Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – Solemnity of Christ the King, November 20, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Solemnity of Christ the King
November 20, 2011
Ez 34:11-12 15-17, Ps 23:1-3 5-6, 1Cor 15:20-26 28, Mt 25:31-46

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

REIGNING WITH CHRIST

  • Today we celebrate the culmination of the Church’s whole liturgical year. During the past 51 weeks, we have been on pilgrimage through time retracing and re-living with Christ his entire life on earth. Our journey began in Advent with the Jewish people in the expectation of the Messiah. Then we celebrated the Messiah’s birth, epiphany, presentation in the temple, baptism and hidden life. We joined Jesus in the desert for 40 days. With the help of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we followed him during his three years of public ministry. We took out our palm branches and sang hosanna to him. We joined him in the Upper Room as he inaugurated Holy Orders and the Mass. On Good Friday, we shamefully relived our calls for his crucifixion (which we reiterate each time we sin). We celebrated the most important event in world history on April 24th when we rejoiced in his resurrection and stayed with him for the next 40 days until his Ascension. We prayed with Mary for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Then we entered into the time of the Church, “ordinary time,” in which we’re called to focus on our mission to continue what the early Church started. In the month of November, as we neared the end of the pilgrimage, we began to focus on the “last things.” Today we come to the dramatic conclusion, the exclamation point, the finish line — and turn our attention to what will be the central reality at the end of time and into eternity. Then, we and every around us — every Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Jew, Buddhist and Hindu, atheist and agnostic — will recognize what we have been given the privilege in life to profess: that Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe, that to him, as the Book of Revelation tells us, belong “blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and strength forever and ever” (Rev 7:12). That’s the first thing we mark today, the eschatological reality of Christ as the King of the Universe.
  • But that’s not the only thing we recognize today. We also recognize and celebrate the way Christ reigns on earth. This morning in Benin, Africa, Pope Benedict, describing today’s Gospel said: “Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!”
  • He went on to say: “Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast.”
  • Christ, our King, shows himself in today’s first reading and responsorial psalm, shows that the way he reigns is as a shepherd who looks after and tends his sheep, rescuing us from every place we’re scattered, pasturing us in verdant fields, giving us rest by refreshing waters, bringing us back when we stray to right paths, binding us up when we’re injured, healing us when we’re sick, shepherding us rightly. But he also calls us, like he called St. Peter after the Resurrection, to demonstrate our love for him in feeding and tending his sheep and lambs. One of the real tests of whether we’re living in his kingdom is whether we’re doing this. In today’s Gospel about the judgment Jesus separates everyone into two groups, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep go to his eternal right in heaven, the goats to his left, lost forever. The reason why the goats are shut out of the kingdom is not primarily as a punishment for their sins of omission, but because by their choices they were already living outside of his kingdom. He was just pronouncing what in fact they had chosen when they refused to care for him when he was hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, ill, imprisoned or otherwise in need. To live in his kingdom is to love others as he loved us first; when we fail to love, when we refuse to shepherd others, when we live in an egocentric universe in which we seek just to have our needs and desires met, our will done, our kingdom come, then we’re already excluding ourselves from his kingdom. For someone seeking to live in the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, charity is not an option. For someone living in the kingdom, charity is the natural way the children of the kingdom relate to God and to others.
  • Throughout his priesthood, Pope Benedict has often stressed what the Kingdom of God really is and how we’re called to live in the Kingdom. Before he was Pope, in a great talk in Sicily on how we’re called as Christians to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that it is among us, he said, “The kingdom of God … is “not a thing.” “The Kingdom of God is God. Kingdom of God means: God exists. God is alive. God is present and acts in the world, in our – in my life. God is not a faraway “ultimate cause”, God is not the “great architect” of deism, who created the machine of the world and is no longer part of it – on the contrary: God is the most present and decisive reality in each and every act of my life, in each and every moment of history.” He added, however: “Unfortunately, we Christians also often live as if God did not exist.” One concrete way we show that we’re living in the kingdom is by prioritizing prayer, which is says is “faith in action,” because “only by experiencing life with God does the evidence of His existence appear.” Proclaiming God’s kingdom and speaking with the King must always go together. Next he says that in order to live in and proclaim the Kingdom we must proclaim and live our encounters with God in the sacraments. He said, “The liturgy (the sacraments) are not a secondary theme next to the preaching of the living God, but the realization of our relationship with God.” Third, we proclaim that kingdom by living our faith, certainly by the deeds of love Jesus describes in today’s Gospel, but also by remaining loyal and faithful to the King whom we profess we know, love and serve.
  • That’s something that, as Pope Benedict said, unfortunately many of us fail to do. We fail to live as if God exists. This Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 at the request of many bishops and faithful from around the globe because there was a militant atheism spreading at the time that was trying to repress belief in Christ and suppress Christian presence in the world. Just eight years earlier, Bolshevik communism began to show its evil head. The Communists — who tried to perfect the art of lying — claimed to be working to “free” people from the “opium” of belief in God, which they said was only a means used by others to keep them subjugated. Since there really was no god, they stated, the churches and Christians were just seeking greater foundation for their pursuit of political power. This Solemnity was instituted to counteract these lies.
  • Here in our own country, we now have a militant secularism that’s trying to banish God from the public square. They don’t want God mentioned in prayer at public events, schools, anywhere. They proclaim, falsely, a radical separation of Church and state, which violates the freedom of religion in the first amendment. They want the government to become king. We need to fight this as Christians with courage and with the Constitution. But we also need to be honest about why we’ve gotten here from a place where so many Christians in our country practiced their faith and flourished in faith.
  • One of the most honest and candid Churchmen in the country is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. 11 days ago, he came to Worcester to give a talk that I attended. He pondered the roots of the revolution that has occurred from a nation that sees religious faith as an indispensable foundation for our nation’s survival to something that is unwelcome in common life and even a threat to the nation’s flourishing; from an America in which everything used to cease on Sundays to worship God to an America that worships consumption and the libido. The principle cause, he said, happened when the notion of the individual — crucial to the Protestant theology and Enlightenment ideas on which the nation was built — became exaggerated and separated from a “common moral consensus animated and defended by a living religious community.” Once uprooted, it devolved into a “destructive individualism and a hostility to any religious authority outside the sovereignty of personal conscience.” When this occurred, freedom became a license for selfishness, morality got relativized, and society gradually became a “collection of disconnected individuals whose appetites and needs are regulated by the only project they share in common: the state.” This regression to an America “ignorant or cynical toward religion in general and Christianity in particular” was able to happen for two reasons, he said: first, because many who did not live by this destructive individualism nevertheless abdicated their thinking to a public opinion shaped by those who did; and second, because Christians and Catholics “helped create it with our eagerness to fit in, our distractions and overconfidence, and our own lukewarm faith.”
  • He elaborated on the causes and consequences of that tepidity. “Too many people who claim to be Christian simply don’t know Jesus Christ.  They don’t really believe in the Gospels.  They feel embarrassed by their religion and vaguely out of step with the times.  They may keep their religion for comfort value. Or they may adjust it to fit their doubts.  But it doesn’t reshape their lives because it isn’t real.  And because it isn’t real, it has no transforming effect on their personal behavior, no social force and few public consequences.  … Instead of Catholics converting the culture, the culture too often bleached out the apostolic zeal in Catholics while leaving the brand label intact.  Plenty of exceptions exist to that trend, but so far not enough of them to make a difference.  This is why the large number of Catholics in political and economic leadership in our country has such limited effect on the country’s direction.” If lukewarmness on the part of Christians has contributed so much to bringing about the present crisis, the response of the Church must be a fire for the faith that comes from a counterrevolution of love for Christ. “Nobody cares about embers,” Archbishop Chaput noted. “But everyone pays attention to a fire, especially when it burns in the hearts of other men and women.” He referenced Jesus’ words, “I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49), and described the task of Christians as to “start that blaze and help it grow.” For those who might think his candid diagnosis of the society’s present ills sobering and pessimistic, his prescription is full of hope. “We make the future, not the other way around.” We need to proclaim and live that kingdom.
  • The future of America, he concluded, will be decided principally by whether Christians are formed and inspired to live their faith as more than a brand label, but as something that defines their entire life, both private and public. “If we do not know and love Jesus Christ, and commit our lives to him, and act on what we claim to believe, everything else is empty.  But if we do, so much else is possible – including the conversion of at least some of the world around us.” Everything comes down to a question of faith, faith that is real. Jesus once asked whether he would find faith on earth at his return (Lk 18:8). Archbishop Chaput said that “the only question that finally matters to any of us is the one Jesus posed to his apostles:  ‘Who do you say I am?’  Everything depends on the answer.  Faith leads in one direction; the lack of it in another.  But the issue is faith, always and everywhere….  Do we believe in Jesus Christ, or don’t we?  And if we do, what are we going to do about it?” The Solemnity of Christ the King is an opportunity to make the public profession of our faith anew.
  • The greatest means we have to serve Christ faithfully comes from Christ himself. He gives us this help above all in the Eucharist. Our predecessors in this Church bequeathed to us this message in the beautiful stained glass window of Christ the King in our southern transept. In the top of the image, we see Christ the King in the center, with his scepter of gold in his right hand. All the angels surround him with praise. The Father and the Holy Spirit, above him, point him out. Various saints who have brought made him their king in life and brought the good news of the kingdom to others — St. Francis Xavier, St. Jean de Brebeuf, St. Peter Chanel, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha — are shown on the side panels adoring him. But then, in a second image underneath, we see the Church on earth led by the Popes and the Bishops of Fall River all adoring Christ the King, not in his image of eternal glory, but in the monstrance containing the King in the disguise of the Eucharist. That’s the point that our ancestors wanted us to capture, that to join the angels and the saints in heaven, to enter into the heavenly court of the King of Kings, begins with coming to Christ the King in the Eucharist. The more we “do this in memory of him,” the more we receive him worthily, the more we try to make his self-giving love in the Eucharist the motivation of all our choices, the more we will be transformed to reign with him in love, to enter into his kingdom, and to bring others with us to that same joy. Christ in the Eucharist is the gate to heaven, the portal to the eternal kingdom. We begin here in receiving his love and then we go out faithfully to live and spread that love. If we do so then the same Christ we encounter in the Eucharist will one day say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1EZ 34:11-12, 15-17

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep.
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark.
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD.
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.

As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.

Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6

R/ (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 21 COR 15:20-26, 28

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
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.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all.

Gospel MT 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”