When the Word was made flesh two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, men were free to take Him or leave Him. The shepherds summoned by angels came to worship, while Herod’s men sought to murder. Later on the religious authorities would conspire and have Him put to death. At birth the King of Kings was laid in a feeding trough, and the closest He would ever come to ascending to a throne in His earthly life would be the Cross.
Sometimes the question is asked “Would we recognize Jesus if He came into this world again? Or would His presence make us so uncomfortable that we would again reject Him?”
The truth, of course, is that He will come into the world again, but His Second Coming will be quite different from that first arrival in the dead of a cold December night in Palestine. Next time, He will not be coming in meekness. In His own words, we shall “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory, and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other…” (Mt 24.30-31). When the glory of that second arrival fills the skies from East to West, then whether we happen to be the Pope, the Dalai Lama or the Richard Dawkins of the day, it will be clear to all of us that Jesus Christ is God the Son and Creator of the universe, and there will be no denying that He has come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead.
In other words, there is no chance of anyone not recognizing Our Lord at His Second Coming. Meanwhile, however, there is always a very real danger that we might fail to recognize Him as He is in the world at this moment. Talking about our duty to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, and to visit the sick and those in prison, Our Lord warns: “as you did it not to the least of these little ones, you did it not to me” and “as you did it to the least of these little ones, you did it to me” (Mt 25.40,45). The verdict we encounter at the moment of judgment, then, will depend largely on how we have ministered to or neglected Our Lord in the needy. To focus our minds He tells us that there are only two possible outcomes in that moment when our souls leave our bodies and we find ourselves at our particular judgment: eternal punishment or eternal life.
Along with other local churches, the London Oratory provides various opportunities to minister to the King of Kings in the disadvantaged. During the winter months the Friends of the Oratory (email@example.com) run a food shelter on Saturday evenings at which volunteers and guests sit at table to eat together and converse over supper. The Oratory Young Adults Group for 18-35 year olds (firstname.lastname@example.org) co-operates with our friends and next door neighbours at Holy Trinity Brompton to provide a similar service on Wednesday evenings. If you would be willing and able to assist at either or both of these projects, please enquire by email at the addresses above, or enquire at Oratory House.
Giving time to the elderly, the sick and the needy is one way of ministering to the image of the Christ Child in our neighbour and extending His Kingdom. Engagement in public life is another. We should be encouraging young Catholics to consider prayerfully whether God might be calling them to involve themselves in politics, to ensure that Christ’s reign prevails on a more national and universal scale. The number of committed Christians in Parliament who are prepared to show the courage of their convictions seems to be relatively few, but such a presence is essential if the Christian voice is to be kept alive.
We need this more than ever at a time when the public discourse around politics seems to be increasingly acrimonious. The recent presidential election in America has provoked responses ranging from violent hysteria and calls for assassination at one extreme of the political spectrum to quiet relief and cautious optimism at the other. The Provost would not dream of wading into this on one side or the other: for one thing, when men of the cloth start making a stand on party politics, the Catholic Faithful usually display a healthy instinct to do the exact opposite of what they are told from the pulpit to do and believe. But something that all Catholics can and should do is to pray for the new President Elect of the United States. Pray, especially, that he will honour the very explicit promises he made during his campaign to protect the lives of unborn children. The Holy Father said recently that every unborn child who is unjustly condemned to death by abortion has the face of Christ. The reform of laws which allow this killing of the innocent must be a priority for every decent human being.
As Catholics, we should pray for all of our lawfully elected leaders. Pray without ceasing that the Holy Spirit will take possession of their hearts so that, even in spite of themselves, they will pursue policies which honour the image of God emblazoned on the human soul. After such a tumultuous year, let us pray that 2017 will be a year in which the Christ Child brings peace and salvation.
Fr Julian Large