“When did we see You hungry and feed You? When did we see You a stranger and welcome You? When did we see You ill or in prison and visit You?” These familiar questions have become the clarion call to action that we call the Corporal Works of Mercy. 

Every three years on the feast of Christ the King we listen to this familiar admonition in this well-known passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus describes the final judgment. 

While we rush to fulfill the minimum requirements of sheepdom, avoiding the plight of the goats in this story, it might be wise to examine the root of the problem: many of us have really poor eyesight.

In a 2013 New York Times article, “The Perils of Perfection,” the author mused about Silicon Valley’s goal of making all human foibles obsolete. There are many techno-tools that can remove forgetfulness, alleviate boredom, and an app to “crowdsource every decision in your life.” 

The most revealing of the tools, however, is the potential of Google Glass, the “overhyped ‘smart glasses’ that can automatically snap photos of everything we see and store them for posterity.” The potential for recording every aspect of our life seems limitless, until one techno-geek thought of a way to make our life record more pleasant. 

Futurist Ayesha Khanna described “smart contact lenses that could make homeless people disappear from view, ‘enhancing our basic sense’ and undoubtedly, making our lives so much more enjoyable.” 

This Orwellian future may seem preposterous, but the desire to wear blinders has been part of the human condition forever. This brings us right back to the final judgment: what is the sin that will merit eternal damnation? Is it the failure to do, or the failure to see? The lesson from the final judgment is not to simply store up good deeds in the hope that we are not sent off with all of the goats. 

Our Salvation depends on a total remake of our disposition so that we allow our hearts and eyes to become those of Christ. The onus is not on the recipient of our mercy, whose countenance we hope shines with the light of Christ so that we don’t miss it this time. Jesus was not compassionate because He saw Himself in others; He was compassionate because He saw the person as a person. Compassion begins when one sees others as who they are. 

Corporal works of mercy require an encounter with the uncomfortable. The starving, thirsty, homeless, cold, sick and imprisoned do not come in pretty packages. Pope Francis has been warning us to “smell the sheep” since he first took the reins of the Church. In his book, “Pope Francis, Why He Leads the Way He Leads,” Chris Lowney brings to light the stories that helped the pope see through the “smart glasses” of Christ. 

As rector of the Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires, then Father Bergoglio wanted the young Jesuits to accept themselves for who they are, but that meant they also had to learn to accept others. The seminarians from Buenos Aires were not as accepting of the young men who joined the seminary from the rural and less cosmopolitan country of Ecuador. 

One of the newly-arrived Ecuadorean seminarians proudly wore his Andean jacket, replete with figures of llamas woven throughout the fabric. When one of the seminarians made fun of him, Father Bergoglio made him wear his classmate’s jacket for a week:

“The young Argentine Jesuit became a walking meditation for the whole community, a daily reminder to ponder that dignity involves acceptance of self for who one is, and character involves accepting others for who they are.”

The judgment that Jesus portrays in the story of the goats and the sheep is not a “got you” moment when the king reveals that all this time he was disguised as the lowly and we were tricked into not responding. The plaintive cry of the condemned, “When did I see you hungry?” is the foundation of a basic examination of conscience that helps to sharpen our vision. 

Pope Francis asks: “Tell me, when you give alms, do you look the person in the eye? Do you touch the hand of the person you are giving them to or do you toss the coin at him or her? 

Jesus did not ask that we eradicate all suffering in the world; but He did ask that we respond to the person we might have overlooked before. 

At the final judgment we will be given the ultimate vision test: 

“I came into the world for judgment so that those who do not see, might see, and those who see may become blind” (Jn 9:39).

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation.

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