one like a Son of Man”—a Son of Man who receives “dominion, glory and kingship from “the Ancient One” (whom we know to be God the Father).

This text has always been understood by the Church to be a Messianic prophecy—a prophecy of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God who is the rightful King of the universe and of every human person—including every earthly leader! As our second reading from Revelation 1 says, Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and [the] ruler of the kings of the earth.”

This is what “is”; in other words, this is the objective truth. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords to whom we owe our love and our complete obedience in every matter!

But Jesus is not a king who imposes his rule upon us in the way that earthly kings usually did in the first century. If he had been that type of ruler, he certainly wouldn’t have responded to Pontius Pilate as he did in this Gospel scene. Rather, he would have summoned his “attendants”—his angels—immediately, and he would have brought Pilate to his knees, along with the rest of those who were trying to put him to death.

But that’s not the way Jesus operates. On this side of the grave, Jesus simply invites every human person to acknowledge his authority and to make him their king. In the next life, of course, it will be a different story. There everyone will be forced to bend their knee to Jesus and acknowledge him as Lord—including those who are “under the earth” (as Scripture says). But here, we must freely choose to put him into first place in our lives.

And so I ask you once more: Do you think of yourself first as American or as Christian?

If you think of yourself first as American, then you will do whatever you have to do to realize the “American dream”—even if it involves lying, and cheating, and stealing, and manipulating the system a little bit. Your ultimate desire will be for self-gratification; what will matter most to you is “you”! Your role models will be people like Donald Trump and Hugh Hefner—people who “have it all”; people who have “made it to the top”. You might pay lip service to Jesus for an hour on a Sunday morning, but ultimately your desire for worldly success will override the rule of Christ and his Gospel in your life.

If, on the other hand, you think of yourself as Christian first, then you might still pursue the material blessings of the American dream, but you’ll definitely try to do it in a moral manner. The law of your king, Jesus Christ, will be your guide along the way. Your public life—and your personal life—will be lived according to the Golden Rule, not the rule of hedonists like Hugh Hefner, who say “Do whatever you feel like doing”.

It’s an interesting irony, is it not? If you think of yourself as American first, you run the risk of being a very bad Christian—and ultimately a bad and an immoral American.

But if you think of yourself as Christian first—and freely choose to enthrone Jesus Christ as your Lord and King—you’ll likely be a very good Christian, and, at the same time, a great American!