'Our God Reigns' by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
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 these 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."
The old man needed a break. His wife had perhaps a day or two before she would slip into eternity, and he was growing weary of the vigil. A cup of coffee would help. In the hospital cafeteria over a fresh brew he explained his accent. He was Dutch. As the conversation developed he revealed a fascinating history. He had been a member of the underground Dutch resistance in World War II. He recalled how the Nazis rounded up the Jews (even converts to the Faith such as St. Edith Stein) and forced them into railway cattle cars. The Dutch instinctively knew the fate of their neighbors and their own fate if caught resisting Nazi rule.
Many of the Dutch conspired to save as many of the Jews as possible. One common practice was to approach Jewish neighbors and insist they accompany them to Sunday Mass, thus using Christ as their "cover" of protection. Who would suspect that church-going "Catholic" parishioners were indeed Jews? The heroism of so many in the effort to save lives during the war calls to mind the poignant words of this week's Gospel: "'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.'"
The old man told of one such Jewish family in their neighborhood that his family ushered into Sunday Mass for protection. During the Mass, the Jewish mother was confused and in the nervousness of confusion started to draw attention from some Catholics in the pews. If the congregation was being observed by the Gestapo, it might mean another one-way ticket to Auschwitz. But a kindly, if unwitting, stranger in the pews concluded, however falsely, the reason for the mother's agitation. The mother needed a rosary to hold during the Mass. The solution was simple. The woman handed her one of her own. Now the Jewish mother's agitation would be diverted to the twiddling of the rosary. Attention deflected and crisis averted.
The old man continued with his stories. His concluding account revealed a faith that would certainly guide him through his wife's final struggles in this life. Late in the war, the Nazis launched V-1 rockets across the English Channel to London. The V-1 was an unmanned, unguided, flying bomb. It was the first of what we now call a "cruise missile." The Germans called it "Vergeltungswaffe" or "retaliation weapon," or V-1 for short. The first offensive launch was on June 12, 1943, but before long the Germans were launching an average of 190 V-1 rockets a day.
Many of the V-1s, with their distinctive "buzz" sound, were shot over Dutch air space and could readily be observed from the ground. The old man reported that one day, one of the buzz bombs sputtered and stalled and fell to the earth as he ran for cover. The bomb demolished an abandoned Catholic orphanage. Mercifully, nobody was killed. But every structure was destroyed except for one monument. A statue of Christ the King was left unscathed. With his raised index finger insisting upon the point and with a twinkle in his eye, the old man triumphantly announced with a whisper, "Christ rules."
The divine kingship of Jesus Christ at once seems elusive but everywhere can be seen. In the award-winning movie "A Man of All Seasons," the final scene depicting St. Thomas More's execution begins with several detailed sequences of the splendor of God's creation. Some may suggest the symmetry of the majesty of nature against the brutish behavior of man is fearfully ironic. Others, including Thomas More, see the glorious handiwork of the divine King Who rules from eternity, eager to welcome faithful souls into His heavenly kingdom. The old Dutchman refused to allow the apparent victory of evil over good to destroy his faith in Christ's final victory. It was clear he was confident that someday he himself would cross that final threshold of mortality and join his beloved wife and all of the saints in Christ's eternal kingdom.
There is a beautiful footnote to the old man's stories. A couple of years after the war when the world returned to normal, he received an invitation in the mail from an almost forgotten name - the Jewish mother who calmed her fears with the rosary during the war years. The grace of Christ was received with open hearts. The invitation was to attend the reception of the mother and her entire family into the Catholic Church.
St. Thomas More and the Dutchman both had the same faith as the psalmist: "The foolish man cannot know this and the fool cannot understand. Though the wicked spring up like grass and all who do evil thrive: They are doomed to be eternally destroyed. But you, Lord, are eternally on high." (Ps 92:6-8)
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