John Paul II once said that Mother Teresa’s should be the face the Church presents to the world. She built her life around the Gospel, two passages in particular: (1) Jesus’ words from the Cross, “I Thirst.” She interpreted this as meaning not that Jesus thirsted for water but for us and our love, and she determined to live her life in such a way that Jesus’ thirst would be quenched. (2) Today’s gospel, Jesus’ dramatic portrait of the Last Judgment, the sheep on one side, the goats on the other, the former destined for heaven, the latter for hell, all based on how they treated others, which, Jesus said, amounts to how they treated him. Mother Teresa liked to say that when we stand before the Just Judge, he will take us by the hand and count out on our five fingers, “You—Did—It—To--Me.”
That’s quite a challenge, but it should also be an inspiration, and, let’s face it, we need all the inspiration we can get in this crazy world. We’d like to think that kindness, charity, and self-sacrifice come naturally to everyone, but by so thinking, we ignore innate human selfishness and ego-centricity. We ignore, too, that we’re heirs to two thousand years of Christian teaching and the Christian example of the saints, imagining that these are superfluous, that we’re all born naturally inclined to be the sheep in Jesus’ parable. It’s so naïve. It’s so dangerous. Ultimately it’s the death of faith, hope, and love.
The great American playwright, Eugene O’Neill, got it just right when he said that “We’re born broken; we live by mending; the grace of God is the glue.” Or to put it otherwise, we’re born tribal; we’re born selfish; we’re born acting as though we were the center of the universe, as though we were king or queen of all. And it’s a life’s work to put Christ in the center and get ourselves out, and we need all the help, reminders, and inspiration we can get to pull it off. That’s what the Church is for. That’s why Christ founded it. That’s why He preserves it in spite of all its flaws.
The Church is here to proclaim Christ King, to remind us, inspire us, help us to keep Him King, not ourselves. Only in Him do we really know who God is and what He’s like. Only in Him do we really understand who we are and what we’re called to be. Only in Him do we rightly grasp the true nature of love. We’re not born with the knowledge of these things. That knowledge is not out there like the air we breathe. We get it from Jesus and His Church. If we abandon them, if we take them lightly, treating them nonchalantly, if we fail to take seriously their reminders, their inspirations, their help, our default position is not Christ-like purity, kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice.
It may seem as if it is for a while, just as cut flowers can continue to look beautiful for a while, but cut off from their roots and nourishment, they’re doomed, and cut off from Christ and His Church, either through outright rejection or casual neglect, our faith, hope, and love will eventually fade and fail.
Today’s Feast reminds us of who the center of the universe is, who ought to be the center of our lives, and of how we’ll be judged by Christ the King. You Did It To Me. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.