Have you made your plans for New Year’s yet? It’s coming soon, you know. No, I’m not trying to rush through the rest of the year and skip the holiday season. I’m talking about the new year of the Church calendar, which starts soon, on the first Sunday of Advent. So this weekend coming up is the final Sunday of the liturgical year.
The final Sunday of the year is always the feast of Christ the King. And that only makes sense, because Christ IS the King. He’s not the duke, or the prince, or even the jack of diamonds. He is the King of the Universe. Before we enter into the season where we remember Jesus’ infancy, we close out the year by focusing on the fact that Christ is the ultimate and eternal ruler of all.
As Catholic Christians, everything about our faith is Christocentric—that is, has Christ at the center. (Note to certain nuns who like to ride buses and bask in media attention: the issue is not mean ol’ Vatican officials who harass nuns for working too much with the poor. The issue is the fact many of these nuns no longer put Christ at the center of their ministry, nor believe core Church doctrines anymore. If you want to be social workers and political activists in pantsuits, go right ahead. But if you want to call yourselves Catholic nuns, you gotta follow Church teachings and put Christ first. Just sayin’.)
The feast of Christ the King would be a great way to end the liturgical year, except that the gospel reading at Mass is, um, rather disconcerting. You see, we love to hear those gospel readings where the mercy of Jesus is emphasized and no matter how much we screw up, the Lord still loves us. And of course the Lord always loves us and is filled with mercy and compassion.
But this week we hear one of those gospel readings we frankly would rather not hear—especially nowadays when reaping the consequences of our actions has become a foreign concept, as we prefer to blame someone or something else for our misfortunes. In this week’s reading, Christ is portrayed as King, coming in glory, sitting on a throne, and surrounded by all the angels. Okay, that’s pretty cool imagery, and fits with this special day.
However, what Jesus does while on His throne is anything but “cool.” All the nations shall be gathered in front of Him, and He will separate the people, putting some on His left and some on His right. To those on His right Jesus will say, “Come….Inherit the kingdom prepared for you….For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”
Then Jesus will turn to those on His left and say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil….For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”
These people will start whining and exclaim, “When did we see you hungry or thirsty?”
And Jesus will reply, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” The gospel reading concludes with this sentence: “And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Whoa! See what I mean about this being disconcerting? We don’t want to hear about judgment. Being “judgmental” is the worst thing a person can do these days. But Christ is the King, and He said it, so we’d better pay attention. As the Church year comes to an end, instead of champagne and party hats, maybe we should consider the sacrament of Confession. Just sayin’.