Awe and Wonder

November 22, 2020 | N W | Deacon Eddie, Discipleship, Eternal Life, Grace, Humility

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 22, 2020 — Year A
Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17 / Ps 23 / 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28 / Mt 25:31-46
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

Welcome to Holy Name of Mary on this last Sunday of the liturgical year. We don’t wait until the end of December. We just wrap things up now, and roll into the new year.

I’ve always felt that the Church year parallels salvation history. To my knowledge, this is not some official teaching of the Church; it’s just a personal way that I orient myself. I like to think I came up with this idea, but I really doubt it. I’ve heard Scott Hahn say that every time he thinks he came up with something new, he discovers some writing on the topic by a desert father, written in the 200s.

We start out the liturgical year with Advent. That has always been a time of waiting, and I’m reminded of the Israelites, waiting all those many, many generations for the coming of the Messiah. Then we have Christmas, a time of joy: the Messiah is finally here. Then we roll right into the first little Ordinary Time. And that always reminds me of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Then we transition into Lent and Easter, a time of preparation to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

After that we roll back into the big Ordinary Time. That seems to parallel our time: the time of living in the kingdom here on Earth as we wait for Jesus’ Second Coming.

And now this Sunday, on the last Sunday of the big Ordinary time, we celebrate Jesus Christ King of the Universe: Christ the King Sunday. That’s a time for us to reflect on who Jesus is and our relationship with Him. Jesus is priest, prophet, and king, and each of those titles has strong implications for us.

We can see this in our readings. The first reading from the book of Ezekiel talks about Jesus the Shepherd King, just like His ancestor, David. A shepherd is a provider and a caretaker who puts the safety of his flock over his own safety.

In our second reading, St. Paul reminds us that Jesus is a reconciler. He is the person who puts things back the way they should be. When they get off track, Jesus puts things back on the rail.

In our gospel, Jesus is wearing His “prophet hat,” and He is talking about Himself, when He will come again as king and judge. He says, “Whatever you did for the least of these people, you did for me; and whatever you did not do for those, you did not do for me.”

We have to remember, though, when we hear a reading like that, that we don’t do good deeds to try to merit Heaven. Heaven is the infinite good, and for us, on our own, to be worthy of that would require that we do infinite good, and that’s not possible. But we are called to help the least among us, so if it’s not to get our card punched, then why do we do it?

Think about it this way: Jesus is the shepherd tending the sheep. Wherever the sheep are, wherever they’re lost, that’s where Jesus is. When we’re baptized, we’re baptized into His ministry. So if we want to find Jesus, we need to go where He is, among the lost, among the hurting, because that’s where we’ll find Him.

Our readings today have a very apocalyptic character to them, and it seems a little odd as we’re getting ready to start Advent, getting ready for Christmas.

I read in the Ordo that, in this coming last week of Ordinary Time, as an option during the Liturgy of the Hours, we can use verses from the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath), which is an ancient chant and part of the high funeral Mass. To be quite honest with you, it’s very scary.

I looked up the translation to the Dies Irae and, when I did, I discovered some interesting things. Yes, indeed, it is very scary. It starts out with:

Day of wrath and doom impending.
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending.

It goes on from there. But as you read forward, it changes a little bit. And then it becomes obvious why we’re invited to reflect on this at the end of Ordinary Time, as we’re looking forward to Jesus’ Second Coming, and getting ready to celebrate the time of Advent and Christmas. I’ll share with you a little bit near the end, where it changes character a little bit.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fires undying.

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.

Because, you see, we can’t do it on our own. We have to rely on the grace that is provided by Jesus, and His Paschal Mystery, where He pays the price for all the bad ever done and that ever will be done.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. And if you only hear the beginning of the Dies Irae, that can be a pretty scary prospect. But I would like to invite you to think about this: Fear in this case was not meant to be the fear of the impending doom; the fear of the wrath of a tyrant. It’s meant to be the fear that comes about with a sense of awe and wonder; wonder of the great love that has been shown to us; the great love that God has for us; the great love from Jesus the shepherd who embraces us with love and invites us to join Him.