Echoes of the Word, 26th November 2017
Echoes of the Word is an occasional newsletter from the monks of Ampleforth Abbey, featuring reflections on the readings, feasts and seasons of the Church's year and the journey of discipleship. Click here if you are interested in subscribing.
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Christ the King
“Shepherd King o’er mountains steep; Homeward bring the wand’ring sheep.” These words from my favourite Christ the King hymn focus on the central theme this year - Jesus’ kingship seen through the filter of being the “Good Shepherd”. Ezekiel, and other prophets, gave dire warnings to the Shepherds of Israel who do not care for their flock but instead look to make themselves powerful and comfortable, seeing the flock as merely a source of income for themselves. So too, St Augustine produced a long sermon “On the Shepherds” which the Church used in its Divine Office. He focussed on Ecclesiastical leaders, trying to encourage them to be true shepherds and not tyrants. I think such writings from the past have much to say to leaders, ecclesiastical and political, today. There is a recurrent danger that once given authority the main task is the maintenance of that power rather than service to those under your care. “King most holy, King of truth; Guide the lowly, guide the youth”. This line points to another key theme of this feast. Christ the King is always “Youth Sunday”. It reminds all of us, and especially those in authority, that the young are our future as a Church and a society. We must always do all we can to encourage and help them to grow and develop as they should.Fr Kentigern Hagan OSB
Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46
The idea of Christ as King may stir up a number of different images in our minds. Today’s readings give us two. The first is of the shepherd out in the dark and the mist, searching for the lost and wounded sheep to carry it home. The second image is given in the gospel: it goes much further: here the shepherd king not only cares for the wounded and vulnerable, he identifies himself with them: “It is me, I am the one who is hungry, naked, alone, a stranger, sick, a prisoner. What you do for the least of these you do for me.” Not just a pretty thought – it finds its ultimate expression on the cross, in the broken body of Christ, where the inscription placed presumably in mockery actually tells the real truth: This is the King of the Jews. This is the image we are given. The broken body of Christ. It makes us wonder what power really is. There is a power to diminish others, to cut them down to size, to take away their dignity. There is a power to dominate or manipulate – to assert my own will or my own strength, to force others into submission to my wants and needs. There is the power to ensure that it is my words that get heard, my will that predominates, my wants that get satisfied. This is a real power at work in the world. One we all exercise at times – ultimately to our own cost. But there is another power. We see it in Christ. Someone whose very touch brings healing, whose compassion sets free, whose welcome allows us to come home to ourselves. Whose every gesture, every word accepts yet challenges, calls us back to our own full humanity, given not just as a gift, but as a call, a challenge, a vocation, to grow, to become who we can be. That’s Christ’s power in our lives – real power, to create. It is the only power we are ever asked to surrender to in life. And the only power we can ever legitimately exercise. Jesus said: “Yes, I am a King. I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” Let us pray that we may listen to his voice in our lives and follow Christ our King.Fr Kevin Hayden OSB