Christ The King
A Homily - Cycle A - 2001-2002
First Reading - Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Gospel - Matthew 25:31-46
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "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. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Europe was in flames. Attila the Hun was sweeping through a collapsing Roman Empire - bringing death, ruin and terror wherever he went. The Empire was too weak to defend itself. The end seemed near. St. Martin of Tour wrote that the Antichrist had been born. St. Augustine wrote "The City of God" to calm fears in light of the collapse of civilization, assuring people of God's constant concern. The stage was set for Christ to return. Pope St. Leo the Great went unarmed to meet Attila at the town of Peschiera. The year was 452. What was said will never be known. What is known is that the Hun was turned back by the priest. Perhaps Leo had revealed to Attila a vision of the Last Judgment. Attila the Hun, who feared no mortal, learned the fear of God. Attila died. Leo died. And the world continued.
Europe was in flames - flames set not by Huns and Mongols, but by Vikings to the North, Muslims to the South, and Magyars to the East. Plagues decimated the populations of many villages. Charlemagne who held Europe together was long dead and the throne was usurped by Otto the Saxon and powerful French barons who brushed aside the weak Louis IV. The year was 963. As the year 1000 approached, the general feeling was that Christ would return for the last Judgment. Pope Sylvester II had a speech prepared to welcome the Lord before the business of Judgment began. The mystic Abbot Adso of Montier-en-Der died. Sylvester II died. And the world continued.
Europe was in flames. The late Middle Ages and early Renaissance had been periods of progress in the arts and sciences, but also a time of tremendous fracturing in Europe, a time of many wars to mark off the boundaries of modern European countries as they broke from the old empires. The Church was blessed with great saints: Bl. John Duns Scotus, Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, St. Angela Merici and St. Catherine of Siena. The Church enjoyed the work of great artists like Michelangelo, Rafael and Palestrina. She was also plagued by immoral popes and bishops. There was a great division in the Church with three men claiming to be Pope at the same time. The real pope had moved from Italy to Avignon, France and then back again after about 80 years. The black death stalked the major cities of Europe and civilization was again threatened by the Muslims who wanted a hostile takeover. The end of the world seemed very near for Europe was teetering on the brink of political disaster and the Church was rotting at every level. The Dominican Friar Girolamo Savonarola preached a need for repentance and reform because the justice of God would be swift and severe. The immoral popes died. The Muslims were beaten back at the battle of Lepanto. Savonarola was burned at the stake. And the world continued...except for them.
Europe was in flames. The Allies were combating Germany, Austria-Aungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. The legacy of World War I was widespread atheism on the part of Europeans, a loss of faith in Christ and the Church. Atheistic communism began to be a state-sponsored ideology. The destruction of World War I surpassed the combined loss of all previous wars. Pope Pius XI excommunicated all Catholics who were members of the Communist Party. A voice from shepherd children in the countryside of Fatima, Portugal said that repentance and conversion were essential. Russia must be converted, lest it be the Antichrist. The end of the world seemed near. Joseph Stalin died. The Soviet Union died. Communism died. And the world continues...and so do the flames.
The readings of today's Mass have a tone of finality to them. We are at the end of the Church's liturgical year, the Feast of Christ the King. We will start all over again next week with the beginning of Advent. In these waning days of the Church's year and in this month of harvest, the Church puts before us readings about the final harvest that will take place when Christ comes for the Last Judgment.
Today's Gospel is the Lord's very solemn eschatological discourse describing the reward of the just and the punishment of the wicked which comes about as a result of the moral quality of their lives on earth. We are dramatically warned that what we do in the world, we do to Christ Himself. Generally, when these sorts of biblical passages are read, we tend to hear only one thing, our minds tend to fixate on the fire and the punishment. In these moments of objective distraction, we easily lose our grip on the fact that the Gospel is GOOD news. Yes, the evil of this world will be burned away by the love of God which overcomes all obstacles to goodness. That is GOOD news. God will rescue and reward the good. That is GREAT news.
In all ages except our own, the return of Jesus at the final Judgment has been the object of prayer and the hope of believers. Somehow, in this age, I think, because of movies about Omens and Seven Seals, which actually glamorize evil, we now want to run and hide from God, like the freshly fallen Adam in the Garden of Eden. But the Church - proclaiming the Gospel of Her Spouse - says that the Gospel doesn't have to be a message that stifles joy. In fact, the Gospel should cause joy. "Thy Kingdom come" is the prayer given to us by Christ Himself.
There will be wars and plagues and persecutions. There always have been. There still are. I would imagine that there will be for a long time to come. The prophets of the apocalypse come around not every 500 years, but they're always with us.
Many here have lived through the polio epidemic, World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. At this moment, we are all living through the plague of AIDS, the war against terrorism and the holocaust of the unborn which has now quadrupled the number of casualties of the Nazi holocaust. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. There are signs of doom and there are good reasons to rush to confession. Undeniable.
Many at this moment live not in a political apocalypse, but a personal apocalypse of sin, moral compromise, sickness, divorce or loneliness or something else that breaks our heart. We are invited today to open ourselves to the one we love - the one we hear in the first reading who is the ever-watchful and ever-protecting shepherd of His people, His beloved Church. He is the one who promises to reward our earthly fidelity with an eternal life with Him, a life of unimaginable fulfillment and peace.
In the face of all signs of despair and distrust in our own day and city, in spite of all temptations to write off estranged family members or friends, through all our heartache and the illnesses we may suffer, let us take very much to heart Jesus' words today. May our prayers bring hope and deep peace to those who need them. May we derive a sense of justice and sacrifice from our discipleship that makes us sensitive and mature. May we ALWAYS trust Jesus the Lord despite the flames in Europe, the terrorists in the airports and the violence done to our own dignity. May the Lord always hold us near His Sacred Heart and may the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose own heart was pierced with the lance of sorrow, teach us peace and serenity in an uncertain world.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and Forever.