Homily for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

There are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple in the world. I hope that rev­e­la­tion doesn’t come as a shock to any­one: there are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple.

Now, you could rea­son­ably say, “But Dea­con! Nobody is entire­ly good or entire­ly bad. We all have good and bad ele­ments.” And in that you would be right. But I’m not talk­ing about the life-long indi­vid­ual strug­gle to choose the good and avoid the bad. I’m not talk­ing about our need to, as Paul writes, work out our own sal­va­tion in fear and trem­bling.

I’m talk­ing about the sim­ple fact that when Christ comes in His glo­ry, He will sep­a­rate the sheep from the goats. This does not mean our Lord and Sav­ior is tak­ing up micro-farm­ing and ani­mal hus­bandry. It means there are good peo­ple and there are bad peo­ple in the world, and each group is des­tined for a dif­fer­ent end.

When the Son of Man comes in his glo­ry,

and all the angels with him,

he will sit upon his glo­ri­ous throne,

and all the nations will be assem­bled before him.

And he will sep­a­rate them one from anoth­er,

as a shep­herd sep­a­rates the sheep from the goats.

At the end, we are judged. Every­body. And we are sep­a­rat­ed into two groups: the good and the bad. The sheep and the goats. To the sheep, Our Lord invites them to inher­it the king­dom pre­pared for them from the foun­da­tion of the world. He says, “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.”

And those on His right are con­fused by His words. In their hon­esty, they ask Him when they did any of those very mer­i­to­ri­ous things. Jesus tells them, “Amen, I say to you, what­ev­er you did for one of the least broth­ers of mine, you did for me.”

And to those on His left, the goats, the ones not mak­ing the cut, Our Lord orders them to Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels. If you believe noth­ing else I ever say, believe this: That is a judge­ment you do not want to hear Our Lord pro­nounce upon you. There is noth­ing more ter­ri­fy­ing than that.

When I was very young, an alarm would sound, and we would duck and cov­er. I lived most of my child­hood believ­ing the nukes would be com­ing any day. That we would all go out in an incan­des­cent glow, and I was afraid of that. I hit my late teens and ear­ly twen­ties, and I start­ed to think less about nuclear anni­hi­la­tion and more about zom­bies. Now, zom­bies aren’t real­ly scary. At least, not to me. I think I could real­ly come into my own in a good zom­bie apoc­a­lypse. In fact, I use to fig­ure that might be exact­ly what I need­ed to real­ly kick start my career.

Now, I’m old­er still. And zom­bies have lost most of their fas­ci­na­tion. But I look at my wheel­chair. And I look at the over­all state of my health. And I think a lot more about the nat­ur­al end of my life and my own par­tic­u­lar judge­ment. I hope it’s still anoth­er forty years off… but it could come at any time. You don’t need a wheel­chair and poor health for that to be true: for any of us, death can come long before we are pre­pared for it. And the thing that ter­ri­fies me the most – more than zom­bies and more than atom­ic oblit­er­a­tion – is that Christ would say to me at my judge­ment, Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels. Zom­bies and nukes are a minor incon­ve­nience. They hap­pen; they’re over; you move on. Eter­nal damna­tion isn’t some­thing that gets bet­ter or goes away. There is noth­ing in all of exis­tence, seen or unseen, that is worse than being in Hell.

But for those on the Lord’s left, the bad ones, the goats, that is exact­ly what hap­pens. Depart from me, you accursed, into the eter­nal fire pre­pared for the dev­il and his angels.

And why is this ter­ri­ble judge­ment hand­ed down? Christ says, “For I was hun­gry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; a stranger and you gave me no wel­come; naked and you gave me no cloth­ing; ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.”

And those receiv­ing the sen­tence, in typ­i­cal goat fash­ion, have an excuse. “Whoa, Lord! Hold up. We went to church every Sun­day. We put our dol­lar in the bas­ket. When did we not do those things?”

And Christ’s response is, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

I am not going to tell you to feed the hun­gry or give drink to the thirsty and you will go to heav­en. I am not going to tell you to wel­come the stranger and you will go to heav­en. I am not going to tell you to clothe the naked or vis­it the sick and those in prison and you will go to heav­en. Those are all good acts and you would be wise to do them, but that isn’t the point. Heav­en isn’t a reward sys­tem where you rack up points and buy your way in.

So, what is the dif­fer­ence between heav­en and damna­tion? Those judged good saw some­thing miss­ing or wrong in the world, and they — for the love of God and the love of neigh­bor — made it their respon­si­bil­i­ty to right that wrong. Those judged evil saw the same some­thing miss­ing or wrong in the world, and they — for the love of self and the god of con­ve­nience — made an excuse.

We are made to know God, to love God, and to serve God; and, to love our neigh­bor as our­self. God entrust­ed the stew­ard­ship of the world to us… to human beings. The dif­fer­ence between damna­tion and sal­va­tion lies in act­ing upon our love of God and liv­ing our Catholic faith because it is the right thing to do. Excus­es will not get us into heav­en; they will most cer­tain­ly get us into the fires of hell. But our love of God and our love of neigh­bor will lead us to live our faith… to see the wrongs in the world and to work to make them right, not because it’s easy but because it is just. Our faith will lead us to stand up in oppo­si­tion to evil even in the face of ter­ror and say bold­ly, “This is wrong. I will not accept it. And I will do every­thing in my pow­er to stop it.”

And that is the dif­fer­ence between the sheep and the goats, the good and the bad. And every one of us decides which one we are.

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Across the street from us is a large ceme­tery in which are buried many good peo­ple. And prob­a­bly some bad ones. Want to know some­thing they all shared in com­mon dur­ing their lives? They all believe at some lev­el that the world would end in their life­time. It’s human nature.

We can know intel­lec­tu­al­ly that it’s prob­a­bly not going to hap­pen. We can tell our­selves that the ceme­ter­ies of the world are full of peo­ple whose lives end­ed before the Sec­ond Com­ing and that one day we will join them, almost cer­tain­ly before Christ returns and the final judg­ment is ren­dered.

Still, there’s a part of us that believes we will be here until the end… and that’s fine, because at some point some­one is going to be right. A lot of some­ones are going to be right. Because it does end. The day of the Lord comes, as Paul writes, like a thief in the night.

Read­ings in recent weeks have served to remind us to be watch­ful, be awake, be sober, be wise. They have remind­ed us to remain in the light and to be ready. In today’s sec­ond read­ing, Paul writes that When peo­ple are say­ing, “Peace and secu­ri­ty,” then sud­den dis­as­ter comes upon them … and they will not escape.

Be vig­i­lant. Be watch­ful. Be awake. Be ready. Be sober and be wise. Be all of these things, but more than any­thing else be not afraid.

We have no need of fear, for our strength comes from the Lord. Paul writes that all of you are chil­dren of the light and chil­dren of the day. And our strength comes from the light and from the Lord who made the light and made the day. And who made us, and desires that none of us be lost.

We can look around at our world, and there is plen­ty to make us fear. We are sur­round­ed by mad­ness. Babies mur­dered in the womb. Chil­dren starv­ing in a world where moun­tains of food are thrown away dai­ly. Drug fueled crime that is the stuff of night­mares.

Are peo­ple say­ing, “peace and secu­ri­ty”? Yes. Are they believ­able? Not very. And yet in the face of all this, I tell you: be not afraid. Why? Because our peace and our secu­ri­ty is our faith in God. Our love for God. And – most impor­tant­ly – God’s love for us.

Will the state of the world get worse? Prob­a­bly. Short of divine inter­ven­tion or every Chris­t­ian in the world pray­ing the Rosary as if his or her life depends on it, it seems like­ly things will get worse. Some things. But some things also get bet­ter. Which do you want to be a part of?

Do you want to be respon­si­ble for things get­ting worse or for things get­ting bet­ter? Have you ever asked your­self that ques­tion – seri­ous­ly asked it – and made your­self answer it? It’s worth ask­ing.

When have you made the world worse? And it doesn’t have to be on the scale of geno­cide; every sin­gle sin counts, even the small­est unchar­i­ta­ble thought. When have you made the world bet­ter? Again, you don’t have to sur­pass Moth­er There­sa in acts of char­i­ty to make the world bet­ter; a sim­ple kind word to a stranger is enough. Do they bal­ance?

I hope they don’t. The ser­vant in today’s Gospel who was giv­en one tal­ent mere­ly bal­anced. He returned nei­ther more nor less, and for that he was called use­less and thrown into the dark­ness.

The oth­er two ser­vants were giv­en an amount based on the master’s judg­ment of their abil­i­ty and each of them returned twice what they were giv­en. For this, they were reward­ed and giv­en even more.

So, ask your­self: What have I been giv­en? What good have I enjoyed in my life? What has God entrust­ed me with? And then ask your­self, what have I done to dou­ble that which I have been giv­en so that good may be returned to God for the glo­ry of God. By doing our own acts of good when and where we can, we can all of us change the face of the world. We can’t afford to wait for any­one else to start it, because it starts with you and it starts with me.