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Christ the King

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As we do every year on the last Sunday before Advent, this Sunday the universal church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King. It is a reminder that Jesus Christ reigns over all of creation. Considering that this life is marked by sin and suffering, the truth of Our Lord’s sovereignty brings us peace, for we are comforted knowing that just as Jesus Christ gained our salvation through the horror of the cross, He also brings the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God through the struggles and sorrows of this life.

The Gospel this Sunday portrays another aspect of the kingship of Jesus — His final judgment at His Second Coming. Some may be familiar with the Latin phrase memento mori, meaning “remember death,” which reminds us that our time on earth is limited. Contemplated apart from our faith, this thought encourages us to focus on what is truly important in our lives.

As Catholics, memento mori has an additional meaning, for it reminds us that we will meet Jesus Christ at the end of this life. He will judge whether we will spend our eternity united with God in heaven or separated from God in hell. Our faith tells us of the particular judgment that comes at the moment of our death and the last judgment that occurs when Jesus comes in glory on the last day.

Jesus describes the scene of the Last Judgment in this Sunday’s Gospel. First, we note that the judgment is based on not only faith, but on the integration of that faith into the life of the believer. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (Mt 7:21).” We are called to witness our faith in what we say and do. Jesus welcomes those who do works of mercy into eternal life, but denies those who refuse to help their neighbor in need, even if they claim to know Him. In our lives, this causes us to question whether our love for God is reflected in our love for others, especially those in need.

The description of the Last Judgment also reveals that when we serve our neighbor we are serving Jesus Himself. Those confronted with this truth ask, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?” To which He replies, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” We benefit in knowing that we encounter Jesus when in our encounters with others, especially the poor, the ill, the stranger and all in need. The more we believe this truth, the more we freely offer respect, dignity and charity to everyone we encounter. This is how we grow to love as God loves.

Finally, reflecting on our Final Judgment may cause us some amount of anxiety. The idea of Jesus, who knows the words, thoughts and actions we keep hidden from everyone else, judging our whole life cannot help but lead to some fear that we will be found wanting. This fear can lead us to contrition and conversion of life, but we are not meant to live in fear, but in faith and freedom. Yes, we should have sorrow for our sins and seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others. We also know that Jesus judges perfectly not solely because He is truth, but also because He is mercy. By becoming incarnate Jesus came to know intimately our struggles and temptations, and He alone can weigh the knowledge and freedom we have to do good or evil in every situation.

We are blessed that Jesus Christ is our Judge, so let us not see the Second Coming of our Savior as something to be feared. Our King comes to bring eternal joy to all who believe in Him. May we live in faith, hope and love that we will welcome Him with joy on that glorious day.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017