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Ordinary Time 34: Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5:12)

The double of the first-class feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI on December 11, 1925. Now classified as a solemnity, the celebration proclaims Christ’s sovereignty over all human beings, societies and institutions, and indeed over all creation. It is, of course, also a way of countering—as apparently Pius XI himself meant the feast to do—the increasing atheism, agnosticism and secularization of society. And given that today we live in what many thinkers and writers characterize as a post-Christian world “where Christianity is no longer the dominant religion, where cultural values are becoming more secular, and the world view is no longer shaped by Christian ideals and principles” (cf. Keith F. Pecklers’ article in The Tablet at [1]), we who celebrate the solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe have our work cut out for us.

For one thing, “[t]he image of King does not sit well with people in the 21st century,” as Elizabeth Harrington points out” (cf. [2]). “Some might have problems with the language and imagery used in the texts for this celebration, believing that words like ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ carry patriarchal and authoritarian connotations that are incompatible with Christianity.”

For another, to proclaim the genuine kingship of Christ would entangle us in something that conventional wisdom brands as foolishness and contradiction, since Christ’s exaltation is the cross, his sovereign authority consists in utter servanthood, his strength means absolute weakness and his power is made perfect in weakness (Mt. 21:25-28; 1 Cor. 2:18-25; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Yet notwithstanding the sway that worldly wisdom exerts over people, the poor who, according to St. Vincent de Paul, have the true religion can tell apart true royalty from false, so that they give reverent recognition, for instance, to such members of the nobility as St. Casimir, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. Henry, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Wenceslaus, St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. They could be carried away perhaps by propaganda and mass hysteria and might readily tear down statues of, and monuments for, people perceived to have been allied with unjust and oppressive royal regime. Yet they would just as readily discern who would be deserving of respect fit for a king and they would not be able to bring themselves to deface the image of the one revered as both Père de la Patrie and Père des Pauvres (cf. [3]).

As acknowledged, therefore, by those who have the true religion and as revealed unambiguously also by their King, the Son of Man who will sit upon his glorious throne in judgment of all nations and will separate rams and goats, true royalty consists fundamentally in identification with, and service of, the least of the brothers and sisters. Christian royalty does not mean lording it over others and showing them who the boss is. Rather, it means looking after and tending the sheep, rescuing them, bringing them to verdant pastures, not resting till the sheep get rest, seeking out the lost, bringing back the strayed, binding up the injured, healing the sick.

And identification with, and service of, the poor—indicates St. John Chrysostom—do not accept as a legitimate excuse for not helping others either poverty, humble birth, lack of education or ill-health (cf. his homily on the Acts of the Apostles, 20, 4, in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Common of Holy Men). To be of no service to others is to bury one’s God-given talent. Further Chrysostom adds, “If you say that a Christian cannot help others, you have insulted God and called him a liar.” It will indeed be an insult to God, I think, for us not to appreciate the talents that God generously grants us and to lack the confidence that the one who begins a good work in us will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). We have every reason to be hopeful and optimistic because of Christ, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep and the guarantee of their resurrection. He guarantees success also, even though we fail.

Such identification and service also imply that we give primacy to the living stones that make up the Church over church buildings, structures and ornaments, as the liturgical texts for the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica remind us. And St. John Chrysostom also warns: “Do not … adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all (cf. St. John Chrysostom’s homily on Matthew, 50, 3-4, in the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time).

Moreover, the same identification and service make for the communal life described in Acts 2:42-45 and 4:32-45. This communal life points, needless to say, to the communion of saints, which we who make up the pilgrim Church especially express our belief in through our celebration of All Saints Day and our commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.

But in the final analysis, identification with the poor and service of them, about which Christ’s kingship and kingdom are all about, if I may so reiterate, entail knowing and enacting the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sake became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). Identification and service, therefore, derive from the Eucharist and lead to it: we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood and thus proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes as King in full regalia and ultimate royal glory.