Solemnity of Christ, Heart of the Universe
This feast is not about dogma but about history. Situating this feast in its historical context provides a lens to situate ourselves as we come to the end of this year and begin another. This solemnity, like the Feast of the Sacred Heart, is a call to be humanised by feeling the pain and grief of people, known and unknown - particularly those who suffer from oppression, cruelty and exploitation. It is a reminder of our profound interconnection that is intended to bond us to one another. Our failure to grieve miseries, hunger and abuse is a warning signal – we can be betraying our own humanity.
Ezekiel addressed the political corruption in Judah (6th century BCE) where the needs of the weak, the sick and the injured were not addressed. According to Ezekiel, selfishness and greed would lead to destruction. Paul today predicts the end of ‘every sovereignty, every authority, every power’ that supports the old necrophiliac order of empire and its love affair with plutocracy, war and death instead of life for God’s poor.
Pope Francis visit to Mongolia in September (2023) was a powerful symbol of a shepherd traveling to a seemingly insignificant spot. That visit to country with only 4, 000 demonstrated the importance of the smallest, the least and the last. Francis went to one of the smallest and least important churches in the world to help us see through a different lens. To the rest of the world the people of Mongolia are insignificant. It was a double message to people who feel insignificant – the abandoned, the homeless, the refugee, the poor person - and those who do not notice them. Francis has shown himself to be the ‘pope of the peripheries.’ In the full sight of all those who disparage the small, Francis was present, compassionate and liberating to the Catholics and others who shared in the event. Coming just before the synod, it was a living parable that we are called to journey as one people
Today’s solemnity was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI to remind call that Christ should reign and is the centre of hearts of all people. The context was not unlike the present with rising nationalism, fascism, secularism with a world at war with much bloodletting, systems collapsing, governments corrupt and dysfunctional, the economy served primarily the rich, institutions in shambles, rampant poverty, addiction to violence, a prevailing disregard for human life and human dignity, increased destruction of the natural world, pessimism and powerlessness, and the rise of tyrants.
Artists have given fearsome images of the last day with Christ standing in judgement, the parable offers a different interpretation of the end which is ever present. Christ’s coming is not in the future but every day in the guise of every needy person and we judge ourselves by our responses. The most urgent priority is to see the face of God in every human being and especially the most vulnerable among us. Today’s gospel tells us where we can find him. But do we see? Do we want to see? It does involve risks and emerging from beyond our comfort zones.
The readings are as political as they can be. There is a way of seeing more and more deeply. Today’s feast is about the good news of Christ’s presence in all creation. It is a call to bring into alignment everything that is bent, to protect the vulnerable, and to contribute to its flourishing. We are invited to be a blessing for others by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. For Jesus, compassion is the ultimate and decisive criterion to judge our lives and our identification with him. We see in the gospel what our God looks like – not self-serving, not dominating, not predatory but identifying with all that is broken and in need of healing. The gospel calls us to acknowledge the absolute authority of victims. For this we need what Johannes Baptist Metz called a ‘mysticism of open eyes’ – to strive to make visible when suffering is rendered invisible and inconvenient. Former Jesuit superior general Pedro Arrupe had his eyes opened after the bombing of Hiroshima to see ‘what is deadly and truly terrible about force and violence.’ The antidote to violence was for him ‘a pedagogy of love’ which is dramatically urgent today as one million Rohingya are detained in Bangladesh, nearly 12,000 Gazans killed and many more wounded, a 1000’s of Russians and Ukrainians have been killed in another proxy war.
Valerie Kaur in See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifest of Revolutionary Love says that love makes us see with new eyes: separateness is an illusion and interconnectedness a truth where we can choose to ‘see no stranger’. For her, wonder is the ‘wellspring of love.’ It may be difficult to wonder about people who are strangers or outsiders, but we expand the circle of those we see as part of us when we choose to wonder about them, imagine their lives and listen for their stories. ‘We are called to love beyond our own flesh and blood.’ She says, that the beginning of violence comes with a failure to wonder about others and not see that we are interconnected. It disables our compassion. When this wonder is lost anything that happens to the ‘other’ is allowed - whether it the violence emanating from state and institutional policies, bloodshed, destruction of our common home - unless we find ways to make them visible through our stories.
Having heard the gospel, what do we see? Who do we see? How do we get past the front gate of our own world? Today’s reading describes where God’s heart and passion reside and has always been. Jesus shows us the face and heart of God which is moved by the needs of people most often looked upon as ‘other’, as marginalised. To get into that world we need to listen to the story of the other. The gospel is asking us today – who do we see? Is Jesus saying something about how we are called to approach ‘the other’ as God has done constantly with us and humanity throughout history? It seems that we are called first of all to stand with ‘the other’ and communicate a willingness to be among her or him so that she or he is no long ‘the other’ but one of us. Unfortunately, even church organisations and non-governmental organisations easily lose sight of the fact that at the end of all our theories and abstractions there are people at the other end. We are also called to be attentive to our marginalised ‘common home’ - our Earth – which is as abused and trashed as are our sisters and brothers. This God is dynamically active on behalf of suffering people to relieve their misery and bring them to wholeness.
This the context of today’s gospel where Jesus’ identity is revealed in the ‘others’ among us. God in Jesus chooses to be encountered in those considered as most lowly and undeserving: the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, the stranger and those in need of healing of any kind. But part of this is that we need to be freed from our own blindness where we do not see the divine in those who are most marginalised. We come back to the capacity for wonder leading to love and compassion.
The challenge for us is where do we find ourselves today? How will we as a nation, as a community and as individuals be known for our compassion, our care for the poor and the earth, providing the basic necessities of life, the demands of justice: food, water, clothing, shelter, medicine, and freedom from oppression?
There is a subversive quality to the reality of the reign. Those who see it and understand it better are those from the margins of society rather than the powerful and those at the centre. One has to go to the ‘peripheries’ or edges to discover the truth of the gospel by lifting the vulnerable, the ‘least’ of these, before a watching world and letting those in power know that their efforts to grind the poor and vulnerable into the dust will not go unchallenged or unnoticed. When institutions become the enemy of the ‘least of these, we cannot look away.
Today’s readings promise that Jesus will bring about a very different order that recognises the dignity, divine image in immigrants, dumpster-divers, the ragged, imprisoned, sick, and homeless. They delineate the parameters of God’s new universal political order that is a call to prioritise the needs of the poor and the powerless.
God of justice,
Thank you for reaching through unjust leaders and systems
to remind us that justice is still a possibility in our lives.
Guide us as we follow your lead to build communities
of peace, equality and justice for all. Amen (Out in Scripture)