Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8; Jn 18:33-37
Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and celebrated each year on this last Sunday of the Church’s calendar, to emphasize that Christ is king of the universe, and that He’ll establish His rule forever at the end of time. So what does this feast commemorate? Well, in the early 20th century, leaders and nations were ignoring Christ’s authority, and restricting the Church’s power to continue that authority. Sure, 100 years later, the same problems remain. But after experiencing the horrific atrocities of WWI, Pius XI and many others had witnessed the rise of non-Christian dictators in Europe, who tried to assert authority over the Church. The same continues today in Mexico, Venezuela, China, and other countries. It shows that when rulers refuse to obey God’s authority and deny Christ the king, then secularism and injustice are the results. Pius XI understood this a long time ago. At first, this feast can be puzzling to us because the idea of kingship is outdated in our modern world. And we don’t have many historical examples of truly sacrificial rulers. And since Jesus came in poverty and humility, it’s easy to lose sight of His authority and kingship. But this feast day reminds us that, objectively, Christ is king. He simply is. All people, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. And “once we recognize—both in public and in private life—that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony” (Pius XI, Quas Primas, 19). But until that time, we inherit only war and discord. Pope Pius XI hoped the institution of this annual feast would have several effects: 1) That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (QP,32)—and yes, this includes religious freedom, which is under attack, even in our own country; 2) that leaders and nations would see that they’re bound to respect Christ as the true ruler (QP,31); and 3) that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the yearly celebration of the feast, since we remind ourselves that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (QP,33).
And it’s this third point that I’d like to address: that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies. So, does He? Is He the king of our entire lives? It’s one thing to hear others say that Christ is king. But Jesus directly asked Pilate, as He asks each one of us today: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” It’s easy to say that Christ is king, but do our decisions align with that truth? To find out, let’s look at these four aspects of the human person (heart, mind, will, and body):
1) Jesus must reign in our hearts, which should love God above all else, including all earthly possessions. If we truly believe that Jesus is our king, then we have to learn from the gospel today that His “kingdom does not belong to this world.” And since his kingdom is spiritual, we can enter it only “by faith and by baptism, which, though an external ritual, signifies and produces an interior cleansing” (QP,15). That’s why a regular sacramental life is so important. God’s divine life comes to us through outward signs, which we call “sacraments.” Yes, our faith is internal, but it’s lived out through external observances, things like receiving the sacraments frequently, doing works of charity. And that’s why it’s a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a good reason. And no, sports is not a good reason. Believe me, I love sports—I play and follow them regularly—but if Christ is our king, then He must be the first priority in our lives. So let’s be generous with our time—to show that God is the most important to us.
2) Christ “must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths of Christ” (QP,33). Jesus tells us today that He came into the world for this one purpose: “to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [His] voice” (Jn 18:37). A good definition of truth is the “conformity of the mind with reality.” The mind doesn’t create truth or reality, but rather it understands and accepts it. And for this reason, truth can’t change; truth isn’t relative. Reality—and morality, for that matter—can’t be true for one person and false for another. That’s why it’s so sad to read stories and statistics about a priest or bishop being unfaithful to their sacred promises, or that a majority of married couples use contraception, or that countless dating or engaged couples live together before marriage, thus putting their eternal salvation and their future marriage in grave peril. Or that only one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Once again, we don’t create reality; rather, it comes to us from God, who calls us to a higher standard than sin and falsehood.
Ultimately, the truth is a Person, Jesus Christ. Pontus Pilate chose to deny Him, but do you and I live the truth that comes through Christ and His Church? If we belong to the truth, then we must listen to the voice of Jesus, even if His words may be difficult to accept. The truth about the dignity of human life. The truth that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. The truth about the intrinsic evils of abortion and artificial contraception. And the truth about the boundless mercy of God in the sacrament of confession. Each day, our free choices determine whether we accept the truth of Christ, and whether we’ll enthrone Him as our king.
3) Jesus “must also reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God” (QP,33). As king, Christ is a “law-giver, to whom obedience is due” (QP,14). This isn’t blind obedience, but Christ’s rule actually enables us to live in freedom, freedom from sin. God’s commands aren’t burdensome, because He gives us His grace to be faithful. Like the rules of the road, God’s commands are in place to help us all get to our final destination safely. But also like traffic laws, disobeying God’s commands is dangerous for ourselves and for others. No, we don’t understand everything perfectly, but as St. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus exercises his kingly power through His Church, which bears witness to the fullness of the truth in love.
Finally, Christ “must reign in our bodies, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls” (QP,33). The human body isn’t ours to misuse through pornography and abuse. We aren’t our own property, for Christ has purchased us “with a great price” (1Cor 6:20)—His very life. Therefore, our bodies are the “members of Christ.” So we should glorify God with and in our bodies.
In the end, the banner of the kingdom of Christ is the cross; Jesus reigns from the cross. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak often about the kingdom of God: it’s like a mustard seed, a landowner, like yeast, like a treasure buried in a field; these gospels abound with images of the kingdom. But John is different; John uses the word “kingdom” only twice . . . only twice, that is, until chapter 18, which is the start of Jesus’ Passion. And in today’s gospel, the word “king/kingdom” is at the fore, because Christ reigns from the cross. And what’s written at the top of every crucifix? The letters INRI, the Latin abbreviation for “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” An eyewitness to this scene, St. John specifically tells us that this inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. These were the languages of the three major civilizations that Jesus encountered during His life on earth. How fitting, then, that these three were united by the cross—such that any passer-by at that time could read and understand that this was Jesus, a king. Although Pontus Pilate and the Romans meant to mock Jesus with this title, they unknowingly proclaimed Him to the world as the true king. But God went one step further: He used a cross (the universal sign of shame) to be the symbol of the world’s salvation. Celebrating today’s feast helps us to appreciate Christ, not as an oppressive dictator, but one who died out of love for us, and whose mercy endures forever. By His coming, Christ radically transformed the concept of kingship. He gave his life on the cross, and through the kingly power of truth and love in his cross, He has conquered the world. And when we submit to the sweet yoke of Jesus, who sets us free from slavery to sin, we become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. As a confusing and very difficult Church year draws to a close, we begin the Advent season next Sunday, a season marked by hope and expectation for the coming of Christ. So today, we remind ourselves of the tender love and mercy of God, but also we should examine ourselves to see whether Christ is indeed the king of every aspect of our lives. And we can draw courage from the heroic martyrs of the Mexican Revolution 100 years ago, by repeating their motto in our own day: “Long live Christ the King!”