Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 25:31-46
In a homily last week Pope Francis asked the congregation to “stop to think of death.” Death is certainly not the cheeriest of thoughts, yet it is one that should be on the minds of all Christians as the liturgical year draws to a close. Thinking of death can easily be dismissed as a morbid and counter-productive use of our imagination, yet it is a necessary topic for us to ponder since, as St. Thomas More so correctly stated in the play and film A Man for All Seasons, “Death comes for us all, my lords. Yes, even for kings he comes.”
The Holy Father echoes the words of St. Thomas when he points out that, “To think of death isn’t bad imagination; it’s a reality. If it’s bad or not depends on me, on the way I think about it, but it will come.” The inevitability of death can be a frightening reality to ponder, but to avoid, ignore, or deny it will not remove its inevitability. All we can do is to prepare for that day of reckoning as best we can.
As a way of fostering that preparation, the Church reminds us on this the last weekend of the liturgical year of the necessary steps to be taken in order to remove the dread from that unavoidable end-of-life meeting with Jesus. The concluding section of Matthew 25, The Judgment of the Nations, uses the metaphor of the separation of the sheep and the goats to help us to “stop to think about death” in a way that might change our approach to life, and therefore change the mood of our face-to-face encounter with the King of the Universe.
If Pope Francis is correct in his belief that our thoughts on death depend upon us, then we need to do what we can to make those thoughts positive rather than negative. One way to turn negative thoughts into positive ones is to attempt to conform reality to our way of thinking. Modern psychology has done a great job of convincing people that as long as they can abandon guilt then they can be happy: you don’t have to change your behavior, just change your attitude towards that behavior. Modern psychology’s legacy is fairly universal – after over a half century of such advice it would be difficult to find a family that has not in some way been damaged, and sometimes irrevocably broken, by self-centered lives led without the presence of guilt.
In opposition to this narcissism is the teaching of Jesus. Here in this weekend’s story, unique to the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus proposes a plan for happiness where we conform our actions to His way of thinking. Jesus does not say, “If you have ignored the least of My sisters and brothers, then I hope you don’t feel guilty about it – come on in!” For some reason, He doesn’t care if we feel good about ourselves. All He wants to know is whether or not we did what we could to love Him by loving the least of His sisters and brothers.
It is no coincidence that Pope Francis also recently celebrated the first World Day of the Poor, which included a Mass and meal for four thousand needy people in Rome. In his homily Francis noted that it is in the poor that we find Jesus, because although He was rich, He became poor. In each person who is poor – materially or spiritually – we can and must see Jesus, otherwise we can never avail ourselves of the “saving power” of those who have little value in the eyes of those nations who will be assembled for judgment on a day and a time known only to the King of the Universe.
Know someone who might enjoy Lessons from Loyola Hall? Forward this along to them!