The Solemnity of Christ the King 2013
Let us give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. Col. 1:12
The great solemnity that we’re celebrating today is actually of rather recent vintage in the Church’s liturgical calendar. The Solemnity of Christ the King was instituted only in the last century by Pope Pius XI, and was placed at the end of the liturgical year to culminate the Church’s liturgical celebrations. Nonetheless, the reality of Christ kingship can be found embedded throughout the liturgical life of the Church, and throughout Sacred Scripture. That Christ is our King is an immediate corollary to the belief that Christ is truly God made man. No one who believes in God would question seriously God’s sovereignty over his creation. Thus if God has become man, then that man must truly possess divine sovereignty over the whole of creation.
So that Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe is really not a question for Christians. At the end of our prayers in the sacred liturgy, for instance, the priest says “through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns forever and ever, Amen.” Likewise, in the Creed which we pray at every Sunday Mass, we profess: “and whose reign will never end.”
But exactly what do we mean by the Kingship of Christ? He himself said clearly that “my kingdom is not of this world.” And yet, because He is truly God as well as truly man there can be no question that his sovereignty extends over the whole of creation, and not just this world. So Christ is a King greater than any other, a king whose kingship is not only of this world but extends to the whole of God’s creation.
To even begin to understand this great mystery, we have to revisit the way in which God has exercised kingship, or sovereignty, from the beginning of creation. When God created this world, he also created man precisely to take dominion over the world as a steward of God, as we see in Genesis. God alone is king in the deepest sense, but God chose to exercise dominion over the world in part through the dominion which he bestowed on man. God is to reign over the heart of man, and through the dominion granted to man God’s kingship will extend over the whole of this world, just as through angels his kingship will extend over the whole of the universe. That is God’s original plan. So just as with Christ, the Father’s kingdom embraces the whole, yet his kingship was not to be exercised immediately over the world, but through his creatures who shared in his dominion, precisely because they, like the creative, Eternal Word, shared in his knowledge and love.
However, we also know by revelation that the first man tragically rebelled against this shared sovereignty, or shared dominion in which he was subordinate to God. Adam, like Satan, chose to exercise his gift of dominion absolutely, as if he himself were not subordinate to God the giver. It is this original tragic rebellion that has brought untold suffering and death itself into creation. And had God not intervened to rescue his creature man from this self-destruction, man would have been lost forever. But God had in mind a remedy which man could never have guessed. He himself would become man, would enter into man’s history in a wholly new way, and would reestablish his kingship over mankind as a man, and yet would do so in a way that was perfectly consistent with his original plan of shared dominion.
The mystery of this new kingship can already be seen in the history of Israel, which originally had no political king like the surrounding nations but only one Sovereign, Yahweh. In a sense, this made each man a king. So too, in the original dispensation of creation this would have been the case, that each man would have been sovereign over his own life, with God alone as the sovereign over all, reigning from within each man’s heart. Had man not rebelled, earthly kingdoms, as we understand them, simply would never have existed. The necessity for an earthly sovereignty, the temporal power, arises solely from man’s rebellion against God and the chaos this rebellion introduces into human society. Thus, Israel which was to a sign of the things to come, the restoration of God’s true sovereignty over man and this world, was not to have a king. However, Israel, like Adam, rejected her privilege and freedom and chose to have a king like other nations. The result overall was a lesson for Israel, that earthly kingship is a mixed blessing at best, and in its own way this bad choice prepares Israel to yearn for the Messiah who, nonetheless, will calm from the line of her greatest king, King David.
Jesus Christ enters the world from within the Davidic line, and is thus truly the King of Israel, and in this way He fulfills Israel’s purpose, where the only true king is also truly God. Likewise, Jesus enters the world to exercise his kingship in precisely the same way that God intended from the beginning to exercise kingship over the world. Through the course of history, Jesus will not directly exercise his universal kingship over this world, but He will do so both through his Church and by reigning over the hearts of men. God’s plan of redemption thus does not contradict or ignore but rather fulfills the original plan of creation. And yet there is something radically new here. God does this now as a man, from within creation, and thus creation is ennobled in a far greater way than at the beginning.
Surely, then, it is the task of faithful Christians to make the Kingship of Christ present in this world, for this has been the mission of mankind from the beginning as God’s stewards over creation. Yet, this is accomplished not by collapsing or conflating the temporal authority into the spiritual authority, as if the Church and the world were in fact one and the same thing here and now, or were intended to be such by Christ. This is the objective of the most extreme elements in Islam today where the state and religion are to be one and the same authority, a truly theocratic society in a way quite other than the positive meaning of the words “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Christ’s rule is by nature extended over the whole of creation, but it is exercised directly in the Church through the Spirit and institutional charisms, and only indirectly over the world through the influence of the Spirit in the hearts of citizens and rulers alike. The direct exercise of Christ’s rule over the Church is guaranteed by the indefectibility and infallibility of the Church’s institutional charisms of truth and governance. Yet even here it is not every act of the Church which is so guaranteed, but the overall mission of the Church, through carefully defined individual acts of teaching and the ultimately indefectibility of her rule.
However, in regards to the temporal power, the Lord has chosen to reign only in accord with man’s original vocation, that is, where as image and steward of the Sovereign God, men are to exercise a real though subordinate dominion over God’s creation in the temporal sphere. Even in the spiritual order, men fulfill this original intention of participation in God’s sovereignty, but only with the additional grace of the Spirit which assures that the Church’s mission will in the end survive and attain its spiritual purpose. No such grace is given to the temporal order, and certainly no such grace is given to any temporal authority.
The first task of the Christian, then, is to submit his own heart and soul, his whole person, body and soul, to the rule of Christ our King. Only then can we hope to extend his kingship in any way into our world. And how desperately our world needs Christ’s kingship! Man’s very freedom, dignity, and goodness are always threatened by his refusal to have God for his Lord. By refusing God’s dominion as the condition of his own, man takes on all kinds of masters and becomes a slave to all. In the end, it is either submission to Christ who frees us, or it is submission to Belial – to worthlessness and destruction. These are man’s only alternatives, the freedom of Christ or the slavery to sin and the Prince of the world of sin. Only truth and grace can truly save man and his world, and both come in and through Jesus Christ our King. He is our message of salvation to the world, He and none other. Praise Be Christ Our King Amen.