Christ the King
Fr. Joseph Levine; November 22, 2020
Readings: Ez 34:11-12,15-17; Ps 23:1-3,5-6; 1 Cor 15:20-26-28; Mt 25:31-46
Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep … I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.
Tending a human flock, not a flock of dumb animals, but a nation of rational and free beings, and judging among them is the role of a king. As a shepherd leads his sheep to pasture where they find the food, which is their good, a true king leads his people to the true common good that will nourish their well-being, body and soul.
Jesus Christ, the Lord God, is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who shepherds the flock of his Church. He does not guide his Church towards an earthly common good that passes away with this life, but to the heavenly, eternal common good, the vision of God’s face. The joy of the beatific vision will be brought to completion for the whole person, body and soul, when death is destroyed and the great resurrection takes place before the last judgment.
Then Jesus Christ will separate the sheep from the goats; the righteous sheep, who listened to the voice of the shepherd and were docile to the will of God, will receive the fullness of the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world while the rebellious goats will be cast forever into the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.
The judgment is published to the universe at the end, when Christ comes, but it takes place for each man when he departs from this world.
Attention, not everyone goes to heaven.
Those who depart from this life with unrepented mortal sin will be condemned eternally to hell; they will suffer the unspeakable misery of being separated forever from God, through their own fault; they will suffer an eternal and unescapable remorse of conscience; they will have no friends but will be the playthings of demons into whose power they put themselves by their life of sin.
Those who depart from this life in the grace of God, having repented and been forgiven for their mortal sins, but who have not yet sufficiently atoned for their sins, will eventually enter into the life of heaven and the beatific vision, but first they will have to suffer the pains of purgatory, the place of purification. It is better to make up for your sins while you are still in this life because none of the suffering in this life can compare with the purity of the unremitting pain of purgatory. This is not a physical pain of the body that lies in the dust, but an acute, inescapable awareness the soul has of its own condition. Nevertheless, it is a pain that is relieved by the certainty of hope. We can help the souls in purgatory by our prayers, our acts of penance, by works of mercy, by acquiring indulgences, and by having Masses said for them.
Those who have completed their purification from sin, whether in this life or the next, enter into the joy of heaven, the beatific vision, to which nothing can be compared.
Jesus Christ is King and Shepherd of his Church, but he rules and guides his Church by means of visible shepherds, bishops and priests, under the unifying authority of the Pope. It is necessary to distinguish in the human authorities of the Church, when they are truly acting according to their office as instruments of the chief Shepherd, and when they are acting on their own out of human weakness or even malice. Nevertheless, whether the flock of Christ is guided by wise and holy men, or abused by wicked mercenaries, it is always Christ who is guiding his flock, whether by instruction or by suffering. The goal is always eternal life.
The Church, as the Kingdom of Christ in this world, just as it uses human shepherds, so also it must use the material things that sustain human life in this world. The Church on her earthly pilgrimage is in the world, but not of the world. So also the faithful who would be guided by Christ to the pastures of eternal life live both in the Church and in some nation of the world, like the United States or Mexico.
For that reason, the Church cannot be completely indifferent to earthly politics. The political order of the world will either assist the Church in her mission or impede her; will either help the faithful to draw near God or will draw them away. For that reason, it has been said that the religion that does not interfere in politics will soon find that politics is interfering with religion.
The Second Vatican Council taught: “Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders. These orders, although distinct, are so connected in the singular plan of God that He Himself intends to raise up the whole world again in Christ and to make it a new creation, initially on earth and completely on the last day. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience. … The temporal order must be renewed in such a way that, without detriment to its own proper laws, it may be brought into conformity with the higher principles of the Christian life and adapted to the shifting circumstances of time, place, and peoples.” (AA 5,7)
Rightfully, then, Jesus Christ is King not over just the Church, but over all mankind and every nation.
Pope Pius XI, when he instituted the Feast of Christ the King, eight years after the end of the First World War, attributed the ‘manifold evils’ of the modern world to the rejection of the kingship of Christ, both in public life and in private life, and he affirmed that “so long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of the Savior, there will be no really hopeful prospect of lasting peace among nations.” (Quas Primas 1) And, “All men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society … if, therefore, the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ.” (Quas Primas 18)
So, while the temporal order and the spiritual order are distinct, while the temporal common good of civil society and the eternal common good of the Church are distinct, the temporal order is doomed to failure unless it is subordinated to the Kingdom of Christ.
Unfortunately, during the course of the past 60 years, the reverse has been taking place; far and wide the life of the Church has been prostituted to the service of this world.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy, in order to be elected President, declared a wall of separation between his faith and the responsibility he would have as President for ‘public policy’; he declared a wall of separation between his Catholic conscience and his political conscience. (cf. “Address to Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960)
In 1984, Mario Cuomo, who was then the Governor of New York and was the father of the present Governor of New York, pushed this ‘separation’ to its logical conclusion when, in a speech at Notre Dame, he affirmed: “Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom [for abortion]. And they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.” (“Religious Belief and Public Morality: Catholic Governor’s Perspective”, September 13, 1984)
Note well, that he glided over the obvious fact that Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion, rather the highly fallible Supreme Court so declared it, by means of questionable reasoning. He glided over the fact that decisions of the Supreme Court can, and at times, should be opposed. He gave to the Supreme Court, in this matter, the sort of reverence that a Catholic should give to the Pope when he infallibly defines a dogma. He did so ‘gladly’. He equated the freedom to do evil with the freedom to do good; he equated something that relies purely on the Catholic faith (the sacraments), with moral truths about marriage and human life that are accessible to all reasonable men. By means of this deceptive argument he gave himself permission, as a politician, to support the crime of abortion, while claiming at the same time, in the service of his own political advantage, to be a ‘devout Catholic’.
That was bad enough, but what was worse is that the bishops let him get away with it. By letting Mario Cuomo get away with his sophistical argument separating his political practice from his Catholic faith, they effectively gave permission for all Catholic politicians (Like Nancy Pelosi and Joseph Biden) to support abortion, and same- sex marriage, and transgenderism, while claiming to be ‘devout’ Catholics.
Indeed, it has gone even further, because the Catholic is losing – if he has not lost already – the right to “to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry”. Powerful forces, which completely dominate one of the major political parties, want everyone, including Catholics, to pay for birth control for others, pay for abortion for others, pay for transgender surgery for others, while requiring that all children, Catholic and non-Catholic be indoctrinated in schools with the LGBT ideology. As for divorce, no married person has a right to refuse divorce, because his spouse can carry through a divorce whether he wants it or not.
I would dare say that, by and large, the bishops let Mario Cuomo get away with it because, by and large they agreed with the Governor’s political views. At the same time the bishops have squandered the moral capital of the Church by covering up for sexual predators. It would seem that because they had lost sight of the supreme good of the salvation of souls, they judged it impossible to insist on the moral law as the foundation even for a pluralistic civil society, and instead put the focus on social welfare programs in favor of the poor. They put the institutions of the Church at the service of administering government welfare programs. About half the revenue of Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA (the two largest Catholic non-profits in the country) comes from government grants. Those same government grants effectively require them to secularize much of their operation.
These policies have been very short sighted because the destruction of family life through abortion and divorce (involving direct violations of the moral law) have weakened individuals and made them more dependent on government assistance.
Candace Owens, a black conservative activist, in testimony before the United States Congress, affirmed that the greatest problem facing the black community is not police brutality, but father absence. That father absence has been fomented by government programs and policies, as well as Supreme Court decisions, that have led to a breakdown of what used to be called ‘public morality’.
All of this is a misapplication of today’s Gospel. If government funded social assistance programs have a moral foundation it is in justice, not charity. It cannot be charity because social assistance programs are funded by the coercive measures of taxation. The welfare state has shifted the responsibility off the shoulders of the good will of individuals, families, and churches, moving it to soulless government bureaucracies. It is no longer ‘charity’ but ‘entitlement’. Meanwhile, mountains and mountains of government regulation make true charity exceedingly difficult. Covid regulations, imposed by an increasingly dictatorial government, make it even more difficult. Indeed, we are now forbidden to visit Christ in the sick. This is not the Gospel.
The first thing to note about today’s Gospel is that we are given a vision of the last judgment. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10)
Our dignity as human beings is found most practically in that we live in the presence of the God, who created us, and we are answerable to him for the life he has given us. We will be judged by how we have lived in his presence and treat one another, even the least, even the Covid positive, even the terminally ill, even the baby in his mother’s womb. We cannot simply pass that responsibility off to government agencies and government funded agencies. Nor can we bring the temporal order beneath the dominion of Christ the King if we do not first submit our own conscience to his dominion. The Kingdom of Christ is found first of all in the hearts and minds of those who believe in him.
Returning again to Pope Pius XI, he wrote that since we have been purchased by his Blood, Christ must “reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls.” (Quas Primas 33) He must reign not as a cruel tyrant but through the power of the love of his most Sacred Heart, the love by which he gave himself for us on the Cross and by which he continues to give himself for us in the Holy Eucharist.