First of all, what is the liturgical significance of this feast? In other words, what does it mean for our worship? Essentially, the feast of Christ the king is final Sunday feast of the Catholic liturgical year in ordinary time. You are not going to see Fr. Frank and I wear ordinary green for quite awhile. Now, we turn our minds and hearts to Advent, the preparation for Christ’s birth, and then not long afterwards we turn toward the penitential preparation of Lent and the celebration of Christ’s Ressurection. Why is this important? Well, let me ask you a question — how would you feel if it were one single season of the year all the time? You might imagine that you might enjoy a nice season like early Fall constantly (that’s my favorite), but I guarantee you that you would eventually get tired of it. As changing beings in motions, we thrive on change and motion. And the Church knows this, so she changes her times and seasons to match our changing hearts. But it is also fitting that we try to concentrate on different aspects of our Lord and Savior’s life and teaching, and so that is what we do. The Feast of Christ the King is a great example of this. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the innermost meaning of the entire Old Testament is summed up in the expression of the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Matthew alone, the notion of the Kingdom of Heaven or of God is mentioned 47 times – It is a major key of understanding the whole of Jesus’s message.
For those of you who like a little history and background, the Feast of Christ the King was officially instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It is a direct Catholic response to the rise of secularism and nationalism. You have to remember that the devastation of World War I is in everyone’s mind at the time that this feast was instituted. Mussolini had just seized power in Italy. By 1920, European countries had lost control of almost 90% of the earth’s surface. Stalin had seized control of the Soviet Union from Lenin, and many of these leaders were executing Christians (and everyone else) and essentially declaring their independence from God. To state it simply, Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the Church and the world, with the institution of the Feast of Christ the King, exactly who was the true leader of nations.
What I would like to do is to essentially allow Pope Pius XI to speak for himself first. What did he think this feast was about. Since he instituted it, I think he knows the meaning of it far better than I do. I will present this to you and then make some comments on what this might mean for our spiritual lives.
This is what Pope Pius XI wrote in the original encyclical Quas Primas in 1924, the letter which officially instituted the Feast of Christ the King. It appropriately and precisely matches the readings we heard today:
“This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things…and Christ by his own action confirms it. On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honor and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world. The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.” (Quas Primas, #15)
The Church wants to make it clear that Jesus is not a political figure. Again, his kingdom is not of this world. Those are his own words. Though things like elections are important, we make a grave mistake to make politics our God. Trust me, I know. I have a master’s degree in politics. For years, I paid more attention to politics than my Faith and my soul suffered for it, and so did the church.
Y’all, what if it were true that what happened in politics didn’t really matter near as much as us going to mass, confession, praying, reading Scripture, doing acts of penance, fasting, aiding our brothers and sisters and attempting to live in peace and harmony with others? WHAT A RADICAL IDEA. What if those activities actually released angelic power and moved hearts and minds in ways that would awe us and drive us to our knees in tears if we could actually see it happening? What if it were true that a Catholic with a pure heart and a rosary in her hand had more real power in this universe than most senators? What Pius XI is trying to say is that this is precisely the case.
This does not mean that Jesus Christ does not exercise power over the nations, and I am not telling you that politics is unimportant. Do not misunderstand me and do not misunderstand Pope Pius. Pius says “it would be a grave error to say that Christ has no authority in civil affairs.” But the way he exercises that authority is through his church, through the establishment of a kingdom of love in the hearts of those who accept him. He does not earthly nations like a president or prime minister. It may be a simplistic image, but imagine the difference between the principal of a high school and a young man filled with the Holy Spirit. The principal makes direct decisions over the school, but the young man goes around forming clubs, prayer groups, influencing opinion, changing hearts, teaching the lost. Jesus goes through our world much more like that young man than as a principal. But at the end of time, in heaven, he becomes the principal and EVERYBODY gets called to the office! Pope Pius reminds us that Jesus exercises legislative, executive and judicial power over the universe. Legislative, because he has given us laws to obey; executive, because he still directs his Providential care over the earth; and judicial, because he will finally judge every man, woman and angel, whether they were kings of the earth or simple children. The final word is his. The buck stops with him. That makes him King.
I feel compelled to read to y’all an excerpt from The Boy Who Met Jesus. It is about an African boy who had a number of conversations directly with Jesus Christ, particularly about the end of the world. The book is written by Imaculee’, the woman who survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide and who recently spoke at Pope John Paul. She believes in these messages to this boy with all her heart, and they are approved by the Catholic Church.
“If I walk among men, I will not do so with great fanfare or boasting. I will quietly heal the sick, return sight to the blind, and open the ears of the deaf. I will feed nations without seeking praise; I will pass through the world unnoticed and pay heed to those who are faithful to me. Pray to me and confide in me, and I will find you wherever you are — if you are on a mountaintop, I will seek you out; if you are under a bridge, I will find you. Call to me for strength and courage when the dark days come, and I will give you strength. There will be many false miracles, but don’t believe them, as they will not come from God at the End of Days. Any miracles that originate with me will be miracles of the heart.” (The Boy Who Met Jesus, 142)
What a beautiful word! What a summons back to what is truly real. This is not about what happens on CNN or Fox, people. It’s about what happens in the heart. It’s about what happens in prayer, and in your struggle to see Jesus Christ the King in your own heart and in the hearts of those sitting next to you.
Pope Pius well recognizes that political leaders should recognize the authority of Jesus Christ, and if they do so, then their citizens will enjoy lasting peace and tranquility because they will be in harmony with the laws of the King of the Universe. But that being said, we must recognize that the true kingdom is that of the heart and the spirit and not of politics and economics. But as Catholic Christians, we should be mindful of how we are working towards this noble goal. We should pick up our weapons of prayer, fasting, sacraments and kindness BEFORE those of political protest, letter-writing, news-watching and voting.
I have a question for you: Are you a Catholic American or an American Catholic? It’s always the noun that’s more important, because that is what you are. Adjectives merely describe, but nouns define our very being. As for me, I am an American Catholic.
One final thing: this is perhaps a hard thing to take. Establishing God’s kingdom in our hearts means that they will often be broken and they will often hurt. But what are we told in Scripture? “The Lord is close to the broken hearted. Those whose spirits are crushed, he will save (Psalm 34:18). And we are also told that those who have suffered with him will also reigned with him (2 Tim. 2:12). My friends, those who lived like him will live WITH him forever. This is something that we should never, ever forget. Better a broken heart than a hard one. And if you feel like you have no heart left, than ask Jesus to give you his, for this is precisely what can happen when you take Holy Eucharist. For it is in such an exchange that his kingdom will be established on this earth, one heart at a time.