The Church puts the feast of Christ the Universal King at the end of the liturgical year for a reason. Holy Mother Church does so to end our year of worship and service on a high note before we start the new year with the first Sunday of Advent. It wants to lift our spirits and make us optimistic for what has been and what lies ahead. How important this is for us particularly in this year of the pandemic. This feast speaks to our sense of vulnerability and powerlessness and reminds us that God is in authority and has the final say in our lives.
Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, He revealed the Father’s love for all people. He showed this indiscriminate love in all that He said and did. Jesus spent much of His ministry reaching out to the sinners and the excluded. He healed the sick and broke down barriers between people. Centrally, Jesus established the Kingdom of God; the reign of Divine Love in our hearts and lives. This Kingdom is not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual reality that exists when love and compassion abound in us. All climaxed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the cross we see our King crucified. I was given a version of the cross I like. Jesus is nailed to the cross His arms outstretched. But He is vested as Priest and He has a golden crown on His head. This helps me to see how Jesus is not helpless but actually reigns and ministers from the cross. As The High Priest He is offering Himself to His Father to protect us and see us safely through to eternal life. He is the Good Shepherd Who cares for His flock and sees that no harm comes to us.
Our King does not sit safely in His palace but is with us in all the circumstances of our lives. Our King is in us through baptism and the Holy Eucharist. He walks by our side as our constant and ever dependable Friend. He goes ahead of us as we follow the voice of the Good Shepherd leading us to green pastures. The Lord told us He would be with us through it all. This surely gives us a sense of security and confidence. One thing is certain, we can only fully do God’s will if we allow ourselves to be given totally to Him, guided and resourced by Him and available to show His love in our concern for others.
God’s Kingdom has no boundaries. He is the Universal King of all. We live in a world that often uses its love to include some and exclude others. It finds reasons why it will not care. It will claim often its resources are limited. This does not apply to God’s Kingdom. In the Holy Spirit we can draw on the infinite and inexhaustible love and compassion of God. We get tired and God understands this. We need to depend less on our own strength and capacity to cope and be more channels of the All Powerful God. We are limited by our nature and circumstances, but for God all things are possible and doable, all we need to do is our best – God will do the rest. We see that the Kingdom of God is not a physical entity or force but a spiritual power that brings about real change. It does so gently, as leaven in the dough influencing and transforming the mixture to the good.
God gives us power. We have felt so helpless and impotent these last few months in the face of the pandemic as we do in so many other circumstances of our lives. Yet this Feast of Christ our King reminds us of the power of Divine Love and Mercy. God’s power sustains the universe. This power is available to us, all we need to do is ask: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, Rekindle in us the Fire of Your love. I was speaking to a man named Michael who I met after he had been to Confession with me. He marvelled at the feeling of peace and hope he felt in the light or receiving God’s forgiveness given in absolution. He reminded me that he hadn’t been to the Sacrament of Penance for over thirty years and had fallen off the rails and was filled with remorse about the hurt he caused to the people who loved him and the waste of his past. Now he felt a new person unburdened by regret and in a peace he felt would never be his again. As he said to me: “Father, the power that makes me feel as I do in the light of all I have done is the greatest power of all”. Absolutely, Michael, I couldn’t agree more. Importantly, Michael had a new attitude and was helping people, visiting those living alone, working a few hours in a soup kitchen for the homeless and giving generously to collections for the needy. This is the true test of our friendship with Christ our King. For me it authenticated Michael’s reconciliation to Jesus and His Church.
In our Gospel today, we are given a vision of the end of the age when Christ will return. You will remember, after the resurrection Jesus ascended to Heaven. He then sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost through Whom He would continue to work. We then entered the middle time looking forward to the Lord’s return when He will reward His faithful. Our Gospel passage from Matthew refers to the second coming of Jesus. We immediately see that here is a sense of accountability. This middle time is about living out our love for God in our love for our neighbour in need. Obviously, God’s followers are not to be so heavenly minded we are of little earthly use. We see that the Lord wants us to live out our faith in real terms that enhances the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves. Pope Francis in his encyclical on fraternity recognises that we can feel overwhelmed at times by the endless demand of the world’s needs which seem huge and insoluble and beyond our capacity to respond effectively. Pope Francis challenges us to unite in a spirit of cooperation facing the reality of human need together: “We can start from below and, case by case, act at the most concrete levels and then expand to the farthest reaches of our countries and our world with the same care and concern that the Samaritan showed for each of the wounded man’s injuries”. I feel the Pope is saying our small seemingly insignificant gestures of care and concern add up and in God’s grace become greater and achieve even more.
As St. Teresa teaches us, the Kingdom of God is served by doing the little things of life with love and generosity. Jesus said anyone who gave a cup of water to one of His little ones would be rewarded. The Gospel reminds us opportunities arise for us to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison and welcome the stranger. Why, won’t God ask me how many Masses I’ve celebrated? How many prayers I have said? No. Jesus will ask how we have used the graces given in the Mass and our time of prayer to give aid to another less fortunate than ourselves. Whatever God gives is given to be shared. Someone told me once that they felt our references for Heaven are written by the poor we have helped in a practical way such as giving them food, drink, clothes, shelter or compassion.
I pray today for the goats in our Gospel today who miss the opportunity of caring. I am very impressed in our Gospel by the sheep who get it right. Anyone who goes to them in need is helped. The sheep have time despite the ‘busyness’ and preoccupation of life. They do not refer the needy to another agency but do what they can to assist. They act in a way that doesn’t offend the dignity of the poor person but simply and sensitively care, feeling it is privilege to do so. The sheep feel, no matter the challenge, there is always something they can do that will help. The sheep will make good advocates for those who feel they are ignored. The sheep will be there when others have walked away and have run out of compassion. I am very impressed that the sheep are kind and proactive without having to give it serious thought: “Lord, when did we see you hungry…” It’s a grace indeed when goodness and concern come naturally.
Central to our Gospel is the sense of the Lord’s self-identification with those in need. He says: “In so far as you did this to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me”. We are reminded that our King reigns from the cross for a purpose. He puts His Sacred Presence into every needy person and then comes to us in our practical concern. To neglect a person in need is to neglect Jesus in that person. We look at our holy pictures of Jesus and we feel confident we know what He looks like. We must be careful we do not limit our image of Jesus to the young man with the kind smiling face and the little beard. This Gospel reminds us that God has many faces. It is clear we will only recognise Jesus at the Last Judgement if we have cared for Him when he came to us, hungry, thirsty, naked and cold, ill and a stranger and prisoner. It is in these instances that we become familiar with the face of Jesus. As God’s sheep who care, we are given divine resources to share without hesitation. Particularly after the gift of the Mass, we should see ourselves as warehouses of God’s love eager to get about distribution.
To be sure, the Lord will reward those who care out of all proportion to the kindness they show in the course of life. But we should be good and caring without the thought or reward. That has certainly never been my motivation as a priest. I feel it is better to do good because we are grateful to God for His blessings. For us to be kind gives God joy. Generosity gives us a great sense of satisfaction to have been in place to help another person in his/her hour of need.
I feel that when I stand at the Pearly Gates it would be wise for me to not wave my certificate of baptism at St. Peter. I’d much rather rely on some poor needy people I have helped and have preceded me to vouch for me. I mustn’t let a day pass without, if need be, to seek out someone to meet or phone to lift them a little. After all, I must keep my references for eternity up to do date!
A story: A father and his little girl were crossing a high bridge. Dad was anxious for his daughter’s safety and asked her to hold his hand. She said “No, Dad. You hold my hand instead”. He was puzzled and asked what the difference was? She said: “If I hold your hand and something happens, the chances are I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I am sure whatever happens, you will never let go of me”. Our weakness is not an issue if we place our life in God’s hands.
So, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. Worry about nothing and trust God in everything. Let charity be the central motivation of your life and never waver in total allegiance to the Lord. All will be well.
Fr. Gerard X