Are you a sheep or a goat? Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

This past weekend we marked the great Solemnity of Christ the King. The imagery of the Christ as king is used in many passages of Scripture and in the Gospels.

He’s likened to a king who threw a banquet. He’s likened to a king who sent his armies out to fight. He’s likened to a king who is putting his economic life in order and who was very severe to make sure his finances were well handled. Kings are pictured doing a lot of things in Scripture, and so many of those images refer to the Messiah, to Jesus.

Christ the King as the Judge

On this Feast of Christ the King in 2014, Christ the King has been presented as the Judge. He is separating the sheep from the goats. And, in doing that, He is showing us what it means for Him, for His Father, to be “all in all,” as it says at the end of the second reading (1 Cor 15:28).

God will be all in all. What does that mean? It means God will be everything for everyone. And that’s how we are judged, basically.

Did I live as though God was everything for me? Or, did I live as though God just took up some small corner of my life? Did I live as though He was everything? Or did I live as though He were only a marginal character in my life?

 

Kingdom of holiness, grace

The Gospel of this past Sunday goes on to tell us about the Kingdom of Christ, which will be handed over to the Father, so that He can be all in all, everything for everyone (Mt 25:31-46).

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us what we have to do to enter that kingdom. He explains to us what it means to us that God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of holiness and grace.

And, the Preface Prayer used this past Sunday speaks of God’s Kingdom as a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace. But this year, on the Feast of Christ the King, the Gospel focuses on the kingdom of holiness and grace.

Holiness, virtue, is a powerful reality. And so is vice. We see that in the Gospel passage that the sheep are virtuous and the goats are vicious. And this gives us a glimpse of virtue versus vice.

What do the sheep say? “Lord, when did I see you hungry, or naked, or in prison? When did I see you? I don’t recall ever seeing you!” There’s a kind of a healthy blindness. The people these sheep represent are so convinced that God is all in all, that they just “take care,” like the shepherd in the first reading.

Virtue becomes a habit

The sheep Jesus speaks of take care of everyone -- the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned -- without even realizing that it was Christ! Because they had a habit! That’s what a virtue is.

Virtue is the formation of a positive habit to the point wherein we need not even think about the proper response in a situation -- we simply do it. This is what we are all called to in living holiness of life. We are called to be virtuous to the point that if we see another human being, we care for him or her. Who teaches us that? God does! God, who is everything for everyone!

It may be that once the virtue is formed, the sheep never intentionally focus on God (I’ll speak in the present tense here, though so many of our holy ones have gone before us). They are too busy living out their good habit, in terms of caring for others.

Of course, the sheep of which Jesus speaks focus on God when they go to church, and of course they focus on God in that every bit of their being is for God, but it comes naturally to them. It is their habit, to care for people, like the Good Shepherd. And that’s what a kingdom of holiness and grace is. It is a kingdom where people have a habit of doing good for one another, without even deliberating about it.

We all have that experience, of practicing good behaviors without thinking -- certainly on the natural level. When it’s time to go to bed, I have a habit of brushing my teeth. Now, 10 minutes later, the only way I could tell you I brushed my teeth is to say, “I must have. Because I do that every night.” But I don’t have any recollection of doing it. There is no need to think about it. I just do it and move on -- that’s a habit.

Now imagine if we were to have a habit of taking care of the hungry and the naked and the imprisoned, without further deliberation.

That’s what a kingdom of holiness and grace looks like -- a kingdom of love where everyone is cared for as brother and sister. That’s the kingdom we’re called to build. That’s who we are called to be -- and we need to redouble our efforts!

Trapped by vice

And what about the poor goats? Jesus tells them, “I was hungry and you gave me no food. Thirsty and you gave me no drink. Naked and you gave me no clothes. Imprisoned and you never visited me!”

The goats are also blind, but in an unhealthy way. They say, “Lord, when did we see you . . . If we knew that it was you, we would have done all of those things!”

“As often as you neglected to do it for your brethren, you neglected to do it for me,” Jesus the King and Judge declares. “Depart from me! Into the everlasting fire, reserved for the devil and his angels.”

Those for whom God is not all in all are trapped by vice. They never think of God and they never think of their neighbor. In the kingdom of the goats -- which is known as Hell -- they only think of themselves. There’s no room for God. There’s no room for neighbor.

Those to whom Jesus refers as goats have a habit of placing themselves above everything, a habit of ignoring God, a habit of ignoring neighbor. They have a bad habit or vice. They cannot fit in, in a kingdom of holiness and grace. If you are a goat, you are not welcome into a kingdom of holiness and grace. All are not welcome there.

Build virtuous habits

So, at the end of the Church year -- recall that this Sunday will be the first Sunday of Advent -- let’s be people who belong to a kingdom of holiness and grace, a people with good habits, a people who care for their brother and sister without even thinking about it.

And so many of you, I know, are that way. And for so many of you, I am deeply grateful. But what really matters is how pleased God is. How wonderful it will be, some day, when He welcomes so many into the fullness of joy of His Kingdom of holiness and grace and love.

Let us pray hard for the grace and work hard to build the virtuous habits of generosity, of holiness. Pray for me, and know of my prayers for you as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Have a joyful Thanksgiving celebration! Praised be Jesus Christ!