Sunday Sermon for November 20, 2011, the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A
Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46
In the second reading today St. Paul says that Christ must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed, St. Paul says, is death. We can certainly understand why death has not yet been destroyed if that is the last of the enemies that will be overcome, but we have to wonder about all of the other enemies. Over the centuries one enemy after the next has been overcome, but today it appears as if nearly every enemy from the past has been rejuvenated and is coming back to attack the Church. In fact, in some ways it appears that the enemies of the Church have the upper hand.
How, we might ask, if we have our Lord and all of the Sacraments, can this be happening. People seem to think that God simply ought to wipe out anything and everything that opposes Him so that those who believe in Him should have peace and a certain ease of life. Needless to say, this is the kind of thinking that one would hear on the Sunday morning evangelical television programs.
It is important to note that in the first reading the Lord Himself says that He will tend His sheep the way that a shepherd tends his flock when his sheep are scattered. One might think that this is not being a very good shepherd if God has allowed His sheep to be scattered. However, since God’s wisdom, knowledge and power are perfect, we have to try to see this from a different perspective.
In both the first reading and the Gospel we hear about the Lord judging between sheep and goats. In other words, both are part of the same flock, but one seeks to do the will of God while the other shows little or no interest in God’s will. Jesus makes it clear that that judgment will not be on faith alone, but upon our works. He commends the sheep who visited the poor in prison, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless and so on. He also condemns those who knew about these problems but did not lift a finger to do anything about it.
It is obvious from this that God has allowed some of those things that we find distasteful to remain precisely for our benefit. It is those things that we might consider the enemies of God, and of our souls, that the Lord sees as being the best because they become the means for our growth in holiness. We might be tempted to think that if God just removed all of the problems from our lives and from the world that we would be able to be great Christians, perhaps even saints. Human nature being what it is, if everything were easy, we would become very soft, we would not try very hard because there would be no reason to do so.
Right now God is allowing the flock to be scattered so that we can decide whether or not we want to stay with Him as our Shepherd. He gives us complete freedom to walk away from Him if we so choose. In our human wisdom, we think that if He cannot keep the flock together and if He does not protect the flock from the wolves are other predators that seek to destroy the sheep, maybe we should find a different shepherd.
Such is the temptation that is placed before us. Christ our King is our Shepherd and our Judge. Just as on the natural level we judge the quality of teams and individuals based on the quality of the competition they have faced, so in the spiritual realm, we are going to be proven only by how we handle the problems and difficulties that come our way. Seen from this perspective we can begin to understand that having the sheep scattered by the attacks from both within the Church and from the outside as well as the worldliness and materialism of our society are not marks of a bad shepherd, but are part of the wisdom of our Good Shepherd allowing us to exercise our freedom to choose for or against Him.
If we choose to remain close to Him, even though many are scattered about, we will be helped and protected. We will be given the grace we need to overcome the things that pull us down and make us want to depart from Christ. The experience of these temptations provides us with the wisdom to realize that we cannot be victorious over the forces that war against our souls by our own power. By choosing Jesus as our Shepherd and King, staying close to Him and relying on Him, we will see the enemies of our souls destroyed and placed beneath His feet.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.