Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Judgment Seat of Christ

Homily 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Fr. Paul Williams, pastor, Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, Dalton, Georgia

At the Basilica National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Mosaic is of Christ in Majesty, an image of Christ seated in Judgment, in all his power and glory. The Mosaic, for lack of a better term, is not “soft”. Jesus is depicted with a strong, youthful face, with a solemn, almost stern gaze. One brow is arched, stern and severe, the other more relaxed and serene - both justice and mercy are present. His arms are spread, showing his hands, not in the welcoming gesture of the Gentle Shepherd we are accustomed to, but focusing us on his wounds. It's as if he is saying, “Behold the wounds by which I conquered sin and death.” The inscription above the image says: “Christ reigns, Christ Rules. Eternal Victor, Eternal King His kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom that shall not be taken away.”

Saint Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This image of the judgment seat of Christ throughout history has inspired, in a sense, a righteous fear of what that meeting will be like.

With this image of Christ in mind, we recall that, as he said, Jesus came to fulfill the commandments, not abolish them. He says, “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” This is a very serious matter.

As I have frequently pointed out, the commandments are worded negatively, “Thou shall not...” because everyone can NOT do something. But Jesus' new commandment is positive: “Love one another as I have loved you.” When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, will you bring him a list of things you DID NOT DO? Or will you bring him a list of things you DID?

The book of Sirach says (7:36) : “In everything you do, remember your last end, and you will never sin.” Imagine yourself at your last end, before the “judgment seat of Christ”. What do you bring him? What have you done, good or evil? If we're honest, we have to start first with the things we did do, that we knew to be sinful.

Saint Paul and gives us a list to meditate on, where he CCC 1852: contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” Before the judgment seat of Christ, Sins will be evaluated by their gravity, mortal or venial.

Mortal sins are like turning your back on God, preferring the world and sin to Him. Venial sins are like harming the relationship with one you love: you're still in love, but you've got some work to do. Mortal sins require full knowledge and consent, and their grave matter can be seen in the Ten Commandments: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”

So in Saint Paul's list, many of those sins can be mortal, inasmuch as they pertain to the Ten Commandments. But how often do we think of their venial aspect? Saint Augustine explains: CCC 1863: “While we are in the flesh, we cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession....”

It is a good Christian practice to examine our lives in light of our Last End and our appearance before “the judgment seat of Christ.” When we appear before him, will we offer him our petty resentments, anger at perceived slights over small things? The so-called “white lies”, the stories told behind a friend's back, the slanders against a supposed enemy? The “off-color” jokes shared or enjoyed, the lustful glances or thoughts? The vain things we are attached to, the petty envies and jealousies?

We fall into sin over so many little things and too often try to justify them: he hurt me, I was offended, she was rude to me, he disrespected me, it was just a glance, I didn't mean any harm, they deserved it, I don't owe them anything. I have to imagine sometimes that the Lord is sitting on his judgment seat, with that brow of his arched, saying to us, “Really?”, when we bring to him all our rationalizations and excuses for sin.

The catechism says, CCC 1853: “The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: 'For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.' But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.”

And here's the good news. At our meeting with Christ at his judgment seat, he will take the time necessary to work us through our sins, yes, to show where we need to be purified. But he would much rather spend time with you showing you the goodness he planted in your heart, and how you pleased him, perhaps without knowing it. As Saint Paul says today, “we aspire to please him”.

If Christ's new commandment is to “Love one another as I have loved you”, then we can discover this goodness by asking ourselves “how have we been like Christ?” This love of Christ is found in self-giving. And we should fill our lives with such acts, whether large or small acts of love.

When we appear before him, we also bring to him those ways we have allowed him to work through us: A word of encouragement for someone who is struggling, comfort for the lonely, depressed, or sick; wrongs born patiently and quickly forgiven; going the extra mile, generosity with our time and goods; reaching out to the marginalized and excluded; quiet acts of almsgiving, prayer and fasting; courageous and simple witness to the faith; the fruits of the Spirit evident in our lives, “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.”

These acts of love modeled on the self-giving of Christ on the Cross are the mustard seeds in our lives which, through God's grace, grow to bring great comfort to His people.

While through faith, we need not fear the judgment seat of Christ, in faith, we should always keep it in mind, so that we may not sin and may one day enjoy the fruits of eternal life.