With the celebration of Christ the King, we as Catholics celebrate the shape of Christ’s heart, and the good news that the kingdom of God is meant to include everyone. Everyone is meant to flourish in God’s abundant creation.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus spells out the criteria by which God will determine if we truly see the shape of God’s heart. Jesus says,
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.’
And when we ask when did we do these things for you? Christ the King will answer:
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
When I was a young girl growing up in my Cuban American family, I remember hearing about el reino de Dios. The kingdom of God. And I was taught that el reino de Dios meant looking out for the least, the lost, and the vulnerable. We are each called by God to construct the Beloved Community to look like the shape of God’s heart. Every other false authority that doesn’t prioritize how we treat the least, the most vulnerable, and the stranger will fall apart and crumble by the weight of its own untruth.
Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle says, “Kinship is God’s dream come true. It’s about imagining a circle of compassion and then imagining no one standing outside that circle.”
I believe children are born knowing the shape of God’s heart. A sense of justice is innate in young ones.
Years ago, I remember walking with my large family into a Cuban diner with anticipation of the smell of spices like onion, garlic, cumin and oregano mixed into picadillo or vaca frita or arroz con pollo. As we were heading into the diner, my six-year-old niece noticed two people who were homeless sitting at the corner of the street looking sad. She saw them and asked her Mom why they were sitting there. We tried to explain to her that some people are homeless and sit outside if they have nowhere to go. She stared at us in disbelief, and then we walked in and settled into our seats and enjoyed our Cuban dinner. But my niece, who knew about take-out containers, asked the waitress for a couple of them and as we were eating, started going from person to person, asking, can you give me some of your yuca? Can I have a piece of your chicken? Can you donate any of your bread? And when we asked Cristina what she was doing, she replied that she was going to give some of our family’s food to the two people sitting outside without anything to eat. Her dad went outside with her and with great joy, she gave the gift of food to the strangers in her midst – people she saw as her neighbors who belonged to her extended family.
I have to admit, I had forgotten about them. But my niece had not. She remembered and felt the shape of God’s heart and decided to take whatever action she could as a young person to make el reino de Dios a little more real that day.
A friend of mine recently told me, whatever you do with love has eternal value. And what my niece did that day still resonates in my heart twenty years later.
We live at a time in the United States in which income inequality has grown tremendously. There are more homeless people sitting outside hungry and thirsty without anything to eat or drink. There are more strangers who have been rejected, more children separated from their parents. There are many more people vulnerable to this pandemic, struck by illness or death.
As Catholics, what we believe to be the shape of the heart of Christ the King, determines how we respond and the kinds of communities we construct. And if in our communities we have laws that treat the lives of the hungry, the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the imprisoned unjustly, then it is up to us to take courageous stands and change those laws. The kinship community is constructed when we allow ourselves to be guided by eyes and the heart of the Good Shepherd who sees each one of us and loves each one of us.
God has no hands or feet but ours, so when we work together with people different from us, to make good laws and good policies happen, we are helping to build a reino de Dios, that place where we all belong to one another, no one left outside our circle of concern. We put our faith into action --- because that’s where the joy is.
Because it turns out that God is like a little girl who catches a glimpse of someone without food and collects some of her family’s food to share with her neighbor.
Ellie Hidalgo served for 12 years as the pastoral associate for Dolores Mission Catholic Church and School, a Jesuit parish in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles, California. The parish is known for its restorative justice ministries, including special liturgies and support groups for families who have lost loved ones to homicide and for families with loved ones in prison. It is also the home-base parish of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the world. Dolores Mission School, TK-8th grades, opens the doors of opportunity to low-income, inner-city students of largely immigrant families from Mexico and Central America. Many will be the first in their families to graduate high school and college. (https://www.facebook.com/DoloresMissionChurch)
Ms. Hidalgo also taught classes and workshops in Hand in Hand Parenting. She believes that working with parents to build and sustain a life-long connection with their children is a key element in families breaking the cycle of addictions, domestic violence and gang violence in the neighborhood. The parish also is active in the work of faith-based community organizing through LA Voice – PICO to address issues of societal injustice.
Previously, Ms. Hidalgo served as a staff writer for The Tidings Catholic Newspaper writing news and feature stories about Hispanic ministry, restorative justice, youth ministry, and immigration reform. Her articles frequently appeared at Catholic News Service, and she also wrote for the website Busted Halo.
Ms. Hidalgo graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles). She was commissioned as a pastoral associate for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2013.
Ms. Hidalgo is the first of five children born to Cuban immigrant parents and a proud aunt to eight nieces and nephews and numerous godchildren. She recently moved to Miami, Florida to live closer to family.
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