Fr. Jonah Wharff of New Melleray Abbey, Homily on the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 22, 2020
Scripture Readings: Ex 34:1-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

In our recent refectory book on the election of Pope Francis, it was pointed out how “protection” was a dominant theme of his inaugural homily and would be a hallmark of his pontificate. It is certainly the dominant theme in our first reading from Ezekiel and in today’s gospel. The role of protector appears as the dominant trait of our king. It is the judgment criteria of us, made in His image.

The Holy Father points to St. Joseph, patron saint of the church, as the model of a protector. He protected Jesus and Mary “discreetly, humbly, and silently, but with unfailing presence and utter fidelity even when he found it hard to understand.”
The pontiff said that we are to protect people and the created world, the environment. He wrote Laudato Si about protecting the environment. Today’s gospel and the summation of a year of Matthew’s teaching are about the protection of people. That is what St. Joseph protected. St. Benedict cites this gospel in the Rule’s chapter on the reception of guests (“I was a stranger…” v. 35). There, he goes into great detail on the attention given to guests. Great attention is shown to the poor because in them “Christ is received.” He anticipated Pope Francis’ emphasis that “protection is the vocation of everyone.” After all, the mission of Christ was to make the Father known and the mission of the church is to carry that on. We are members of the church so Benedict says guests are to be shown love (i.e. concern for their good) and treated with humility (preference for their welfare over one’s own). As Cistercians we are to strictly observe this. We cannot say, “We’re contemplatives. We don’t care; we don’t have to.”

Pope Francis gives the requirements for a protector when he says that, as Protector, Joseph was always “able to hear God’s voice, be guided by His will” and thus sensitive to persons entrusted to one’s safekeeping. The Holy Father tells us that to imitate this we must first protect Christ in our lives. “We have to keep watch over ourselves! …hatred, envy, and pride defile our lives.” We must keep watch over our emotions and our hearts because they are the seats of good or evil intentions that build up and tear down. We must do this as a community. We must not, he says, be afraid of goodness and tenderness.

The Pontiff’s call to watch echoes with Jesus’ call today to do the same. We will hear this again next Sunday. They call us to live by principles that will give us consistency in our spiritual lives and readiness to respond as Christ did. We no longer have to live by momentary impressions. We can purposefully live a life that is useful to God and neighbor.

To help us keep this watch over ourselves we have the principles of our Rule, an abbot we are accountable to, and a community that we share these with…