Feast of Christ the King
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Feast of Christ the King
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
“I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” Ezekiel 34:11
The second collection taken up at St. Lawrence of Brindisi Church in the notorious Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts was earmarked for Hurricane Katrina victims. It was no different from many other second collections taken up throughout the United States in Catholic Churches. St. Lawrence of Brindisi Parish is an inner-city parish, with 3,000 families, 80% Hispanic and 20% African American. They are people of modest means. The normal Sunday parish collection rarely exceeds $6,000. On this September weekend, the second collection for Hurricane Katrina victims came to $7,000, plus one most exceptional gift.
On the envelop was scribbled in Spanish: “Para las victimas del huracan, no traia dinero pero esto debe de tener algun valor. Es de todo Corazon.” “For the victims of the hurricane. I did not bring any money. But this should be of some value. It is with all of my heart.” From the envelop fell a gold wedding ring with small notches on the outside. The pastor, Father Peter Banks, told me, “Watts has this bad image of violence, but Watts is full of goodness. There are many saints living within our midst. It is very humbling to realize I am living among the poorest of the poor, but they are the wealthiest in so many ways.”
The first reading of this Mass for Christ the King is taken from the prophet Ezekiel. The opening verse reads, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:11)). God is speaking and promising to be the shepherd himself. Ezekiel’s prophecy is pointing the way for the well-known words of the Lord Jesus that will fulfill it. “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus is the Incarnate God. He is God made flesh, and in that incarnation He teaches us that we are to incarnate Him. We are to bring into the world Christ by “putting flesh and blood” to Jesus’ presence in the world. God will look after His sheep through Christ and those who embody Him, those who become Him.
In this sense the marvelous Gospel of this Mass makes sense. It is love that redeems us. Jesus comes in his glory and separates everyone who has ever lived into two groups, the sheep and the goats. The sheep are saved because they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill and visited those in prison. The goats are condemned because they did not do those things. When the sheep are puzzled and ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matthew 25:37), Jesus answers, “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The good do not even know the good they have done. They take seriously the words of the Gospel. “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
When the poor Hispanic lady took the wedding ring from her finger, notched with marks to count her children, placed it in an envelop as a gift to the displaced of New Orleans, she identified with the least and in so doing she became Christ to them. She was feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and giving drink to the thirsty. In the words of Job, “I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame was I; I was a father to the needy; the rights of the stranger I studied” (Job 29:15-16). Frankly, when I heard her story, I was shamed. What did I do? Opened my closet and emptied out used clothing? Given from my access? What had I done? Little or nothing by comparison.
God gives us these signs. They are the signs of Jonah, the signs of Nineveh’s repentance, the story of the Good Samaritan, the lesson of Lazarus and the rich man. All I can do is wonder why I did not do more. They are moments of conscience and praised be to God who gives them to us. The sheep recognize Christ because they see Him, unencumbered by the trappings of the world. They see Him in the least.
There are those today who preach a Gospel of what is called “health and wealth.” To be saved one must be prosperous. To be prosperous one must be self-actualized. When I hear it preached, it sounds like a religious version of what we in an earlier generation called a Dale Carnegie course, the art of positive thinking and the way to success. The rich must be doing something right. The poor must be doing something wrong. Salvation comes through knowledge of how to get ahead. In short, it is neo-Gnostic. It uses a few teachings from the Gospel of Christ to call itself Christian but bears only a vague similarity to the real thing. “Dying to self”, “carrying one’s cross”, and “becoming a little child” are as foreign to it as the Gospel of sheep and the goats that we read today.
However, the lady with the wedding ring understood. She knew. The sheep understand these things.