In this article, I would like to reflect on the gospel for this last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, cycle A: Matthew 25: 31-46. First of all, in an age when some representatives of faith have all-but-eliminated the reality of hell, the words of Jesus, himself, are rather clear. If hell isn’t really a possibility for our eternal destiny, it seems to me that Jesus would have had said “to those on his left” something like, “Now, you ought to have been feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked…but, you were pretty nice people, so you, too, can spend eternity in heaven!”
The second point I want to make relates to the action of the just. We typically refer to the sequence of actions described here as “The Corporal Works of Mercy”—those that serve material needs of our brothers and sisters. In complement to these, there are also Spiritual Works of Mercy. I believe these are less familiar. Both sets of action are depicted in the Mercy Garden in front of the school building here at Saint Mary. I encourage you to take a walk along that garden sometime soon.
Indeed, every Catholic ought to be actively engaged, in some way or another, in tending to the corporal needs of our neighbor. Yet, even within the corporal works of mercy, I suggest we do well to reflect on the experience of hunger and thirst and homelessness and nakedness not just as physical realities but also having a spiritual dimension.
For example, I believe that people are indeed hungry for the truth. Am I committed to feeding them with authentic truth? I believe that very often, lies and deceit are successful because they purport to provide an easier rather than harder path to the good in question. It is easier—sounds “nicer”— to tell someone that it is no big deal to miss Mass on Sunday. Lies can even be generated by what is not said. Over the years, by my relative silence on the issue, I have basically fed people a lie. Why? Because that is not what the Church actually teaches.
More than a few parishioners have expressed to me, their concern that once the pandemic passes, substantial numbers of Catholics may not return to regular in-person participation at Mass. Right now, we are still within a period of exemption from the obligation. However, the exemption makes no practical sense unless it is understood as an exception and not the rule. So, in order to be clear and not pastorally foggy, here is a direct citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…
2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.
Truth ought not be delivered as an assault on a person. Please know that I intend to offer this food with love and care. In love and care, I pray that this Thanksgiving Day will be a time of great grace, even as our observance is likely to have an unusual character to it.
For quick access to the entire bulletin for this weekend ONLINE, please click on the link below: