Christ the King A

I went to a conference last week for Vicars from across the Northeast.  It was a surprisingly fun crowd.  And I learned a great deal from the wonderful people at the St. John Vianney Institute.  Among the most valuable is this little gem. Psychologists conducted studies after the devastation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to determine what makes someone more resilient.  What makes one person rebuild their life and another not be able to move on? What they found are two factors that are at the heart of what we hold dear as people of faith.

The first is a sense of thanksgiving, appropriately enough for this weekend.  Those who count their blessings and who do not dwell on what is lost have more perseverance. That make sense to me.  The second one surprised me.  It is a sense of awe.  They took city dwellers out in the country and they noticed that as they took in more beauty, their heart rates settled and blood pressure decreased.  What is it about a sense of awe that could make us more resilient?

Well, a sense of awe always takes you out of yourself.  It is a reminder that there is indeed a bigger picture; for in crisis our world tends to shrink just to our greatest challenge.  Awe minimizes your problem in light of all the things, especially the beauty in the world that is simply given.  It allows us to surrender to something else, a higher power, recognizing it is not ours to hold up the entire world.

For us that higher power is ultimately God.  A sense of awe is a necessary component of worship and belief.  When we surrender our greatest obstacle to God we trust we are handing it over to someone with more sure hands, with a more gentle touch and loving wisdom.  Believing reminds us of three things that are critical:  we are not God, we don’t need to be God and someone more qualified already has the job.

Awe and God go together seamlessly.  At the scene described in the Gospel at the end of the world, it would be pretty difficult not to have a sense of awe.  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” If you aren’t awed then, you are never going to be awed.  I also think that each mass provides a sense of awe as well. No matter you were thinking of when you walked into church or what you will be thinking when you leave, at least for this hour, you know it is not about you.  It is about the words on fire in the readings; it is about the perfect sacrifice of Christ given to us as his body and blood.  We know we are not alone in the world.

How can we break this sense of awe out of our church and into our daily lives so that we might calm the frenzied pace and anxiety of our days.  The Gospel provides an answer for that as well.

It is hard to blame either the sheep or the goats for not recognizing Jesus in the poorest of the poor and the most alone of the alone.  After all, they are in the midst of being awed by God and angels and judgment.  What Jesus lets them know that he is present as the mightiest and the weakest.  He is not be ignored in all the places he can be found.

Let us develop a sense of awe in the small as well as the large, especially in the least of our brothers and sisters.  We can be witness to the beauty of the mother struggling to feed her family. We can celebrate those who struggle with mental illness. We can stand in awe of the gift of the stranger and the courage of the ill.  Perhaps then we can even find the awesome beauty in when we are at our least:  when the darkness descends upon us; when our fear eclipses our love; when we feel alone – God is still there, Christ is present in our leastness and we are still beautiful for the divine abounds within us.

And perhaps this is the plan.  That everything brings us a sense of awe.  That we are engulfed in beauty.  That we, nor anyone else, can never escape the glory of God’s love for us.  That when we talk about the dignity of each person, we are really saying that we can testify about the utter, remarkable and unique beauty each one of us holds.  And it is a marvel.  We reserve awe for our God.  And God is everywhere and in everything.