The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: 11-20-16
Peace be with You,
Over the last couple of weekends we have been discussing how it is that the salvation that has been won for us by Christ, and to be experienced in its fullness at the end of time, is also to be lived and experienced beginning here and now. We have seen that it is in living a life of loving obedience to God, in unity with and by the graced-aid of our Savior Jesus Christ that this sort of life is able to be lived. As difficult as this idea may be to grasp mentally, it is more difficult to carry out in practice for many reasons ranging from societal influence all the way down to our fallen tendency to place ourselves at the center of our lives and make our interests the supreme good which we devote our efforts towards. It is for this reason that, having been alerted to the fact that by our very nature we are creatures of selfless love, the Church reminds us from who it is that we receive both our beginning and to whom it is that we strive as our end.
Sadly, as a society we currently face the difficulties of division both domestically and internationally. While this is nothing new to the history of human civilization, the rapidity and ease with which we condemn one another through social media is, and this is something to be lamented. A tool which could serve as a means to bring us together in constructive dialogue is used as a means for destruction. Today, it is a feat if we can make it through a few hours of our day without being witness or party to a public discourse which has as its aim nothing except tearing down our neighbor. Why? What do we gain by this? What victory is there in discord? Why do we find it so difficult to listen to one another? The reason that we pursue this path leading to nowhere is that we have absolutely no idea why we are here (we don’t even ask ourselves the question anymore), much less where it is that we are going. Instead of taking the time to realize that by our nature we have one common goal, we look to the self to see what is most agreeable at any given moment. This brokenness is precisely why the feast we celebrate today can serve a beautifully curative purpose by awakening us to the reality that despite what the current public conversation occupies itself with, by our very nature, we are meant for something radically different.
Today, the Church celebrates The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, a celebration instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. By looking at the document which instituted the celebration, it is interesting to note that the reasons given for such a celebration are just as applicable today as they were 91 years ago. It is quite obvious in reading the document that the Church was looking around and seeing many of the same things we see today including leaders of nations that seemed to have their own interests in mind instead of serving their people well. Seeing this, the pope wished to remind people of a couple of things. First, despite what leaders may think of themselves, they in fact do not have absolute authority over the lives of the people they lead or even their own lives to be dispensed with as they wished. Instead, the pope wished to remind them that there was not “any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ” (Quas Primas, 18). Additionally, he reminded leaders that a nation is happy when its people live in concord with one another, and asserted that only Jesus Christ is the “author of happiness and true prosperity for every man and for every nation,” and therefore if “the rulers of nations wish to preserve their authority, to promote and increase the prosperity of their countries, they will not neglect the public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ” (ibid). What the pope recognized here, and what has not yet been realized by society at large is that, it is only by recognizing the created order of things and by learning to see the beauty in it that we can find peace as a society. This process of recognition begins with humility; a humility that recognizes Christ as King of the Universe. Why? Because he made it, and made it with a certain order of beauty that can only be realized when all creation seeks him together.
Now, I realize that as members of a post-modern society we almost instinctively cringe at the idea that there is a higher power in our lives than ourselves. What is humorous is that we seem to think that it was by thousands of years of experience and inquiry that we have come to this conclusion, but a casual perusal of Genesis 2 will tell you that the human family has mistakenly sought after this since we first walked the earth. It was mistaken then, and it is mistaken now, and the reason we make this mistake is that we fail to recognize what sort of king it is whose authority we live under. So the question is, just what sort of a king is Jesus Christ? In Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI writes that ‘Jesus Christ is the King of Hearts’ (p. 7), and as our gospel for today points out for us, he reigns from the throne of the cross. He makes the cross his throne for one reason and one reason alone, and that is that it is precisely the cross that in a way unlike any other has the ability to demonstrate the depth and breadth of his perfect love.
In addition to the Solemnity which we celebrate today, we also celebrate the end of the Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, and the opening line of the document proclaiming this Jubilee adds to our understanding of the type of King Jesus Christ is. Pope Francis begins Misericordiae Vultus by writing that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” and quickly adds that by his words, his actions, and his entire person, Jesus Christ reveals the mercy of God (p. 1). What is the mercy of God? Most simply, the mercy of God is the Love that is God looking upon the sinner. Yes, Jesus Christ reveals something of the nature of God that is so mind blowing and extraordinary that we could never even have imagined or hoped for had it not been revealed to us by the Son of God Incarnate. That is, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “the love of man is a proper mark of the divine nature…” (Address on Religious Instruction, p. 15); in other words, God, by his very nature, is philanthropic, a lover of the human family. And he so desired to demonstrate his love for the human family that he was willing to do anything, even go so far as to experiencing a tragic and gruesome death so that by looking upon him we may be motivated to love him back. For as St. Augustine writes, “there is nothing that invites another’s love more than to take the initiative in loving…” (De catechizandis rudibus, 4,7). This is precisely what we see experienced by the thief crucified next to Jesus in our gospel reading for today. Having been graced with a front row seat to the mystery of salvation, the thief recognizes three key things. The first we cannot see and it is what has just been explained; i.e. in looking upon Jesus Christ, the thief is awakened to the love that is God. Secondly, the thief wishes to respond in kind but because he now sees what real love is he realizes how far short he has fallen in living a life of love and feels as though he is unable to love him in return. It is out of this recognition of his having failed to love that he says to the one crucified with them: “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal” (Luke 23:40-41). Lastly, this man knows that he must love, but that he cannot do so without being loved first, and so he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). In this man we see the powerful impact that God desires to have in all hearts by having himself raised as the sign of God’s love before the entire world.
My friends, it is this wondrously beautiful act of love which we celebrate today! For we have a King who desires not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28 & Mark 10:45); a King who gave his life out of love for us (John 15:13); a love which desires life to the fullest for those who are loved (John 10:10); and a King who as Creator knows that true freedom can only be had by living a life of love in return (Galatians 5:13-14). And so today, the Church holds up before the entire world the face of God’s Mercy, Jesus Christ, and proclaims him King of the universe, not in order that we may tremble before him in fear, but that by looking upon the Face of the King of Hearts our hearts might be motivated to love him in return, and by loving him love one another. By doing so, we ‘minister to the needs of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society’ (Quas Primas, 24). For every time we choose to respond to Love in love, we move one step closer to realizing the kingdom which Jesus Christ came to proclaim (Mark 1:15).
Your servant in Christ,