Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the King

This past week, along with lots of other fans, I watched, one after another, all the episodes of Season 4 of The Crown, the Netflix series that dramatizes the life and reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. That has become a kind of November ritual for me. (In the past, I would do it twice – once by myself, and then, visiting my family in California for Thanksgiving, with my mother.)

Season 4, which is getting rave reviews as the best season so far, highlights (among other things) the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first woman Prime Minister. Like all relationships, it was a complicated one; but at its core was a conflict between competing concepts of what a country is and what different elements in society owe to one another. Thatcher, you may remember, was once famously quoted as saying there is no such thing as society. 

Here in the United States we too have just finished presidential election campaign which has likewise pitted two competing concepts of what a country is, what a society is, and what we owe to one another as members of society.

In our Church too we have witnessed deep divisions between competing factions favoring competing conceptions of Catholic life in this world.

Of course, there is nothing new or surprising about people having differences of opinion and the conflicts they cause. But, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, Christ the King himself has already revealed his priorities. In the gospel account we just heard, Christ the King has already revealed what the Kingdom of God’s priorities about our life in the world are, and what we are supposed to care most about in this world. And they may come as something of a surprise for religious people whose idea of religion reflects very different priorities.

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 really 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.

The Gospel’s judgment story illustrates the connection between what we profess to believe and how we live, who we really are, who we have become by how we have chosen to live and what we have cared about. It dramatically demonstrates how my own choices and actions here and now can either unite me with others or cut me off from others. It illustrates how the person that I am going to be forever is the person that I am presently in the process of becoming – by how I am living here and now.

What I do with others, how I live with others, my actions, my relationships, my whole life matters. Each one of us is the story of a lifetime. And it is, of course, a process – a lifelong process, in the course of which each one of us experiences his or her own particular set of challenges and opportunities.

And, just like with the servants in the parable we heard last week, the gifts God has given us to work with can be multiplied many times over by going beyond ourselves and joining with others here and now in this world, which we have been entrusted to love and care for, and in our life together as his Church. As Pope Francis has reminded us, defeatism stifles [EG 85], whereas God’s love summons us to mission and makes us fulfilled and productive [EG 81].

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, November 22, 2020. 

The entire Mass may be watched at:

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