Weekend Reflections for 11/24/17
On Sunday, we mark the end of the Church's liturgical year with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. (The new Church year begins with the start of Advent.) We end the year, appropriately enough, pondering the end times, reflecting on the Last Judgment. If you google paintings of "Christ the King," you'll find what you'd expect: Jesus looking very kingly, seated on a throne and adorned in ornate robes and gold crown, scepter in hand, ready to exercise judgment upon the world and upon us.
But there's another artistic representation of Christ the King I can't get out of my head. It's a statue that was supposed to be installed outside St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto, Canada, but never was. Some parishioners and clergy apparently deemed the work just too scandalous or inappropriate for the cathedral. And what did this statue depict? A homeless man asleep on a park bench, huddled in a blanket, his face barely visible, cast in bronze.
This statue of a homeless King Jesus was directly inspired by the gospel passage we'll hear at Mass on this Sunday's feast. It's the famous passage from Matthew 25, in which the Lord separates sheeps from goats at the end of the world: "When I was hungry, you fed me... a stranger, you welcomed me... naked, you clothed me... whatsoever you did for the least, you did for me."
Notably, this passage is the only place in the entire New Testament where we find a depiction of the Last Judgment. And what does the passage tell us Christ the King judges us on? our ability to recognize and serve Him in the faces of those who really need our love, care, and support.
When the Toronto cathedral declined the statue, the Jesuit-run Regis College in Toronto agreed to install it on its campus. Then, last year, Pope Francis had a copy of the statue erected at the Vatican. (Those pesky Jesuits!) If you happen to be at the Vatican or in Toronto, go have a look. It's a powerful visual reminder of who God is, and who God calls us to be. "Christ plays in ten thousand places/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men's faces," wrote the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. If we pay attention, we encounter Christ in unexpected places, very often in the faces of those who visit us in need.
-Fr. Jeremy Zipple, S.J.