Friday, 20 November 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church’s year. We come to that point in the year where we celebrate the entirety of the gospel message and reflect upon the kingship of the crucified, risen and ascended Jesus. So often we reduce the gospel message down to short familiar passages which give us comfort without facing up to the challenge of Jesus’ incarnation, earthly ministry and sacrifice for humanity. The gospel reading for this Sunday spells out that challenge in simple terms: Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Jesus’ words are very relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves as we approach the end of 2020. This year has been challenging in a way that none of us has ever experienced before. Our whole concept of normality has been overturned. We have been left wandering through a fog of uncertainty, fear and doubt, with very little to console us and offer us hope. These difficult times have driven many people into a world of self-obsession. As lockdowns were announced, people rushed to supermarkets where they created unnecessary moments of shortage, people locked their doors and cut off lifelines to the needy and vulnerable, people stopped looking outward and focused solely on their own safety and security. Jesus’ words refer to those who remain true to the Christian calling of love and service. Jesus is speaking to those, who in love and charity, give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give welcome to the stranger, give clothing to the naked, give care to the sick, give comfort and company to the prisoner. The important word in all this is ‘give’. The message of the gospel is one of giving, the giving of open-hearted and open-handed love to all.
In the coming weeks we will be celebrating the great story of Christmas. We will re-tell the story of Jesus’ coming to earth as a vulnerable baby who was born into a world of fear and who then had to spend his earliest years as a refugee in a foreign land. As a way of celebrating this we will give gifts to those nearest and dearest to us, but is that enough? There are many in this world who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, wandering in fear and imprisoned. Those are the people Jesus says we should be pouring our love upon if we are truly to honour his Incarnation. Of course we want to demonstrate our love for our families and friends, and especially as our contact with them has been very limited throughout this year, but … what about the other members of our family? What about our fellow human beings, the ones Jesus described as the least of these who are members of my family?
The message of the gospel narrative does provide us with comfort, but it also provides us with a powerful challenge. As we celebrate the end of the Church’s year there can be no partying or fireworks, but there can be an honouring of Christ’s call to love and serve, and that can be at the very heart of our preparation for the celebration of a ‘real’ Christmas.
Let us all remember the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola as we journey through the coming days: Teach us, Good Lord, to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the cost. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labour and not to ask for any reward except that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
With every blessing to you all,