Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the Feast of Christ the King

Christ the King - Nov. 22, 2009

Readings: Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37

The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to be a counter-force for the secularizing trends in modern society. It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October. But gradually people realized that the themes associated with Christ the King fit much better into the eschatological overview of this season right before Advent, and so in 1969 Pope Paul VI moved it to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year. He also made it into a Solemnity. One of the themes connected with Christ the King is the theme of judgment. For the king judges everyone. In Matthew’s Gospel there is that great passage on the King of Heaven judging all the peoples of the earth and dividing them into the accepted and the rejected, those who go up and those who go down, the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46).

Last Sunday the main theme was "death," and remembering our own future death. In the framework of the last things after death comes judgment. Judgment is almost a scary word just by itself. The very word makes us uneasy. For my mother one of her biggest fears is that people will talk about her and judge her. How often we wince when we hear a judgment that someone has made about us that’s so much different from how we see ourselves. The reason we fear judgment so much is because—deep down—we know how much we do it to others. We know how little evidence we often have and how much we presume that someone is doing something just to irritate us. The even deeper thought that God might judge us in that way is truly a scary thought.

Let’s take a look at judgment in its biblical sense. Judgment happens because we have made a covenant with God. That covenant first began between the Lord God and the People of Israel at Sinai. It continues between God and each of us in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. God promises us salvation and eternal life and we promise to God to love and care for each other. Judgment is merely the assessment of whether we have lived up to that promise. In one sense it’s not really God who judges us, but we who are judging ourselves. Our actions toward one another are our passing judgment on ourselves.

Judgment, first of all, implies that we take responsibility for our own lives, that we manage and direct our actions according to certain norms. That’s all part of becoming a mature adult in society. There seems some evidence that it’s getting harder to accomplish in our society. An article in last Thursday’s USA Today on anger management suggests that it’s becoming a serious issue for many people. Whenever we hear the theme of judgment mentioned, we shouldn’t first think of how God will judge us, but how we are judging ourselves by the management of our own lives as mature adults and believing Christians.

When we do think about God and judgment, we should take heart. For Scripture tells us that God is far more merciful than we can imagine. When Peter asks Jesus if he should forgive even up to seven times, Jesus replies, "You should forgive up to seven times seventy times." That reflects the boundless mercy of the Mystery of God. The Christian theme of judgment is the meeting of two absolutes: on the one hand, our own responsibility in the covenant of faith; on the other hand, the infinite mercy of God. That’s why, whenever we consider the theme of judgment, all we can say is: "Lord, have mercy." That’s the whole message of the feast of Christ the King.