There is a legend that when the Holy Family was fleeing to Egypt after Christ’s birth, one of Herod’s soldiers caught up with them. The mission order for all soldiers was to kill all newly born infants.
But, as the legend goes, when the soldier saw the Baby Jesus, he was so moved and did not harm the child. Augustine of Hippo writes that the soldier supposedly said to the Infant Jesus, “O most blessed of children, if ever a time should come when I shall crave Thy mercy, remember me and forget not what has passed this day.”
This soldier was Dismas, the good thief in today’s Gospel. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
What the young soldier prayed for when he spared the Infant Jesus comes to pass after 33 years. Truly, when he needed it most, the good the soldier did to the baby becomes his path to salvation.
Today’s Feast of Christ the King is the end of the liturgical year. It is a very powerful assurance that when the end comes, it is the justice, goodness and love of Christ that will reign. It carries a special significance this year, as the feast also closes the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy.
The past year was a special period to celebrate God’s mercy. Yet the past year brought tumultuous moments all over the world—violence, terrorism and war; the seeming return of isolationism and ethnocentrism, coupled with populist movements and leaders.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the world is going through a crisis. There can be conflict as opposing views become pronounced, but these are part of the process. They are transitory.
In the Greek concept of crisis, there is a disturbance that causes a rupture in the order, a breakdown. Then other options emerge—the antithesis—but this is not yet the resolution of the crisis.
After the antithesis comes the synthesis. This is the new order where a new equilibrium—greater justice, peace and love—is restored.
The Feast of Christ the King is an assurance that the promise of God—“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”—will be fulfilled; that the synthesis comes from and belongs to God alone.
The Feast, closing the extra-ordinary jubilee year of mercy amid world events, becomes more meaningful and emphatic in its message. God’s goodness and compassion, his perfect justice, peace and love will prevail.
Thus, the legend of Dismas gives us food for thought. Do good, always do good, for it will always bear fruit.
The story of George Boldt, the first manager of Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, is a testament to this.
Boldt, who was running a small hotel in Philadelphia, and his wife gave up their room in a resort for a relative of the Astors who had a sick child. The child soon recovered, and out of gratitude for the sympathetic gesture, the Astor relative told William Waldorf Astor that Boldt was the man he was looking for to manage his newly built hotel in New York.
The millionaire Astor recruited Boldt as the first manager of Waldorf Astoria, the very first hotel that offered room service and transformed the hotel into an experience of luxury.
The Waldorf Principle, inspired by Boldt, says that selfless service will always bear fruit and will someday return to benefit you.
The legend of Dismas and the story on Boldt are inspiring examples that good guys win.
This is the meaning of the Feast of Christ the King. It is to trust that if we live our life doing good and showing mercy or compassion, it “will always bear fruit and will someday return to benefit you.”
But for those who genuinely do good and show compassion, the “to benefit you” is secondary, if not inconsequential. Perhaps the good and compassion we share will bear fruit in the life of the ones these are directed to, but even this seems also secondary, if not inconsequential.
When we help others we must do it freely, no strings attached and not expecting even an acknowledgement from the one helped. Yes, it is good to teach others gratitude, but one cannot impose it or expect it as a condition to help.
In one of the alternative Gospels for the Feast of Christ the King, the parable of the final judgment in Matthew, when the king tells the righteous people the goodness and compassion they showed to him through the poor and down-trodden, their response was—and I paraphrase—“Lord, when did we do all of these good things you are saying?”
Do good, always do good, for it will always bear fruit. “What we have done will not be lost to all eternity. Everything ripens and bears fruit in its own hour.” (Roseanne Sanders, “The Remembering Garden”)
What matters is that our goodness and compassion ripen and bear fruit in eternity. With the king’s assurance, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” —CONTRIBUTED