The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Homily: Solemnity of Christ the King

Readings: Ez 34:11-12,15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26.28; Mt 25:31-

During the past twelve months the liturgy has led us from Advent and the world’s expectation of a Savior, to His arrival among us as a helpless infant, through His ministry, His passion and death, to His resurrection and His return to the Father. Then, beginning with Pentecost, we experienced the Church’s pilgrimage as it awaits Christ’s final coming in glorified splendor.

And so today, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the very pinnacle of salvation history, when all that is, ever was, and ever will be is subjected to Christ’s rule. As usual, St. Paul says it best in today's second reading:  
“…when He hands over the kingdom to His God and Father, when He has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.” 
Christ in Majesty - National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - Washington
You see, there can be only one eternal King, and all human authority must be subjected to Him. That’s why the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King when it does. It not only brings the movement of salvation history to a decisive end, but also presents us with something wonderfully new.

But what about God's Kingdom? What kind of Kingdom is it? Certainly it's a Kingdom like no other. “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Jesus told Pilate before His crucifixion.

Exactly so. For Jesus brought His kingdom into this world. Indeed, that he came to establish a Kingdom was clear from the moment He began His public ministry. And He affirmed His Kingdom openly and unequivocally.

Read the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then reread the Gospel parables in which Jesus reveals its mysteries. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…like leaven…a treasure hidden in a field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea. Yes, it’s a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom founded on eternal truth. But what’s the truth about this spiritual Kingdom?

Well, as Jesus told us, it’s not of this world…but it’s certainly in this world. It’s in the Church He founded. It’s in each one of us who bears witness to the truth of God’s revelation. The Kingdom, then, isn’t a place. It’s a people, God’s people of faith responding in obedience and love to the will of their King…a King who owns us body and soul, who purchased us on the cross with his blood.

What kind of King is Jesus? Well, the prophet Ezekiel gives us God's answer to this question in today’s first reading. It’s among the earliest portrayals of God as a shepherd lovingly tending His flock.
 "I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark."
"I will give them rest…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…"
Yes, Ezekiel tells us, we have a loving God, a God who cares deeply about every aspect of our lives. But, the prophet adds, our eternal King is also a judge. Listen again…
"…the sleek and strong I will destroy…I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats."
Yes, we will be judged, but we determine how we are judged by our acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord, when, in faith, we do the Father's will. For empty words mean nothing. Do you recall what Jesus said about this?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”
How often do we plead with God to save us, to heal us, to help us in all sorts of earthly things and yet remain indifferent to His divine Will? Contrast this to the silence of the saints who implore God, not only with their words, but by reforming their lives. To reform our lives, though, we must freely allow God’s grace to shape our wills to His; we must allow Christ the King to rule over us. You see, God calls us to obedience, but He never forces Himself on us. He lets us decide whether to serve Him or reject Him. In effect, God places the keys to His Kingdom in each of our hands.

And what does He call us to do? Nothing less than His work, the work of the shepherd. He wants us to love, because God is Love. This means He wants us to be Godly. This is the work that Jesus spells out so clearly in today's Gospel reading from Matthew 25 depicting the last judgment. And do you know, it’s the only place in Scripture where the last judgment is described? Did you hear Jesus' words?
"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."
You see, Jesus is telling us that we can't separate God's two great commandments. When we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, we must also love each other. To deny one is to deny the other. Jesus suffered and died for us all, not just for a select few. Every person, no matter how sinful, no matter how separated from God, remains a child of God, a unique creation, a product of His infinite love. To ignore this truth is to run the risk of one day hearing those forbidding words:
"Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me no food, 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."
Michelangelo's Fresco of the Last Judgment
In a few moments as Father Peter begins the Eucharistic Prayer he will pray the Preface of Christ the King which affirms a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” This is the kingdom we are called to serve.

The question for us? Are we willing to serve, to carry the Word of God to an unbelieving world?

Are we men and women of truth, conformed to God’s Will and faithful to His commandments and to the teachings of His Church?

Does Christ our King truly live in us? Will the grace we receive today in the Eucharist transform our minds and hearts, making us into new creations?

Can we put aside the pragmatism of human justice and accept God’s perfect justice into our hearts?

Do we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned? Are we fathers to the fatherless? Mothers to the motherless?

Is our love for one another as outstretched as the arms of Christ on the cross?

God knows, I am not accusing you. For my own answers to these questions only show me how far I am from the kingdom. And so, brothers and sisters, until the kingdom comes in glory, we all have a fair amount of work to do. But, do you know what? We have the power to do it, for we do it with Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

Praised be Jesus Christ the and foever!

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