Reflection on The Word for Christ the King Sunday (Year A)
I was speaking with a friend recently about how my childhood love of television and movies caused me to have wildly unrealistic expectations about how the world worked. In the world of television and movies, there were heroes and there were villains, and if you were not one, then you were the other. Either you were a physician risking your own life to dramatically rescue a toddler trapped in a storm-drain, amid a thunder-and-lightning storm, or you were a nurse stealing Fentanyl patches from elderly end-stage cancer patients in order to feed your opiate addiction. Over time, I learned that this was not a particularly helpful way to think about the world, because in addition to just being a little dramatic, what I learned is that the people we think of as heroes possess the capacity to act in ways that are un-heroic and those we consider villains have the capacity to act in heroic ways.
I was reminded of this when I read today’s Gospel, which challenges us to feed the hungry, be hospitable to strangers, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty. So, if I have done what is asked of me in this regard, then I must be a sheep, highly favoured by God. I have tried to integrate these works into my life whenever possible. Sometimes I succeed. However, there are also many times when I have neglected to do these things. I have been less hospitable to strangers whom I have found abrasive. I have failed to visit close friends who were sick. I have never visited a prison in my life. Does my negligence in this regard make me a goat, “accursed (…) into the eternal fire”? Sure, sometimes I have acted in ways that were Christ-like, and sometimes I have acted in ways that were not Christ-like, although I try not to think of myself either as heroic or villainous because either way can do bad things with your head. Perhaps I am an unruly sheep, somewhere in between, only slightly favoured by God, and engulfed in lukewarm flames.
One of my favourite book-finds of 2014 is a book that was written in 1994, entitled Good Goats: Healing our Image of God, published by Paulist Press and written by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn. The gist of the book is that despite our inevitable imperfection as human beings, God continually seeks to save each one of us. Using today’s gospel reading as a launching point, the authors offer to us the idea that “we are all good goats.” They remind us that heaven and hell are not geographical places, they are states of being.
“All of us who have felt alienated, unloved, overwhelmed by shame or helplessly caught in an addiction know what it’s like to be in hell. And all of us who have been welcomed home, who have seen our goodness reflected in the affirming eyes of another or who have been loved into recovery know what it’s like to be in heaven.”
So, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (the end of our liturgical year), perhaps we can begin a new year with a healed image of God, and of ourselves. May we be reminded that The Kingdom of God is within us, and we are all good goats.