As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to reflect on the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
The gospel tells us that he will come in glory, surrounded by the angels and seated on his glorious throne. He will then assemble all the nations and judge them, separating those who are worthy to enter the kingdom of the Father and those who are not.
The Church summons us to enter into this reflection, not in fear and trepidation, but in joyful anticipation for the return of Christ as King, who will subject all his enemies and destroy death, the last enemy. (Second reading) We joyfully celebrate the feast of Christ the King in the hope that we too will hear his royal invitation, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you…” After all, we have spent the past Sundays, learning how to prepare for this day.
The feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope XI in 1925 in the aftermath of World War I when the world was threatened by a totalitarian dictatorship with the rise of Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. It was a reminder to all who falsely claim ultimate authority that absolute sovereignty belongs only to Christ.
Looking at our present situation, it is clear that this feast is even more relevant today. In his latest encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis sadly laments the degeneration of popular leadership into “an unhealthy populism when individuals are able to exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power… This becomes all the more serious when, whether in cruder or more subtle forms, it leads to the usurpation of institutions and laws.” (FT, 159)
It is not difficult to see this happening around us, in small fledgling states as well as in the superpowers; in vulnerable nations but also expected bastions of democracy, like the United States. Without going too far, we see this happening in our own yard. While the kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of truth, justice, and peace, in contrast, the populist government is founded on deception, greed, and violence.
There is no question about the universal sovereignty of Christ. It is his manner of kingship that is not always understood. In the face of clericalism and entitlement that plague the Church, Pope Francis unceasingly reminds Church leaders and lay faithful that Christ’s kingship is one of service. Today’s readings clearly express that Christ’s rule is exercised in the mode of shepherding and caring, particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Christ the King is Christ the Good Shepherd who tends his flock seeks out the lost, binds up the injured… (first reading). As baptized, we share in the functions of Christ, priest, prophet, and king, and are called not only to proclaim but to help build his kingdom. Exercising Christ’s kingship means shepherding his people by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked… (gospel) This is how we help build God’s kingdom on earth. That is why in the end, we shall be judged by only one question: have we been good shepherds to God’s flock?
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brethren, you did for me.” It is interesting to note that as we serve the poor in the name of Christ, the poor we serve is Christ himself. The giver and the receiver, the redeemer and the redeemed is the same Christ. This is what finally happens at the end of time: in the words of St. Augustine, “Et erit unus Christus, seipsum amans.” (And there will be one Christ, loving himself).
I was once asked by a Siervas Sister to give the last sacraments to a dying woman. When we arrived at the place, I instinctively stepped back because of the stench that was so putrid and unbearable. Sister then suggested that I return home and come back after she made sure everything was prepared. Two days later, I returned and gave the woman the last sacraments.
On our way home I asked Sister what happened. The woman was long abandoned by the family. When she cleaned her, she found her back full of worms. She had been lying on her own body waste for days. Sister had to burn her clothes, beddings, and all, including her bamboo bed. It took two days to clean her up and the entire place. “And how did you succeed to overcome the smell and the repugnance?” I asked. She said that many times she did feel like giving up. “What made you persevere?” “I just kept imagining I was cleaning Jesus.” “You did not imagine, Sister. It was Jesus.”*