As any priest or deacon knows, you do not try to win a popularity contest in your preaching. There will always be some who like a particular clergy’s speech and others who do not. What each us does try to di is to preach from our studies at seminary and, most of all, from our hearts which we hope are spirit filled, I know there are some here who think that Deacon Steve talks too much about himself – to those, my answer is that my homiletics instructor in seminary always said to try and personalize each homily, let the people know that you too have gone through the same trials and tribulations. So I share some of those in my homilies. There is even one Texan in this Church — at least I think he is Texan, who tells me that, after each homily, he is convinced that he is gong to purgatory. Of course, I remind him that’s better than going farther down. But if my homilies have ever made you uncomfortable, then today is going to be a humdinger.
Today, we celebrate he Feast of Christ The King., Although Christ has always been recognized by the Church as the King of kings, the Feast of “Christ the King” did not receive its official recognition until its institution in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
Today’s Gospel echoes the eternal Divine love and justice of our beloved King. He will show His eternal love to those who have shown love in this world. He will show His eternal justice against those who have failed to live a righteous life.
God, not by us, sets the criterion for judgment. Jesus suggests that when the sun sets on human history, God will separate us on the basis of our hearts. He gave us two commandments. We did not hear that his judgment will be based on the ten commandments on which so many folks base their sacramental confessions, but on the extent to which we listen to Jesus’ articulation of the love of God / neighbor spelled-out in today’s Gospel. He looks to both our decisions and the motivations for our decisions in our care for the least powerful in society with whom he identifies himself. Doing or failing to do for them is doing or failing to do for him. If we have been motivated by personal recognition, we heard in another place, “They have already received their reward.” The one required motive is love. It is significant that both the sheep and the goats were surprised at the criterion for judgment. Whether the sheep fed and clothed the poor, or the goats ignored them, they acted or failed to act from their loving or unloving hearts. Jesus is advocating genuine selflessness here. The “goats” ignored the poor, the “sheep’ cared for the poor, not knowing that they would receive any reward for their service. It was that attitude of loving concern that god rewarded.
Jesus, like those who preceded him, offers this parable to help prevent a sad judgment. We heard in the first reading from Ezekiel: “I myself will look after you and tend my sheep.” Our responsorial was a prayer praising the tenderness of the divine shepherd toward us. Examples abound.
Today’s Gospel is as if God is offering us a copy of the final exam early. He does this because it is his will that we should be with him forever. If God gives us even the example of Jesus to model the way, how can any of us refuse to listen?
We’ve come the full circle, as it were, liturgically, and are confronted once again with the questions: who or what really rules in our world, our lives, our hearts? From whom do we take our direction? Is it Jesus Christ or is it Barack Obama or Julia Gillard or the media or pop heroes or our peers? What are the sovereign values in our lives: are they Jesus’ values of nourishing the needy, liberating those who are trapped, loving those who are unlovely, or the values of ‘the world’ such as accumulating wealth and power, always getting my own way, sacrificing for no one, committing to nothing? What are the ruling passions in our lives: are they faith, hope and love, or are they greed, envy, grudges, control, the very things that lie behind both the world wars and the more local family feuds?
Every day we Christians pray to God “Thy kingdom come” but do we really mean it? Do we really want Christ to rule our feelings, character, relationships, our decisions and our destiny? Calling Him King is easy in the liturgy. It is easy to ask Him to conquer the dictators and the nursing home arsonists. But do we really want Christ to conquer us? Of course – you might say – of course I love God and want to know and serve Him in this life and be with Him forever in the next: that’s why I’m here today and quite regularly. Most of us could say that, I guess. But to ask Christ to be your King is to trust totally in His providence and there’s the rub,
Now, there is one view of providence that is not much better than superstition: it’s the idea that I can just close my eyes and walk across the M2 and God will protect me. Or that when I bump into someone I was thinking of, it must be because God organised things that way. Or that whatever mess I make of my life God is somehow to blame and it’s up to Him to fix it. Coincidence and human irresponsibility are not providence. Providence, as Christians understand it, is God’s continuing creative and re-creative activity. God doesn’t just make the world and then go away on holidays, leaving us to our own devices. No, at every moment He continues to sustain the universe, to hold each one of us ‘in the palm of His hand’, even those who’ve never heard of Him or who reject Him. He is present and active with His creative power and redeeming love, not just at the start or the end, not just when we are noticing. In a sense God can’t help Himself: having made us immortal beings yet subject to hunger and those other needs in our Gospel, He has committed to us for the long haul, all the way to heaven.
As human beings we are called out from among all the creatures to be the ones who are free and rational and loving enough to pursue the good and reach for the stars. As Christians we are called out from among all humanity to be the ones who are priestly, prophetic and kingly enough to serve Christ in the little ones and reach for heaven. As individuals we are called out from among all other Christians to serve God in some particular way, as priests, spouses, religious or however. All talk of vocation, then, is really talk of providence, of God’s knowing, guiding hand, and our willingness to fall into step with it.
. When Mother Teresa accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1979, part of her acceptance speech went like this:
“It is not enough for us to say: ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor.’ Saint John says that you are a liar if you say you love God and you don’t love your neighbor. (1 John 4:20) How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live? And so this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt.”
How can we love like this? Where will we get the power to love Jesus in others in this way as he asks in the Gospel today? (Matt 25:31-46) In a letter to the people of Albania on April 28th 1997 Mother Teresa gives the key to being able to see Jesus in others. The key to loving others is prayer. She wrote,
“To be able to love one another, we must pray much, for prayer gives a clean heart and a clean heart can see God in our neighbor. If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”
We may not remember every time we are talking to someone, “Jesus is in this person.” In the parable in today’s Gospel the people were not aware of the presence of God in those around them. That is why in the parable both those to left and to the right of the Son of Man ask, “Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison?” (Matt 25:37,44) Because we do not always think like this Mother Teresa rightly said,
“If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”
Now here in Panama, it is even harder. Most of the people at this Mass are retired and living the good life and that is all well and good – you worked hard, you deserve to spend your last years enjoying it. But that does not mean you stopped following Christ. None of you turned in your badge or you would not be here today. Since that is the case, then the need to keep giving of yourself and serving Jesus by serving others is as important as it was when you were 30 years younger. The needs here are great. There is the Foundation for those who are disabled, there is Buenos Vicinos, there is the Panamanian mission twice each month ,there is The Stephen Ministry and the list goes on. There are people right here, right know, who need a kind word, a helping hand and perhaps financial help.
Allow me to repeat something I said earlier: Christ The King looks to both our decisions and the motivations for our decisions in our care for the least powerful in society with whom he identifies himself. Doing or failing to do for them is doing or failing to do for him.
Thinking like this means thinking in a new way, putting on a new mind, letting our brains be washed with the Gospel of Jesus. And as Mother Teresa said, it is through prayer that we will receive the grace to see others with this new mind of Jesus.
When we put on this new mind, the mind of Jesus, then his kingdom is coming in our world. Then Jesus is King of our world.
This story of judgment is more than a call to serve. It’s more than a call to be good, and to do the right thing. Sure, it’s that, but it’s much more.
It’s also a call to look, to notice, to devote our days and our lives in the search for the face of God in all that we do. It’s a call, above all, to see.