The Solemnity of Christ the King 2016
He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,. Col. 1:13
The Solemnity of Christ the King was a beautiful and timely gift to the universal Church from Pope Pius XI in the last century, December 11, 1925. The encyclical Quas Primas in which this great solemnity was established was written only three years into his pontificate, and it was his response to what he said were the “manifold evils in the world [were] due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives.” Like his predecessor, Benedict XV, Pius XI was deeply troubled by the aftereffects of World War I in Europe, a growing secularization of society, increasing nationalism and a very hostile anti-clericalism. While there were certainly many causes of this crisis of civilization, he was convinced that the rejection of the rule of Christ in the personal and social lives of both the victors and the vanquished.
It was a most interesting moment for the Pope to reemphasize the truth and the importance of the Kingship of Christ for the world, given that the disappearance of all the actual ruling monarchies was now complete with the fall of the Hapsburg Empire. It made it even clearer that Christ’s Kingship was not at all like earthly monarchies and was absolutely indestructible by the events of this world.
On the other hand, while Pope Pius certainly was not a romantic who identified Christendom with the Kingdom of Christ, he was nonetheless quite certain that the decay of Christendom, which once had brought the teachings of Christ to bear on the institutions of civil society, as well the personal lives of the citizenry, was a devastating blow to the hope for a just order, peace and harmony within and among the once Christian countries of Europe, and in the world at large.
In the introduction of Quas Primas, Pope Pius declared “that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” This maxim had been chosen for his papal motto He took as his papal motto, “Pax Christi in Regno Christi,” – “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” From the beginning he had this conviction regarding the civil and spiritual salvation of countries, and so the new Solemnity was not simply a liturgical gift but a great teaching.
As the Church and the Popes teach us, though the Kingdom of Christ is not to be identified with any temporal society, this does not me that the kingship of Christ does not extend to the temporal domain. His kingdom is indeed a spiritual kingdom and is not a kingdom of this world, as Jesus Himself responds to Pilate. But His kingship, nonetheless, is truly universal and, as the Pope says, “This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness.” Earthly rulers thus have no need to fear the gentle rule of our Savior.
Nonetheless, because our King is truly God as well as truly man, there can be no question that his sovereignty extends over not just this world but over the whole of creation. And yet Christ does not exercise his rule like other rulers, that is, by the use of political power. His subjects are not forced to accept His sovereign rule in this world, and they never will be, until the end of time. Only at the Parousia will all men be force to recognize and submit to his eternal rule, but in this world, freedom is never taken away by God. Only men attack the freedom of others, and by doing so compromise their own.
Freedom is a great gift from God to us, but it is not an absolute freedom that allows man to do whatever he wills without dire consequences. The truth about freedom, both Augustine and Thomas taught, is found only in freedom’s relationship to truth. Jesus said that the truth is what sets us free, that is, allows us to use our freedom for the good and not for evil. When man freely chooses to do evil, he denies the very purpose and essence of his freedom and undermines its power for good. Freedom, as Christ teaches us, is the power to choose and to do what is truly good.
That is why God alone is free in the absolute sense because God always wills and does what is the true good. God can do this because God is both absolute goodness and absolute truth. And that is why the Kingship of Christ is reality the ultimate guarantee of our human freedom. He is the Truth of God, and His truth and His grace enables us very fallible creatures to exercise our more limited freedom for our own good, the good of others and the good of God’s creation.
Thus Christ alone, because he is a man as well as God, is King in the deepest meaning and reality. As God, Jesus exercises full sovereignty, and as man He enables us to fulfill the vocation of freedom as His steward, exercising His dominion over the world. Thus the vocation mankind received from the beginning to take dominion over God’s creation could only be accomplished in authentic freedom, holiness, and humble submission to the Truth, which is Christ.
Surely, then, it is the task of all 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 His 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. It is accomplished by bringing the teaching of Christ and the grace of Christ into our world, with the deep conviction that only Christ can bring order, peace and harmony for human societies as Pope Pius taught 90 years ago.
The first task of Christians, then, as Pope Pius also taught, is to submit own heart and soul, our whole person, body and soul, and likewise our families to the rule of Christ our King. Here is what that great Pope says:
He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies …
Only under these conditions can we free subjects of Christ hope to extend his kingship in any hopeful way into our world. And how desperately our world needs His kingship! Man’s very freedom, dignity, and goodness are even more threatened today than in the day of Pius XI. Today the refusal of the nations to submit to God’s rule, as exercised by Christ and His Church, and the resulting evils are far advanced from the situation Pius recognized in the early 20th Century.
By refusing God’s dominion as the necessary condition for his own freedom and dominion, man takes on all kinds of masters and becomes a slave to them all. In the end, it is either submission to Christ who frees us, or it is submission to Belial, the darkness his kingdom and its terrible destruction: God or Nothing, as Cardinal Sarah’s wonderful book is entitled. These are man’s only alternatives, the freedom of Christ or the slavery to sin and the Prince of the world of sin. Today we profess once again that only the King’s truth and grace can truly save man and his world, May the whole world one day learn to proclaim with us, Viva Christo Rey, Praise Be Christ Our King Amen.