November 27, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe (Year A) on November 26, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Ezekiel 34:11-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; and Matthew 25:31-46.
It’s the final Sunday of the liturgical year. For the past 47 years, this last Sunday has been celebrated as the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe.
Today’s readings offer us two lenses through which to view Christ as our king. First Corinthians speaks of Christ’s kingship of power and judgment. But the first reading and the psalm speak of Christ as shepherd, a king of mercy and love. To best understand our final gospel passage from Matthew in our liturgical year, we must give priority to the idea of Christ’s love. Let us take a moment to celebrate Christ’s mercy on us.
Until recently, the Paulist seminarians lived in a huge, sprawling building in Washington, DC, where we frequently hosted guests who were visiting the area. One night ten years ago, one of these guests came to the novices’ common room and asked to join them in watching TV. They welcomed him, and he then discovered that the novices were watching their favorite show: Deadwood, a drama about the rough-and-tumble life in the Dakota territory in the 1870s. Although the show was critically praised, it was profanity-laden and not my cup of tea.
The guest politely watched the show. At the end, he thanked the novices for giving him new insight into his diocese. You see, they had not realized that their guest was Blase Cupich, who was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota.
Blase Cupich has been in the news a lot in the past few years. Pope Francis appointed him archbishop of Chicago, and then he made him a cardinal. It’s probably the most important appointment that Pope Francis has made in the United States, since the Archdiocese of Chicago has historically exercised a lot of influence in the American Catholic Church.
Over the past three years, Cupich has repeatedly declared that his archdiocese must do what it can to stay connected to the “real lives of people.” We might think of bishops as teachers or administrators, but bishops are primarily supposed to be pastors. In the second week of his pontificate, Pope Francis famously called on all pastors to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
Cardinal Cupich has outlined three priorities that touch the people of Chicago: immigration reform, street violence, and drug problems. Whoa! In the United States, those sound like three politically-charged topics. But think about it: the people touched by these issues are those whom our gospel passage defines as “the least.” People addicted to drugs, people caught in the midst of gang violence, and people newly arrived in this country are likely to struggle with all six of the things that the Son of Man speaks about: obtaining adequate food, beverages, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and legal representation. They may struggle with all of these needs simultaneously! As Cardinal Cupich said so powerfully: “The work of comprehensive immigration reform is not important because it is on my agenda, but because it is on God’s.”
Our gospel makes it absolutely clear: all of us must care for the least among us on such a frequent basis that we should lose the ability to recall all the people we’ve touched. We cannot claim that “the least” in our society get what they deserve. We cannot claim that drug addicts lack the willpower to get clean. We cannot claim that people in violent neighborhoods are too lazy to get good-paying jobs. We cannot claim that desperate people have no right to escape poverty, illiteracy, and violence until they acquire sufficient finances, English proficiency, and stability to move here.
When we ask ourselves why we don’t carry out the corporal works of mercy with more frequency, with more passion, and with more sacrifice, it’s easy to find excuses. Most of us are busy. We’re scared to visit jails or hospitals. We don’t see destitute people in our neighborhood. But at the Last Judgment, I doubt the Son of Man will give me a pass because of my “to-do” list, my fears, or my ZIP code.
It is absolutely fascinating to consider that the Last Judgment appears in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, giving five extended teaching discourses on what it means to be a Christian. In Matthew, Jesus only speaks a few sentences to his disciples after he rises from the dead, including: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
And yet, even ending the gospel with a command to baptize and to teach, Matthew’s Jesus does not mention faith in his final teaching before his passion, death, and resurrection. It’s about action: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger. Is faith important to Matthew? Of course it is, but the litmus test for having faith appears to be in one’s actions.
As we conclude our liturgical year, perhaps it is best to return to the beginning of Jesus’ first discourse in Matthew: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
May we never stop thirsting for righteousness until all people are satisfied.