There is nothing quite like November to draw our attention to the poetic quality of the liturgical year. Even in Irving, Texas, the leaves are swirling in gusts of wind and battered by raindrops that pierce through a gloomy backdrop. Fall’s exquisite decay allows us to fully enter into this month of the holy souls in Purgatory, and to remember that all things pass away.
This Sunday marks the passing of another liturgical year as we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Throughout November, the Sunday readings have oriented us to the end times. If the liturgical year is an epic and re-presentation of salvation history, the curtain is about to rise on the final dramatic chapter.
Almost one year ago, “Maranatha” was on our lips in the aching hope of Advent. Our tongues became mangers for our Eucharistic Lord on Christmas. We were invited to meet Jesus all over again in Ordinary Time, hunger with him in the desert of Lent and rejoice in his triumph at Easter.
Even in this long stretch of green vestments since Pentecost, we have been invited to deeper awe and love through the feasts and devotions that adorn every month in the Church’s calendar. Now in November, the Church calls her children to trim their lamps and listen eagerly for the Bridegroom’s return.
As we grow increasingly drowsy near the end of the semester, our Mass readings increasingly remind us that at the end of all things, Christ will return as the king of justice and shepherd of mercy. Whether we are alive or dead at his return, we will see him, and he us.
On that last day in history, every noble deed and beautiful work will find its fulfillment. As Christ gazes on this world one last time before creating a new heaven and earth, the ways of God will be justified to man more perfectly than Milton can imagine. Odysseus will return home to destroy his enemies and embrace his child. We will all see what the Poet cannot describe in Paradiso 33.
As motivation wanes and to-do lists mount, it is tempting to lose sight of the reason why we study the great books. Ultimately, they are a preparation for that moment when Beauty returns to judge the earth.
It will be a terrifying moment as his marvelous light exposes every wretched cavern in our soul. But in that moment, we will also see the flesh we have touched so often at Mass; and we will see that his flesh is pierced.
For the solemnity of Christ the King, we might expect a gospel about the second coming, or a dramatic revelation of Christ’s glory. But instead, this year’s gospel describes Jesus’ crucifixion and his forgiveness of the repentant thief.
The King of the Universe is crowned with thorns as blood gushes from the royal hands.
It is this poor and battered king who asks for our own battered hearts this Sunday.
As we kneel before his bloody throne, Christ reveals that Aquinas is right: everything studied, every good over this last year, is straw before Christ’s own infinite goodness.
But if everything is grace, so is this straw. In his merciful love, the dying king makes all things new.