Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Christ the King, Year C
November 21, 2004
2Sam5:1-13; Col1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43
1) This solemnity we celebrate today is the culmination of the Church’s entire liturgical year. Everything that we’ve marked since the first Sunday of Advent last year — Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and all the other feasts — have pointed toward this day, when we make explicit what was implicit in every other feast: that Christ is truly King and Lord of the universe and now reigns in all his glory in heaven.
2) This feast, however, is relatively very young. It was instituted only seventy-seven nine ago 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. Just eight years early, Bolshevik communism began to show its evil head. The Communists — who tried to perfect 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 in the Universe and the TRUE SPIRITUAL AIMS of that kingdom, the Holy Father proclaimed this feast.
3) A dramatic illustration of why this feast was so needed came just two years later in a place relatively close to home, Mexico City. In 1910, there was a revolution in Mexico against the “old order” and one of the first results was anti-clerical persecution based on a militant atheism. Religious orders were banned. Many priests, brothers and nuns needed to flee across the border into the United States. Churches, monasteries, convents and other religious buildings were confiscated by the State. The Church needed to go underground. Many ordinary Catholic priests, at the risk of their lives, donned various disguises to try to bring the sacraments to those who were dying, to celebrate Mass and confessions in people’s homes, to teach the catechism to young children, to care for the many orphans the government was making by the summary executions of parents, to attend to the needs of the poor and destitute. One thirty-six year-old priest named Fr. Miguel Pro used his younger brother’s bicycle to criss-cross the city, doing all of these things and more. He was eventually identified as a priest and a warrant was issued for his arrest. For almost a year he evaded the authorities so that he could continue his priestly ministrations, but he knew that eventually he would be caught. He was. And 77 years ago this week, November 23, 1927, he was arrested and sentenced to death by the Mexican dictator, Plutarco Calles, without a trial. Calles wanted to use him as an example and sent out his henchmen to assemble a crowd and photograph the event. They crowd assembled and Fr. Miguel Pro was brought before the firing squad. He was asked if he had any dying wishes. He requested two minutes to pray. After he was done, he stood up and said: “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.” As the firing squad raised their rifles and took aim, in a firm, clear voice, he said his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — “Long live Christ the King!”
4) “Viva Cristo Rey!” Those words began to echo throughout Mexico and throughout the globe. The photographs of the execution, taken at Calles’ instigation to terrify Christians, emboldened them, and the photographs spread so fast as a witness to Pro’s faith and Calles’ brutality that the dictator soon banned their publication and use. But it was too late. The following day about ten thousand Mexicans, at the risk of their lives, accompanied Fr. Pro’s body to Dolores Cemetery. The cortège diverted itself by the Dictator’s home so that they could be sure he saw it, and as they processed, the Mexicans echoed the message Pro preached so effectively in life and in death: “Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Cristo Rey!” These ordinary Christians, and the valiant priest they had come to honor, all gave witness to a truth that no amount of firing squads could kill: the truth that there is a God, that that God sent his Son into the World, and that he, their Creator and Redeemer, is Lord and King of all.
5) Calles and the Mexican authorities tried to console themselves with the thought that that cry was absurd. To their own mind, the very fact that they were able with impunity to do whatever they wanted to Christ’s followers was proof that Christ was no king, even if he existed at all. For them, Christ was just a powerless phantasm and they were proving it. But little did they know. The very same erroneous ideas were present when that King culminated his mission — which we have in today’s Gospel.
6) The last thing that Jesus looked like as he hung about 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 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 power and kingship that they could comprehend. But Jesus’ regality was not lost on everyone. The criminal on Jesus’ right — at arguably the worst moment of his up-to-then bad life, during his excruciatingly painful public execution — had the ability to see how special the one being crucified beside him was. The Good Thief could understand in his own body the incredible, biting pain Jesus would have been experiencing a few feet away, and yet he could see that that pain had not gained the upper hand. He was able to glimpse that for Jesus, to reign is to serve, to reign is to love, and that Love was triumphing beside him. The good thief knew that Jesus, mysteriously through suffering and death, was about to enter into his kingdom. He turned to him and humbly begged, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” And the King turned in response and promised that he would do more than remember him: He would take him with Himself into the kingdom of paradise.
7) Christ’s kingdom cannot be crucified, it cannot be killed, because it is precisely in undergoing suffering and death out of love for others, out of witness to the truth, that one fully enters into it. This is what Jesus taught us from the Cross. This is what his faithful priest, Miguel Pro, taught us almost 1900 years later. This is the truth that Christ wants us to take to the world.
8 ) Today the Church throughout the world proclaims the reality that Christ is King of the Universe, that there is a higher authority than the Roman Empire, the Mexican government, the EU, the UN and the USA. There is still such a need for this proclamation, because, like at the time of the institution of this solemnity, so many civil governments look at Christ and his message as a threat rather than their salvation. We observe this quite readily in many of the “less civilized countries” — like the Sudan, much of the Muslim world, Hindu-dominated provinces in India, in Korea, Vietnam, and China — where ordinary men and women are routinely being repressed, imprisoned and killed for the practice of the Christian faith. But we also see it in governments of the so-called “civilized” world, in the West, where the faith is viewed as a threat and therefore is being repressed. The Holy Father has been speaking out recently against a militant secularism that has been trying to teach that there is no room for God in public life and has been striving, through governmental structures, to ban any public expression of the Christian faith. There are many examples where this is happening. We see it in Sweden, where a Protestant minister was jailed for a month for preaching a homily against homosexuality, based on a line from Sacred Scripture. A priest in Canada similarly awaits trial for the “hate crime” of preaching about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Think about what this means: the Gospel is now viewed as a thing of “hate” and a “crime.” In France, kids are now banned from wearing to school any article, like a Cross or a pin, that is distinctively Christian. In the newly-adopted Constitution of the European Union, various secularist governments fought successfully to exclude every reference that Christianity had any influence at all in the history of Europe. In our own country, the ACLU and similar groups are at it again, trying to make sure that there is no reference to Christ in Christmas, no reference to Christmas on public property or in schools, no reference to God at graduations or even on our currency. There are many other examples that could be mentioned, but the point is that this militant secularism, and the practical atheism that undergirds it, are on the rise and its proponents are trying to force their false version of reality and morality on the rest of us.
9) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith in the Vatican, the Pope’s “right hand man” and simply one of the most insightful human beings alive, talked about this militant secularist ideology the other day in an interview with an Italian newspaper: “God has been put on the sidelines. In political life, it seems almost indecent to speak of God, as if it were an attack on the freedom of those who do not believe. The world of politics follows its norms and paths, excluding God as something that does not belong to this world. The same [thing is happening] in the world of business, the economy and private life. God remains marginalized. To me, its seems necessary to rediscover, and the energy to do so exists, that even the political and economic spheres need moral responsibility, a responsibility that is born in man’s heart and, in the end, has to do with the presence or absence of God [in man’s heart and in society]. A society in which God is completely absent self-destructs. We saw this in the great totalitarian regimes of the last century.”
10) Cardinal Ratzinger is very boldly saying that if these militant secularists are successful in their attempt to evict God and faith in him from public, political and economic life, society will be destroyed. If God becomes absent in man’s heart, and from social consciousness, then the state becomes the ultimate and often only source of authority. That’s exactly the context in which those with totalitarian impulses can wreak their havoc. Therefore, the first purpose of this feast of Christ the King is to recognize the fact of Christ’s kingship in the universe, the spiritual reality of that kingship, and the necessity of that kingship for the survival of civil society. From a macroscopic point of view, we proclaim humbly and joyfully what others — especially those who deny it — will find out one day to their shock and awe: that Christ truly is king and that, therefore, they’re not.
11) But there’s another, perhaps even more important, microscopic purpose to this feast: to examine our lives and ask whether Christ, whom we proclaim as king of the universe, actually reigns in our lives. Cardinal Ratzinger points to this as the fundamental starting point when he raises the question about whether Christ is present or absent in man’s heart. Far more fundamental than the question whether Christ is recognized by the state is whether Christ’s lordship is recognized and lived by me. Is Christ truly king of my life? Is he the Lord of my time? The Lord of my wallet? The Lord of my family? The true source and summit of my hopes and aspirations?
12) Most Christians obviously recognize Christ’s authority in general, but I think very often we can relate to it in the same way we relate to the authority of President Bush or Governor Romney: we admit that they have that authority, but also recognize that that authority has little practical relevance to the way we live our daily lives. We make the vast majority of our choices without reference at all to who the governor or the president is. Very often we can treat Christ’s authority in the same, distant way. We can make the vast majority of our choices without reference to Him in the least. We acknowledge him, we respect him, we’ll try not to break any of his laws and we’ll pay our spiritual “taxes” each week, but practically speaking, our choices feature our own sovereignty rather than his.
13) St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans that there are really only two ways to live: “for oneself” or “for the Lord.” True Christians are called to live for the Lord. “We do not live for ourselves, and we do not die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:7-9). [Bishop Coleman takes his motto, “Domini sumus” from this reality that “we are the Lord’s]. To live for oneself is to make oneself the principle and end of one’s life. To live for the Lord is to make him the center and root, the source and summit, of everything we are and do.
14) There’s a need for a Copernican revolution in the spiritual life of many Christians. Many of you remember Copernicus, the 15th century Polish priest who turned the whole universe upside down by demonstrating that the earth was not the center of the universe, but rather the sun. The whole world needed to shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric view of the cosmos, and it wasn’t an easy transition. Likewise, many Christians live with an egocentric view of reality, living for themselves. Everything is focused on ME — on my feelings, on my desires, on my opinions, on my achievements, on my pain, on my pleasure, on my particular, always-exceptional circumstances. We can start to think we do God a favor by gracing Him with our presence. We can start to pay ourselves homage for helping out a beggar or poor family in need. This feast of Christ the King is an opportunity for us to shift from an egocentric to a Christocentric view of our lives and all reality, so that in everything we do, we do it for the Lord, with the Lord, in the Lord.
15) There are two concrete means which Christ gives us to bring about this revolution in our hearts. The first he gave us in the Our Father, when his first disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. The Jews always used to pray in couplets, in which they would reiterate and enhance the same truth in successive lines. We see this, for example, in today’s responsorial psalm. “I rejoiced when because they said to me, ‘We will go up to the house of the Lord.’ And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.” The “house of the Lord” is “Jerusalem.” Or we can see in the first psalm, “Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, who meditate on his law day and night.” Those who delight in the Lord’s law … meditate on it day and night. The Lord uses the same couplet structure in the prayer we name after him. “Thy kingdom come… thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christ’s kingdom comes — the kingdom we celebrate today — wherever his will is done. The saints are fully in his kingdom for they still do his will in heaven as they strived to do on earth. We enter into Christ’s kingdom to the extent that we do his will here on earth. To do his will, though, means more than not breaking the ten commandments. It means to SEEK his will in our daily choices — and the way we do that is in prayer, which brings us to the second means I’d propose to help bring about this Copernican revolution in our spiritual lives.
16) We began last month the Year of the Eucharist and Pope John Paul said that his two main goals for this year of grace are to enhance our participation in the continuing miracle of the Mass and for to grow in our amazement for the reality of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist to the point of translating it into Eucharistic adoration. It’s the latter point which I’ll focus on today. If we truly believed that Christ is really present in our tabernacles — body, blood, soul and divinity — and if he is truly King of our lives, then it follows that we would make every effort to come to spend time with Him, as he “holds court” exclusively for us here in this beautiful temple and in others like it throughout the Cape. He gives us 168 hours a week; surely, if he is king of our lives, we could spend at least a few of them with him. To do so for many Christians would require some sacrifices, but those sacrifices would be worth it! And if there’s something that we wouldn’t sacrifice in order to come to spend time with our Divine Majesty, then we would know that Christ is truly not King of our lives and that one unsacrificeable element is. Moreover, this time of Eucharistic adoration would allow us to discuss with the Lord the concrete choices we face, so that we might come to know his will for us, embrace it, love it, and do it. Then we would enter more fully into his Kingdom and experience that Kingdom’s “peace and joy” for which our hearts were made.
17) We finish with the words of one of the greatest Eucharistic hymns ever composed, the Adoro Te Devote, written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the first celebration of Corpus Christi in 1264. These words synthesize everything we have talked about today and celebrate: Christ the King, the Good Thief, and the Eucharist. We make St. Thomas’ prayer our own.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas — “On the Cross, only your Divinity was hidden.” Christ did not look as a king as he hung upon the Cross, but his divinity and kingship were present all the same.
At hic latet simul humanitas — “But here your humanity is also hidden.” In the Eucharist, we see neither Christ’s divinity nor his humanity. We see only the appearances of bread and wine. But Christ the King hides behind them.
Ambo tamen credens atque confitens — “Nevertheless, I walk believing and professing.” We walk by faith believing in the presence of Christ the King and proclaiming it to others.
Peto quod petivit latro poenitens — “I ask for what the penitent thief asked for.” That’s the petition we make whenever we enter into His Divine Majesty’s presence: “Lord, remember ME when you come into your kingdom!” Through Eucharist adoration, Christ is able truly to say to each of us in the present what he hopes to say to us forever: “Today you ARE with me in paradise!”
¡Viva, Cristo Rey!