It will come at no surprise to you, but one of my all-time favorite places in Washington State is Safeco Field. The first Mariner’s game I ever attended was actually in the Kingdome (does anyone remember the Kingdome?) The Kingdome was, really, a frightening place to me as a kid: it had dark cavernous ceilings, a weird, almost musty, atmosphere inside, and every seat seemed to be blocked by a concrete pillar.
But my experience and love for baseball underwent a massive conversion after they built the Safe. And in more recent years, my friends and I love to sit in what has been called “King’s Court”. King’s Court is a slice of bleachers out in left field, where fans can sit when Felix Hernandez is the starting pitcher. In that section you wear a special T-Shirt and you’re given what’s called a “K-Card” - and you hold that card up in the air whenever Felix has two strikes on a batter and you chant “K-K-K-K” hoping for that deadly four-seam fastball for a strikeout.
Now all of that fandom and excitement happens because in Seattle, Felix has earned the title “the King” - and for good reason. Over the course of his career he has won the Cy Young, he has been all-time wins leader, two-time American League ERA leader, six-time All-Star, and the only pitcher in Mariners history to throw a perfect game. And when you grow up cheering for a team like the Mariner’s, with the constant heartbreak, and broken dreams, King Felix is precisely what keeps fans coming back: a glimmer of hope, in Seattle’s all but dark and depressing baseball world.
I bring up King Felix because this weekend, as we celebrate the end of Ordinary Time and the beginning of a new liturgical year, we also celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. But here in the United States, in 2017, it’s hard to find a meaningful image of a king. Our country was basically founded on the notion of never having a king or queen again, never being ruled by one supreme, ultimate power. We might think of the Royal Family in England, but we view their lives sort of like a soap opera, as entertainment. We called Elvis “the King,” but he’s long gone. There is the king I’m most familiar with - Burger King - but he has basically no real power. And of course there is King Felix, but he is a sports star, a local hero, not a ruler of nations. We’re short on meaningful references or images of kings and queens.
And that’s not surprising. Because, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all uncomfortable with the idea of being ruled. We live in a time when any threat to our personal power or our choices or our freedoms is something we actively fight against. No one, at the end of the day, wants to be told what they can or cannot do - no one wants to be ruled. And that creates a unique tension for us.
Because as Christians, as Catholics, anyone, for that matter, who is baptized, is baptized into a Kingdom. So whether you knew it or not, at baptism, you were given a Passport, a new citizenship. Before you’re Irish, or Italian, or German, or Filipino, or American, you are Christian. You belong to a Kingdom that doesn’t look like most - it has no lands or set borders, no large armies, or classes of people - but we do have a King, and that is what this weekend is all about. Our king is unlike any monarch, any president, or any ruler ever known.
Our first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel describes perfectly the kind of king we have as Christians. God says: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place… I will seek out the lost, the strayed I will bring back, the sick I will heal, I myself will give them rest.” The image God uses to describe his kingship is that of a shepherd. As one who leads and guides without force or coercion, but with gentleness and compassion. And we know that that is the best type of leadership. We are much more inclined to follow someone we know and trust, over someone we don’t.
Many of you know that our pastor, Fr. Mike, is an avid hiker - he has the scars to prove it. And I’ve made the terrible mistake of going with him on many of his adventures. I often tell people that if hell itself was a mountain, Fr. Mike would take two poles and a Cliff bar and be just fine. I was with him this past summer on an “easy hike” opposite Crystal Mountain, a place called Norse Peak, before it was ravaged by forest fires. As we went along we reached this super steep descent which lasted for about a mile. On one side you had the mountain and on the other side you had a drop off into doom, all while trying to manage this incredibly steep grade covered in loose rocks. He could tell I was terrified. So he calmly went ahead of me and said: “Don’t worry, we’ll go slow. Just put your feet where I do.”
I can’t tell you how many times in the last year and half, I’ve had to put my feet exactly where Fr. Mike does. And not just on hiking trails, but in my life as a priest and as a Christian. I don’t do it because he makes me, because he forces me to - sometimes I’d even like to veer from his trail, to take a shortcut or a different route altogether. But he is my shepherd, he is our shepherd. I trust him, even, perhaps most especially, when I can’t see beyond myself. I place my feet where he does, and I safely reach the summit. And I can tell you, I’ve never been led astray.
This is the sort of King we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the psalmist says, “I have everything I need.” One of the greatest and most quotable lines in all of Sacred Scripture; Psalm 23. Sometimes translated, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” When I have God as my king - as my shepherd - there is literally nothing more that I could ask for. How much time we spend asking and receiving things we don’t need. When Jesus Christ is the center of my life, of my family’s life, even if we are walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we fear no evil, because he is at our side. When you walk the path of Jesus Christ - when you place your feet where he did - you will never be led astray. That is the King we celebrate this weekend.
As we prepare for the Season of Advent, and as Christmas plans begin to occupy our minds I’ll leave you with this simple spiritual exercise. I learned this from the Jesuits.
The saints always loved to describe our souls as castles. Each one of us has an interior castle. Deep within that castle - within your heart - there is a place that only you and God have access to. Only you and He can go in or out. You know what that place is, it’s the place where you go to be alone with yourself. It’s the place where your deepest and most intimate thoughts are held. Not even your spouse can get in by his or herself, it is reserved for you and God and what you and God decide to bring inside.
In that room of your soul, there is a throne. A throne that has been there since before all time. On this Solemnity of Christ the King, God is inviting you to look and see who or what is sitting on that throne. Inviting you to examine who or what is ruling your life at this very moment. What’s in that throne? Are material things occupying the throne? The latest gadgets or toys? Are other people occupying the throne? People who we are overly obsessed with or trying to please? Do we put ourselves on the throne? Pretending to bring happiness and fulfillment and joy into our lives all by our own merit? Examine your throne, and invite Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, to take his place. When he is your shepherd, you shall want for nothing.