24 Oct 2013
Today concludes the liturgical year that began with the season of Advent a year ago. After Advent we celebrated Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Then at Easter we celebrated his resurrection. At Pentecost in May we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. And in the months since May we’ve reflected on the mystery of Jesus’ mission and life on earth and its relevance to us in our lives today. Now we are ready to start the cycle all over again, but as we conclude this year, we take a moment to consider what it all means.
On first reflection, the gospel reading on this joyful feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King may seem inappropriate.
The verses from Luke’s Gospel present Jesus, battered and bleeding, helplessly dying on the cross pinned between two criminals; the spectators jeering and mocking him; hardly a plausible picture of a king of the universe.
Our notion of kingship is a product of history, fiction and the media who feed us with continuous trivia about the comings and goings of the members of the ‘royal’ families of the world. The kings, queens, princes, grand dukes and sultans of the world are usually associated with wealth, luxury, privilege and social status;
and in some cases political power.
None of these words would suitably describe Jesus’ life or death. So Christ the King is not a king in our usual understanding of the word.
It’s nearly impossible to find an adequate word. It’s like trying to describe the vastness and complexity of creation or the endlessness of eternity; our minds cannot grasp fully the infinite power, love, mercy and grace of Christ the King.
I have recently finished walking, with Greg Solik a fellow parishioner, part of the Camino de Santiago starting from Porto in Portugal. By Camino standards it wasn’t a particularly long journey but it was nevertheless 250 kms walked over a period of 12 days.
Our journey as Camino pilgrims was uncomplicated.
After morning prayers and a simple breakfast, we set out on the road to walk perhaps 5, 6 ,7 or 8 hours through the countryside, vineyards, forests, villages and hamlets of Portugal and Spain with a light backpack, walking stick and the Holy Spirit for company.
Sometimes we walked together sharing thoughts, ideas and our faith but often found ourselves just simply talking happy nonsense and laughing like children in a playground.
Much of the time we walked separately in reflective silence; reflecting on the past, the present and dreams of the future; perhaps remembering happy childhood moments, the people we love, thinking about the journey of life ahead.
And as the days progressed and we left the noisy clutter of our busy lives behind, we began to appreciate the presence of God in every moment and in everything; in the people, the autumn leaves, the strong flowing streams & waterfalls, the rain, the ancient Roman roads and bridges and the simple pilgrim meals prepared for us each day.
After the day’s walk, a shower and a strong cup of coffee, we’d spend a few hours writing in our journals, in prayer and quiet meditation; then a late supper (the Portuguese and Spanish only start thinking about supper at 8.30!) and finally a good night’s sleep.
On this journey I came to understood better and feel in my heart rather than my head, the reality of Christ the King; greater than anything we can imagine; king of all created things; a king who loves us even more than we dare to hope.
He was crucified between two thugs (that’s the word Luke uses). He died for them as he died for me and for each one of us. This is not a new thought or new words but when they sink into one’s heart, that’s an awesome realisation! He wants me and each of us with him in Paradise not because we deserve salvation –
but because he loves us so much more than we can imagine.
He loves us in our poor attempts to be good people and he wants us to love him and our neighbour in the same way. We can only do that when we enthrone him in our hearts as Christ the King.
The feast of Christ the King was institute by Pope Pius XI in 1925 during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning as the world witnessed the rise of non-Christian dictatorships in Europe. In his encyclical he said that he hoped for three things in and through the celebration of Christ the King.
1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies
Pope Pius wrote:
“In my first Encyclical Letter ……I referred to the chief causes of the difficulties under which mankind were labouring. And I remember saying that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of (people) had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and I said further, that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
” With God and Jesus Christ excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man,
the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.
“When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.
“While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.”
That was written nearly 90 years ago and I dare say that the situation has deteriorated considerably since then. Today the use of the Lord’s name is suppressed in public gatherings and official circles of authority but used freely without reverence or shame as a swear word.
This weekend, the feast of Christ the King will be celebrated by billions of Christians around the world; Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and many Protestants. Christians will celebrate for an hour in churches throughout the world but the significance of the feast will soon be forgotten by most before they have even reached home. There are few who will affirm the rights of Christ the King in public. We have largely excluded Christ the King from our public lives.
Our celebration will receive very little media coverage or comment. There’s little place or space for Christ the King in the media.
A final thought on the Gospel reading:
At this Mass we are at the foot of the cross.
Are we challenging Jesus to save us as did the one criminal on the cross next to him,
or do we see him as did the other criminal, as Christ the King and in humility ask him to remember us in his kingdom?