Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Christ the King
October 25, 2015
Col 1:12-20, Jn 18:33-37
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
History of the Feast
Today’s feast of Christ the King is only 90 years old. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI during the 1925 Jubilee at the request of many bishops and faithful from around the globe. There was a militant atheism spreading at the time that was trying to repress belief in Christ and suppress Christian presence in the world, something that continues even into 2015. When Pope Pius XI established this feast, it was just eight years after Bolshevik communism had begun to show its evil head. The Communists — who had doctorates in the art of lying — claimed to be working to “free” people from the “opium” of belief in God, which they said was only a means used by other to keep them subjugated. Since there really was no god, they stated, the churches and Christians were just seeking greater foundation for their pursuit of political power. To counteract these lies and proclaim both the fact of Christ’s kingship and the type of kingdom he established, the Holy Father proclaimed this feast.
A Crucified King?
The first thing Pope Pius XI stressed was that Christ had not come to inaugurate a political but a spiritual kingdom. The Jews anticipated that when the Son of David came, he would rule in the way that his ancestor David had ruled. He would defeat all foreign powers and would be brutal to those who opposed him. After Jesus worked some of his stupendous miracles and the people were ready to put him on their shoulders and proclaim him king, he took off to other towns, until people were able to receive him, and his kingdom, on his terms. In today’s Gospel we see the brutal contrast between the Kingdom Christ came to inaugurate and the political kingdom people expected. The last thing Jesus looked like as he hung upon the Cross on Good Friday was a king. He was bathed in blood, not clothed with royal purple. He was hammered to a Cross, not seated on a throne. He was crowned with thorns, not capped with gold and diadems. To ridicule him and Jews in general, Pilate had ordered that an inscription in three languages be placed above his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Rather than pay him homage, most in the crowd mocked him. The chief priests mocked him. The Roman soldiers and passers-by mocked him. Even the thief on his left mocked him. And all of them mocked him in the same way: “If you’re truly the king of the Jews, the Messiah, the Christ, come down from that Cross and save yourself.” Such visible force was the only demonstration of kingly power that they could comprehend.
For many of the Jews at the time, Jesus’ crucifixion was the proof that he was precisely not the long awaited Messiah-king for whom they had been waiting for centuries. The Jews anticipated that the Messiah-King would use his power to subjugate all those who made themselves his adversaries, not take their abuse and die a horrible death to save his abusers. They were totally unprepared for a king who would serve at all, not to mention to the point of death. The Romans were likewise unprepared for a king like Jesus. When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus, asking him, “Are you the King of the Jews?,” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would be fighting that I not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not of this world.” Then Pilate retorted, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied by describing more specifically what type of king he was and what type of kingdom he was establishing. “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” The Romans thought that kingship meant having the power to crucify or pardon. They thought it was associated with force. Jesus said it is associated with truth.
Even the apostles, however, had a false idea about the kingdom and what it would mean to be in the king’s service. We see throughout the Gospel that they were competing against each for the greatest cabinet secretariats in the messianic administration they anticipated Jesus would establish. After James and John got their mother — how pathetic is that!? — to go up to Jesus to ask him to do whatever she asked and to grant that her baby boys sit on his immediate right and left as began his kingdom, Jesus used it as a lesson for all, who were hungering after the same worldly authority and power: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That is Jesus’ kingdom. To enter into his kingdom with him, to be his right hand, to be his ministers, means to be willing to give our life as a ransom for God and others, to serve rather than be served, to give rather than get.
To pray, “Thy kingdom come!,” as we do thousands of times a year, is to beg for the grace to enter with Jesus into his true kingdom, which while in this world is not of this world. And that’s precisely the grace that Christ came into the world to give us. As St. Paul reminds us in today’s epistle, through Christ’s incarnation, passion, death and resurrection, God the Father “delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We enter the kingdom precisely through conversion — through repenting and believing in the Gospel “for the kingdom of God is at hand — through recognizing we have spent our time building our own kingdom or serving other gods and leaving them behind to enter Christ’s kingdom and reign with him, giving witness to the truth even if we should have to die for it as he did. The ancient Christians used to sing, Regnavit a ligno Deus! “God reigns from the Cross.” To say, “Thy kingdom come,” to seek to enter his kingdom, is to reign with him by living with him a cruciform life, a life of the true sacrifice of oneself out of love for God and others. This is what we celebrate today. That is the kingdom Christ came from heaven to earth to found, to invite us to enter, and to send us forth to proclaim.
Do we mean “Thy Kingdom come!”?
The question is for us, however, is do we really want Christ’s kingdom to come? Do we really want his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? We live in a day that, just like 2,000 years ago, has many false ideas about Jesus, many erroneous expectations about the kingdom he came to establish, the way he reigns and the way he calls us to reign with him. We, too, are tempted to reject the truth of the kingdom, the service of the kingdom, the suffering of the kingdom. We need to confront this, because when we pray “Thy Kingdom come!,” we need to know that we’re not going to receive in response to those prayers the kingdom of our false expectations but the real Kingdom Jesus established.
Let’s focus on the truth of the spiritual kingdom Jesus inaugurated and ask if this is the kingdom we want, if this is the kingdom we’ve entered, if this is the kingdom we’re proclaiming.
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ the King said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit. Are our hearts on spiritual poverty, or on riches, houses, cars, and material things?
- Christ the King announced his kingdom is one of meekness and that the children of the kingdom are those who work to make peace. Do we work for peace or do we provoke and cheer division and war war?
- Christ the King says that those who enter his kingdom will be those who care for him in every person they meet who is hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, ill, imprisoned or otherwise in need? Do we enter the kingdom through this type of service of the Good Samaritan, or do we live like everyone else and pass them by on the other side of the road?
- Christ the King said that the pure of heart will see him reign. Do we live pure, chaste lives or do we think that happiness is to be found in a kingdom that consents to lust, pornography and relationships that are not ordered to God’s kingdom?
- Christ the King announced that his kingdom is a one of mercy and that only the merciful will receive the mercy necessary to enter his kingdom. Do we forgive everyone who has trespassed against us or do we nurse grudges and seek to settle scores, even to the grave?
- Christ the King says that to enter his kingdom, we need to be willing to be persecuted and hated because of him. Do we seek human respect, popularity and fame, or are we willing to acknowledge Christ before others even if we will be mocked for it or murdered for it?
In short, Christ the King says that his kingdom is a kingdom of truth, and that everyone who is of the truth hears his voice. To enter into his kingdom we must seek to live by the truth that sets us free and gives us entrance into relationship with Jesus. Is that the way we are living? Christ has redeemed us and transferred us through baptism from the power of darkness into his kingdom, but this, but entering the kingdom is not a one-time act, but a continuous choice. Today is another day for us to choose whether we really want Christ’s kingdom to come or some other kingdom of our own making or imagination.
Pope Pius XI said that he wanted to establish an annual liturgical feast precisely so that we could all gain “much strength and courage … to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.” He said that if Christ is truly our king, “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 and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as weapons of righteousness.” In short, for Christ to reign, he must be King of my time, of my family, of my wallet, of all parts of my life. Living in his kingdom will simply make us more like King we serve. To pray, “Thy kingdom come!” means that we want everyone to come to the joy of Christ’s kingdom, and that means we’re going to open ourselves to receive God’s graces so that we may courageously and lovingly announce the good news of that kingdom to others.
The Personal Impact of this Feast
Today, Jesus asks each of us, as he asked Pilate, “Do you say that I am a king on your own or because others have told you about me?” Jesus wants each one of us to hear that question and respond. It’s not enough for him to be the King of “others” or even the King of the “universe.” It’s not enough that we join in the singing of beautiful hymns written by others. It’s not enough that we admire or dedicated Churches to Him under this title. It’s not enough, in order words, even that the whole Church in heaven and on earth acclaims him on this day as the Savior, King and Lord. Jesus wants to know if we’re singing these hymns and reciting these psalms on our own, personally, intimately, or whether we’re just saying them because others have told us about this reality. He died in order to become your king and my king and wants to have that relationship with each of us. Jesus wants each of us to say on our own, “Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Jesus, you are my king!” and to seek to live in the truth he reveals, to live according to the standard of his love.
And to help us take that personal stand, he comes here even more humbly than he appeared before Pontius Pilate so that he can strengthen us by becoming our very spiritual food. United with Him as our King and united through, with and in him with each other, let us beg him to strengthen us courageously give witness to him, to his truth and to his love in the midst of a world that continues to want him out of the way and reject the reality and nature of his kingdom. Today we make our own the words of the Mexican martyrs as they prepared to die in witness to Christ’s kingdom: “Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!” And to him be power, praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor, power and strength!” (Rev 7:12).
The readings for today’s Mass were:
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians
We do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross [through him], whether those on earth or those in heaven..
The continuation of the Gospel according to St. John
Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”