A Lovely View of Heaven but I’d Rather be With You

Christ the KingThe Judgment of the Nations (Mt 25:31-46).
Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Sunday, November 23, AD 2014

A disclaimer: this story was written in English but with some Italian and Spanish lingo thrown in. Subtitles are included.

Pericle Cordani, my paternal grandfather, left his village in northern Italy and journeyed across the Atlantic to pay his respects to his father, Giuseppe, a forester who was killed by a felled tree in Connecticut. Ninety days after his arrival Pericle’s visa expired and he boarded a ship bound for Europe. But before the vessel broke into open waters, my grandfather, so the story goes, hurled himself over the side and was rescued by his paisanos in a rowboat.

That took courage. And faith. You see, my grandfather left everyone and everything he knew in Italy to come to the United States during the Great Depression. In those days everyone was willing to work to provide for their families in any way possible. Pericle (he changed his name to Patrick) went on to marry and to raise seven children and to found a construction company. He returned to Italy only once after he naturalized and by then he had forgotten how to speak Italian.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the end of the liturgical year and one step closer toward Judgment Day. On that day, the Lord Jesus will come to judge the world, “and all the angels with him. He will sit upon his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him” (Mt 25:31).

In the gospel Jesus makes the unambiguous statement that he possess universal authority, higher than any form of government that the human race has ever known: the Egyptian Dynasties, Alexander the Great’s superhuman race (and yes, even the Spartans), the Roman Empire, Napoleon, the Nazis, the Soviet Union, or the American Empire stretched vast and wide throughout the globe.

Jesus does not say that he is a philosopher among philosophers or a prophet among prophets. Rather, he tells us that all the nations of the world will come before him to be judged, that the angels of heaven will comprise his royal court. Jesus holds in his hands the eternal destiny of every man, woman, and child who has ever walked the face of the earth. That is something worth taking notice of, meditating and praying on this most awesome truth of the Catholic religion.

What is your opinion? Which side of the proverbial fence are you on? Jesus’s claim is pretty bold. He talks the talk; can he walk the walk? Either he is who he says he is, the eternal Judge of Mankind; otherwise he is a madman, completely out of touch with reality. The true disciple cannot sit on the fence. Either you believe it or you don’t, or, as with most people, the jury is still out. Creo cuando lo veo: “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

As a matter of faith, one would have to conclude that Jesus is who he says he is, for, were he to be a madman (not the Don Draper type), he would never have been able to found the eternal organization that has grown and developed and remained faithful to its mission—saving souls—for more than 2,000 years. Catholicism is like McDonalds: billions and billions saved.  Here we grow again.

Either way, a choice must be made about who Jesus is, whether he will come, and whether you prefer lamb or goat.  Heaven or hell.  Either God is everything or else he is nothing. He either is or he isn’t. Which side are we on?

On Thursday President Obama signed an executive order that essentially legalized millions of undocumented men and women, most from Latin America, living and working for many years in the United States “in the shadows.” With a stroke of his pen, El Presidente changed the course of American history. (El tiene cojones, claro que si).

I suspect he wants to see his face put on Mount Rushmore next to Abraham Lincoln. Those on one side of the fence called Obama’s action “Shamnesty”; those on the opposite side likened Obama’s decision to another Emancipation Proclamation, when President Lincoln freed the slaves.

Regardless of where you stand, we are Americans by birth or naturalization and we are Catholic by the grace of God. Salvation should always hold pride of place in the heart of every Catholic. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.

Admittedly, I have a bias. For four years I worked in the nightmare streets of the Latino barrios in a city shell-shocked by the withdrawal of the paper mill industry in Central New England, just like what happened in Detroit and in Flint when the automobile companies pulled out: societal and economic desolation was the result.

During my time with the Hispanics I ministered to many good people: the poor, the hungry, the sick, the aged, those in prison, those detained at the immigration center. I learned their language; they took me into their homes. The Dominican family across the street from the parish roasted a goat for me once. The guitars, the cantinas, the tequila—who wouldn’t feel drawn in?

The bishop assigned me there because I could speak Spanish and wasn’t afraid of people that didn’t look like me. Bandits frequently broke into the rectory posing as beggars looking for food. The pastor—a former Army Ranger—kept a firearm in the drawer of his nightstand. One Sunday morning he put its barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He couldn’t take working in that pressure cooker any longer, measured failure by the parish ledger that bore no black ink and overlooked the value of the soul, including his own. Following his death I remained in the parish for another year by myself. I learned what questions not to ask.

Pope Francis, a Jesuit, a priest, and the first Latin American pontiff, whose parents emigrated from Italy, warns Christians who live in a “cocoon of privilege” and ignore the marginalized and the poor. He urges Catholics to not enter into the “microclimate of the privileged, which is far from the faith and neglects the needs of the Lord, ‘Who is hungry, thirsty, in prison, in the hospital,’” or who speaks the wrong language, isn’t the same color, or is the opposite gender, or doesn’t keep to their side of the fence.

Francis encourages us not to put our faith on the shelf all week until Sunday but to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, that which Christ speaks of in the Gospel, twenty-four/seven/365 days a year. Sunday worship is important but Christ dwells within the neighbor, who lives north, south, east, and west of the Pecos.

For those still on the fence, let me assure you: throughout the world today faithful Latinos, from the Pope to los pobres (“the poor”) have exchanged their clarion of si, se puede (“Yes, we can”) to ¡Viva Cristo Rey!—¡Que viva! (“The King he lives, long live the king.”) The Solemnity of Christ the King is a key component of the faith. Though Jesus is already present in his Church, his reign has yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” when he returns.

Who knows when? Nobody in the nave and not even me, even though I am a company man. I’m in sales, not in management. When Jesus does come again there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a cosmic realm without borders, languages, or cultures, a land in which justice reigns eternal.

Pilgrim Church that we are, we bear the mark of the world which will pass away and the Church herself will take her place among humanity as we wait in joyful hope for the glorious coming of our Savior Christ the King. So we pray to hasten his return by praying Maranatha! “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” (Rv 22:20).

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword and so it would seem this past week. But it is a double-edged sword. Not every undocumented worker will benefit from el Presidente’s executive action. Many will still be deported. Arturo Hernandez, 42 years old, owns a contracting business and has a wife and two daughters—the girls are American citizens. He has spent the past month in the basement of a Presbyterian church in Denver, Colorado.

Rather than comply with a deportation order, he has taken sanctuary in the church (yes, sanctuary laws are still on the books) while he studies the Bible and frets about his future. Some days he opens the door to feel the sun on his face but it only reminds him of the life he no longer has. So he closes the door and takes up his Bible once more as he awaits the arrival of los federales.

In the Church nobody is illegal. The Church is a sanctuary for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the old, the sick, and the insane. They let me in the Church and they even ordained me. Even the street corner preacher who thinks he is Jesus and says, “The end is near!” is a permanent legal resident of the City of God.

The poet Robert Frost wrote, “good fences make good neighbors,” to which I would add, the gates of heaven swing both ways. Fences are like that: they bar those trying to enter and confine those who want to leave, like the Berlin Wall, which tumbled down 25 years ago this month. Right now on the border between the U.S. and Mexico Roman Catholic bishops celebrate Mass and distribute Holy Communion to those on the other side of the fence who hunger for the greatest form of freedom: eternal life.

When that day happens, the Day of the Lord, at the end of time, Jesus will hand over his kingdom to God his Father (1 Cor 15:20-28). First he will “judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the goats” (Ez 34:11-17), between those who have lived their lives for others, versus those who have lived for themselves. He will judge the nations. All nations. Our nation. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

He won’t check passports. He won’t ask to see green cards. But he will ask, “What have you done for these least brothers and sisters of mine?” which is to say, “Whose side were you on?”

¡Viva Cristo Rey!— ¡Que viva!  


Father Cordani was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MDiv from Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. He has written for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and Columbia Magazine. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tucker.cordani and Twitter @tuckercordani