17 November 2011

'I was sick . . . and you visited me.' Sunday Reflections, Christ the King, Year A

The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo, painted 1537-41

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:31-46 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus said to his disciples: 'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right hand, "Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?" And the King will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." Next he will say to those on his left hand, "Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For 1 was hungry and you never gave me food; 1 was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me." Then it will be their turn to ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?" Then he will answer, "I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me." And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.'

An Soiscéal Matha 25:31-46 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin duirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Nuair a thiocfaidh Mac an Duine ina ghlóir agus na haingil uile in éineacht leis, rachaidh sé ina shuí an uair sin i ríchathaoir a ghlóire. Beidh na náisiúin uile cruinnithe os a chomhair, agus déanfaidh sé na daoine a scaradh ó chéile, mar a scarann an t-aoire na caoirigh ó na gabhair. Cuirfidh sé na caoirigh ar a láimh dheis agus na gabhair ar a láimh chlé. Ansin déarfaidh an rí le lucht na láimhe deise: ‘Tagaigí, a lucht bheannaithe m’Athar, glacaigí mar oidhreacht an ríocht a ullmhaíodh daoibh ó thúsú an domhain. Óir bhí ocras orm agus thug sibh rud le hithe dom, bhí tart orm agus thug sibh rud le hól dom, bhí mé i mo strainséir agus thug sibh aíocht dom, bhí mé nocht agus chuir sibh éadach orm, bhí mé tinn agus tháinig sibh do m’fheiceáil, bhí mé i bpríosún agus thug sibh cuairt orm.’ Freagróidh na fíréin é ansin: ‘A Thiarna, cén uair a chonaiceamar thú agus ocras ort go dtabharfaimis bia duit, nó tart ort go dtabharfaimis deoch duit? Cén uair a chonaiceamar i do strainséir thú go dtabharfaimis aíocht duit, nó nocht go gcuirfimis éadach ort? Nó cén uair a chonaiceamar tinn thú, nó i bpríosún, go dtabharfaimis cuairt ort?’ Agus déarfaidh an rí á bhfreagairt: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, sa mhéid go ndearna sibh é do dhuine den chuid is lú de na bráithre seo agamsa, is domsa a rinne sibh é.’ Ansin déarfaidh sé le lucht na láimhe clé ar a seal: ‘Imígí uaim, a dhream mhallaithe, isteach sa tine shíoraí a ullmhaíodh don diabhal agus dá chuid aingeal. Óir bhí ocras orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hithe dom, bhí tart orm agus níor thug sibh aon rud le hól dom, bhí mé i mo strainséir agus níor thug sibh aíocht dom, bhí mé nocht agus níor chuir sibh aon éadach orm, bhí mé tinn agus i bpríosún agus níor tháinig sibh do m’fheiceáil.’ Agus freagróidh siad sin é ansin: ‘A Thiarna, cén uair a bhí tú le feiceáil againn agus ocras nó tart ort, nó i do strainséir, nó nocht nó tinn nó i bpríosún agus nach ndearnamar freastal ort?’ Ansin freagróidh sé iad: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, sa mhéid nach ndearna sibh é do dhuine den chuid is lú díobh seo, ní dhearna sibh domsa é ach oiread.’ Agus imeoidh siad leo, iad seo isteach i bpionós síoraí, ach na fíréin i mbeatha shíoraí.”
King Baudouin of the Belgians (1930-1993)

Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens (1904-1996), Archbishop of Malines-Brussels from 1961to 1979,one of the leading figures at Vatican II, in a biography of King Baudouin of the Belgians, wrote of the occasion the king heard of a mother who was so ill in hospital that she could not attend the ordination to the priesthood of her son, a Jesuit. The king went to visit her that day. I was sick . . . and you visited me. When King Baudouin died suddenly in Spain on 31 July 1993 that same priest was chaplain in the prison where Belgium's most hardened criminals are kept. They nearly all attended a Mass for the late king and sent a message of sympathy to Queen Fabiola.

Not too long before his death, King Baudouin visited a brothel in Antwerp to listen to the stories of the women there. One of them, a Filipina, spoke at his funeral and said that he was the only man who had ever listened to them. (I am relying on memory here to some degree but the Los Angeles Times report on the funeral said, 'The breadth of Baudouin's popularity was reflected in the list of those who eulogized him: a Cabinet minister, an artist, a community worker, a prostitute and an investigative journalist'.)

The same report quotes Godfried Cardinal Danneels, then Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, at the funeral Mass in St Michael's Cathedral, 'There are kings who are more than kings, they are shepherds of their people. King Baudouin was such a king'. Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,so will I tend my sheep' (Ezekiel 34:11-12, today's first reading).

In April 1990 King Bauduoin refused to sign into law a bill legalising abortion. He knew his stand could not prevent the bill from being implemented. The parliament declared him temporarily unable to carry out his duties and the members of the government signed the bill into law before declaring that the king was able to carry out his duties again. The king's stand could have led to the abolition of the monarchy. He himself became king when his father, a divisive figure, abdicated in 1951. I was a stranger and you made me welcome.

Cardinal Suenens' book showed that some wrote to the king for spiritual direction. He was a man whose Catholic faith was fully integrated with his public and private life. He and Queen Fabiola longed to have a child but the queen had five miscarriages.

In the days of Jesus kings were men with great power. Today's monarchs are basically ceremonial heads of state, with little power. But they can have great influence.

A friend of my brother was asked if he could play golf near Belfast with a visitor from the European Continent. The visitor was introduced as 'Mr So-and-so'.  After a few holes my brother's friend asked his golfing partner what he did for a living. 'Mr So-and-so' smiled and said, 'I'm the King of the Belgians'.

None of us are kings or queens but many of us have responsibilities towards others, as priests, spouses/parents, teachers, social workers, caregivers, nurses and what not. The feast of Christ the King tells us that the heart of responsibility is loving service, even to giving up our lives if necessary. I believe that King Baudoin is one of many persons from every walk of life whom God has sent to show us how to follow his Son Jesus, God who became Man, whom we honour today as Christ the King.

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