Our Treasure in Heaven will be our Corporal Works of Mercy

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Infant of PraguePerhaps the best known popular devotion to Jesus as King is the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague. In statues of this popular representation of Jesus we see the infant Jesus wearing fine garments and crowned, his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding the world. The statue originated in Spain and eventually found its way to Prague where it is today. Many miracles were attributed to praying before the statue and prayers to the Infant Jesus of Prague and accounts of miracles spread all over the world. Even today miracles continue to be attributed to praying to the Infant Jesus of Prague and many homes have copies of the original statue in Prague.

The Infant Jesus of Prague is crowned because he first submitted totally to human suffering and to his Father’s will. The road to kingship for Jesus was not the certain road of royal inheritance that the ten remaining monarchies in Europe know today. The only crown Jesus ever wore was a crown of thorns. The only throne he ever sat on was the cross. The only scepter he ever held in his hand was a reed put there by the soldiers who mocked him. The only royal robes he ever wore were the robes put on him during his Passion by the Roman soldiers who struck him and spat at him. This crucified Jesus is the fulfillment of the first reading today (Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17) in which God through Ezekiel promised to look after his people. The Old Testament monarchy was for the most part a failure, the kings did not really care about their people. Some of them were almost atheists. There were really only two outstandingly good kings, Hezekiah and Josiah. So in the first reading God promised he would shepherd them because their human shepherds, the kings, were not looking after them properly. Jesus is that shepherd. Because Jesus submitted to his Father’s will he was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father with all enemies including death under his feet as Paul says in the second reading today (1 Cor 15:20-26,28). That is why Gospel today (Matt 25:31-46) can portray Jesus as Judge on his throne.

What in our lives will Jesus judge? Jesus tells us he will judge us by our treatment of him in our fellow humans. Six of the seven corporal works of mercy are listed in the Gospel today. We add burying the dead to that list of corporal works of mercy. Just as Jesus received his place at the right hand of the Father in heaven by self-sacrifice we will receive our place in the kingdom by

feeding the hungry
giving drink to the thirsty
making strangers welcome
clothing the naked
visiting the sick
visiting the imprisoned.

It is a very challenging Gospel. But God has given us the grace of people in every age who lived this Gospel and they are examples to us. One example is St. Francis of Assisi. He was born around 1181 in Assisi while his father, a cloth merchant, was away on business in France. He was baptized Giovanni but when his father, who was infatuated with France, returned he had him renamed Francesco, meaning he was a Frenchman. As Francis was growing up everyone loved him. But just as many other great saints had colorful pasts Francis did also. He became the leader of a crowd of young people who spent their nights in wild parties. He attracted to himself young people addicted to evil and accustomed to vice. Francis said of himself that at that time he was living in sin. But Francis wanted more than his father’s wealth. He decided he wanted to be a nobleman, a knight. So when the Fourth Crusade began he signed up. To take part he had to have a suit of armor and a horse. But Francis would not be happy with just any suit of armor. For him it had to be decorated with gold. He had gone only one day’s journey from Assisi when in a dream God told him his priorities were wrong. Francis returned to Assisi to the derision of everyone after having spent so much money decorating his armor. But Francis’ conversion was not sudden, God worked on him slowly. Francis spent more time in prayer and he used to weep for his sins in a cave. One day when Francis was riding through the country he came across a leper. Although the appearance and smell of the leper was off-putting, Francis alighted from his horse and kissed him. The leper kissed him back and Francis was filled with joy. As he rode away the leper was no longer to be seen which lead Francis to think of it as a test from God. While praying in the church in San Damiano he heard the crucifix say, “Francis, repair my Church.” He believed Jesus referred to the church in San Damiano which was in a state of very bad repair but of course Jesus was referring to the members of the Church in the sense of the Body of Christ. In one famous incident he took off all the clothes his father had given him until he was wearing only a hair-shirt. His life of poverty and helping the poor is well known. Francis began to preach and companions gathered round him who wanted to follow his type of life and three passages in the Gospel guided Francis determining their lifestyle: the command to the rich young man to sell his goods and give money to the poor, the instruction to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the advice to take up our cross daily. Francis did not become a priest but was ordained a deacon against his own wishes and in his desire for closer union with the suffering of Christ he received the stigmata before the end of his life. He gave up leadership of the Franciscans before his death on October 4, 1226 at the age of forty-five, who by then numbered many thousands. St. Francis of Assisi lived today’s Gospel (Matt 25:31-46). His life and today’s Gospel remind us that the treasure we will have in heaven is not what is in our bank accounts but the extent to which we practice the corporal works of mercy.

The devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague honors Jesus as a child king but Jesus is king because he sacrificed himself and thus was given the place at the right hand of the Father in heaven. In the Gospel Jesus identifies himself with what society might consider the least of people. Paul learned this on the road to Damascus; in persecuting others he was persecuting Jesus (Acts 9). The care we give to others is the care we give to Jesus and this will be the wealth that we will take to the next life. When we sacrifice and practice the corporal works of mercy Jesus is King of our lives and his kingdom is coming. When we do not practice sacrificial love for others, Jesus’ kingdom is hindered. But the more perfectly we perform the corporal works of mercy the more perfectly God is King of the world and we can hope to hear Jesus say to us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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