CHRIST THE KING 2014 #160
Ez 34, 11-12. 15-17
1 Cor 15, 20-26, 28.
Mt 25, 31-46
Catholic Peace Fellowship
November 30, 2014
Deacon Tom Cornell
Our first reading today, from the Prophet Ezekiel, pictures God as a shepherd guarding and protecting his flock. But the last verse has a note of warning. “I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” The familiar Psalm 23 has one jarring note as well. “You spread a table before me in the sight of my foes.” In short, there are foes, we have enemies. Nevertheless, “only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.” Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians has an eschatological tone. Eschata is the Greek word meaning the last things, that is, “death, judgment, heaven and hell.” Paul tells us that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” That brings us to the Gospel reading for today, the Last Judgment scene from Matthew, the separation of the sheep from the goats. “Depart from me you accursed….” But what is hell? Surely Dante did not take literally his own description of damnation. He knew he was writing metaphor, inspired metaphor at that.
George Bernanos said that hell is not to love anymore. If that is so, what then is heaven but a love-feast? There is an image of heaven from the rabbinical tradition of heaven and hell as each a banquet, each held in identical rooms. In one room are the damned. Plates piled with sumptuous goodies are placed before them but they gnash their teeth because they cannot reach them, their forks and spoons are too long. The room of the blessed is identical in all ways, except that all are happy and content. They use their outsized forks and spoons to feed each other.
We build our heaven, we build our hell here on earth, here and now. We bring into the next life what we have made of ourselves, sheep or goats. The Last Judgment scene in Matthew’s Gospel inspired the Church teaching of the works of mercy. Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, all taken from today’s Gospel reading. The Church added to bury the dead. Each time we do any of these things for the least of the brethren we do it for Jesus Christ, and conversely, whenever we refuse we refuse Jesus.
Dorothy Day liked to point out that the works of mercy are the direct opposite of the works of war: destroy their crops, poison their wells, bomb, burn their villages, their cities, their homes. Bury the dead? Yes, as many as possible, under the rubble of their own homes, fields and factories. There are spiritual works of mercy too. Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, reprove sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive injuries, pray for the living and the dead. Again, the works of war are the exact opposite: deceive (it has been said that the first casualty of every war is the truth); intimidate, force conscience to act against its own judgment. Forgive? Not on your life. Give them back a dose of their own medicine, twice and ten times over!
And so we gather as a Catholic Peace Fellowship. We are commemorating this month the fiftieth anniversary of a retreat Thomas Merton called and led at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani on the Spiritual Roots of Protest. A. J. Muste was there, John Howard Yoder, the eminent Mennonite theologian, Dan and Philip Berrigan. Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin had been invited but Dr. King had to go to Oslo to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, and Bayard went with him. Jim Forest and I were the youngest and are among those still alive. Merton gathered us around the question, Quo Warranto?, mediaeval Latin for “by what right?” By what right, he asked, do we question, challenge our betters, those put in authority over us, the President and his advisers? Don’t they know more than we do about what’s going on in Viet Nam? How dare we, by what right, do we speak out against them, even actively resist?
Merton’s answer was simply to read from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped: you were too strong for me and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message. The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (Jer 20, 7-9).
We do it because we have to, that’s all. At times it has been thin gruel, but it’s been a banquet nonetheless. Keep it up, lest we be counted among the goats. W