26 November 2017Christ the King

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Christ the King
Feast of Christ the King - Cycle A
Matthew 25:31-46

A pastor tells of a parish having a mission. At the close, 100 people quit the parish. Why? Because the real Christ in His entirety was preached. While the Gospel is good news, the authentic Christ is not comfortable news. Enlisting with the real Jesus may be dangerous to health and life. What is it about the Christ that conjures up so many various and even opposing images? What is that quality that separates Him from the inscrutable Buddha or any of the Mount Olympus gods? More significantly, which of these many images is the authentic Jesus?

Will the real Jesus stand up so we may know Him? (Hans Kuhn) Is the authentic Christ the beardless shepherd boy drawn on the catacomb walls in the early centuries? Or is He the middle-aged emperor found in magnificent mosaics on the ceilings of eastern cathedrals? Bear in mind the western Church today demotes Him to a king. Yet, He never claimed to be either emperor or king. (Kuhn) Is the genuine Jesus the word-picture of the 14th century William Langland, who says, "Jesus Christ of heaven, in the apparel of a poor man, pursues us always."? Does He belong to the Renaissance Fra Angelico who wept each time he painted the Passion?

Or is He the striking figure of the sixteenth century Raphael looking as though He never suffered from an upset stomach in His life? Or does He belong to Michelangelo who draws Him forever in torment? Does Altdorfer capture Him when He paints Him saying goodbye to His mother? He looks like someone leaving Nazareth for Cape Cod for a holiday and wondering whether He remembered to bring His credit card. Or is the genuine Jesus, someone else wonders, the weak figure of the European schools of the nineteenth century or the saccharine Sacred Heart of the twentieth?

Could it be the real Christ is drawn by Frederick Buechner when he describes Him as "the wizard of all wizards?" Which film catches His spirit best? Is it the lavish production of DeMille's "The King of Kings"? Or is it Scorsese's "Last Temptation of Christ?" Or is it Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" with all its blood? What will the reigning picture of Him be in this century? The sheer genius of the Teacher is that there are almost as many pictures of Him as there are minds to work them up. Africans paint Him black. Caucasians white. Asians as yellow. They are all correct. He is the property of everyone.

Paradoxically, though, no one is surprised that He remains His own Man. Here is an image of the Master popular with college students. Beneath the picture of a macho-looking Christ runs this message: "Jesus aka Christ wanted on charges of sedition, anarchy, vagrancy, and conspiring to overthrow the government. Dresses poorly. Uses carpentry as cover. Has visionary ideas. Associates with working people, unemployed, and winos. Has variety of aliases: Prince of Peace, Son of Man, Light of the world, etc. Full beard and scars on hands and feet the results of injuries inflicted by angry mob led by respectable citizens and local authorities." (Unknown) A description such as the above was worked up as an alternative to the unattractive Christs given to Christian young by 20th century "artists." This faux Nazarene was typified by the plastic Jesus affixed by suction cup to the dashboards of cars in the last century. Not only was the statue plastic but somehow so also was Christ.

Many as a result rejected the Church but held on to their Christ. Their company would include world-class poets, artists, and philosophers. For example, the Jewish novelist Franz Kafka writes, "What shall we say of Christ? He is an abyss filled with life. We must close our eyes if we are not to fall into it." Intellectuals could not turn their backs on a Jesus who not only fed hungry people but also gave them food for their long journey home. They admire a Man who instructed His followers that they must forgive not seven times but seventy times seven. They salute a Man who does not simply dictate.

He educates, challenges, and invites. (Unknown) This is the Person we come here to salute today on the feast of Christ the King. Call Him anything you want - Christ the Sultan, Christ the President, Christ the Pharaoh. It is immaterial to Him. He remains the Son of God. The Acts of the Apostles tell us He turned history upside down by His resurrection. He remains a tornado to this day. But enough of this! Christ is a pleasure to be enjoyed daily by everyone and not a riddle to be understood by anyone. (Unknown) 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Christ the King
The Solemnity of Christ the King: Are We Part of the Problem, or Are We the Vehicles of the Solution?

We come to Church every weekend to find some relief from the troubles of our lives as well as those of the world. And even if we are keeping an eye on children, or distracted by those around us, we still have those precious moments of peace when we are with our Lord. When you came to church today, you learned that this is a special celebration, the Solemnity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. You might have thought, "That's nice, "but really what does this have to do with me?

Still, it is a pleasant framework for our prayers." What does the celebration of Christ the King mean? It means everything. It means that there is a solution to the problems of the world. The feast calls us to be part of the solution. It warns us that if we are not part of the solution to the world's deepest needs, we will be part of the world's problems. Today's celebration concludes the Church year by reflecting on the fundamental truths of Christianity. Those truths are that Jesus Christ came to restore spiritual life to mankind and form mankind into a Kingdom for God the Father.

This is made explicit in today's second reading, from the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. The resurrection of Jesus has restored the life that was lost by mankind. All who belong to Christ will be handed over to God the Father at the end of time. This Sunday is not just about salvation history. It is not just about events that happened in the past. Nor is it about people in other places. The Solemnity of Christ the King is about us, right here, right now. If we do not have God in our lives, then our lives are futile, meaningless and dead. Without God we go through the motions secretly asking ourselves, "Why bother?

Why bother with raising children? Why bother with caring for others? Why bother with being good? Why bother with anything?" If we do not have God in our lives, we will easily overlook His Presence reaching out to us in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked and all those Jesus mentions in the Gospel reading. If we do not have God in our lives, we are part of the problem of the world.

The Presence of God protects us from going through the motions of life. The Presence of God gives us to ability to live each moment as an opportunity to grow closer to Him. The Presence of God within each of us leads us to be the solution to the world's needs. Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. Santa's float was the last one in the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade. The holidays are upon us. Without God, Thanksgiving was just a day for a big meal. Without God, Christmas will be nothing more than a celebration of materialism.

Decorations will be taken out of their storage boxes and the proper sentiments will be mustered up, but without God, Christmas will merely be a day of empty sentiments. But with God in our lives, Christmas becomes an opportunity for us to draw into a deeper union with the Presence that gives value to all life. St. Paul writes that those who belong to Christ will be formed into a kingdom that will be handed over to his God and Father. Every sovereignty, every authority and every power in the world will be destroyed.

There will be no presidents nor prime ministers, not ayatollahs nor any form of prince. The only King who is eternal is Jesus Christ. The only kingdom that will remain is that of God the Father. And we are members of that Kingdom. Or, are we? That is the question put before us in the teaching on the sheep and the goats. Both sheep and goats were surprised to learn that the Son of Man appearing to them in His Glory, with majestic, bright lights, with angels all over the place, and with trumpets booming out like thunder, this same Son of Man, the Judge of the Living and the Dead, was present to them in the suffering of the world.

The sheep did not need to be told what to do. They cared for others. They did what the deep presence of the Lord within them led them to do: they reached out to those who needed them. They cared for Christ. The goats could not be concerned with anyone but themselves. They ignored the plight of others and missed the Presence of God. If we are serious about our Christianity, if we are committed to the Kingdom of God, then we will be living lives of sacrificial love, the love of Jesus Christ.

Out of love for Christ, we will have no choice but to reach out to the suffering of the world. In this way, we will recognize the Presence of God in those who might not even recognize His Presence in themselves. But if we are wrapped up in selfishness, if our lives are about "taking care of number one," then we will miss our opportunity to serve God in others. We are either part of the solu. tion, or we are part of the problem. The true members of the Kingdom live their Christianity in a way that restores the world to the Lord. Those who are wrapped up in themselves, not only miss the opportunity to care for others, but they live their lives in a way that adds to the plight of the suffering. Are we members of the Kingdom of not?

Are we part of the solution or part of the problem? Acts of charity are not just nice things to do. They are not add-ons to our faith. Our charity to others is fundamental to our faith. During the last twelve months we have followed the life of Jesus from the prophesies of last Advent, through his birth, mission, death and resurrection. We have prayed over the message of His life as well as His teachings. Now, at the conclusion to the year we beg Him to help us recognize Him in our world and to acknowledge His presence in others. We seek the mercy of His continual grace drawing us out of ourselves. We humbly seek to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Christ is our King. May we be true members of his Kingdom.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Christ the King
Most Distressing Disguise (November 26, 2017)

Bottom line: Jesus comes in surprising ways - as Mother Teresa says, sometimes in a most distressing disguise. "Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me. Today's Gospel can seem overwhelming, even scary. At the end of history Jesus divides people into two groups: sheep and goats. The sheep enter eternal life and the goats go off to eternal punishment. The sheep unknowingly cared for Jesus who was hungry, outcast, ill and imprisoned. To use St. Teresa of Calcutta's phrase, they served Jesus in "his most distressing disguise." The goats, on the other hand, neglected to care for Jesus in disguise. How should we understand this parable of sheep and goats? It's important to recall the context.

It comes right after the parables of the talents and the ten virgins in the wedding party. If you remember the basic message is that God establishes a partnership with us. He gives gifts and talents - and expects a return. God wants us ready because he comes unexpectedly. He comes in surprising ways - perhaps none more surprising than what Jesus tells us today, in the disguise of the hungry, the imprisoned, the ill, the outcast. In recent weeks our parish has reached out to the homeless, especially through the Community Dinner. Parishioners have shared they have a child, nephew or grandchild living on the streets. As you can imagine it breaks their hearts. They don't know what to do, how to reach that loved one. To think about the homeless can overwhelm, especially if you include others Jesus calls his "least ones": the gravely ill and imprisoned. We drive by them every day.

The Monroe prison holds some 2,400 offenders. So should we all volunteer for prison ministry? Join St. Vincent de Paul? Sign up for a Mission Trip to Peru? Obviously, I am delighted with those responses, but I think there is something more basic. It's what Jesus said last weekend about the talents.

Pray about the gifts God has given you and how he wants you to invest them. Let me illustrate. In our last Peru delegation we had a guy great at carpentry and home repairs. He redid the kitchen we use to prepare meals for 40 or 50 children. He got the water hooked up so we don't run out for washing hands and for the toilets. He did it for the those Jesus calls the littlest ones. Do you see? This guy not only had good will; he had spent years developing practical skills. Now, we are not all good at repairs. I can barely sew on a button! Yet if we each discern our gifts, we can do amazing things, or better put, God can do amazing things through us.

God has given us gifts of time, talents and material resources. The second reading has a phrase that should help us invest our gifts. St Paul talks about "first fruits." We've received the first fruits of Jesus' sacrifice. He wants us to dedicate our own first fruits back to God. We'll hear more about this in Advent - the season we focus on God's coming. Remember this: God has established a partnership with you and me. He has given us gifts and expects a return - first fruits. And he comes in surprising ways - as Mother Teresa says, sometimes in a most distressing disguise. "Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Christ the King
Christ the King, Modern Lectionary 160

In the Gospels Jesus uses the image of a kingdom many times to illustrate what the new life which he came to inaugurate will be like. While we have systems of government today that are elected by the people and not inherited from generation to generation we can nonetheless see the relevance of the kingdom image, unifying as it does an entire people under the leadership and providence of a benevolent ruler. Through the history of the Church many Catholic nations in fact had kings, and the Church itself took on some features of a monarchy. When we celebrate the solemn feast of Christ the King at present we look not to earthly dominion as the fulfillment of the Church's mission, but rather to the conversion of all peoples to the kingdom of Christ which he himself said "is not of this world” (John 18:36). Reflecting on Christ the King and his realm today's readings bring us to consider the final judgment which will signal the completion and perfection of the Kingdom.

That the feast of Christ the King occurs at the end of the Church year (Advent begins next week) signals our belief that our Lord's Kingdom will only come in its fullness at the end of time. To prepare us for the end time the Church turns back to the prophet Ezekiel, who is speaking of the return of God's chosen people to their former realm of Israel and the fearsome judgement that will accompany this homecoming. The same prophetic words can be applied to the Christian people, for before entering into God's Kingdom we too will be subject to a judgment which is perfectly just and which allows for no appeal.

The second reading from Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians explains that God's power to act as a true King and just Judge is manifested through the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Briefly, Paul tells us that Christ's resurrection means two things for us: first, the fact that he was raised means that we too—whose nature he assumed—will be raised. Secondly, he teaches us that Christ's resurrection is definitive proof of his victory over sin and death: "then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:24-26).

With all of this in mind, we must ask: How can we be judged worthy to stand with the "sheep” at the resurrection and enter the Kingdom of God? The Gospel's fearsome last judgment scene provides an answer by outlining the moral consequences of being a disciple of Christ and reminding us how we must respond as those who have accepted the dominion of Christ our risen King, truly living as citizens of his Kingdom.

If the Gospel sounds harsh, we should remember that earlier in the same Gospel Jesus said "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 7:21). This sobering but ultimately hope-filled picture is affirmed elsewhere in the Bible when Saint Paul teaches that those who are members of Christ and who stand in the hope of the resurrection must live as though they are united with Christ always—they are to live in newness of life even in the present day (see Rom 6:4-11).

Hoping to become full citizens of the Kingdom of Christ we rejoice in the love of our God whose justice is unflinching, whose will is benevolent—and whose mercy endures forever.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Christ the King
Feast of Christ the King

We have reached the final Sunday of the Liturgical Year which celebrates the Feast of Christ the King and in the Gospel today we are presented with the account of the Final Judgement. This is appropriate since that final great day will be the culmination of the whole of history, it will be what we have all been waiting and praying and working towards. I was talking to a priest the other day who had just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He told me that at one point they had come across a Bedouin who was tending his flock. The flock was comprised of both sheep and goats but he said that it was impossible for him to determine which was a sheep and which was a goat. After a while he began to realise that the goats had more well-formed horns than the sheep, but to him that was about the only discernible difference. Here in Britain, with our rather different breeds of sheep and goats, the two animals are quite distinct and easy to tell apart, but not in the Holy Land. The point is that this little insight helps us to understand why the separation of the sheep and the goats mentioned in out text today is so relevant when considering the Last Judgement.

Superficially it is hard to know the difference between sheep and goats. This corresponds to the reality we experience each day; it is hard to know who will be saved and who will be condemned. We all look alike and from the outside it is not possible to discern which of us would ultimately be classified as sheep and which as goats in the vision of the Last Judgement given to us in St Matthew's Gospel. Indeed, we have to conclude that it is virtually impossible to tell where a particular person will end up, because in order to do so we would have to look into the human heart. The only person who can do this is the Lord himself. It is only him who is qualified to be our judge since it is only he who can discern our motives and see into the secrets of our hearts.

This is just as well, because we human beings are not very accurate in the judgements we make. Even in such an advanced country as Britain our justice system is quite imperfect and we are all aware how easy it has been over the years for serious miscarriages of justice to arise. Clearly our merely human judgement is not to be relied upon and the only one we can depend upon to make the right judgements is the Lord of Life himself. Justice needs to be tempered with mercy but in order to be able to dispense mercy one needs to be fully aware of all the facts and know the motivations of the individual, the kinds of pressures they are under and how they are able to cope with them. No human being could ever fully understand another person or know precisely what makes them tick.

This is something that only God can do which is why he is the only one who is qualified or even capable of judging our actions. The important thing to realise about the words of Jesus today is that he tells us precisely on what grounds we are going to be judged. However, he does not list the Ten Commandments or give us any other list of rules and then tick off whether we have kept them or not. No, what he says is that we are going to be judged on how merciful we have been. It is the depth of our compassion that is going to be under scrutiny on that day. This is most fitting because on that great Day of Days we are, all of us, going to be desperately seeking God's mercy. And Jesus is telling us that the amount of mercy we will be granted is going to be in direct proportion to the amount of mercy we have shown others.

The words Jesus uses are quite explicit, ?For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.' This then is the basis of the Divine Judgement; how we have treated the hungry and the thirsty, whether we have welcomed the stranger, whether we have clothed the naked or visited the sick or those in prison. Of course, in today's world it is very difficult to visit someone who is in prison unless they send you a visitor's pass, so I'm sure that there will be some leniency on that score. But it is worth noting that all these things are utterly practical. They involve us doing very simple and straightforward things such as visiting the sick and clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.

I am sure that there are many other useful things that we could include under these broad headings such as befriending the elderly, inviting a lonely person to lunch at Christmas, serving food in a night shelter or doing other voluntary work in the community such as listening to a child read in school or bringing patients down to mass in the Royal Hospital on a Sunday afternoon. You will notice that the Lord is not telling us that the Final Judgement is going to be based on how we feel or even on whether we have said our prayers, important though that is. No, this judgement is solely going to be based on our practical actions and in particular how we have helped our neighbour.

Christ when he was asked which was the greatest commandment actually stated that there were two similar commandments: Love God and love your neighbour. Here we are being told that the judgement of our lives will be about whether we have loved our neighbour. I suppose that because these two commandments are so closely related we are being told that by loving our neighbour we are actually loving God. I think that it might be on this basis that many atheists might get into heaven well before some believing Christians.
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