Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C
November 25, 2001
2Sam 5:1-3; Col1:12-20; Lk23:35-43
1) We celebrate the fact today that Christ is king of the universe. King of everything. King of Heaven. King of Earth. King of others, whether they admit it or not. King of us, whether we admit it or not. And his kingdom will last forever. He’s defeated the devil once and for all.
2) That kingdom is both now and in the future. Jesus said, in last week’s Gospel, “The Kingdom of God is among you.” But he also said that the Kingdom is something to be awaited and he gave several examples of what the kingdom of God would be like, parables properly about heaven. The kingdom is something both already in gestation here, but something that will come fully later. How can it be both things at the same time?
3) We see how the two come together, and what it means to be in his kingdom NOW, in the great prayer he taught us to pray. The Jews were accustomed to do things in couplets, having the second sentence interpret the first sentence. We see that in the Our Father he taught us. “Thy kingdom come!” was the first sentence, praying for his kingdom to come to us, for us to enter into his kingdom, not just at the end of time, but in this world as well. What does his kingdom involve? How do we enter it? How does it come to us? This is revealed in the sentence that immediately follows the prayer for the kingdom. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will is always done in heaven. That is the kingdom that will come and will last forever. His kingdom is already here on earth as well, he established it, he is Lord of all, but for us to enter into his kingdom, we have to enter into the situation where his will is done here on earth, just like in heaven. Those who do God’s will are in his kingdom. Those who treat God as king and lovingly obey his commands are already in this kingdom.
4) What is God’s will? Where is his kingdom? God’s kingdom is meant to be a kingdom of real love, the laying down of one’s life out of sacrificial love for another. God’s will is that we become saints, living and dying out of sacrificial love for Him and for others. “No one has any greater love,” Christ tells us in St. John’s Gospel, “than to lay down his life for his friends.” All of the commandments are based on love and are gifts of God to help us to learn how to love and to live in his kingdom. After giving us to two-fold commandment to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves, Jesus says, “on these two hang all the law and the prophets.” All of the commandments, therefore, are commandments to love. And if we really loved here on earth, we would experience this kingdom, and the joy that comes in living in such a kingdom.
5) But we have to begin at the beginning and ask if we’re really living in a kingdom of love, in which we love the King. Do we really love God? A priest I know wrote a book a few years ago in which he claimed that most Catholics really don’t love God. He gave an example that I think is striking, which I will give to you. Imagine that I came to you and said, “Today I witnessed something truly horrible. I was driving on the highway and saw a terrible pile-up of cars. There were parts of cars all over the place. I immediately got out of the car and ran to the scene, in order to see if someone needed a priest. I got to the first car, which was all mangled. A policeman looked at me with a downcast visage and nodded his head horizontally, saying “no,” that the person had already died. I went up to the demolished car and looked inside. And I recognized who it was who had died, and it was God who had died in that car.
6) What was your reaction to this? If God had died in a car crash, how much would it change your life? Would it change it much, if at all? Would you cry? Now imagine, I told you the same story, but at the end of it, I told you, I looked into the demolished car and recognized who it was. And that it was your husband or wife, or your child, or your brother or sister, or your best friend. What would your reaction be then? Would you cry then? How would that change your life? Would your life never be the same?
7) Now compare the two reactions. If you wouldn’t have felt sick to your stomach at the news of God’s death, if you wouldn’t have cried incessantly, if your life wouldn’t have been changed, like you would have at the news of a husband or wife, or child, or parent, or sibling or best friend, then you don’t really love God. We would be devastated at the news of any real loved one’s tragic death. If our lives wouldn’t change much if God were dead, then we’re not really living in his kingdom. This country stopped completely when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, because he was loved. He was our leader and his death would obviously change our lives. If lives wouldn’t be touched 1000x more if God had died, than he is obviously not our leader. He is obviously not our king.
8 ) Now the fact is that we know that God in his divinity can never die. But we can act as if he is dead. The anti-Christian philosophers tried to say that God was dead, because they claimed that his influence had died. That people were no longer believing in him. There was actually a Time Magazine cover in the early 1970s about the death of God. Because basically, people were living as if there were no God any more, and the death of God, or the life of God, wasn’t really affecting people any more than the life or death of someone living thousands of miles away in, say, Reno, Nevada. God was irrelevant. They pointed to several things. They pointed to Roe v. Wade, which had just be stipulated as the law of the land by 9 lawyers on the Supreme Court who were trying to play God. They pointed to the sexual revolution, overturning what used to be considered God’s law about the real meaning of love and sexuality. Without God, all things were possible, there was no such thing as a sacrament of marriage, no meaning at all to human life, so just enjoy it. They pointed to the war going on in Vietnam, a war that had lost its purpose and which was seeming to be a battle in which Vietnamese people were pawns in the chess match between the Communists and the West. For all practical purposes, they said, if God weren’t dead, God was at least dead to us and dead to society. We’re now 30 years down the road. How alive is God today? Would anybody be able to make the case that Christ is King? Would a journalist, carefully observing you every day for a month, be able to make the case that Christ is King in your life? That you live in His kingdom, according to his dictates?
9) Christ came to establish a kingdom of love, here in this world, and one that will last forever in the next. It was not a kingdom of world domination, of “power” in the way the world thinks about these things. It was a kingdom of love, where sacrifice for others ruled, where doing God’s will — a will that always wants what is best for us — reigns supreme. We see all this very clearly in the Gospel today. “Are you king of the Jews?,” Pilate said to Jesus. They wrote over his head, “This is the King of the Jews.” But others mocked him, “If you are king of the Jews, save yourself and save us.” He came to establish his kingdom by dying our of love so that those he loves wouldn’t have to die eternally. He had no real death-wish, he even asked His Father to let this cup pass from Him, but then said, “not my will, but thine be done.” He was already living in that kingdom where he always did His Father’s will. He said if anyone wants to live in that kingdom, he must deny himself, pick up his Cross daily, and follow Him, follow him all the way to the Cross, all the way through total sacrifice made for others, so that we might enter into his kingdom.
10) Can we see real glimpses of the kingdom of God here on earth? Can we taste it? Yes we can. I’ve tasted it in several monasteries and convents, where everyone did God’s will and they will filled with great joy. They loved each other and shared that love with others. I would get up a 5 am to go to celebrate Mass for the Missionaries of Charity in Rome while I was there, and despite their poverty, despite their difficulties, you could cut the joy with a knife — it was so thick — because they were completely living for God and were experiencing here on earth a foretaste of the kingdom. I have experienced it in some homes, where the love of God is so strong among parents and children that the house is about to explode with joy. I have even seen it in a couple of parishes, where the majority of the people are so in love with God that there is an enormous celebration of love every Sunday, so much joy, so much singing, so much fraternal love, all centered around Christ in the Eucharist.
11) If we’re not experiencing the joy of that kingdom, it’s not because the kingdom isn’t here, but it’s because we’re choosing to live as slaves of another kingdom. It’s because we’re choosing not to enter completely. It’s like we’re maybe putting it a hand, or even a leg into the kingdom, but we’re trying to straddle the border, trying to keep our options open, trying to live in a kingdom in which Christ isn’t king, but I’M KING. Where Christ isn’t the Boss, but I’M THE BOSS!
12) If we want to live in Christ’s kingdom, to experience the fullness of everything he died to give us, then we have to make a choice, to enter fully into that kingdom. We cannot straddle the fence. That kingdom means taking God’s will seriously. What does that mean? It first means looking at our whole life from the context of his plan, to ask, not necessarily what I want to do, but what does God want from me. God wants us to become a saint and he’ll help us, but he needs our yes. And become a saint requires sacrificial love, putting others in front of ourselves, becoming holy, and living wholly for God. It means for sure keeping His commandments of love. Imagine for a moment what your situation would be like if you and everyone around you kept God’s commandments. Just imagine if everyone in your home, then in your neighborhood, then here in this city, then in our state, then in our nation, then in our world, actually kept even the biggest commandments. There would be no murder or hatred. There would be no broken families on account of adultery. There would be no lying, no cheating, no stealing, no swearing, no envy, no using of others for sexual pleasure. That’s the type of kingdom which is possible, even in this world, if more people start to live in God’s kingdom which is not of this world, but is in this world.
13) In the midst of our misery, there are two options, shown to us by the thieves in today’s Gospel as Jesus hung upon the Cross. One option is that shown by the bad thief. We can say to Jesus, say to God, “If you’re God, save us from this situation. Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you capable of doing something about this?,” in which case we try to use God to give us what we think is most important. The other option is to trust in God, to entrust ourselves to his mercy, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Jesus wants us to choose, whether we trust in Him as our King, as our ruler, as our BOSS in EVERYTHING, or just to continue to delude ourselves that Jesus, who has the power to do everything, including having the power to come down from the Cross, will just let us get our own way, will continue to let us call the shots. If we want the second kingdom, God will let us have it, but that kingdom is, in fact, a living Hell in this world and a dying one in the next. He died to give us the first. But in that kingdom he’s God and we’re not. We need to enter into that kingdom here on earth in order to live in it forever. We need to love. We have the chance to do so now, by worshipping the king of kings and the Lord of Lords, and receiving him inside. Let us make the choice to allow him to reign, because in doing so we will find peace and joy in this life and eternally in the next.