Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe/Last Sunday after Pentecost
As we come to the last week of the liturgical year [in which we celebrate Christ the King], we are reminding about the kingship that Christ should have over our lives. St. Paul says [in his letter to the Colossians] that we have been transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God. And our Gospel points us to the end of time, when Christ will return to fully establish His Kingdom, which was inaugurated in His earthly ministry, His Passion and Death, and His Resurrection and Ascension.
But perhaps we feel like that transfer from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son has stalled a bit. It’s like we inserted that floppy disk when we were baptized to install the new program in our lives, but it hasn’t finished the installation yet, and maybe our screen in life even seems frozen up. We’re waiting for Christ to return. Maybe even we see signs that Christ Himself prophesied would mean the end was near, but Christ hasn’t returned yet. We still wait in joyful hope for the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says to St. Titus.
In the meantime, we have an opportunity to make sure that Christ’s program downloads more and more into out souls and into our lives. Each day we have in this “already, but not yet” of the kingdom of God allows us to make sure that we model our lives more and more on the life of Christ, so that we can say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
The temptation is to hedge our bets, and try to guess the time of Christ’s return. Christ, in Matthew 24 [the Gospel we heard today] describes some of the signs that will indicate His return. But the same Christ also says that we will not know either the day or the hour. Still, He advises us to ready ourselves, so that whenever it does happen, Christ will find us prepared for His return. Sometimes we can so concern ourselves with figuring out the signs, that we forget about living the life of a disciple. If we live as a faithful follower of Christ, it won’t matter when the end comes, because our lamps will be trimmed like the five wise virgins, and we will welcome Christ the Bridegroom, and enter into His wedding feast in heaven.
So how do we prepare ourselves? The Lord lays out part of the judgment in [our Gospel today from] Matthew 25. How did we care for the least of His brothers? Did we feed the hungry? Did we give drink to the thirsty? Did we welcome the stranger? Did we clothe the naked? Did we care for the sick? Did we visit the imprisoned? These are the Corporal Works of Mercy, and they are not optional for a disciple. Their execution may look different depending on our vocation. After all, what mother or father has not fed a hungry child, or clothed him or her (or possibly even a spouse who didn’t know how to dress himself?), or cared for the sick? For spouses and parents, the more challenging works may be how to prudently welcome the stranger (how many times do we hear as a young child about stranger danger?). But think about it in our own parish. If we see someone we don’t know, do we take the time to welcome them to the parish? We don’t have the scare them by swooping in like a hawk anytime we see someone new (there are plenty of bad examples of people being turned off to the faith because those who approached them saw them merely as numbers to add to the flock, rather than people who may be searching). But do we ask them if they want to sit by us, or if maybe they need help following the Mass because it’s been awhile since they last went, or maybe they’re unfamiliar with the prayers? That may be more natural for me, as a priest, as I greet people after Mass, but I can continue to work on it. Maybe for me as a priest the challenge is more how to clothe the naked, or feed the hungry. Some of the corporal works of mercy will always challenge us, while others will come to us more naturally. But we should work at incorporating them all into our life whenever and however we can.
Sometimes God gives us opportunities to exercise those corporal works of mercy, and we only need respond. There’s a story about a woman named Wanda Dench who, eight years ago, texted a person she thought was her grandson about Thanksgiving plans. The grandson had changed his number without telling grandma. So instead of her grandson, she texted a young man named Jamal Hinton who was in high school. They figured out the error, but then Jamal asked if he could still come over for Thanksgiving dinner. Even though Wanda didn’t know Jamal from Adam, Wanda texted, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.” And for eight years, they have spent Thanksgiving together. I don’t know if Jamal needed a free meal, but he probably needed somewhere to go for Thanksgiving, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked. There may have been numerous reasons not to allow Jamal over. But Wanda felt called to have Jamal over, and it has become a beautiful story of generosity.
Christ will return in glory, “to judge the living and the dead,” as we proclaim every Sunday in the Creed. When exactly, we don’t know, but it will happen. Until then, Christ invites us to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy as part of following Him, so that when He does return, He will find us ready to welcome Him as our triumphant King. As St. Peter says in his first epistle:
The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.