Christ the King - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2014

The other night I watched the Irish-made film ‘Calvary’ - though it was not about Jesus’ crucifixion. It was about the murder of a good innocent priest by a victim of clerical abuse. I found it a powerful, thought-provoking film. At the end of the film, the distraught abuse victim, now an adult, confronted the priest. During the week before the encounter, the priest had found his old Labrador dog with its throat cut. The victim asked the priest about the dog, “Did you shed a tear for the dog, Father?” “I did”, said the priest. And then the victim asked, “And did you shed a tear for any of the innocent young lads raped by your brother priests, Father?” And the priest admitted, “No … I did not.” The victim shot him.

I haven’t in fact shed a tear for them either. I found it hard to sleep that night. Can I be truly compassionate without shedding a tear? Was the question a fair question? That is what I was asking myself. I don’t know.

I remembered remarks made by Pope Francis a couple of years ago, not about victims of clerical abuse, but about asylum seekers. He said, “We have lost a sense of fraternal responsibility … The culture of well-being, which leads us to think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of others”. He said it had “anaesthetised our hearts”. And he went on, “The globalisation of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep.”

Then I listen to Jesus in today’s Gospel. It sounds a bit harsh, a bit too black and white. Yet really he is telling us what eternal life is like, not only on the other side of the grave but also on this – and it is not precisely the reward for what we do, but the personal experience of who we are. What we do, and how we do it, show us, perhaps even go to make us, who we are, what we are becoming. And what we are determines how we experience life now, and how we shall carry on experiencing it for eternity.

What kind of person was Jesus? In today’s Gospel, he spoke of himself as one who saw ‘the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the prisoner’ as his own ‘brother or sister’. He spoke as one who felt a deep, deliberate solidarity with others, a closely personal relationship, a true compassion, especially for those on the margins, the excluded, the over-looked, the invisible ones. He was not, to use Francis’s words, ‘indifferent’; his heart was not ‘anaesthetised’; he was not ‘insensitive’. Did he weep? Sometimes, at least. But he was truly compassionate, always. Earlier in his life he had said, “Blessed are the merciful, the pure of heart, the peace-makers.” Blessed! I think we know what he meant. And we know it’s true. And we know that it is not really different from love – not just justice, but love. Not ‘as if’, but truly.

Basically, true compassion flows from how we see others – whether we see them as somehow connected, in solidarity of some kind, with ourselves: our ‘brothers and sisters’. Jesus lived it – no barriers, no fences, no ‘us and them’. In his example of the vine and the branches, he talked about ‘abiding in him’ as the source of fruitfulness. Does growth in compassion come somehow, then, by osmosis, by some kind of blessed contagion – by keeping in close touch with him? I think that ultimately the insight that we are all inter-connected is gift. Life-giving action will flow from that insight, that is, from a contemplative heart. In the meantime, we may have to be content with acting ‘as if’ – and waiting, and hoping, to become authentic. But compassion will not grow in a vacuum. It will happen in relationship, everyday relationships, in the family, at work and right through all our social and political interactions.