YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
HOMILY THEME: “One of the criminals said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: “Brett, how’s your soul?” I asked the young resident physician in the ER as he bent over a patient’s chart, intent on documenting a wide spectrum of physical data gained on his just completed examination. Head popping up from the paperwork, he was sure he’d misheard me. “Excuse me,” he politely inquired, “What did you say?” Wide smile on my face, I asked again, “How’s your soul?” Stunned and sputtering, Brett remained speechless for some time as, around him, a bevy of doctors and nurses began to laugh.
I must confess to having enjoyed immensely my ability to catch these fledgling doctors off-guard. In an environment where I have regularly heard physicians inquiring so casually about the intimate details of a patient’s life, I have taken a certain delight in turning the table, asking them a question seemingly far more personal and intimate than anything they’ve ever asked a patient. But, as a chaplain, it’s been my job to care especially for souls, that integral part of the person often neglected by women and men of science. And when I have asked a doctor about the health of his or her soul, while a laugh may ensue, it’s also a gentle reminder that there’s far more to a person than flesh, bone and sinew.
Not the only one advocating for care of the soul in this busy ER, I had a loud, squawky ally in the Med-Flight radio dispatcher who regularly transmitted information about an incoming helicopter transport. Many times during the day did I hear the transmittals: “Inbound with three souls on board; ETA two minutes,” or “Inbound with four souls; ETA one minute.” In the busy ER, the radio transmissions were reminders that souls in need of care were arriving soon.
In the gospel passage we hear today on the Feast of Christ the King, we stand before the crucified Jesus and the two criminals hanging with him as death approaches. Yet, agonizing as the bloody scene surely is, Jesus and one of the criminals exchange simple words affirming life even as the appearance of death claims their broken, beaten bodies hanging side by side. With raspy voice, the dying man called out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43) Then, death seeming to have won and their shrouded bodies entombed, a three-day wait confirmed the promise of Jesus and affirmed the faith of the criminal.
It’s the foremost mystery of the Christian faith: renewed, vibrant life springs from apparent death. And the paradox is no less dramatic in the hospital ER when the radio captures our attention: “Inbound with three souls on board; ETA two minutes.” The Med-flight transmission reminds all of us in dramatic fashion that more than mortal flesh is arriving; immortal souls in need of care are on the way. And even should the best efforts of medicine fail to revive physical life in a body too broken, I’ve been witness to the respect and care given a soul now free from its fleshy frame, a soul transported to Paradise.
How often in difficult moments are the words of the criminal’s request reiterated by people of faith: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And each time, Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”