We have reached the end of the Liturgical year with the celebration of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It was a Feast instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, in response to social unrest in Europe with the rise of secularism and nationalism. The institution of this Feast was a reflection of the role the church played back then in terms of temporal—earthly—political power. It may be a difficult concept to celebrate today.
Instead of celebrating the power of Christ, some may think of this Feast as a way to celebrate the power of the Church, perhaps with a sense of nostalgia for an influence we do not have anymore. But Christ the King is really a celebration of the power of Christ, which is not a power based on political authority, but the power of service, and service to the most in need, as we read in the powerful gospel that we read this weekend: Matthew’s Judgment of the Nations.
The first point to make is obvious: We cannot live our faith without the obligation it places on us, individuals and communities, to care for those most in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the stranger, those in prison. Taking care of the needy is an essential part of our faith. The gospel also tells us in clear terms that, at the end of our lives, we will be judged according to the way we have cared for those most in need. We will not be asked how many Masses we went to—even though going to Mass helps—or how many rosaries we prayed—even though that should help also.
The “goats” in the gospel fail to recognize Christ in the “least ones.” They did not see the face of God on those who suffer. But what is very interesting in this gospel is that the “sheep” did not recognize Jesus either; they did not help the “least ones” thinking they were earning anything. They just alleviate suffering because it is what they felt they had to do. They simply could not help helping. They did not feel they were fulfilling some religious obligation. They certainly were not keeping score of how many people they were helping, or how many hours a week…For them, it was a way of life.
A couple of months ago, we preached about the credit card mentality. We go to Mass, or we pray a rosary, or we go to Eucharistic Adoration with the mentality that we are earning heaven points. Many of us understand the need to translate faith into actually helping those most in need, but we may still keep score, we may still think that we are earning salvation. We may still expect some heaven points for helping the needy an hour a week… We may help the poor, but we are really thinking, perhaps unconsciously, about helping ourselves, working towards our own salvation. It is better than nothing, certainly, but not the way Jesus thought. What else would we expect from a King whose throne is a Cross?