November 12, 2023 –
The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year A]
Wisdom 6:12-16 + 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 + Matthew 25:1-13
“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
There are three roles that God calls every Christian to carry out for the sake of His Kingdom. These roles are priest, prophet, and king. Each Christian will carry out these three roles in somewhat different ways, depending on his or her vocation. Nonetheless, on the day of your baptism God “commissioned” you, if you will, to carry out these three roles.
Immediately after a person is baptized, the priest takes the most sacred of the church’s three blessed oils—Sacred Chrism—and anoints the crown of the newly baptized person’s head. The crown of the head is called the “crown”, of course, because it’s the part of the head that—if you were a king or queen—would be covered with your golden crown. But in baptism, that’s in fact what you become: a king or queen.
In our American culture, the role of king is often looked down upon. Yet when we look into our Catholic history, we see many saintly kings. Saint Louis, for whom our Midwestern city is named, served France as King Louis IX. In addition to serving Christ in the people of his own kingdom, St. Louis also served Christ by defending the Holy Land. He wasn’t a ruler who sat in a situation room and ordered his pawns forward toward death. He was a king who led his troops into battle. He armored, saddled up, and faced death for the cause he served.
Yet the role of a saintly king can be summed up more simply by a single word: “shepherd”. In our culture, we might consider a king and a shepherd to be different roles, hardly synonymous at all. But in Sacred Scripture they often coincide. After all, the greatest king of Israel was David, who was a shepherd before he was anointed king. David illustrates that part of being a shepherd is the role of protector.
Of course, there is also another, gentler side to a shepherd. The shepherd also sees to it that his flock is provided nourishment. We can think of saintly kings like Louis IX of France or Stephen of Hungary, who spent their personal wealth to carry out the corporal works of mercy for the poor and destitute within their kingdoms.
Given all this, however, we must recognize that all kingship and shepherding flows from God. It’s by the grace of God that kings like St. Louis of France and St. Stephen of Hungary gave their lives for their people. It’s by the grace of God that you who are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, protect and provide for those entrusted to your care.
The Lord God acts as protector and provider throughout our lives, in countless ways. But He does so most powerfully in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Consider the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in terms of Jesus as our Eucharistic Shepherd and King.
The physical altar in the church’s sanctuary represents the Cross on Calvary. On the Altar of the Cross, Jesus offered His own Self in sacrifice for His flock: that is, for His Bride, the Church. On the altar in the sanctuary, Jesus’ self-sacrifice is truly made present through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to protect us from the power of sin and death.
Yet God also calls us to the altar during Mass to be nourished by Jesus’ entire self. We are most thoroughly nourished by Jesus when we offer Him our entire self. If I hold something back from God—if I say that God can have part of my life, or some of my wants and needs, but not my whole life—then the sacrifice of Jesus won’t be able fully to dwell in me.
For Jesus’s life to change your life as He wants, what you bring to the altar has to be as complete a gift as what Jesus offers you from the altar. Only with a complete exchange of selves will you have the strength to be a faithful steward during the week, in all the sacrifices—large and small—that God asks you to make for others.
The Parable of Wise and Foolish Virgins (unfinished) by Peter von Cornelius (1783–1867)