Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Quite a change in the weather, isn’t it? When I left Mass yesterday evening, folks were walking about in their shirtsleeves—some even in shorts—it was so warm. This morning, the only things we’re warming up are our snow shovels…
There’s another notable change I’d like to address this morning.
As you know, two weeks ago I left for my annual retreat. You don’t need me to remind you that, at the time, we were on the tail end of rather contentious presidential election campaign—one which, please God, we’ll never see the likes of again. I had the radio on most of my drive down to the Catskills, and there was great excitement in the way people were talking about the candidates and making predictions about the election.
As I drove through the gate of the monastery that Sunday evening, I shut off the radio—and that was my last contact with the outside world for the entire week. I certainly was mindful of what was going on—I had cast my absentee ballot before leaving and was praying (as were the sisters) for the country and the election—but had no idea who had won the vote or how until Sunday morning, when I saw the front page of a newspaper on my way to Mass.
As I drove back through the monastery gate and turned the car radio back on, the tone of things was very different. The voices coming out of NPR sounded more like they were reporting on a funeral than an election. They interviewed folks who rejoiced at the outcome, but also described cities on the verge of riots. Many people sounded rather afraid.
After about a half hour of this, I stopped to have breakfast with a cousin of mine who lives nearby. Walking into the diner I said, “You know, Kevin, it almost feels like I’ve returned to a different country coming off of this retreat.”
I know I’m not the only one to have had that sort of feeling. But with another week to reflect, especially in light of today’s feast of Jesus Christ our King, I’ve come to think that feeling was a bit exaggerated.
You see, here in America, we elect a president for this country alone, who will hold office for just four years—eight at the most. But today, we celebrate a King who rules over every people and nation, things visible and invisible, the living and the dead, and whose kingdom will have no end.
When we elect a president, we vote for a man or woman who is (whether or not we like to admit it) imperfect, using a system that’s also imperfect. But Christ our King is nothing but good and true—perfectly innocent because he’s not only sent by God, but is God himself in our human flesh.
There’s a certain allegiance I ought to pledge to my country and her president. But my respect is a merely human one, and my obedience to her laws is limited to those that are just when compared to the law of God written on my conscience. But to this King and his kingdom, I pledge my whole heart and soul, mind and body. His laws call for my complete obedience, because he not only made the laws, he made me and the whole cosmos that they govern. This King is worthy of more than my respect; he’s deserving of all my love.
Finally—and most critically—the kings and presidents of this world without fail send their people out to die for them. King Jesus does just the opposite: he willingly dies for his people.
The feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was near the end of a Holy Year—just as today marks the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. These were the unsettled years between the World Wars. The pope looked around and saw society becoming increasing secular and nationalistic. (Sound familiar?) As earthly kingdoms fell, people were increasingly fearful and doubtful—doubtful about the authority or even the existence of Jesus Christ, doubtful about the authority and relevance of his Church. Pope Pius instituted today’s feast not to make people feel better, not to provide consoling thoughts in a difficult time, but to stress a truth that’s just as needed today as it was 90 years ago: that unless individuals and nations submit themselves wholeheartedly to Christ and kingdom, there will not and cannot be true or lasting peace.
Did America change on November 8th? I’m not so sure. I think it’s too early to tell—especially too early to know if it was a change for good or ill. Let me tell you, though, about a day when the whole world and all of history changed. It was a Friday afternoon in spring, around the year 33 A.D. It was on a hilltop outside the city walls of Jerusalem. On the authority of Caesar and Pontius Pilate and King Herod, three men were condemned to die. But one of them, owning up to his crimes, submitted himself to one of the others: the one hanging beneath the paradoxical charge that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” And in so doing, this “good thief’s” sentence of death, rendered in full justice, was transformed into a promise of everlasting life, made in complete mercy. And that promise holds true not only for one man, but for you and for me and people always and everywhere.
As a loyal son of my country I can still reasonably say, “Hail to the chief!” But as a citizen of heaven, my heartfelt cry, now and for eternity, remains: “All hail, Christ our King!”