Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King

On the last Sunday of the Church year we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. Pope Pius XI initiated this feast in 1925 to combat what he perceived as a growing nationalism and secularism. He thought it was high time that we remembered that Jesus Christ gets our highest allegiance. Not our country, not any earthly entity, but only Christ. He had high hopes for what we are supposed to learn from this feast. In the letter he wrote establishing the feast he said:

His Holiness, Pope Pius XI
"The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."

This lengthy quote from Pius XI makes clear what is at stake in this cosmic battle. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ and so everything we are is subject to his dominion. He has authority over everything: over our minds, our wills, our hearts, and our bodies. Our friend Pius is talking about a lofty calling, but it's not really Pius doing the calling, it's God, and Pius is just reminding us of it. God has claimed us, has won eternal life for us, and so it is quite right to call him the King of the Universe.

But we, partially as free Americans but more as sinful humans, don't want to give God everything. If we're talking about our minds, wills, hearts, and bodies, then we'll give God bits and pieces of each, maybe quiet a lot, but we're scared to death to give him everything. If I give everything to God, what's left that's mine? The answer? Everything. When I look at this creature that is myself and everything about me, I have to acknowledge that I am not the source of anything there is. My mind, my heart, my body, I didn't make any of this. God did. Even the things I do, the things I have accomplished in life, God is the source of that too, and he wants to rule over it all. But he doesn't rule in an authoritarian manner, but rather as the one who knows what I need even before I ask, and so I work each day to hand myself back to him.

And there are eternal implications to this daily work of handing myself back to God. This gospel deals with eternal implications, because it forces us to look at heaven and hell. The King of all creation tells us that he is not found on a lofty throne, but rather in the poor, the sick and the imprisoned. Now, there's a negative way and a positive way to look at this gospel. Viewed negatively, we could talk about how if you don't feed the hungry, visit the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, or visit the imprisoned, you will go to hell. That's true, we have it straight from the mouth of the Son of Man. Jesus said to those who ignored the poor, "Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Those are frightening words, but they are the words of Jesus to those who ignored the poor. So we could take this gospel as a warning not to do what those accursed did, and we would probably make it to heaven. But if we stop there, if we take this gospel only as a warning, then we've missed the beautiful opportunity, the invitation, that Jesus presents here.

And the invitation is this: anytime you feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, or visit the imprisoned, you get to feed, welcome, clothe, or care for Jesus himself. You get to meet Jesus there! Is there any better opportunity? If I told you that after Mass, Jesus was going to be at the cafe down the street for lunch, I bet I know where you'd be for lunch. I bet you'd pick up the tab too. We want to meet Jesus. Well here in this gospel, Jesus doesn't say, "If you feed the hungry, I'll think that's a really nice thing and I'll reward you for it," No, Jesus says, "Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me." You truly minister to Jesus when you minister to the poor.

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
But then if I told you that Jesus would be outside after Mass, shamelessly trying to get money for a meal or a bus ticket, what would you do? What if he had alcohol on his breath or needle marks in his arm? Would you feed him then? Can you say that that's not Jesus? What if you know him to be a guy who abuses the welfare system? Would you feed him then? Let's take it further. What if he's poor by his own fault, maybe he gambled away everything he had. What if he's in fact passed out drunk? Can I say that's not Jesus? What if he's here illegally? Is he not Jesus just because he's not a citizen? Because I'm looking in this gospel here for some sort of caveat or condition, something from Jesus to suggest that I only need to feed and care for the nice poor people and not the dirty ones, not the sick ones, because they're not really Jesus. I'm looking for something to let me off the hook, and I can't find it. Jesus put no conditions on who we have to care for, on whether they were nice or easy to care for them, he just said if you feed them, you feed me, and then you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you.

This is probably not an easy message for any of us to hear, so I want you to hear carefully what I'm saying and what I'm not saying. I am not dealing with any of the ways we like to complicate helping the poor where we tell ourselves, "Well, if I give this guy money he's just going to waste it on alcohol and that's not actually helping him." Sometimes that's legitimate but often it's an excuse to not help. I'm not dealing with that concern, I just want you to hear the hard words of Jesus and take them seriously, because eternal destinies are at play. I'm also not condemning anybody here for the way you may have treated the poor in the past, because as I prepared this homily I felt quite convicted and I had to pray about a lot of times when I ignored Jesus in the poor.

The invitation that Jesus extends to those who loved the poor, and the curse he has for those who ignored the poor, are important words we all need to hear carefully on this Solemnity of Christ the King, because the only throne our King has on this earth is in fact the Cross. That throne endures to this day in the lives of all of our suffering brothers and sisters. If we ignore that throne, we ignore God, but if we worship at that throne by serving Christ present in the suffering, then we to will hear that beautiful invitation, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."


  1. I just stumbled across your blog Fr. Brian and I love it. I am bookmarking this as one of my reflection sites.

  2. Glad to have you here, Chuck. Welcome, and happy reading!