Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Every year I remember this humorous anecdote. Father George Fitzsimmons was pastor of Christ the King parish in Kansas City. The bishop called the parish one day. When the phone was answered the bishop asked: “is this Christ the King? “No,” came the response, “this is George the pastor.” In a way we are called to be Christ the King. Through baptism we are to become his instruments of justice, love and peace.
We tend to think little of kings. Presidents and Prime Ministers hold sway in our day. Somehow Christ the Prime Minister just doesn’t raise up the image of who we worship and who we need.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus. To Pilate a king could be someone who threatened the security of the Roman Empire. To Jewish nationalists, a king would be a religious liberator and therefore a political leader. Jesus would accept neither role. But he did accept the title on his own terms: “my kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The authority of Christ the King does not come from the inheritance of earthly family, or from the strength of military might, or from the will of the people. My kingdom, my authority, is not here he declares and through his crucifixion, death and resurrection he proved it.
For us to see Christ as king we must lift our vision beyond the competing forces of the world who seek our homage. We will pray in today’s Mass these words which describe his kingdom: it is an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. It is recognizing that kingdom that can move and motivate us in this world and give us hope for the world to come.
A kingdom of truth and life. That is why we Catholics must do what we can to challenge the secular culture’s attempts to redefine truth to be whatever anyone wishes it to be, and to respect life only when it is convenient. We do that most fully and effectively not by judging or forcing others, but by witnessing to the truth ourselves.
In the old days of the Soviet Union, a Russian youth was taken before a judge because he refused to serve in the military which so oppressed people. He told the judge that he believed in Jesus Christ and was called to love his enemies. “Yes, I understand,” said the judge. “But you must be realistic. These laws you are talking about are the laws of the kingdom of God, and it has not yet come.” The young man straightened up and responded: “Sir, I recognize that it has not yet come for you, nor yet for Russia or the world, but the kingdom of God has come for me. I cannot go on hating and killing as though it had not.” A kingdom of truth and life we are called to live.
A kingdom of holiness and grace. Pilate asked Jesus, “what have you done? “ We are privileged over 2,000 years later to know what he has done. He has died on the cross for our salvation; he has instituted the Church to help us grow in holiness, he has given us the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, through which grace comes that allows us when properly disposed to live lives worthy of being called Christians.
He offers hope in the time of challenge and doubt, when we are worn down and question why things happen the way they do or to whom they do. He offers strength in the time of trial and temptation, when we know we cannot go it alone. You may have seen the bumper sticker, ‘God is my co-pilot.’ Someone suggested an alternative: ‘if Christ the King is your co-pilot, change seats.’ A kingdom of holiness and grace to which we are called to surrender to his power.
A kingdom of justice, love and peace. Someone said: “God is king. And this king is no remote or egotistical tyrant; but a Father who created and re-created us, a Son who loved us to death, and a Spirit who lovingly longs to live within us in utter intimacy. His kingdom is first of all in our hearts, our souls, and our spirit. Secondly it is in our lives.” We are to be people of justice, love and peace.
There was a little girl who was orphaned. For some reason she was regularly rejected for adoption. The staff at the children’s home felt sorry for her, hoping someone would learn to love her. One day she was seen writing a note and then stuffing it in a branch of a tree near the gate. Could she be communicating with a friend who might come for her, the staff speculated. As soon as they could do so without her knowing, someone fished her wrinkled note from the tree. There in a child’s scrawl were the words: “whoever finds this, I love you.” That little girl was a sign of Christ’s kingdom of justice, love and peace.
The noted author anonymous wrote: “Look backward – see Christ dying for you. Look upward – see Christ pleading for you. Look inward – see Christ living in you. Look forward – see Christ coming for you.” There is a famous painting by Herbert Schmaltz entitled ‘The Silent Witness’. It shows the interior of a church with weary soldiers lying on the straw floor. One of them is leaning on his arm, gazing intently up at a vision. He sees the transfigured Christ before a background of radiant light, a sign of hope. The reflection throws a touch of brightness on the wounded head of Christ on which rests the crown, the crown of thorns. Christ is King, the king of truth and life, the king of holiness and grace, the king of justice, love and peace. Christ is our king, if only we would look up from the distractions of this world.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, once of Rapid City, summarized who Christ as King really is. He wrote: “The solemnity of Christ the King reminds us that at the end of time, he will return on a throne of glory, the executor of God’s justice. Jesus alone rules. He alone judges. There will be no opinion polling, no rebuttal from defense attorneys, and no court of appeal. . . This is the Christ of grandeur and truth . . . who will reward all faithfulness with eternal life.”
He concluded, “As a bitterly difficult Church year closes and we await the threshold of another beginning – a new Advent season – we need to remember three simple realities. God loves us infinitely and with a Father’s tenderness. God’s ways will be done, with or without our approval. And our choices and actions matter, not just in this life, but forever.”
All hail Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.