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Archbishop Follo: The Heavenly Kingdom

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe

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Roman Rite
XXXIV Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A – Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe – November 26, 2017
Ez 34, 11-12.15-17; Ps 23; 1 Cor 15: 20-26; 28; Mt 25: 31-46
Ambrosian Rite
Is 51: 1-6; Ps 46; 2Cor 2, 14-16a; Jn 5, 33-39
III Sunday of Advent – ‘ The completed Prophecies’ – Year B
1) Christ, King on the Cross.
This Sunday, the last of the liturgical year, celebrates Jesus the King of the universe. Christ is the King, he holds the world from the Cross and asks us to participate in his royalty kneeling in front of his throne of Love, the Cross, and before our brothers in the same way He, the King, has kneeled to wash the feet of his Apostles.
During the liturgical year, the Church makes us follow the path of faith and charity that embraces the story of redemption. This liturgical journey begins with Advent, the time of waiting for God’s coming, that is fulfilled at Christmas when we received the great and happy news that God really did became one of us. Next, during Lent, comes the conversion time that prepares us for Easter and, after fifty days, with Pentecost, the beginning of the Church’s journey. In this ‘pilgrimage’, God accompanies us with His Love and His Grace, as long as we decide to walk with Him.
On the Sunday that concludes the liturgical year celebrating Christ the King, we reflect on the meaning of this Solemnity meditating on the scene of the «universal judgment» (Mt 25: 31-46). It is precisely this evangelical page that reveals the upsetting meaning of the kingship of Christ who asks us: did we really choose to follow this crucified King who was crucified for and by love?
He is a King who asks us to do good to others and who does not ask anything for himself. In fact, he gave everything to us, dying on the cross and sacrificing for us. A special king, out of the royalty and kingdoms of this Earth which have the aims of subjugating people and the world to their ideas and supremacy.
He is a king whose kingdom is built every day by the work of those who believe in Christ and in the values proclaimed by Him.
We are reminded of this by the Preface of the Solemnity of Christ the King ”God, you have with oil of exultation consecrated your only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, as eternal Priest and King of the universe. He, sacrificing himself on the altar of the Cross as immaculate victim of peace,  has operated the mystery of human redemption; subjugating all creatures to his power, he offered to your infinite majesty the eternal and universal kingdom: the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, the kingdom of justice, love and peace. »
Therefore, the kingdom of God is not a matter of honor and appearance but of «justice, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost» (Rm 14, 17).
To better understand this, we must start from the throne of Christ which is the Cross. On the Cross on Calvary, Christ manifests his singular royalty. On Calvary two opposing attitudes are confronted. Some people at the foot of the cross, and even one of the two robbers on the cross, contemptuously talk to the Crucified saying «If you are the Christ, the King Messiah, save yourself coming down from the cross”. Jesus, on the other hand, reveals his kingdom by remaining on the cross as the sacrificed Lamb. Unexpectedly, the other thief stands by Him implicitly confessing the royalty of the innocent, and begging «Remember me, when you enter into your kingdom» (Lk 23:42). Saint Ambrose of Milan commented «He begged the Lord to remember him when He came to his kingdom, but the Lord said to him: Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Life is to be with Christ, because where there is Christ there is the Kingdom «(Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, 10,121).
Let us too turn with humility to Christ and He will welcome us into His Kingdom of eternal life.
2) Prayer and charity.
The Kingdom where Christ welcomes us and that the Redeemer gives to us is not a place or something but Himself. He gives us his heart, his word, and his feelings. As answer, he does not want something we have but everything we are. It does not matter if we present this offer like the poor widow who puts everything she has, few coins, in the treasury, or like Zacchaeus who offered half of his goods. The important thing is to imitate the Virgin Mary who gladly offered herself and became on earth the paradise of the Son of Heaven The important thing is to live the gift of self to God with joy.
To educate ourselves to this total offer, we must live charity by giving to the last ones. Giving to the poor, we give to God and he gratefully welcomes us with them saying “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. ‘Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ «(Mt 25: 31-46).
In this regard Saint Augustine comments: «No one must be hesitant to give alms to the poor, no one must believe that it is received by the one of whom he sees the hand; the One who has commanded to give it, receives it. We do not say this based on our feelings or on human conjecture; listen to Him who not only exhorts you to do so, but also gives you the guarantee. I was hungry – it is said – and you gave me food. After the enumeration of their services [the righteous] will ask [to the Lord]: When did we ever see you hungry? And he will answer: All that you have done to one of the youngest of my brothers, you did it to me. A poor begs for alms, but it is a rich man who receives it; it is given to one who spends it for himself, but it is received by the One who will give it back. He will not only give back what he receives: he wants to take with interest, he promises more than you have given. Put out all your greediness of money; think to be a usurer. If you really were so, you would have been rebuked by the Church, you would be condemned by the word of God, and you would be detested by all your brothers as a cruel usurer earnest to gain on the tears of others. Be a usurer, no one forbids you. Instead of lending to a poor man who will cry when he will give back to you, lend to one who is able to return and also exhorts you to receive what he promises «(Sermon 86: 3).
Of this charity towards the neighbor the consecrated virgins are a very important example. In fact, what is given to God it is not detract from men because with virginity they consecrate to God their love, their heart, their thoughts. The consecrated person does not forget and neglects this world and the men and women who in it struggle and suffer. The Christian God is Love that does not receive but gives, or better He is a God who receives not to retain for himself but to give it back more plentiful. Therefore, what is given to God, is a love flowing upon men enriched by God’s own love. It is not an impoverished love, but a love made stronger and therefore more committed and fruitful. That is why the great majority of charitable works toward the poor have been made by virgins, the last being Saint Teresa of Calcutta who became a missionary of charity serving the poorest of the poor because she totally donated herself to God.
Patristic reading
Saint John Chrysostom
Sermo 79
“When the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit,” saith He, “upon the throne of His glory, and He shall divide the sheep from the kids;”[and the one He will accept, because they fed Him, when an hungered, and gave Him drink when thirsty, and took Him in when a stranger, and clothed Him when naked, and visited Him when sick, and came to see Him when in prison: and He will give the kingdom to them. But the others, accusing them for the opposite things, He will send into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.]2
Unto this most delightful portion of Scripture, which we do not cease continually revolving, let us now listen with all earnestness and compunction, this wherewith His discourse ended, even as the last thing, reasonably; for great indeed was His regard for philanthropy and mercy. Wherefore in what precedes He had discoursed concerning this in a different way; and here now in some respects more clearly, and more earnestly, not setting forth two nor three nor five persons, but the whole world; although most assuredly the former places, which speak of two persons, meant not two persons, but two portions of mankind, one of them that disobey, the other of the obedient. But here He handleth the word more fearfully, and with fuller light. Wherefore neither doth He say, “The kingdom is likened,” any more, but openly shows Himself, saying, “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory.” For now is He come in dishonor, now in affronts and reproaches; but then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory.
And continually doth He make mention of glory. For since the cross was near, a thing that seemed to be matter of reproach, for this cause He raises up the hearer; and brings before his sight the judgment seat, and setteth round him all the world.
And not in this way only doth He make His discourse awful, but also by showing the Heavens opened. For all the angels will be present with Him, He saith, themselves also to bear witness, in how many things they had ministered, when sent by the Lord for the salvation of men.
And everything will help to render that day fearful. Then, “shall be gathered together,” He saith, “all nations,” that is, the whole race of men. “And He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd his sheep.” For now they are not separated, but all mingled together, but the division then shall be made with all exactness. And for a while it is by their place that He divides them, and makes them manifest; afterwards by the names He indicates the dispositions of each, calling the one kids,3 the other sheep, that He might indicate the unfruitfulness of the one, for no fruit will come from kids; and the great profit from the other, for indeed from sheep great is the profit, as well from the milk, as from the wool, and from the young, of all which things the kid4 is destitute.
But while the brutes have from nature their unfruitfulness, and fruitfulness, these have it from choice, wherefore some are punished, and the others crowned. And He doth not punish them, until He hath pleaded with them; wherefore also, when He hath put them in their place, He mentions the charges against them. And they speak with meekness, but they have no advantage from it now; and very reasonably, because they passed by a work so much to be desired. For indeed the prophets are everywhere saying this, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice,”5 and the lawgiver by all means urged them to this, both by words, and by works; and nature herself taught it.
But mark them, how they are destitute not of one or two things only, but of all. For not only did they fail to feed the hungry, or clothe the naked; but not even did they visit the sick, which was an easier thing.
And mark how easy are His injunctions. He said not, “I was in prison, and ye set me free; I was sick, and ye raised me up again;” but, “ye visited me,” and, “ye came unto me.” And neither in hunger is the thing commanded grievous. For no costly table did He seek, but what is needful only, and His necessary food, and He sought in a suppliant’s garb, so that all things were enough to bring punishment on them; the easiness. of the request, for it was bread; the pitiable character of Him that requesteth, for He was. poor; the sympathy of nature, for He was a man; the desirableness of the promise, for He promised a kingdom; the fearfulness of the punishment, for He threatened hell. The dignity of the one receiving, for it was God, who was receiving by the poor; the surpassing nature of the honor, that He vouchsafed to condescend so far; His just claim for what they bestowed. for of His own was He receiving. But against all these things covetousness once for all blinded them that were seized by it; and this though so great a threat was set against it.
For further back also He saith, that they who receive not such as these shall suffer more grievous things than Sodom; and here He saith, “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it not unto me.”6 What sayest Thou? they are Thy brethren; and how dost Thou call them least. Why, for this reason they are brethren, because they are lowly, because they are poor, because they are outcast. For such doth He most invite to brotherhood, the unknown, the contemptible, not meaning by these the monks only, and them that have occupied the mountains, but every believer; though he be a secular person, yet if he be hungry, and famishing, and naked, and a stranger, His will is he should have the benefit of all this care. For baptism renders a man a brother, and the partaking of the divine mysteries.
2. Then, in order that thou mayest see in another way also the justice of the sentence, He first praises them that have done right, and saith, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat,” and all that follows.7 For that they may not say, we had it not, He condemns them by their fellow-servants; like as the virgins by the virgins, and the servant that was drunken and gluttonous by the faithful servant, and him that buried his talent, by them that brought the two, and each one of them that continue in sin, by them that have done right.
And this comparison is sometimes made in the case of an equal, as here, and in the instance of the virgins, sometimes of him that hath advantage, as when he said, “The men of Nineveh shall rise up and shall condemn this generation, because they believed at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here;” and, “The queen of the south shall condemn this generation, because she came to hear the wisdom of Solomon;”8 and of an equal again, “They shall be your judges;”9 and again of one at advantage, “Know ye not, that we shall judge angels, how much more things that pertain to this life?”10
And here, however, it is of an equal; for he compares rich with rich, and poor with poor. And not in this way only doth He show the sentence justly passed, by their fellow-servants having done what was right when in the same circumstances, but also by their not being obedient so much as in these things in which poverty was no hindrance; as, for instance, in giving drink to the thirsty, in looking upon him that is in bonds, in visiting the sick. And when He had commended them that had done right, He shows how great was originally His bond of love towards them. For, “Come,” saith He, “ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To how many good things is this same equivalent, to be blessed, and blessed of the Father? And wherefore were they counted worthy of such great honors? What is the cause? “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink;” and what follows.
Of what honor, of what blessedness are these words? And He said not, Take, but, “Inherit,” as one’s own, as your Father’s, as yours, as due to you from the first. For, before you were, saith He, these things had been prepared, and made ready for you, forasmuch as I knew you would be such as you are.
And in return for what do they receive such things? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely, as I have said, the sick and he that is in bonds seeks not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But He, being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more.
But to the others He saith, “Depart from me, ye cursed,” (no longer of the Father; for not He laid the curse upon them, but their own works), “into the everlasting fire, prepared,” not for you, but “for the devil and his angels.” For concerning the kingdom indeed, when He had said, “Come, inherit the kingdom,” He added, “prepared for you before the foundation of the world;” but concerning the fire, no longer so, but, “prepared for the devil.” I, saith He, prepared the kingdom for you, but the fire no more for you, but “for the devil and his angels;” but since ye cast yourselves therein, impute it to yourselves. And not in this way only, but by what follows also, like as though He were excusing Himself to them, He sets forth the causes.
“For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat,” For though He that came to thee had been thine enemy, were not His sufferings enough to have overcome and subdued even the merciless? hunger, and cold, and bonds, and nakedness, and sickness. and to wander everywhere houseless? These things are sufficient even to destroy enmity. But ye did not these things even to a friend, being at once friend, and benefactor, and Lord. Though it be a dog we see hungry, often we are overcome; and though we behold a wild beast, we are subdued; but seeing the Lord, art thou not subdued? And wherein are these things worthy of defense?
For if it were this only, were it not sufficient for a recompense? (I speak not of hearing such a voice, in the presence of the world, from Him that sitteth on the Father’s throne, and of obtaining the kingdom), but were not the very doing it sufficient for a reward? But now even in the presence of the world, and at the appearing of that unspeakable glory, He proclaims and crowns thee, and acknowledges thee as His sustainer and host, and is not ashamed of saying such things, that He may make the crown brighter for thee.
So for this cause, while the one are punished justly, the others are crowned by grace. For though they had done ten thousand things, the munificence were of grace, that in return for services so small and cheap, such a heaven, and a kingdom, and so great honor, should be given them.
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings,11 He said unto His disciples, Ye know that after two days is the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified.”12 In good season again doth He speak of the passion, when He had reminded them of the kingdom, and of the recompense there, and of the deathless punishment; as though He had said, Why are ye afraid at the dangers that are for a season, when such good things await you?
1 [So R. V. margin.] 2 [The Greek text condenses the narrative of the Gospel, altering the form in some places, as appears from the rendering given above.—R.] 3 «jrivfia, haedos, not capras; St. Jerome).
4 e[rifo»).
Os 6,6.
Mt 25,45 comp. verse Mt 25,40. [ “My brethren” is added here from verse 40. The order of words varies from that found in that sense.—R.] 7 .
Mt 12,41-42.
Mt 12,27.
10 1Co 6,3.
11 [R. V. “words;” the word “all”is omitted.—R.]  

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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