Solemnity of Christ, Heart of the Universe
Today’s solemnity was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is marked by the Catholic Church as well as many Protestant churches. It came about in the context of the rising nationalism, fascism and secularism in 1920s Europe. The intention was to remind Christians that their ultimate allegiance lay with Christ Jesus and to encounter him in our everyday lives by finding him in people that we see needing our help. The most urgent priority is to see the face of God in every human being and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst. 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.
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. There is a constant call for us 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.
Johannes Baptist Metz called it a ‘mysticism of open eyes.’ It strives to make visible what is invisible. It tries to make visible when suffering is rendered invisible and inconvenient. It pays attention to suffering and takes responsibility for unjust suffering. (J.B Metz, A Passion for God, p. 163) which was the focus of Jesus’ life and work. In gospel terms, it is a call to acknowledge the absolute authority of victims. Fr. Pedro Arrupe sj (former Jesuit superior general) had his eyes opened after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to ‘what is deadly and truly terrible about force and violence. For him, the antidote to violence was ‘a pedagogy of love’ that included social systems, political theory and the human heart, and identified the dramatically urgent needs of the day. He urged men and women of good will to stand with and for others and to aspire to a love beyond what most of us think of as loving.
Valerie Kaur (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’. Kaur says that wonder is the ‘wellspring of love.’ Though it is difficult to wonder about people who seem like strangers or outsiders, when we choose to wonder about them, imagine their lives and listen for their stories, we expand the circle of those we see as part of us. ‘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 is lost anything that happens to the ‘other’ is allowed - whether it the violence emanating from state and institutional policies, bloodshed, or in the forms that are difficult to see every day, unless we find ways to make them visible through our stories. Valerie Kaur tries to imagine: What if first Europeans who arrived had looked into the faces of the indigenous people they met and thought ‘sister’ and ‘brother’ rather than ‘savage’ it would have been difficult, if not, impossible, to enslave, steal, rape and dominate them.
So having heard the gospel, what do we see? Who do we see? Whenever we attempt to go into the world of ‘the other’ the confronting question emerges that demands self-awareness and honesty: how do we get past the front gate of our own world. To get into that world one we need to listen to the story of the other. This past week’s NAIDOC celebrations have been another call from the heart of our nation to see and listen to the First Nations people. There is much to learn. We need to be drawn to those on the underside of history – especially people of colour around the world - and hear their voices and what they have to teach us. We can choose to see no stranger. One realises how much there is to share and how alike we are. But a change in ourselves is required. It means getting past the front gate of our own world with its stereotypes, biases, belief systems and prejudices which imprison us and blind us.
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.
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. Ezekiel depicts God as ‘up close and personal’ and attentive to the most vulnerable: ‘I, myself will tend my sheep. The lost I will seek out, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal.’ These are the words of One who is intimately affected by those whose well-being is forgotten or abused. In Australia, we could count Indigenous people and asylum seekers amongst these. That heart also calls us to be attentive to our marginalised ‘common home’ - our Earth – which is as much 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. ‘Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for ME!! God becomes the least among us – even the most vulnerable part of ourselves that needs healing. We are reminded that God in Jesus chooses most 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? Are we living a gospel of convenience? Do we define religious observance by what we do on Sunday or how we practice ‘in-house religion’? Do these enable us to see where Jesus’ priorities lay?
The question is, where is Jesus among the lines of suffering humanity today? We encounter Jesus daily and often we are unaware of it. It occurs in the little acts of solidarity and compassion, the acts of raising our voices, of questioning decisions and dissenting injustices on behalf of others. We are called to stay awake, be alert and have courage; to be part of the movement for peace and justice where they become mainstream rather than being left to a few individuals.
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 edges to discover the truth of the gospel.
What we are doing is lifting the vulnerable, the ‘least’ of these up 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,’ when they bully or stir up violence against the ‘other,’ when they neglect the poor, the orphan, the widow, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the stranger, or the marginalised, we cannot look away.