On this annual celebration of Christ the King, the Church challenges us to contemplate Christ’s return in majesty - his coming again “in glory” (as we say all the time in the Creed) “to judge the living and the dead.”
Traditionally, we speak of two judgments – the general and the particular. Like Michelangelo’s famous fresco in the Sistine Chapel, today’s gospel portrays a final, general judgment, which we associate with the end of time. Yet, that final, general judgment will just ratify and confirm the particular judgment of each one of us at end of our individual life. Likewise, that particular judgment just confirms each one of us individually in the kind of life we have been living on earth - in the kind of person you and I have become over the course of our life.
Around the end of World War II, the British author C.S. Lewis wrote a short story, The Great Divorce, a fantasy, in which the narrator finds himself at a bus stop in what resembles a rather dreary 1940s English town in apparently perpetual drizzle. There he joins a group of quarrelsome, grumpy ghosts on a bus trip to the outskirts of heaven, where they are to be offered yet one more opportunity to leave behind the sins that have kept them trapped outside.
The narrator then listens in on a series of conversations between the bus passengers and some representatives from heaven - people they previously knew in life, who now try to persuade them to change. One of them poignantly pleads with one of the visitors: “Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?”
Overwhelmingly, as in the Gospel account we just heard, the visitors obstinately seem to remain forever focused only on themselves. As one of heaven’s residents explains to the narrator (who is understandably perplexed by the visitors’ behavior): “There is always something they insist on keeping … There is always something they prefer to joy.” That is why each one becomes, as one of the heavenly figures explains, “nearly nothing,” that is “shrunk, shut up in itself.”
Photo: Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, the only one of his paintings still remaining in private hands, recently sold for $450.3 million.