THE THIRTY-FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
FEAST OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING
Taking Responsibility for Knowing the Mind of God
Do you think you have at least a working knowledge of the way God thinks? What is his basic attitude toward people? What does he want yours to be? Is this attitude reflected in the way you treat people? All people?
The Entrance Antiphon focuses on Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain.” Of all reasons, this is the one Revelation (5:12) presents to us as the reason why he “is worthy to receive… honor… glory and power.” This gives us a focus.
The Opening Prayer(s) put the emphasis on what Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death — and on how he wants us to get into harmony with his victory. God “raised our Lord Jesus Christ” to “break the power of evil and make all things new.” So we ask him to “open our hearts” and “free” us to make his new outlook on life our own: to find our joy “in his peace”; our glory “in his justice;” to make our life a constant living “in his love”; and our goal to “bring the whole human race together in Jesus Christ.”
The Prayer over the Gifts specifies that what we celebrate at Mass is the sacrifice by which Jesus “reconciles the human race.” The Mass will continue to bring about reconciliation in the world in very practical ways if we absorb its meaning as the repeated celebration (“making present”) of Christ’s death and resurrection. We ask that our participation in the Mass will be so active and enlightened that our way of celebrating will truly help to “bring unity and peace to the world.”
This unity and peace are what we are asking for when we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” This is what we are surrendering our hearts to when we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the motivating goal of our efforts as we work to establish the “reign of God” on earth as stewards of the kingship of Christ.
How God Thinks
Ezekiel 34: 11-17 tells us what God’s attitude is toward the human race.
I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are scattered…. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered…. and I will feed them.... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak….
The Responsorial (Psalm 23) puts it in a nutshell: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” God is loving and concerned and caring for all his people, wherever they are. And “wherever” means psychologically and spiritually, as well as spatially.
God also says, “But the sleek and the strong I will destroy…. I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.” This will be echoed in the Gospel, and all it says is that God has standards we must live up to. He accepts us as we are and leads us gently and gradually toward perfection. The only ones who are ultimately rejected are those who have such a high opinion of themselves, the “sleek and the strong,” that they refuse to change — especially their uncaring and even oppressive attitude toward others. God is love. To associate with God forever in heaven we have to learn to love as he does. If “the Lord is our shepherd,” and all Christians take on his mind and heart, soon every person on earth should be able to say, “There is nothing I shall want.” All will take responsibility for all as stewards of his love.
The Surprise That Shouldn’t Be
In Matthew 25: 31-46 all who are judged are surprised at what God says about them, the “sheep” as well as the “goats.” The good didn’t know they were that good; the bad didn’t know they were that bad. Surprise all around!
The good did not realize it was Jesus they were helping and caring for. The bad did not realize it was Jesus they were neglecting. But neither should have been surprised. The first effect of Baptism is to incorporate us into the body of Christ, so that, in the words of St. Augustine, we “become Christ.” And the Catholic assumption is that everybody has received this grace, by Baptism either of “water, blood or desire.” We don’t know this for certain, of course, but we know God offers everyone the grace of sharing in his divine life, so we just assume everyone we deal with has accepted it. And our faith obliges us to treat everyone with the love we give to Jesus himself. That is Jesus’ “new commandment”: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12).
Judging from the sins that priests hear in the confessional, people on earth would be just as surprised to know today how God judges them as they will be when they die. The real sins — especially the really serious ones — are just never confessed.
From the confessions he hears, a priest would get the impression that there are few, if any, Catholics who are ever unjust in their business practices; none guilty of murderously polluting the environment; none who have ever participated in an unjust war or sinfully killed the innocent when it was legal (except for abortion); or approved of killing the criminal for revenge; none who have been sinfully violent against their spouses or children (since they deserved it!); and none who are teaching their children by word, example and the schools to which they send them, to conform to the accepted worldly values of our culture. There are no idolaters in the Church who give sports priority over family life or optional religious events. A priest hearing confessions in a high school or college will not hear about the things that will eventually lead a student to defect from the Church.
Nor is anyone confessing as a “sin of omission” that they do not help the poor and needy as much as their means permit; that they are failing to bear striking witness to the values of Christ through their lifestyle; that they are not really involved in seeking union of mind and will and heart with Jesus personally through Scripture reading and prayer, or with other people (sometimes including their spouses) through deep, personal sharing of thoughts, ideals and faith experiences. No one is failing in the Christian obligation to evangelize, to “seek perfection” or to work for social justice. The most serious obligations of Christianity are not matter for examination when Catholics prepare for confession.
Does that surprise you? Pass from the sheep to the shepherds. Whatever complaints people may have against priests, you could never guess them from priests’ confessions. There simply are no dictatorial, arrogant, lazy, uncaring, unjust, or legalistic priests in the Catholic Church! None are liturgically or theologically outdated. None legalistically narrow to the detriment of their flock. One doubts that any bishops were confessing the sin of covering up child abuse, although hopefully they know better now.
Most of us, clergy and laity alike, were not trained to judge ourselves by the word of God, much less the mind and heart of God, but only by codified rules and laws. These, by definition, hardly take us farther than the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” No wonder that when a sin actually makes it to the confessional there is so much rejoicing in heaven! 1
1Corinthians 15: 20-28 is the reading that focuses most precisely on Christ as King. It tells us that in the end, the mind of God will be the light and love of all:
Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father….
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
This is the answer to our prayer, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” All will be of one mind and heart and will with God: not by force, but freely, by total understanding and love. This is what Jesus came to accomplish. It is to bring this about that we work as stewards of the kingship of Christ.
What does it mean for you personally to be in the service of Christ the King?
Accept your baptismal responsibility as a steward of Christ’s kingship. Look forward to the “end time.” Look around you always to see what needs to be done to extend the reign of Christ over every area and activity of human life on earth.
1 Matthew 5:20; Luke 15:7