Today we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. On our way to Mass, Christine and I confirmed our intention to begin a new ministry that we’ve been talking about for a few years now. We decided that today we would begin visiting the local nursing home after Mass to visit some elderly residents who had no regular visitors. This has been a long time coming and today was the day we would finally begin.

We knew that today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew was the story of Christ the King coming in judgement. In this reading Jesus gives us the key to understanding what we must do as Christians to truly serve Him (Matthew 25:31-46). He proclaims:

“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. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 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. Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

We hadn’t really thought about the connection of this gospel reading to our decision to visit the nursing home residents until our visiting priest, Fr. Augustine, made it clear in his homily that we are all called to be servants of those who live on the fringes of society. We are all called to imitate and serve Christ by serving those who have no one. We looked at each other, knowing that God was confirming our decision to begin our regular visits to the nursing home. Listen to this wonderful excerpt from Fr. Augustine’s homily that confirmed our decision::

[audio: Serving the King.mp3]

Listen to Fr. Augustine’s entire homily below:

[audio: Christ the King Homily.mp3]

Service as Obligation, Joy or Both?
So often we think of service as a duty, an obligation that we must meet to be a good Christian. Most of us often feel guilty because we know we should be doing more, but in our busy lives we never seem to find the time for those who need us most. Perhaps we think that we need to travel to a foreign country to serve the poor and we just never seem to get around to doing that. Often our idea of service is that it’s going to take a major effort if it’s going to be worthwhile. Let’s face it, most of us just don’t have time for another big commitment in our lives. We have good intentions but we set our sights too high and never get around to doing anything at all. Or maybe we just procrastinate – with good intentions, of course – and never seem to make the next step to even do the most simple act of service. I know that’s how I was; it’s how we both were. We had good intentions, but lacked execution. One of these days we’d get around to doing more…that’s what we told ourselves.

Many people believe that the Christian obligation to serve the poor & needy is a solemn duty and a sort of burden. Many of us consider the call to service as something we simply have no time for. After all, who needs one more thing added to our already long to-do list? I put money in the collection plate every week, right? God should understand that I’m too busy to be personally involved in serving others. However, we all know – at least intellectually – that our individual service is a fundamental requirement of our Christian faith. This is made perfectly clear in today’s gospel reading.

The problem with our notion of service is that we often fail to understand that when we serve we are filled with God’s grace and His pure joy. The reality is that we discover true happiness in our acts of service. We lose sight of this other side of the coin of obligation. God blesses our efforts to serve him, no matter how small. When we pay a visit to someone on the fringe of society we encounter Christ in that moment. And when we encounter the risen Christ we inevitably experience joy, as He is Joy itself. Through these encounters we learn that our search for true happiness is fulfilled only in the service of others. It’s never found in the pursuit of material goods or wealth. True happiness and joy are found when we step outside ourselves and serve others. Service is both an obligation and the experience of joy.

Our Visit With Christ
We experienced this joy when we visited our local nursing home to visit two ladies that seldom have visitors. Christine had inquired earlier in the week if we would be welcome to come visit some of the residents who could use some company. Management was very happy to have us come and welcomed us to do so at any time. When we arrived we asked the nurses who might most need to see someone…a resident who didn’t get any visitors. One of the nurses said that she thought Miss Elizabeth could use a visit and she escorted us to her room to make the introduction. Miss Elizabeth was asked if she’s like to have a visitor and she readily consented. We took a seat and the nurse left us with her. We introduced ourselves and began with small talk, asking her about herself and her family. Before you knew it she was telling us about her hobbies of making porcelain dolls and growing plants & flowers. We spent about 30 minutes with Miss Elizabeth and you could tell she was so happy to have someone to talk to. We promised we would be back again next week and headed back to the nurses station to see who else might enjoy some visitors.

This time the nurse took us to see Miss Anna, a widow who had been in the home for almost 2 years. Miss Anna was a lovely woman who lit up when asked if she wanted some company. We sat down and she told us all about her husband, her faith and her family. She shared story after story of things that had happened to her throughout her life, including relating a near death experience. While we were visiting, her “boyfriend” stopped by in his wheelchair to visit for about 15 minutes. He was also happy to have the company.

We learned that Miss Anna was formerly a Catholic, but left the church when she married her husband, who was a lay preacher for the Church of Christ. Apparently she would have stayed Catholic, but for a bad experience with a priest who condemned her for marrying outside the Church. So sad. However, she seemed to be interested in the possibility of meeting with a priest again and, perhaps, exploring a renewal of her Catholic faith. One never knows where these conversations will lead. Regardless of whether or not that happens, I can tell you that Christine and I will be returning to visit Miss Anna again next week to enjoy her company and do whatever we are inspired to do to help her in any way we can.

Look Around, There’s Plenty of Need in Your Neighborhood
I’m sharing this reflection not because I want you to think that Christine and I are somehow special for our decision to finally act upon something we’ve known for some time we should be doing. No, I’m sharing it because I want you to have the experience of the joy that comes with encountering Christ in those He calls us to serve. It could be anyone in need of companionship. Perhaps it’s the widow down the street, or sharing a cup of coffee with a young man in town who’s been out of work for a long time. Maybe it’s reading to someone who is losing their sight. If you just look around your town – very close to your home – you’ll find plenty of need. There’s no need to travel to another country. There are people who need you around every corner and in serving them you’ll encounter the risen Christ. He’s there waiting for you to come by and He will most certainly reward you with His joy when you do.

Take Jesus’ invitation to serve Him to heart. You’ll be amazed at how a little time spent serving others will make such a difference in their lives, and in yours. In fact, it may well change your life forever. Isn’t it worth a try?

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