Solemnity of Christ the King – 2014
Today’s feast of Christ the King is a relatively new and most interesting liturgical feast, a great gift to the Church from Pope Pius XI in 1925. This feast was given even greater importance by Pope St. John XXIII in1960 when he transferred it to the final Sunday of the liturgical year, thus making it the culmination of each liturgical year. What could be more fitting than to close each liturgical year by celebrating the feast of Christ the King which, in a wonderful way, ties together the present time and eternity. One day Christ will return in glory, in the glory of his risen body and his exalted kingship, and He will reign forever as our God and as our king. What great joy this truth should bring to us each year when we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.
However, the institution of this great liturgical feast shortly after World War I may well seem to the world and even to some Christians as an unusual step on the part of the Church and Pope Pius XI. After all, one of the results of that war was the dissolution of most ancient monarchies throughout Europe and their replacement by new democratic forms of government. It might have seemed, especially in light of those developments, as a kind of cultural recalcitrance, the Church clinging to a past that was gone forever. But that is a most superficial misunderstanding of the motivation behind the establishment of this great feast.
Obviously the Church did not begin to believe in the kingship of Christ in the age of monarchies; the notion of the Kingship of Christ was in no way derived from monarchial cultures. It’s quite the other way around, at least if we are speaking about monarchies in the Christian cultures of the past. That being true, it should ne seen that one of the motivating factors in establishing of this feast surely had to be to preserve belief in the Kingship of Christ, to make sure it was not abandoned among the Catholic faithful along with the jettisoning of the earthly monarchial systems of government. At the same time, Pius XI clearly intended by his action to deepen the faithful’s appreciation and understanding of the truth of Christ’s unique kingship and the significance of that kingship for their life, both here and beyond.
In this regard, it has long been a matter of curiosity for me that so many of my British friends maintain their strong loyalty to their monarch, in spite of the great weakening of that institution in terms of actual power; indeed it now serves mainly as a titular kind of institution. But one day it hit me that this loss of power was the clue to their fidelity. They loved their monarch but without in any way wishing the monarchy to regain its former power as an absolute governing power. They likely love the monarch because he, or she today, in a singular way represents the glory and the prestige of the British people among the nations. In this way of thinking, then, the monarch and monarchy are essentially symbolic of something much greater and dearer. That something greater and dearer is what they love even more than their monarch, their nation.
It also struck me that since their monarchy was not elected by them, British citizens never need feel responsible for the wicked and stupid governmental actions of past regimes. There’s a kind of innocence in all that which can’t be found today, when they, as do we, certainly bear some responsibility for our stupid or wicked governmental leaders, even if we don’t vote for them, simply because we are responsible for the constitutional system itself, as citizens of monarchies never were.
At any rate, all this musing by analogy helped me to understand much better the meaning of Christ’s kingship for us today and forever. We did not elect Christ King, nor did Christ gain his kingship in the way that earthly monarchs always have. They were neither chosen by God nor by the citizenry. They became monarchs by force of one sort or another, they led the toughest gang on the block in their country.
On the other hand, while Christ was not chosen by us either, he didn’t become universal King by any use of force at all. He was King from the first moment of his conception simply because he was the Lord of creation and the Lord of history. He alone is always the perfection of kingship, for His every action was and is today both good and noble. And unlike earthly powers, He has won the literally undying love of his subjects, who are so by faith, precisely by the way He once exercised his kingship by dying of their sake and by rising again for their sake. Christ is the only king who is so by nature, the only true absolute monarch, by nature, and, thus as we say in the creed, His kingdom will never end.
Going further, when Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world, that is true in several senses. First, His kingdom is never in competition with other earthly powers, of whatever persuasion. but is essentially above them. His kingdom, as the Council said, is one of truth and justice, of love and mercy, and thus it is itself the spiritual foundation of any governing institution in this world worthy of the name.
Moreover, the kingship of Jesus is not of this world in quite another sense, that is, simply because this world can never contain Him or His kingdom, because His kingship is infinitely superior in every way, for it extends over the whole universe which He himself has both created and redeemed. Indeed, those who accept His kingship here and now, by faith and Baptism, never have anything to be ashamed of with regard to their true King, for He alone is always absolutely good and absolutely true.
Beyond that, His kingship should fills us with the greatest joy because it is the source of the very glory and dignity which belongs to His Church, and thus most wonderfully to his subjects. Indeed, that fact is the ultimate capping of our joy in Christ’s kingship, that he has called us, by nature his subjects, his friends by Baptism, and He has already elevated many of our family and friends to reign with him in heaven, to share his eternal kingship. What joy fills the heart of the Christian who truly believes that he or she has been called literally to reign with Christ forever. That joy filled the heart of St. Paul when he wrote to Timothy, “If we suffer [with Him], we shall also reign with Him.” (2 Tim. 2:12)
Finally, however, in the midst of all this festive joy, we must not ignore one critical aspect of this great doctrine, that sharing His kingship in this world also means carrying His cross in this world. We mustn’t be like his apostles who before their full conversion were most happy to accept sharing in the glory of His kingdom, but who were most hesitant to accept their King’s doctrine of the cross. The integral meaning of reigning with Christ, in this world means to be willing to follow our king into His battle with the powers of evil, both angelic and human, and to wage that battle just as he did on earth, not with force of arms, but with the force of divine love and the divine empowerment of suffering. Surely we all look forward to the glory of heaven, and we rejoice today in recognizing not only the Kingship of Christ but derivatively our own royal status and that of all those who have gone before us and now share fully in His glory. But the true test of the Christian subject here on earth is always willingness to find the same joy even in suffering for His kingdom, even in dying for our King, simply for love him. And so must we follow Him wherever he leads us, and then praise be to Christ Our king, Amen.