Sunday, November 23, 2014

Homily for Feast of Christ the King

Homily for the Feast of
Christ the King
Nov. 23, 2014
Matt 25: 31-46
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, … all the nations will be assembled before him” (Matt 25: 31).

The Last Judgment
by William de Brailes (fl. ca. 1250)
The feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year.  As the year ends, the Church wants us to think about other endings.  Last Sunday and today we’ve heard gospel parables about God’s final judgment of the world, and of each of us individually.

Last Sunday’s parable of the servants entrusted with investing their master’s money might be read as referring to the disciples of Jesus in particular.  Today’s parable brings “all the nations,” every human being and not just Christians, before the throne of judgment.  There Christ, the Son of Man, sits as king, separating good people from bad, as a shepherd separates sheep from goats at the end of the day to send them to their proper shelters for the nite (25:32), and Christ, the king, decrees the reward of the just and the punishment of the wicked.

We could be shocked at the criterion by which the nations are judged, the sheep set on the right and the goats on the left.  No one is asked, “Do you believe in God?”, which is the 1st question posed to us when we come for Baptism and when we renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday; or “Do you claim Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”, which seems to be the favorite standard of evangelical Christians.  As some ancient Christian writers observed, even the devils believe in God and know that Christ died and rose to save mankind.  Those aren’t the questions that the king asks the nations, are they?

No, the criterion is whether one has acted as a child of God, regardless of whether one has ever acknowledged God’s existence; whether one has acted like a disciple of Jesus Christ, regardless of whether one ever heard his name.  So much for those exclusionists who—falsely—maintain that only Christians will be saved!

The king calls “blessed by my Father” (25:34) those who practiced the works of mercy and calls them to eternal life.  No need for me to repeat the list of those works of mercy, which you just heard 4 times.  You probably could quote them back to me now.  And the king condemns to hell—to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41)—those who ignored the works of mercy.  If they had any excuses, the king isn’t listening; doesn’t even give them a chance to offer excuses.  “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire” (25:41).  Is there a more dreadful sentence in the human vocabulary?

This parable, this teaching of Jesus, brings out the requirement that everyone, regardless of faith, practice love of neighbor, treat everyone with dignity, look after those who are less fortunate.

But it points especially to our obligation as followers of Jesus to do those things.  It’s not sufficient that we come to church on Sundays; not sufficient that we recite the Creed once a week, no matter how firmly we believe what it says.  (And one of the things it says is, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”)

The staff and other regulars here have already heard me say more than once what our bishops have been saying for almost 3 years in the face of certain rules imposed by the federal government.  The practice of the works of mercy is an essential part of our faith, not an optional part, not an extracurricular program.  Running hospitals, nursing homes, schools, Catholic Relief Services, etc., is just as much a part of our religious practice as our Sunday worship and our catechism classes.  Under our Constitution, the government has no business telling us which of our practices are religious—and thus exempt from the government mandate to provide immoral services to our employees or patients or clients, or to cooperate in providing immoral services—and which practices are not religious and therefore must cover those immoral services that government officials want to think are part of “health care.”

Jesus’ parable concerns all of us, and not just the Church as an institution with hospitals, schools, nursing homes, orphanages, emergency relief, etc.  All of us are obliged to do works of mercy according to our own means and opportunities.

We might feed the hungry by volunteering in a local soup kitchen or making sandwiches for the teens who are taking part in Midnite Run; by donating money to CRS to that they can feed refugees from the wars in Syria and Iraq; or teaching youths a trade or skill that will help them earn a livelihood.

We might visit the sick—or the elderly—starting with our own families; or take part in some kind of outreach at a hospital or nursing home; or volunteer for blood drives (as donors or workers); or help out at a shelter for battered women or women with a problem pregnancy.  Eucharistic ministers bring Holy Communion to the homebound.  You who work or volunteer here have a privileged opportunity that enables you to live Jesus’ command every day; try to do that mindfully and not just as a job or a task.

How do we welcome the stranger?  What’s our attitude toward immigrants?  toward anyone who’s different from us—different in color, gender, age, religion?  Do we do our best to treat everyone as a brother or sister, not only when we speak to them but when we speak about them when they’re not around?  Are there immigrant kids in our local school who could use a tutor in English or some other subject, whom we might help?  With what manner do we answer someone who asks us for directions in a store or on the street?

We’d go crazy if we felt obliged to be actively involved in every single work of mercy:  feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and the prisoner, not to mention works that Jesus doesn’t list, like instructing the ignorant.  No one can do everything.  There’s only one Savior!  But we do have to recognize Jesus in needy people who come our way or whose situation is set before us, e.g., in a special collection at church or after a natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti; and we have to respond to them as we would to Jesus, within our own circumstances.

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