This week is the feast of Christ the King, which always occurs on the last Sunday of the Church calendar year. (And if this is the last Sunday of the Church year, then that means next week is the first Sunday of Advent, which means the Christmas season is upon us. Wow, didn’t we just celebrate Christmas, like, a couple months ago?!)
One of my favorite Catholic authors is Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College. Each year Kreeft gives a simple, one-question quiz to the incoming freshmen. Here’s the question: “How do you get to Heaven?”
This is what Kreeft writes about this exercise: “Over three-quarters of all the ‘educated’ Catholic college students I have taught do not know, after twelve years of catechism classes, how to get to heaven! Their answer to that question is usually something like ‘be sincere’ or ‘try your best’ or ‘don’t hurt people’ or ‘work for peace’ or ‘have a nice day’ or some such trumpet blast. They rarely even mention Jesus when asked that question. Why should they? Warm fuzzies are not stronger than death.”
Kreeft explains that despite all the catechism training, most of his students have never been introduced to Jesus, the Word made flesh; Jesus, the One through whom everything was made; Jesus, the Way and the Truth and the Life, and the only path to Heaven (according to His own words). Instead, they have been introduced to Jesus, the kind and friendly 1st century version of Mr. Rogers; the warm and fuzzy nice guy who can give you a hug if your self esteem is low, but cannot conquer death. Kreeft notes, “Jesus the Warm Fuzzy just doesn’t have the appeal of Jesus the Eternal Logos (Eternal Word).”
I wonder if those college kids will be paying attention this week at Mass, when the gospel reading will be from the 25th chapter of Matthew. This gospel passage was selected for the feast of Christ the King because it clearly portrays Jesus in all of His regal power and majesty at the Final Judgment. Describing what will happen at that time, Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.”
Wow, that is a very powerful scene. All the nations from the entire earth assembled before one throne. All of the angels in Heaven gathered around Christ the King, the one supreme ruler on His throne. Not exactly Mr. Rogers putting on his sweater and sneakers.
After setting this awesome scene of the Almighty King on His glorious throne, the rest of the passage describes exactly what King Jesus will be doing: passing judgment on every single person.
Judgment?! Now, that’s an unpopular concept these days. The main point this week is that Jesus is not merely a kindly, peaceful, timid soul who wants to be our friend and say nice things to us and make us feel better about ourselves. He also is the powerful King of kings and Lord of lords, and the final Judge of every single person who has ever lived.
Thankfully, Jesus is indeed a God of compassion and mercy. If He were not, He would not have freely sacrificed His own life for our sake. I suspect most of Peter Kreeft’s students understand this aspect of Jesus’ nature.
But we must never forget that Jesus is also almighty and powerful. Powerful enough to conquer death once and for all on the cross, and powerful enough to determine our eternal fate at the Final Judgment. This may make Jesus a little less warm and fuzzy, but it certainly makes Him capable of saving our souls. It makes Jesus the one and only answer to the question: “How to you get to Heaven?”