"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." -Matthew 25:31-46
Loving thy neighbor is not just good for the neighbor, it is essential to our souls. -Dorothy Day. I always enjoy the surprise of the righteous. "WHEN ??? WHEN did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, a stranger, or naked, sick, or in prison?" Surprise! The King replies, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these... ye have done it unto me."
What better way to prepare for the season of observing the Incarnation than this text, both beginning and ending the story of the Christian year?
This week's meditations begin with imagining Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the not unusual experience of tending one's own child as sacrament (Meditation One). Dorothy Day in the stress of jail finds herself mystically united to the other prisoners (Meditation Two). And while many know the least as Christ, many do not (Meditation Three) but love anyway out of sheer love and find themselves loved.
More loved than loving, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) Mary with Jesus
All the daily tasks of her life were a prayer, her every gesture a time of communion with Jesus, because all was centered on Jesus. It is important to take time and to look quietly at Mary with Jesus. We need to understand how all our gestures, and even our physical bodies, can become a source of life, a presence of God, a "sacrament". A sacrament is a "sign", a place that renders God present. For Mary, the body of Jesus was a "sacrament", The place where she met God.
We often say, therefore, that the weak and the broken are a "sacrament" which means that they render Jesus present:
"Whatever you did to the least of these, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:45)
-Jean Vanier Befriending the Stranger
Italian Mosaic Artist, 1182-92, Duomo Monreale, Creation of Adam, detail
The funeral was on December 2 at the Nativity Catholic Church, a half block away from Maryhouse. An hour before the service, scheduled for 11 o'clock in the morning, people began to assemble in the street. Some were curious onlookers, the hollow-eyed and stumbling people who roam the streets of lower New york, but others were drawn there by some sense of the propriety of paying their last respects to the woman who had clothed and fed them. There were American Indians, Mexican workers, blacks and Puerto Ricans. There were people in eccentric dress, apostles of causes who had felt a great power and truth in Dorothy's life....
At the appointed time, a procession of these friends and fellow workers came down the sidewalk. At the head of it Dorothy's grandchildren carried the pine box that held her body. Tamar, Forster, and her brother John followed. At the church door, Cardinal Terence Cooke met the body to bless it. As the procession stopped for this rite, a demented person pushed his way through the crowd and bending low over the coffin peered at it intently. No one interfered, because, as even the funeral directors understood, it was in such as this man that Dorothy had seen the face of God.
-William D. Miller Dorothy Day: A Biography
Christ Pantocrator, Italian Mosaic Artist, 1297 (San Miniato al Monte, Florence) CLICK TO ENLARGE
Meditation Two (insight) no longer myself
All through those weary first days in jail when I was in solitary confinement, the only thoughts that brought comfort to my soul were those lines in the Psalms that expressed the terror and misery of man suddenly stricken and abandoned. Solitude and hunger and weariness of spirit — these sharpened my perceptions so that I suffered not only my own sorrow but the sorrows of those about me. I was no longer myself. I was man. I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed, I was the oppressed. I was that drug addict, screaming and tossing in her cell, beating her head against the wall. I was that shoplifter who for rebellion was sentenced to solitary. I was that woman who had killed her children, who had murdered her lover.
The blackness of hell was all about me. The sorrows of the world encompassed me. I was like one gone down into the pit. Hope had forsaken me. I was that mother whose child had been raped and slain. I was the mother who had borne the monster who had done it. I was even that monster, feeling in my own heart every abomination. -Dorothy Day 1897-1980 from an autobiography, written as a letter to her brother (with echos of Psalm 130)
Meditation Three (integration) what glorious hope
"What glorious hope!" [François] Mauriac writes. "There are all those who will discover that their neighbor is Jesus himself, although they belong to the mass of those who do not know Christ or who have forgotten Him. And nevertheless they will find themselves well loved. It is impossible for any one of those who has real charity in his heart not to serve Christ. Even some of those who think they hate Him, have consecrated their lives to Him; for Jesus is disguised and masked in the midst of men, hidden among the poor, among the sick, among prisoners, among strangers. Many who serve Him officially have never known who He was, and many who do not even know His name, will hear on the last day the words that open to them the gates of joy. 'O, Those children were I, and I those working men. I wept on the hospital bed. I was that murderer in his cell whom you consoled.'" -Francois Mauriac 1885-1970 quoted from the above letter by Dorothy Day
The Last Word
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
sheep and goats, Italian Mosaic Artist, 1130's (Apse, San Clemente)
Sheep and Goat
Recently, when the story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins came up in the lectionary, a friend said, “I don't subscribe to that parable.” I laughed, because the whole spate of recent readings involving weeping, gnashing of teeth, binding hands and feet and tossing poor clueless folk into the outer darkness doesn't at all sound like Jesus. Jesus sought the company of sinners, tax collectors and other exploiters and cheaters, prostitutes, women and children in general, contagious lepers and losers of all kinds. Would Jesus suddenly turn face at the moment of death?
Nevertheless, I like these doom parables because, like a dream, see myself in all the characters. I'm both a wise and a foolish virgin, I'm the fellow with the five talents, the two talents, and the one burying the single talent. I'm the crazy, irrational king that lost his mind over the guest without the wedding garment. I'm always throwing myself out into the outer darkness.
A good story moves the soul to action. The shock of the pit and gnashing of teeth helps dislodge me from my usual mediocre moral groove. But I also know that the good shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine sheep to gather up the one little lost goat balancing on a crag at the edge of darkness.