34th Sunday in Ordinary
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005
First Reading - Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Responsorial Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
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."
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which is the last Sunday in ordinary time. This year, it also occurs during the month of November - the month of all souls, when we spend time in prayer for the souls in Purgatory and meditating upon the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Next Sunday we will observe the First Sunday of the penitential season of Advent. The color of the vestments and altar settings will switch over to the penitential color of purple, the color most often associated with the season of Lent. Many do not associate the season of Advent with penance and that is because most office parties and Christmas parties occur before Christmas, not during or after the Christmas season. So it's a beautiful meditation to ponder the rhythm of the liturgical year as we have now this transition period. We are ending ordinary time and the last thing that we do when we end ordinary time is we consider Christ's sovereignty, his kingship, his lordship over all creation. That should draw us into a spirit of thanksgiving and humility - the proper posture when entering into a penitential season-Advent.
The image of Christ the King is one that causes discomfort among many persons in our country. It causes discomfort for several reasons: First, we Americans don't like the image of a king. You'll recall how the founding fathers of this country debated over what to call the office of what is now the presidency. The founding fathers deliberately rejected the idea of having a king. That was something of the old world. They were starting a new experiment, a new project - the American experience. So, we don't have the king of the executive branch, we have a president, a title which is a little bit more egalitarian,
Second, there are others who find discomfort in this image of Christ the King because in the last forty to fifty years we have been bombarded in the Church with images of "Jesus as your copilot," for example. You see bumper stickers that say, "Jesus is my copilot!" I always tell people, "If Jesus is your copilot, move over! Jesus is supposed to be the pilot; you're supposed to be the copilot!" And then we have these images with Jesus as my buddy. In east Los Angeles, gangs have a bumper sticker, "Jesus is my homeboy!" There's a devaluation of the sovereignty and the royalty of God, especially in his dominion over our lives.
Even consider at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. If you've been there, you know that in the apse, which is the church's back wall, is a very, very prominent mosaic. What is the image? It is Jesus, the Pantocractor. He is the Lord and ruler of all the universe returning for judgment. That image portrays the gospel you just heard today. If you have seen the image you'll know that our Lord has His hands up in the air. He's wearing a fire-red sash and he looks a little ticked off. He's coming back for some business. He's coming back to take names. My former spiritual director used to work there as the director of liturgy and he would tell me that when people used to come into the National Shrine and see that image of Jesus on the back wall, nearly four our of five visitors would ask him, "Father, who is that?" They had no idea that Christ will come again in judgment.
And yet, that is the very theme of our readings today. If you are not clear on this, Christ will return to separate the sheep from the goats. All of the readings point to this reality. So why is there this discomfort with this image of Christ the King? Why this trepidation to embrace this idea? After all, if we are trying by God's grace to the best of our ability and are cooperating with that grace to live according to his plan, we should be looking forward to Christ's return in glory because it means that there will be reward for those who are good and punishment for those who are evil - true justice. This is something that we should be anticipating.
And yet, the discomfort with the sovereignty of Christ persists. What I would like to present are a few common attitudes of persons who cannot accept Christ as King. I will also present some responses to these attitudes.
First, there are those who say, "I do not need to come to Mass on Sundays or participate in the sacramental life of the Church. After all, I'm a good person. I do good works, I'm relatively nice, I don't say bad things about other people, but I don't really see the need to participate in organized religion." What's the matter with that attitude? Well, several things. The most important problem with that attitude is that it presupposes that we will be judged according to standards that we set up as being acceptable in God's eyes. In other words, we don't pay any regard or attention to the commands he gave us. In this case, we are called to obey the third commandment - to keep holy the Sabbath. For Catholics, that means Mass attendance. It is a significant way in which we honor and love God above all things. I tell people who are convinced that they are good people, even though they do not come to Mass, that they are in fact, not good people. Good people do not live in mortal sin. It is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. I tell people, better you cut back on some of your good works if you need to make time to come to Mass than to somehow delude yourself into thinking "Well, I'll skip Mass today but do more good works during the week and it will all balance out. God will figure this out and he'll be ok with that."
That leads to a second problem which is the sin of presumption. One thinks that God will judge us according to standards, as I just mentioned, that we find acceptable without any reference at all with what he has revealed to us through Christ. There are those who say that Hell does not exist because an all-merciful God would not send anyone there. And yet, we know that in God, there is a perfect balance of justice and mercy. They don't contradict each other. The don't fight against each other. They are held in perfect unity. So in this life, while we have time, we live in God's mercy. We have the opportunity to participate in the sacramental life of the church, especially the sacrament of penance. We come to Mass as often as possible during the week and certainly on Sundays and holy days of obligation in order to be nourished by the Eucharist. But at the same time, we will live in God's justice in the next life. God will make us accountable for all that we have done and have failed to do in this life. There are many, many persons that I have met out there that believe that Hell does not exist, that nobody goes there, and certainly, not I. And I tell you, Saint Padre Pio used to say to people who were convinced of this, "You don't think Hell exists? You'll believe it when you get there." Padre Pio had the gift of clairvoyance and the gift of reading souls. He could tell penitents in the confessional what their sins were even before they confessed them. Or if people were withholding information about sins in the confessional (if people were not confessing all their sins), he would say, "Aren't you forgetting the following?" And so, for Padre Pio to say that to someone, I should hope would cause them some alarm - a type of wake-up call. And you see my friends' it's easy for us to fall into this complacency, this comfort, this softness when the Church does not give us these opportunities to ponder these four last things, these inescapable realities. And those of you who are older and perhaps have been seriously ill at one point in your life and have thought that maybe you would not have made it out of the hospital this time but miraculously you did, people who are older usually have a much better sense of their mortality because they know that their time is coming. Those of you in this church who are over fifty realize that most of your life on this earth has already been lived. Time is ticking and it is coming. And when we fail to recognize the standards to which we will be judged, than we can run ourselves into all different kinds of different problems.
So, how can we gain a little bit more confidence with this title of Christ the King? The first solution is a more arduous prayer life. One could not be a good spiritual director and could not recommend his directees to pray more fervently. But to pray with a certain focus in mind and that is this, very simply. To pray with the realization that God is the creator and we are God's creatures. We were not created for our own pleasure, sorry to say. We were created for God's pleasure and because of this inescapable reality, we are bound to follow what he asks of us. Now, we are radically free at the end of the day to choose against that. People are free to reject God. But, there are consequences for that posture. If you don't think there are, read the gospel again. The sheep and the goats.
Perhaps, if you need a visual image of how vividly this can be portrayed in art, many of you have been there or at least have seen in reproductions, Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" which is on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel where they elect the popes. In that beautiful, beautiful almost fifty foot high by forty foot wide fresco, Michelangelo paints the realities of the last times and one of the most vivid description that he gives is the image of the person who realizes that it is too late and they are curled up in a ball in utter anguish with their hands covering their face because they know time is up. There is no more time to change. There is no more time for conversion. This is it. And they live and assume this position, this posture of anguish in the fresco because they realize that there is no more second chance. Indeed the maxim is true; in this life we live in God's mercy, in the next life we will live in his justice.
The last thing that I would like to recommend, other than assiduous prayer life with this meditation on how we are creatures in the eyes of the creator, is a very simple exercise that I find many people do not do but ought to. And that is every night before you retire, just take three to five, or maybe even ten minutes if you're a little slow at that time of the day, to make a good examination of conscience regarding the day that has just passed. Take a good look at yourself but not merely through your own eyes. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an increase in the gift of understanding to penetrate and perceive how God sees you. Be brutally honest with him, "Lord, show me my soul as you see it. Show me where I lack as you see it. Show me where I have grown as you see it." If we don't look at ourselves as God sees us, when the time comes for an accounting we will have two different lists of standards by which we will judge ourselves. And then we will come to the realization that we will not judge ourselves, God will judge us. If we don't have that brutal honesty with ourselves, how can we be brutally honest with God? We must ask him, "Lord, show me my soul as you see it." As a follow up to that of course is frequent confessions. We are entering into a penitential season called Advent. It is marked by more prayer, more fasting, and to make a good confession because until we come clean and confess our sins - not only our mortal sins but our deliberate venial sins, Christ will not fully reign on the throne of our hearts. And that is the final point today. We must ask ourselves daily, "Who was the king in my life today? Was it me? Was it you, so and so? Or was it Christ Himself? Did Christ actually reign supreme on the throne of my heart today or was I so self-centered, so caught up in my own life, so caught up in what I perceive to be my own problems that Christ the King never had a hearing or two minutes in the court of my heart." That is a very powerful mediation because until we allow Christ to reign supreme on the throne of our hearts, who will be king? Only me.
Let us pray today through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who above all else in the history of humanity knew that when Christ reigns supreme in the human heart, God is well-pleased. We can only be impowered to do God's will as he truly desires us to do it when we allow him that space. All he asks is for a little opening to break through the hardness and the depth of our hearts. Let us pray today for that true openness, that true honesty so that Christ may not only reign in our hears, but in the hearts of all mankind.
Praised by Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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