The Feast of Christ the King marks the end, and crown of the liturgical Year. This is the last Sunday in this year of St. Matthew, and we take our leave of his Gospel with the great scene of Christ in majesty at the end of time: a King sitting on his throne of Judgement. Always, though, there is paradox. As Messiah Christ inherited his title of King from his birth; but he established his Kingdom by conquest, through the victory he won on the Cross. So in today’s parable he is revealed to us surrounded by his angels, with all signs of his human weakness put aside. Yet precisely here he identifies himself with the weak, with the poor, with all who are helpless and needy. Christ’s power clearly has no limit, yet it contrasts starkly with the power of any earthly King. His Kingdom is not imposed by force. To belong to it we need to choose it; and we do so above all by Christ-like action.
So today the Church invites us once again to make a conscious choice: to take Christ as our King, to proclaim him as Lord, as our Lord, and to pray and work for the coming of his Kingdom. Today’s feast invites us to do so boldly, in a triumphant proclamation of faith and hope and love.
Of faith first of all. To recognise Christ’s Kingship requires faith, because there are plenty of signs all around us, and even within us, that the devil remains seated on his throne. Faith looks at a broken man, hanging dead on a cross, with a crown of thorns on his head, and it says: Yes, I believe: already he has won the victory; already his Kingdom has begun. Faith then urges us, in the words of St.
Benedict, to do battle for our King. We fight against the power of sin in ourselves. And we do all we can to make Christ’s Kingdom a reality in the world around us. Today’s Preface describes some of its characteristics: truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love, peace. We believe in these things. They are not just empty dreams. Where they are absent, all and any human life is diminished.
One of the ways we can ensure they truly come about is by recognising Jesus in each human person. How remarkable it is that in today’s Gospel he says nothing about our neighbours’ moral character or behaviour! Only that in principle he is in each of them, especially in so far as they are needy. It’s faith that allows us to accept this, and to act accordingly.
Then the proclamation of Christ’s Kingship is also very much an act of hope. Hope looks forward to the end times when Christ’s Kingdom will be definitively established. And when it is confronted with scenes of hopelessness; when it encounters people whose lives are defined by pain, isolation, loneliness, oppression, neglect, despair: hope gives courage to look forward to the end of all these things; to the time when all wrongs will be righted, all innocence vindicated, and all guilt punished.
Hope enables us to understand that nothing in this life, except sin, is wasted. History is not just a random series of events. Christ has all things in his hands. All things are within God’s beneficent Providence, and one day we will see how somehow everything in our life has in fact tended ultimately towards our good, and to God’s glory.
Then, rather like the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Feast of Christ the King is above all an act of love. We look at Jesus and we love him: we choose him. It would be madness not to. He is supremely lovable. Who or what could possibly compete? Shall I choose to prefer to him a few paltry and passing pleasures of the flesh at risk of forfeiting his love, which endures forever, and perfectly fulfils all my desires?
Shall I grasp at tinsel honours to prop up my own inflated self esteem, a bubble that must eventually be pricked somehow, at cost of losing his love which makes me great indeed? Shall I dwell on the negative things in my life, complain about my pains and griefs, or shall I focus on the faults of the people who annoy me, choosing to dwell in bitterness of spirit, when Jesus wants to fill me with perfect joy, and put a crown of honour on my head?
If in response to these questions, my choice has been for Jesus, then today I hear, by anticipation, the beautiful invitation offered to those who have followed him in faith and hope and love. Come, blessed of my Father, he says, take possession of the Kingdom which has been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Unfortunately also, if in my pride and folly my final response has not been for Jesus, but for something of infinitely lesser worth, then today I hear, by anticipation, the terrible words of final rejection. Depart from me, you cursed, he says, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.
These words used to haunt our former Prior and novice master, Dom Maurus Deegan. Anyone who knew him will recall how frequently he used to refer to Matthew 25 – to today’s parable. And sometimes he would make us feel uneasy that we weren’t all working day and night in a leper colony, or refugee camp, or soup kitchen, or hospital or prison.
Some people are indeed inspired by today’s Gospel to dedicate their whole life or their available energies to precisely that sort of work. But many people find themselves practically unable to. Are they then to be eternally condemned? No: surely what is important is not so much whether we have performed this or that good deed in our life, as whether or not we truly have the mind of Christ within us.
Those condemned in today’s Gospel are not rebuked for any particular crimes: only for neglect, or negligence. Their attitude is one which St. Benedict continually castigates: which he wants to be excluded from his monastery. It’s an attitude of narrow selfishness, of hard hearted indifference, of spiritual sloth. This attitude fosters a certain blindness and deafness to the needs of others, because of its preoccupation with self. Perhaps one with this attitude might want what Christ came to give, but he is not prepared really to change his life. He is happy enough to receive, but not at all willing to give.
Jesus, by contrast, looked on the needy, that is, on all of us, with practical compassion, and he asks us to do the same. So we must always in principle be ready to be generous where it is practically possible. We are duty bound to do what we can financially for the poor, through regular charitable giving. For the monk, who has a vow of poverty, the monastery does this on his behalf.
But above all we are to strive to conform our whole life to Christ; to identify ourselves with him, in order that he may identify himself with us. May he then truly reign in us, and through us may his Kingdom be truly established in the Church and in the world.