Monday, November 28, 2005

Reflection for Solemnity of Christ the King

Here's my reflection for the gospel on Sunday, November 20th, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, for my Lectio Divina study group. The gospel was Matthew 25:31-46.

The three parables before this reading, of the faithful servant who was responsible while his Master was away, of the wise and foolish maidens preparing for the coming of the bridegroom, and of the talents in which the servants used the gifts their master had given them – these three are concluded with this account of the Last Judgment in which all such matters will be resolved. This is called the Last Judgment because it will happen at the end of time and will be a public proclamation of the sentence already given at our Particular Judgment, the one we receive at the moment of our death.

But how does this reading coincide with the Solemnity of Christ the King? Here Christ is identified with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. To the righteous he says, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” And to the wicked he says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.” This identification with the least of his brethren hardly sets Him up as a king, right? But, in the beginning of this reading, in the first verse, we see that he will “sit on his glorious throne” and throughout the reading we see that it is “the King” who addresses the righteous and the wicked, welcoming them into his “Kingdom” or banishing them from it. As a matter of fact, this very act of judgment of all the nations gathered before him is one proper only to a King. We also see the image of the Messiah as being on a throne, judging his people, elsewhere in scripture, in the Prophets and the Book of Revelation.

So today, we are called to reflect on Christ as King, King of Heaven and Earth. But, Christ’s Kingdom is not one of brick and mortar with lavish estates and palaces and conquered lands and peoples strewn across the earth. No, Christ’s Kingdom is established in our hearts. Is Christ the King of your Heart? It is His by right. Do you obey his commands and precepts as a loyal subject of his Authority or do they fall on deaf ears? Are you quick to resist his commands as if he, the King of your Heart – who knows every square inch of your Heart and knows how to direct and order His Kingdom – does not know how to direct you, his lowly subject? In any of the monarchies on earth, if any king were to order his subject to do something, he would do it without delay would he not? And if the President were to call or write one of us, we would obey his command right away. But when it comes to Christ, who is the King of much more precious a kingdom than any country or nation, our world has largely decided that it does not need to heed His royal commands.

And so it is for this reason that we must also, today, reflect on the sheep and the goats in this passage and our place among them. If we, His loyal subjects, obey the Lord, Our King, when he commands us to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked, care to the sick and company to the imprisoned – if we do these very concrete actions – then we will show the world who the king of our hearts really is and thus who the king of this world really is. We must proclaim Him as our King, and him alone, and perform these works because he is our king. Then the world, including us, will see the oppression of their current master – pride, covetousness, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and laziness – and upon seeing this oppression, weather in their hearts or in their rulers, will allow themselves to be conquered by Christ’s grace and love and to welcome his Reign.

As Christ is totally different from any other Master, so too must our obedience be totally different. In obedience to our vices, we may do these good works, feeding the hungry, giving clothes to the naked, etc. but out of pride seeking recognition or approval or out of envy of others wealth, to show the giving we are capable of as well, as a sort of competition. In obedience to our presidents and kings, we may do these good works out of a vague sense of compassion, giving for the sake of giving, or giving to meet a certain status quo. This type of compassion is empty and without meaning or purpose. Christ, our true King, calls us to avoid both types of disordered obedience. He calls us not to mere philanthropy but true and meaningful Christian charity. And this can only happen when we identify our King, as St. Matthews does in this gospel, with the least among us. So not only are we obeying our King’s command, but in doing so we are acting for him, too him! When we can see the face of our King in the lowly and approach each one as if he was our King himself, only then are we exhibiting Christian charity. On the contrary, if we distribute food to a nation, for example, just so we can raise the poverty rate or if we welcome strangers merely to fulfill a quota or a certain level of diversity, if we do either of these and others then we are denying the Royal dignity inherent in each of the least of our brethren and we act in vain. This is why St. Paul asserts that “if I give away all I have… but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Finally, St. Teresa of Avila writes: “Here the Lord asks only two things of us: love for his Majesty and love for our neighbor. It is for these two virtues that we must strive, and if we attain them perfectly we are doing his will. The surest sign that we are keeping these two commandments is, I think, that we should really be loving our neighbor; for we cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor. And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater the love you will have for God; for so dearly does his Majesty love us that he will reward our love for our neighbor by increasing the love which we bear to himself, and that in a thousand ways: this I cannot doubt.”

Closing Prayer:

O Jesus Christ, we acknowledge You as universal King. All that has been made, has been created for You. Exercise all Your rights over us. We renew our baptismal vows, renouncing Satan, his empty promises and his works; and we promise to live as good Christians. In particular do we pledge ourselves to labor, to the best of our ability, for the triumph of the rights of God and Your Church.

Divine Heart of Jesus, to You do We offer our poor services, laboring that all hearts may acknowledge Your Sacred Kingship, and that thus the reign of Your peace be established throughout the whole universe. Amen.

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