A priest told me once to read Matthew 25:31-46 and to think about what it means to be a Christian. This is that very familiar passage when Christ separates the sheep from the goats:
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 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.’
I was looking at it on the USCCB web site, as it often includes some interesting commentary on the text. In this case there was a note on the question of who exactly are the “brothers”:
Are they all people who have suffered hunger, thirst, etc. or a particular group of such sufferers? …[I]t seems that a stronger case can be made for the view that in the evangelist’s sense the sufferers are Christians, probably Christian missionaries whose sufferings were brought upon them by their preaching of the gospel. The criterion of judgment for all the nations is their treatment of those who have borne to the world the message of Jesus, and this means ultimately their acceptance or rejection of Jesus himself.
I have heard over a dozen homilies on this passage and it is never presented this way. It makes sense to ask why would Christ identify himself with every single person who suffers? There are lots of evil poor people, prisoners, and strangers. There are plenty of other passages that exhort us to “love thy neighbor”. This one, I think, is stating that the judgement of nations will rest on their acceptance of God through their actions toward His Church, His body.
I recently came across this piece of liberal wisdom from Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga on rorate:
“The ultimate question will not be, ‘did you go to Mass or not,’ but ‘did you feed the hungry’. Therefore, we cannot privatize faith inside a temple, in a liturgical celebration.”
The article added that while Maradiaga was an archbishop in Honduras, the percentage of those identifying themselves as Catholic went from 94% to 46% and became the first minority-Catholic country in Central America.
The misunderstanding of Matthew 25:31-46 can distort the way Catholics view the importance of the Church and the sacraments.