Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christ the King

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. What a glorious day. Jesus Christ is King of all (1 Cor 15:20-26, 28). The king of the universe. The very word "Christ" means "Anointed one, or King."  

This solemnity was instituted in 1925 by Pope Piux XI in his encyclical Quas Primas. The day was originally called the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the king.  In 1969, Blessed Pope Paul VI in the motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis revised the title as "Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe."

Priests in the Catholic Church wear white or golden color vestments to show the glory and joy behind the celebration.  Other christian bodies such as the Protestant and Orthodox adopted the day and have their own ways of celebrating it.  All those Baptized share in this Kingship of Christ (CCC 1241). This day which always falls on a Sunday is the last Sunday of the Liturgical calendar. The Sunday that follows is the First Sunday of Advent which starts a new Liturgical Year.  This is a reminder that Christ is the alpha and omega; the beginning and the end (Revelation 21:6).  Jesus ends the Liturgical calendar and begins it.  He was at the beginning of time and will judge all at the end of it as we will read in the Gospel at Mass.  

In the first reading, we read from the book of Ezekiel. It tells us that God Himself will be the shepherd.  He will care for the flock and rescue them wherever they may have been scattered. In good times or bad, in cloudy or dark, God will be there caring for and tending to His sheep.  Once gathered, He will separate them; the sheep from one another and the rams from the goats. This passage is a foretelling of what Christ would say in John 10 - today's Gospel.  God is indeed the shepherd and we are the flock.  Even those who are not part of the Church are God's flock; this includes those who have separated themselves from the Church, and those of other faiths or no faith (John 10:16). Christ calls out to them and they hear Him.

The image of a shepherd and sheep tell us of the relationship between God and His flock. Some atheists find it offensive.  I've seen tweets on Twitter stating, "Don't trust a book that calls you a sheep. It was probably written by wolves." Of course statements like this are said out of ignorance of Scripture and its literary styles. The Bible uses "sheep" to describe human beings because we are very much a like. Sheep tend to travel in groups. We human beings are social beings.  Throughout life we need to have a company of people around us in order to feel important or loved. Society would not function if we all went "lone ranger." Moreover, sheep are also extremely unintelligent, but are social, mourn absent members and even recognize faces (Kendrick, 2008).  They will run off a cliff never even thinking of the danger. While we may have knowledge of science and have created all kinds of technological devices, human beings are still reckless. We do all kinds of crazy and stupid things that defy logic. Furthermore, the image of the shepherd and sheep come from what was around at the time.  Being a shepherd in Biblical times was pretty much the "white collar" job at the time.  This was one relatable imagery which was used to convey the message that God cares for us and goes after us if we scatter or wander off as a shepherd does with his sheep.  

This brings us to the responsorial Psalm which is the famous Shepherd Psalm.  The Psalm reminds us that God is our shepherd who guides us, feeds us and comforts us in hard times, even death.  Again the imagery of the shepherd protecting His sheep is used. Pope Francis' pectoral cross has the image of Christ the Good Shepherd as a reminder that he as the pastor of the Church must also be like Christ and tend the flock God entrusted to him. He has also made a big effort to go after those sheep that wandered off; sometimes leaving the other 99 confused and asking "what he's doing?"  

In the second reading from Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that Christ is the master of all, even death.  Death came from the sin of man, so the resurrection of the dead came from Christ since Christ conquered death. In the ultimate paradox, Christ used death to bring life. He is the king, the Lord, the Master of the Universe. All must be subjected to Him before He comes to judge us all. 

Finally in the Gospel, we are told of the day of judgment. Christ will come in His glory accompanied by the angels.  He will be upon His throne and all the nations on the Earth will come before Him.  Then He will separate the sheep from the goats; an image we saw in the first reading from Ezekiel. Those on the right are the sheep and those on the left are the goats.  To those on the right, Christ will tell them that they have inherited the kingdom of God because they gave Him food, drink, welcomed Him, clothed Him, cared for Him when ill and visited Him. To those on the left, He will cast them away for they didn't feed Him, give Him to drink, welcomed Him, clothed Him, cared for Him when sick or visited Him.  Here Christ is reminding us all that we must care for one another. 

Being a Catholic is not just about going to Mass on Sunday, receiving Holy Communion and then going home to wait for next Sunday.  Being Catholic is not praying the Rosary all day or reciting every litany there is.  Instead, being Catholic means caring for others alongside with having a strong faith and prayer life. We must give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcome those who are strangers and visit those who are in prison.  When we do these things, we do them to Christ Himself as He stated, "I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did it for me."  When I first read this years ago, I wondered what the heck Jesus meant. Why would He ask us to do things for those whom we are taught by society to despise?  

How many of us see homeless people and get annoyed because they ask for money or disgusted because of their smell or looks?  How many of us buy nice clothing and may see someone in the cold and not even think about if he or she is okay or needs a coat?  I'm sure many of us don't even think of visiting a prison right?  Or how about going near sick people... ewww right?  If we are American, how many of us bake a nice pie for an illegal immigrant who just crossed the border?  I can tell you that I'm probably guilty of most of these.  The reason why Jesus asks us to do these things is because we are called to be like Him (2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1-2). Since Jesus came for the pariahs, for the sinners and those who society deemed unfit, we too much go after those and care for them (Luke 5:32).  Blessed Mother Teresa often said that she saw Christ in the poor. This is true. We must look for Christ in everyone. If a person is hungry, thirsty, or naked, we must try our best to care for his or her needs. If a person is lonely or a stranger, we must welcome him or her for we too are strangers (Exodus 22:21).  If a person is sick, we must try our best to care for him or her.  This doesn't mean we must catch a flight to fight Ebola after Mass, but to simply care for anyone who has any illness, even mental or just may be having the blues. If we are near a prison, we can visit if possible, volunteer or donate goods. Writing a letter to an inmate and encouraging him or her is also a good way to "visit" the imprisoned. God is not demanding. 

As long as the gesture is there that shows genuine concern, love, mercy and compassion, He will accept it. Feeding the hungry doesn't mean to put a spoon of food inside someone's mouth literally. It can be done by volunteering at a soup kitchen or even donating canned goods.  I've worked at St. Francis House and it was one of the best experiences ever in life. Never in a million years would I see myself serving homeless people or sitting next to them to eat lunch. I enjoyed every bit of it.  Some people may wonder if giving food or money to homeless people is a good idea. The bottom-line is that it's the thought and action that counts. I know there are some people out there who pretend to be homeless, or may be on drugs.  They may lie to get alms and then use it to get drugs.  You shouldn't be discouraged by this because Christ sees that you gave for the right reason and not to endorse drug habits.  

In closing, this Gospel reminds us that Christ is the King and Judge.  It also tells us that the Kingdom of God is not one that seeks power or control.  It is one built on faith, love and hope. Christ is going to judge us based on what love we gave to others, not military service, how much taxes we paid, how many degrees we have earned in school etc (Matthew 7:2).  Vivum Christum Rex!     

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