Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Reflection: Coming of Christ is an everyday occurrence


Shortly before convening the synod on synodality — arguably the most important Catholic Church gathering since Vatican II — Pope Francis visited Mongolia.


Situated precariously between Russia and China, the ancient home of Genghis Khan boasts a total of some 1,450 Catholics midst a population of 3 million.

Why on earth would an aging pope who would be welcome in many powerful nations with huge Catholic populations bother the hardship traveling to such an insignificant spot? Could he have found a smaller Catholic population anywhere in the world? (Well, yes. Vatican City’s population is just over 500, so Mongolia beats them by numbers if not by percentage, and there are a few others as well.)

Unlikely as it seems, Mongolia, with a national population less than half that of Mexico City, has a cardinal — Giorgio Marengo — the church’s youngest and a member of the synod on synodality.

What was the point?

It seems that this was one more opportunity for Francis to demonstrate what he thinks it means to be a shepherd. 

Today we celebrate the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” That’s a mouthful! Pope Pius XI established the feast in 1925 to recall that Christ should reign in the hearts and will of humankind. 

The readings for the day, different in each year of our three-year liturgical cycle, orient and describe the celebration better than its grandiose title.

The centerpiece today is Matthew’s scene of the judgment between sheep and goats (an unfortunate disparagement of the poor old goats who are generally smarter, albeit feistier, than sheep). Michelangelo gave us a vivid image of this scene in which Christ’s arm is raised in judgment, the saints are rising and the damned are pitifully drifting into the abyss. Such works vividly depict a fearsome last day.

Jesus’ parable offers a different interpretation of the end. In Jesus’ parable, the end is ever-present. The coming of Christ is not some future event, but an everyday occurrence and not at all like the Sistine Chapel. 

If we want artistic renditions of Matthew’s depiction of judgment, we might better read Charles Dickens or study the photography of Dorothea Lange. 

Rather than talk about an apocalyptic end, Jesus claimed that the king appears in the guise of every needy person and that we judge ourselves in our response to them. Along these lines, Diego Rivera’s painting “El Cargador de Flores” probably reflects this parable more truly than Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment.” 

The coming of Christ is not some future event, but an everyday occurrence.

Rivera depicts a peasant on his hands and knees. His wife struggles to help him stand up under the weight of an enormous basket of flowers to take to market. 

The message for anyone who has eyes to see is that some people’s luxurious decor comes at the expense of the poor who cannot even see the beauty of what they bear on their backs.

This is where the vocation of the shepherd comes in. In a universe in which we have been given the ability to choose whether to advance the reign of God or to frustrate it, every follower of Jesus is called to be a shepherd. Every person has the ability to see what Dickens, Lange and Rivera point out, thus every one of us has a responsibility to respond.

Francis went to one of the smallest and least important churches in the world to help the rest of the world see through a different lens.

Francis’ missionary journey to Mongolia interprets the 3,000-year-old Psalm 23 with 21st-century symbolism. Francis refreshed the souls of people insignificant in the eyes of the world. That proclaimed one message to people who feel insignificant and another to those who don’t notice them. 

By making the Mongolians — and all whom they represent — more visible, Francis highlighted their right to enjoy the verdant pastures of our Earth. In the full sight of all those who disparage the small, he spread a lavish table and celebrated the Eucharist with almost every Catholic in the country.

We celebrate this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, on the heels of the first session of the synod on synodality. The synod is calling us to learn how to journey together as church and as the people of the world. 

These two events combine to exhort us to recognize that what is truly important in our day is the life of the flower carriers — all those people burdened in a world that loves what they provide, but rarely, barely remembers that they are the ever-present representatives of Christ the King. 

When we learn to treat them as such, we will be on the right side of history — all the way to the end.

First Reading

(Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17)

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will look after and tend my sheep. 
As a shepherd tends his flock
when he finds himself among his scattered sheep,
so will I tend my sheep.
I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered
when it was cloudy and dark. 
I myself will pasture my sheep;
I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. 
The lost I will seek out,
the strayed I will bring back,
the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal,
but the sleek and the strong I will destroy,
shepherding them rightly.
As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD,
I will judge between one sheep and another,
between rams and goats.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6)

R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Second Reading

(I Corinthians 15: 20-26, 28)

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.
For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order:
Christ the first fruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;
then comes the end,
when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power. 
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When everything is subjected to him,
then the Son himself will also be subjected
to the one who subjected everything to him,
so that God may be all in all.


(Matthew 25: 31-46)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who 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 drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
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 no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”