This feast of Christ the King seems to me to be a perfect time to remember "Fr. Ken" as most of us knew him, because in a very personal way he helped us to appreciate Christ as a crucified King. Let me try to explain.
Tonight's gospel is the only time in the three-year lectionary cycle for this feast that we encounter Jesus on the cross. So this year our gospel invites us to consider a question that lies at the heart of Christianity: what does it mean to worship a crucified King?
Christ as crucified King is a mystery that even the most faithful among us struggle at times to accept, though we might not put it in those terms. For the most part we don't struggle with the "king" part, the idea that Christ is a powerful ruler who is in charge of the universe. As King we rightly ask him for many things, even for miracles: for peace in the world and in our families, for justice for the oppressed, for food for the hungry and healing for the sick. Even the unrepentant criminal who was crucified with Jesus in tonight's gospel is OK with this idea of a messiah - the idea that the messiah should use his power to stop our suffering.
But we struggle with the "crucified" part. If the all-powerful King himself suffered and died, by implication we will, too. In other words:
* Sometimes we will not get what we ask for in prayer.
* Sometimes our loved ones suffer and die.
* Sometimes, like the repentant criminal in tonight's gospel - named "Dismas" by tradition - sometimes we are called like Dismas to acknowledge Christ as King in the midst of our suffering.
Here's where Fr. Ken helped us to appreciate Christ as the crucified King. How many of us here tonight prayed that he would be healed of the cancer that killed him? We obviously did not get what we prayed for.
Instead we got something far more precious: we witnessed the faith of a man carrying a cross gracefully to death. Before his cancer we certainly witnessed his faith in many ways. But didn't we see it even more clearly as the cancer sapped his energy but could not dull his spirit or his sense of humor or his generosity of self or above all his faith in Christ? And didn't we see these things more clearly precisely because Fr. Ken was carrying the cross of illness?
In this Eucharist we profess our faith in a crucified King. Our ultimate hope, the hope that we glimpsed in Fr. Ken's graceful death, is not that Christ will use his power to prevent our suffering in this world, but rather that he will transform it into joy in the eternal peace and joy of his kingdom.
Msgr. Bill Parent
Executive Director for Catholic Identity & Mission Mount St. Mary's University