November 22: The Reign of Christ (A)

“Come, blessed of my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.” Matthew 25:31-46.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or the “reign of Christ” completes the liturgical year. What an extraordinary year, and one we will not long forget.

With Covid-19 precautions in full force, the shelter in place orders have upset travel plans and trimmed down family Thanksgiving celebrations. Despite this unanticipated situation, let’s make the holidays ahead moments of grace, healing, and hope.

Christ the King is a relatively new feast day for the Church, placed on the liturgical calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. This festive day had as its purpose the healing of Europe after World War I.

Jesus Christ the King is the sovereign of our souls — the invisible Kingdom of the heart is more compelling than conflicts about nationalism or empire.

November is dedicated to saints and souls whose holy memories are blessings. Today we listen to Matthew’s gospel and how the Son of Man rewards those whose lives of generosity merit eternal life.

This invitation, “Come, blessed of my Father,” is a passage so familiar and is often read at funerals. For his imagery, Matthew made much about the separation of sheep from goats. Keep in mind that the Good Shephard’s ancient icons depict him reaching out to all creatures – no one is unworthy of his embrace, including the goats.

I recently learned that my Catholic grade school, Saint Francis Xavier, has closed permanently due to financial problems, and the pandemic. The school with its faculty of religious sisters remains so rich in my memory of a parish community in Newark, New Jersey, so long ago. It’s hard to imagine that the school is gone.

I recall the hours of instruction, most notably Sister Giovanna, who recruited the young boys to serve on the altar. In those days, there were long afternoon sessions to memorize the Latin responses at Mass, know the liturgical terms such as a purificator or a chalice, and the priests’ precise movements on the altar. All of this took months of training and close observation at Masses.

As a rookie altar boy, I quickly rose in the ranks, with the status I had the bonus of being excused from classes – to serve weekday funeral Masses. Our Italian-American parish had plenty of funerals, and I was a careful observer.

Once from the altar, I heard the priest say something that never fully registered in my sixth grader’s mind. Namely, that we “pray for the grace of a happy death.” What’s a happy death? From what I could see, most people at these funeral Masses were sad and sobbing with tears, not exactly happy!

What could Father McAdam possibly mean?

Much later in life, I observed first-hand that happiness comes from a death surrounded by family and with the consolation of a long-life. Additionally, we pray to keep safe from a sudden and unexpected loss such as car crashes or long-term illnesses like cancer, especially the death of an innocent child. These are the moments that can break our hearts.

For Italian-Americans, caring for deceased family members’ graves is an act of respect that honors our dead. Tending to these graves at Christmas and Easter is customary and even expected.

To this day, my sister Marian and cousin Sal keep to this deeply rooted family tradition. Twice a year, they visit the gravesites, clear away the debris from the headstones, and place Christmas or Easter holiday floral arrangements. Such is our devotion to loved ones, even those so distant from us in time.

Recently, I discovered that there are coincidences, even about the people whose lives we grieve. As a young couple, my mother’s parents buried two young children, Teresa and Matteo. They died at the same time period as the deadly “Spanish flu.”

I don’t recall that my grandparents ever spoke of these deaths; nevertheless, we continue to care for the gravesites. In the era of Covid-19, we grasp how these sudden and unexpected deaths may have affected my immigrant grandparents and the lives of their five remaining children, my uncle, and aunts.

Several months ago, in a telephone conversation, I spoke with my cousin Rosalind about these family members. Roz told me of my late aunt Caroline’s recollection of the funeral services and the Mass of the Angels for Teresa and Matteo, so long ago.

At the time, Caroline recalled the simple gesture of family members placing inside the caskets — those small bags of candied almonds, a Neapolitan confection, “I confetti,” often given to guests at weddings. Now, these candies were a sweet treat for the deceased children to savor for the journey to eternal life.

“Come, blessed of my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.”

Happy Thanksgiving 2020!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.




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