Homily for Mass – Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Year A)
(Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 7:30am, 9:00am, 5:00pm)
23 November 2014
(Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 22; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46)
There are some who would scoff at today’s feast day. They would claim that it is a late addition to the liturgical calendar, and that its ‘ideological origins’ are all too plain to see. It is true that the introduction of the feast of Christ the King in the early twentieth century certainly was a response to the secularization that had swept European society, in a similar way to what happened after the Enlightenment and after the French Revolution.
Political liberalism, like Communism and Fascism, denies the public relevance of Christ to so-called secular society. Christ is banished, and we are told that questions must be argued only along secular lines. Religion is made out to be a quaint private practice (or to some, indeed a dangerous private practice), and we are told to keep our “religious views” to ourselves. The only acceptable “religious” view is the secular one. The great irony of people who say these things is that they fail to see that their secular ideology is as much a religion as anyone else’s, and yet it is somehow more acceptable for them to espouse their “religious” views simply because they don’t consider them to be religious views.
Whilst the liturgical feast of Christ the King may be new, and may have been introduced in the 1920s as a counter-claim hurled at the secularist viewpoint, what this feast celebrates is ancient in Christian terms. The Christian East has long placed the image of Christ, the All-Ruler, in solitary majesty in the mosaics in the apses of their Churches. In the Christian West, Christ has been shown as the Judge of all, surrounded by human figures, in the stone friezes frequently placed over the western door of the church – which you see in most of the great cathedrals and churches of Europe.
So whilst the feast may be knew, what it celebrates is what the Church has always believed about Christ, based obviously in what He said about Himself. Today’s celebration of the kingship of Christ is an extension of the feast of the Ascension, when we remember the exaltation of the risen Christ as Lord. At the Ascension, the disciples, who have just seen Christ lifted up into God’s glory, are told that he will return in the same way – that is, in the glory of his Second Coming. And so today’s celebration is also turned towards his second Advent, and this feast which closes our liturgical year points us to the season of Advent beginning next Sunday, when we will prepare for the celebration of his first coming, and think in hope about his second coming and all its implications.
The words of Christ himself in today’s Gospel show him to be the Lord and Judge of all people in all of history. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory … All the nations will be assembled before him.” There is no qualification to “all the nations.” That means everyone: from the first person to the last, from Adam and Eve through to the last person born. Perhaps some people will be surprised when they end up before Christ! Buddhists and Hindus, Jews and Muslims; Scientologists, New Age devotees, humanists, athiests, heretics, apostates and schismatics – they will all stand before Christ, the Lord and Judge of all. Every person who ever lived will stand before Christ. His will be the last face we see before we enter our eternity, of heaven or hell.
As we ponder that thought, we can see how evanglization truly is a work of mercy, as we say to our contemporaries, “Look, before you appear before Jesus seated on his throne of glory as Lord and Judge of all, and before he separates the sheep from the goats, sending the goats to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” we just want to give you a little heads-up about some of the things Jesus is hoping to find in our lives!” This is another way of saying that our primary business is the salvation of souls, the “supreme law in the church” as the last canon of our Code of Canon Law says. And what are we saving souls from if not that fire that Jesus says is prepared for the devil and his angels, and the goats who either did wrong to him, or neglected to do good to him.
When we’re at school or university we always want to know what’s on the exam! Well, Jesus has told us what’s on the final exam in today’s Gospel. He says, what you did and what you did not do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me. When Jesus speaks of his people, he means the Church. We cannot separate Christ from His Church. Jesus identified himself with his Church. The great example of this is at the conversion of St Paul. When the risen Jesus confronts Saul, who had been persecuting the Church, Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting ME?”
The Church is the concrete presence of Christ in every age. Our fidelity or indifference to the Church is fidelity or indifference to Christ himself. Of course, for those who have never known the Church, the test for them is how they respond to any person in need.
The parable of today’s Gospel is the last parable that Jesus tells in St Matthew’s gospel. Its at once majestic and confronting. It speaks first of Jesus Christ, the judge of history: all of history and of each person’s history. It is about our responsibility for others in body and spirit, and how our performance in this regard is the most reliable thermometer of our loyalty to Christ. It contains the stark reality that we will be separated from God not just for doing wrong, but also for doing nothing when we should have acted.
Some might say that it is hard to see Christ in others. When that’s the case, we can at the very least be Christ to others.
The Entrance chant of today’s Mass sings that Christ the Lamb who was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, wisdom, strength and honour. Through this eucharist, in which we bow down in homage before the Lamb who is worthy, may we be given the grace to honour and glorify Christ as we serve Him in all our actions.
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This homily is adapted, with quotations, from two homilies found in the following books:
• Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour, A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays Through the Year (Balwyn, Victoria: Freedom, 2012); and
• S. Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire: The Sunday Homilies, Cycle A (New York: St Pauls, 2005).