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Sunday of the Last Judgement

Sunday of The Last Judgment

This Sunday (February 15) is called “Meat-Fare Sunday” because during the week that follows a limited fast – abstention from meat – is prescribed by the Church. In preparing for Great Lent the Church begins now to “adjust” us to the great effort that she will expect from us seven days later. She gradually takes us into that effort – knowing our frailty, foreseeing our spiritual weakness.

It is love that constitutes the theme of “Meat-Fare Sunday.” The Gospel lesson for the day is Christ’s parable of the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). When Christ comes to judge us, what will be the criterion of His judgment? The parable answers: love – not a mere humanitarian concern for abstract justice and the anonymous “poor,” but concrete and personal love for the human person, any human person, that God makes “me” encounter in “my” life. Christian love as such is something different, and this difference is to be understood and maintained if the Church is to preserve her unique mission.

Christian love is the “possible impossibility” to see Christ in another human being, whoever that person might be, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not just as an occasion for a “good deed” or a mere exercise in philanthropy, but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself.

For, indeed, what is love if not the mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the “other” – their physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity – and reaches the unique and uniquely personal “root” of a human being, truly the part of God in each individual?

If God loves every human being it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure He gave every individual. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no “impersonal” love because love is the wonderful discovery of the “person” in “the individual,” of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each human being of that which is “lovable”, that which is from God.

For Christianity, the human being is “lovable” because he/she is person; here humanity is seen only as person. The “social activist” has no interest for the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the “common interest.” Christianity may seem to be, and in some ways actually is, rather skeptical about that abstract “humanity,” but it commits a mortal sin against itself each time it gives up its concern and love for the person. Social activism is always “futuristic” in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, and happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now – the only decisive time for love is seeing the person that stands before us. The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused. Christians, to be sure, have responsibilities toward “this world” and they must fulfill them. This is the area of “social activism” which belongs entirely to “this world.”

Christian love, however, aims beyond “this world.” It is itself a ray, a manifestation of the Kingdom of God; it transcends and overcomes all limitations, all “conditions” of this world because its motivation as well as its goals and consummation is in God. And we know that even in this world the only lasting and transforming victories are those of love. To remind the human being of this personal love and vocation, to fill this fragmented world with this love – this is the true mission of the Church.

The parable of the Last Judgment is about Christian love. Not all of us are called to work for “humanity,” yet each one of us has received the gift and the grace of Christ’s love. We know that all human beings ultimately need this personal love – the recognition in them of their unique soul in which the beauty of the whole creation is reflected in a unique way. We also know that fellow human beings are in prison and are sick and thirsty and hungry because that personal love has been denied them. And, finally, we know that however narrow and limited the framework of our personal existence, each one of us has been made responsible for a tiny part of the Kingdom of God, made responsible by that very gift of Christ’s love.

Thus, we shall be judged on whether or not we have accepted this responsibility, on whether we have loved or refused to love. For “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me…”

Adapted from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s Great Lent: Journey to Pascha.


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