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.

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