November 22, 2017

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Christ the King, November 26, 2017, Year A

Christ the King

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

This is one scary Gospel. It is part of the inspiration for the Sequence we used to sing at funerals, Dies irae, dies illa... “That day will be a day of wrath.” Near the end, the text reads:

Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.

Can it be that our eternal fate depends on our response to those in need? Does faith no longer count for anything?

No, faith has not lost its preeminent place. It is precisely as believers that we are challenged to put faith into action. The Letter of James has the famous passage: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” And in the previous verse we read, “The judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy.”

There is, of course, the question of what to do.

Is it enough to admire the Mother Teresas and Dorothy Days and get out of the way and let them do their great work and applaud them?

Is it enough to give to good causes, from a safe distance, so to speak? This is not a bad thing, of course. No one could be condemned for it.

Is it enough to volunteer in various charities?

These are the wrong questions. It is not enough to ask what is enough. The question itself lends itself to settling for the minimum, to finding the exact placement of the fine line between “I can’t do everything” and “I won’t do anything.”

The starting point, you see, isn’t the what, the external actions and good works. It’s the attitude, more specifically, in our case, the Christian attitude that seeks to imitate Jesus in every way: his kindness, his respect, his welcoming way, his concern, his thirst for justice, etc.—in short, never the minimum, always generous, a kind of “magnificent obsession.”

There are those whose job description absolutely requires them to tend to the needs of the poor and oppressed. In the reading from Ezekiel. God says that he himself will tend the sheep, seek the lost, bind up the injured, and so on. The context, however, is a ferocious condemnation of the “official” shepherds who failed to do these things.

Now back to the what.

Most of us do in fact respond to the needs of those who are hungry and thirsty by donating money or food to various agencies, volunteering time at soup kitchens and community Thanksgiving meals, etc. The same may well apply to “I was naked and you clothed me,” while “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” is definitely more of a challenge.

Most of us visit the sick at one time or another. Visiting prisoners is a more specialized ministry, that some do choose to take on.

Is that the whole list? I am reminded of a hymn we used to sing when I was in a parish in England, in which we hear Jesus saying:
Look around you, can you see?
Times are troubled, people grieve.
See the violence, feel the hardness;
All my people, weep with me.
Walk among them, I'll go with you.
Reach out to them with my hands.
Suffer with me, and together
We will serve them, help them stand.
If we look around us, we can add to the list, and maybe see where our personal strengths lie for reaching out to “the least of Christ’s brethren.”

I was unemployed, and you hired me.
I was abused, and you rescued me.
I was lonely, and you gave me a call, you sent me a card.
I needed to talk, and you listened to me.

I was old and confused, and you were patient with me.
I was ignorant, and you treated me with respect.

This is not a checklist. It’s a list of hints and suggestions for creatively generous hearts.

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