Before Him All Nations Will be Gathered

Gospel Commentary for Solemnity of Christ the King

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By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, NOV. 21, 2008 ( The Gospel of the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King, presents us with the concluding moment of human history: Judgment Day.

Jesus says in Matthew 25: “When the Son of man will come in glory with all his angels, he will sit upon the throne of glory, and before him all nations will be gathered and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”

The first message contained in this Gospel does not have to do with the form or the outcome of the judgment, but the fact that there will be a judgment, that the world does not come from chance and does not end in chance. This world begins with: “Let there be light … Let us make man.” And ends with: “Come, blessed of my Father … Depart from me, accursed ones.” At the beginning of the world and at its end there is a decision of an intelligent mind and a sovereign will.

This beginning of the millennium is characterized by a heated debate over evolutionism and creationism. Reduced to its essentials, on the one side there are those who, appealing — not always rightly — to Darwin, believe that the world is a fruit of blind evolution, dominated by natural selection, and, on the other side, those who, although they admit a form of evolution, see God at work in the evolutionary process itself.

Some days ago at the Vatican there was a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which treated the theme «Scientific Insight Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life.» Distinguished scientists from around the world participated: some believers, some not, some were Nobel Prize recipients.

On the RAI 1 program on the Gospel that I host I interviewed one of the scientists, Professor Francis Collins, former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health in the US. I asked him: “If evolution is true, is there still room for God?” He answered: “Darwin was right in formulating his theory according to which we descend from a common ancestor and there have been gradual changes over long periods of time, but this is the mechanical aspect of how life came to form this fantastic panorama of diversity. This does not answer the question of why there is life.”

“There are aspects of humanity,” he continued, “that are not easily explained: Like our moral sense, the knowledge of good and evil that sometimes leads us to make sacrifices that are not dictated by the laws of evolution. These laws would suggest that we preserve ourselves at all costs. This is not a proof, but does it not perhaps indicate that God exists?”

I also asked Collins whether he had first believed in God or in Jesus Christ. He said: “Until the age of about 25 I was an atheist, I did not have a religious formation, I was a scientist who reduced almost everything to the equations and laws of physics. But as a doctor I began to meet people who were faced with the problem of life and death, and this made me think that my atheism was not an idea that had a basis. I began to read texts about rational arguments for faith that I did not know.

«First I arrived at the conviction that atheism was the least acceptable alternative, and little by little I came to the conclusion that a God must exist who created all of this, but I did not know about this God. This led me to conduct research to find out what the nature of God is, and I found it in the Bible and in the person of Jesus. After two years of research I decided that it was not more reasonable to resist and I became a follower of Jesus.”

A major promoter of evolutionism in our days is the Englishman Richard Dawkins, the author of the book “The God Delusion.” He is now promoting a public campaign to put placards on buses in English cities that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life.” If I put myself in the shoes of a parent with a handicapped, autistic or gravely sick child, or a farm worker who has lost his job, I wonder how such a person would react to that announcement: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life!” «Probably»: He doesn’t even exclude the possibility that God could exist! But if God doesn’t exist, the believer loses nothing. On the other hand, the nonbeliever loses everything.

The existence of evil and injustice in the world is certainly a mystery and a scandal, but without faith in a final judgment, it would be infinitely more absurd and more tragic. For many millennia of life on earth, man has become accustomed to everything; he has adapted to every climate, become immune to every disease. But there is one thing that he has not gotten used to: injustice. He continues to feel it intolerable. And it is to this thirst for justice that the universal judgment will respond.

Not only God will desire it, but, paradoxically, men will too, even the wicked ones. “On the day of the universal judgment, it will not only be the Judge who will descend from heaven,” the French poet Paul Claudel wrote, “but the whole earth will rush to the meeting.”

The solemnity of Christ the King, with the Gospel of the final judgment, responds to the most universal of human hopes. It assures us that injustice and evil will not have the last word and at the same time it calls on us to live in such a way that justice is not a condemnation for us, but salvation, and we can be those to whom Christ will say: «Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.»

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Eziekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46.

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