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He will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him (Matt 25: 31b-32a).
Christ the King! We end the liturgical year with this feast where the Church bids us meditate on the reality of Christ’s utter kingship over the world, over the whole cosmos truly, over allW time and history. Over you, and over me, to bring this point home most keenly.
One of the signal graces of my life came one day some years ago. I was simply praying the rosary in the MH dining room as we do after supper, when I realized in a deep and abiding flash that Jesus was my Lord, and that I owe him, as a matter of strict justice, my utter and complete obedience. It seems obvious, but it wasn’t, and it isn’t for many, many people.
This column I write almost every month in Restoration has taken a bit of a political turn in recent months, covering such topics as the relationship of Catholics to the civil law, the necessity of forgiveness as a prerequisite for seeking justice, the call to live without fear in a world of real and present dangers.
Such is the year we are living through—not a year to retreat from the burning issues of the day and cloak oneself in a gentle mantle of non-specific pious reflection.
So too with this month! On the feast of Christ the King, the Church holds out for us the Son of Man sitting on his throne of glory, judging the nations, dividing all of humanity into right and left, sheep and goats. Hard to find a more political Gospel than that!
Politics is, after all, the science of the right ordering of the polis, the city, the state. The Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, is put into order here, and the ordering principle is charity.
Did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and imprisoned? You are welcomed in as a citizen of that City, where joy and light reign eternal.
Failure to do those things, to care for the poor, means banishment from that city and eternal punishment. Such is the clear meaning of Matthew 25, and there is no other interpretation possible for it.
It is crucial to hear the personal address in this Gospel, even as he speaks to the two as groups of sheep and goats. Nonetheless, it is what you did or failed to do that determines things. This is so important for our times, don’t you think?
We hear much rhetoric these days reducing people to members of various groups they are part of, whether by virtue of political stance, religious affiliation, or unchangeable realities of sex or race. We hear much about systemic evil, of institutional injustice.
We hear much about “the other group” and how bad they are, virtue consisting as much in “not being part of those people” as in being anything particular ourselves. I thank you, Lord, that I am not like one of these… (Luke 18:11).
All of this is the norm and level of much political discourse in our time. Systems and groups, factions and castes, class and race and gender, institutional reform or the lack thereof.
All of which categories have varying degrees of merit and legitimacy in discussing the proper ordering of the human polis, but all of which can be used on an individual level as a way of evading the basic point of Matthew 25, the Lord’s own ordering of his city, of his kingdom.
Namely, personal responsibility. What did you do for the poor? How did you love Jesus, by caring for the least of his little ones?
We will all stand before that throne of glory some day, and it won’t matter in the least what political party we belonged to, what we thought of this or that politician, what race or gender or socio-economic class we belonged to, how riled up we got about this or that issue of the day, how better we were than people in some other group who were really bad compared to us.
What will matter—and all that will matter—is how we loved, what did we do in the service of love to care for the poor who were given us to care for.
Again, this is the clear and indisputable message of Matthew 25, the clear and unmistakable teaching of Jesus Christ himself, the King to whom we indeed owe in strict justice our total utter obedience.
So as we celebrate Christ the King this year, concluding as we do so a liturgical year that has been like no other in our lifetimes, it is well to do a real examination of conscience on precisely this point.
What am I, what are you actually doing for the poor? Do we give money, as our means allow, to some of the many worthy groups that actually help the needy?
I am always reminded of Catherine’s story of the poor charwoman who came to Friendship House in its early days and gave Catherine her weekly contribution to the work—four pennies. It was all she could manage out of her meager salary, but she gave it with a full and loving heart.
There are few people whose means are so small that they cannot give any alms for the poor.
And then there is the alms of time spent, energy expended, words of compassion and truth spoken to one in need of such.
There are a number of different kinds of poverty. There is the poverty of loneliness, which perhaps is waxing stronger in these days of social distancing. In these COVID times we may not be able to open our homes easily to the other, but let us find ways to open our hearts in love and availability, lest many die of the cold of isolation and abandonment.
There is the poverty of emotional suffering—anxiety, fear, despair. Again, in this year of 2020, there are many carrying these crosses (you may be, too). This is a real poverty, and there is much any of us can do to help one another to find hope to carry on, day by day.
Then there is the poverty which Catherine Doherty called the greatest one of all, cosmic poverty — to not know God, to not have faith.
Those poor are all around us; let we who have some measure of faith pray earnestly and watch carefully for any opportunity we have to share that faith, whether through deeds of kindness and care or in words of witness.
In all of it, Jesus is standing before us, not only at the Final Judgment, but today, right now, asking, “How are you loving me? What are you doing for the least, the littlest, the poorest?” He is the Lord; we owe him an answer. He has told us what to do, how to live; may he find us today, and at the End of Days, doing it.