Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.
It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year and the last Sunday of ordinary time. The Scripture readings are eschatological, and the gospel reading in particular, from John 18, brings out Christ's insistence that each of us make a choice either for or against Him.
It also reminds us that Christ is the king of everything. This is why the Church, Christ's Body on earth, speaks out on politics, on science, on economics, on ethics... why it perseveres in speaking in the public sphere and asks its members to do the same, even when it seems the world is not listening.
Though the world may not want to acknowledge the Church's say in these things, the truth is that the message is one of liberation. We watched The Avengers on Thanksgiving (for about the third time) and you might remember where Loki brings the glad tidings of freedom from freedom. An elderly man replies to Loki that "there will always be men like you" and truly, there are always many, many people who will try to insist that we hand over our freedom to something lesser. Christ is our King, but we are like His loyal retainers - He has come to call us friends, not slaves. Though God is our Creator, or perhaps because He is, the way we acknowledge Him as king does not lower us as does slavery to things, men, demi-gods, or ourselves. He draws us up to Him.
We had a great Thanksgiving! I hope you all did too, or at least, our American readers! I love the way it works out that we spend November praying for the dearly departed and remembering our blessings (not to mention exercising our vote as US citizens), then comes Thanksgiving and then that final reminder that Christ really is the King of everything that is, even if temporal rulers like Pilate can't or won't see it.
Chesterton sets the scene:
The life of the great civilization went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end. A convenient compromise had been made between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that each group should worship freely and merely give a sort of official flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense to him under his official title of Divus. Naturally there was no difficulty about that; or rather it was a long time before the world realized that there ever bad been even a trivial difficulty anywhere.
But we are reminded by today's readings that even at the end, everywhere and always, Christ is victorious, even when it doesn't look like it to earthly eyes:
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, " says the Lord God, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."
The page at Catholic Culture tells a bit about how the solemnity was established:
The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as an antidote to secularism, a way of life which leaves God out of man's thinking and living and organizes his life as if God did not exist. The feast is intended to proclaim in a striking and effective manner Christ's royalty over individuals, families, society, governments, and nations.More from here:
The solemnity of Christ the King was instituted only recently. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the atheist and totalitarian political regimes that denied the rights of God and the Church. The climate in which the feast was born was, for example, that of the Mexican revolution, when many Christians went to their deaths crying out to their last breath, “Long live Christ the King!”
But if the feast is recent, its content and its central idea are not; they are quite ancient and we can say that they were born with Christianity. The phrase “Christ reigns” has its equivalent in the profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord,” which occupies a central place in the preaching of the apostles.
You can find out more in Pius XI's own words here:
It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of "King," because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign "in the hearts of men," both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors. He is King of hearts, too, by reason of his "charity which exceedeth all knowledge." And his mercy and kindness which draw all men to him, for never has it been known, nor will it ever be, that man be loved so much and so universally as Jesus Christ.When we look around us, or at least, speaking for myself in the aftermath of elections and in the wake of economic and social doldrums, it's hard to "see" Our Lord's kingship. Secularity seems, if anything, stronger and more tyrannical than it was at the beginning of the last century when the solemnity was inaugurated.
Such was the state of things in the days of Caesar Augustus, too, and you see in Jesus's conversation with Pilate all the despair and cynicism of the secular man confronted with Jesus's claim to kingship. How ironic it must have seemed to Pilate, seeing a man from a conquered race standing in chains talking about rulership! I have often puzzled over their conversation -- why does Jesus play what seems to be semantic games with Pilate? For instance, why, when Pilate presses: "Are you not a king?" does Jesus answer "You say that I am a king" as if Pilate had conceded the point.
From Pope Benedict XVI's homily
The Roman procurator conducts his enquiry and asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn 18:33). In reply to this question, Jesus clarifies the nature of his kingship and his messiahship itself, which is no worldly power but a love which serves. He states that his kingdom is in no way to be confused with a political reign: “My kingship is not of this world … is not from the world” (v. 36).
When I look over their dialogue, though, I realize that Jesus is doing more than laying out the specifics of His kingship (ie that it is over the world, but not of the world, and not directly in competition with the temporal rule of the world). He is talking TO Pilate, as well as to history. He is asking specifically for a response, for Pilate's response. And ultimately, as our pastor pointed out in his homily yesterday, He asks for this response for each of us -- is He our King, or not? Our pastor mentioned that doing it "my way" is really only another deception of the devil. There is no "my way" "Choose this day whom you will serve."
More about the movie For Greater Glory: the True Story of Cristiada here and here.Earlier this year a movie about the struggle for religious freedom of the Catholics of Mexico was released called "For Greater Glory." The rallying cry of the persecuted Mexican believers was “Viva Cristo Rey!”, “Long Live Christ the King!” For many of them, these were the last words out of their mouths before their violent deaths.
The example of these martyrs remind us that, finally, every human being will face Christ the King, the one who will pass final judgment on all that has been done in this life. Such is also the them for this Sunday’s readings. -- The Sacred Page
You can find out more about the Cristero martyrs here.
One notable martyr of persecution from the Mexican government (and a Jesuit!) is Bl Miguel Pro, whose feast day is November 23. You can find lots of links about him at this page.
There is an indulgenced prayer: Act of Dedication of the Human Race to Jesus