Sunday, November 23, 2014

Signs Of Citizenship

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe (A)

Picture: cc mroach

Sisters and brothers, imagine for a moment that you want to know whether someone is a citizen of Singapore. Or of some other country. How would you tell? What signs would you look for? One possible sign is, of course, place. Not necessarily the place where the person lives and works. For we all know that a person can live and work in one country, and remain a citizen of another. What we need to consider is not so much the place of residence, as the place of recognition. The place that recognises the person as its citizen. And the place that the person recognises as his/her home.

But how do we tell what this place is? And what does this recognition look like? Well, another sign we might consider is privilege. A citizen enjoys certain privileges at home that non-citizens do not. Here in Singapore, for example, the privilege of owning private residential property is accorded mainly to citizens. Foreign ownership is very much restricted.

But even more than place and privilege, what is perhaps one of the most reliable signs of citizenship is, of course, the passport. A person can quickly prove that s/he is a Singaporean simply by flashing that bright red Singapore passport. So place, privilege, and passport. Three signs for determining whether or not a person is actually a citizen of a particular country.

And yet, as important as it may be to know a person’s nationality, we Christians believe that we are ultimately citizens not of the nations of this world. But of the world to come. We are subjects not just of any earthly government. But of a heavenly ruler. The same person whose solemn feast we celebrate today. Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. But how can we tell whether this is indeed the case? Are there signs that indicate to us and to others that we are in fact citizens of the Kingdom of God? I believe this is the question that our Mass readings help us to answer today. And the answer is yes. There are reliable tell-tale signs of heavenly citizenship. Signs similar to those that indicate earthly citizenship.

The first sign is again place. Of course, all of us live and work here in this world. This is our current place of residence. And yet, for us who are Christian, this is not quite our eternal home. Like the psalmist, we too can sing of dwelling in the Lord’s own house for ever and ever. Now it’s likely that the psalmist was referring to the Temple in Jerusalem. The place where God was believed to live among the people of Israel. But that holy place is now no more. It has long since been destroyed by the Romans. We Christians believe and live in a different holy place. A new Temple. Made not of solid brick but of living flesh. With Christ as its cornerstone. For us Christians, the place that we recognise as our true home is the Body of Christ. The Church assembled by God. The eternal Jerusalem.

The million dollar question is, of course, whether or not this is really what we believe. Whether or not we actually recognise Christ as our true home. And we answer this question not so much with our lips, but with the lives that we lead. As we go through our daily routines, what is it that takes up most of our time and energy? Are we concerned only with making a comfortable dwelling for ourselves here on this earth? Or is our attention focused instead more on deepening our relationship with God? With securing our home in Christ?

The second sign of heavenly citizenship is privilege. The same privilege that God promises the people in the first reading. And that the psalmist sings about in the responsorial psalm. The wondrous privilege of having Christ as our Good Shepherd. The precious experience of being watched over and protected by a caring and merciful Lord. Who even lays down his life for us. So as to rescue us when we are in trouble. To free us when we find ourselves painfully trapped in our own sinful tendencies and petty resentments. The priceless consolation of being led to refreshing streams when we are thirsty. And treated to a rich banquet when we are hungry. Hungry and thirsty not just for food and drink. But especially for meaning and direction. For love and affection. For inspiration and encouragement.

To be a citizen of the kingdom of God, a sheep of the Lord’s pasture, is to know how to gain access to these privileges. Through personal prayer, for example. And through the celebration of the Sacraments. Chief among which is the Sacrament of the Eucharist that we are gathered here to partake in today. Of course, those who are citizens of the world, will think of prayer and the Sacraments as nothing more than burdensome obligations. Even a massive waste of time. But the citizens of the kingdom of God think differently. They know, from experience, that prayer and the Sacraments are truly a happy privilege. Even a joyous necessity. For they provide much needed nourishment on the journey to our heavenly home.

And yet we must take care not to be mistaken. All this talk about looking forward to another home must not lead us to think that we should neglect our current place of residence. This present world in which we live. Much less the people who share it with us. For our readings speak of a third sign of heavenly citizenship. A kind of passport. A travel document not printed on paper. But written with works of mercy. The same works described by the king in the gospel today. I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome... Works of mercy done for the least of the brothers and sisters of Christ. Works of mercy that remain much needed in our world today. Works of mercy that gain us entry into the kingdom prepared for us since the foundation of the world.

So, sisters and brothers, place, privilege and passport are as much signs of heavenly citizenship as they are of the earthly kind. And it is crucial that we keep cultivating these signs in our own lives. For, as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, the difference between heavenly and earthly citizenship is nothing less than the difference between eternal life and death. For just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ.

Sisters and brothers, on this last Sunday of our liturgical year, we are reminded that here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hb 13:14). The city in which Christ is acclaimed King of the Universe. The city in which God is worshipped as all in all.

Sisters and brothers, what will you do to claim and to keep your citizenship in this heavenly city today?

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