Life on the Chrism Trail

Solemnity of Christ the King

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
November 22, 2020

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1st. Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

The Netherlands is frequently associated with the reclamation of land from the sea, as its engineers are famous for developing techniques like polders to drain wetlands and make them usable for agriculture and other development. The Dutch have a saying: “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.” Yet, every so often this land is invaded by floods and requires it to be drained again and reclaimed. I think that it is inaccurate to consider the ocean to be an invader; rather, the ocean is simply returning to what is rightfully its own. God created the Netherlands too.

When we hear Saint Paul address the Corinthians in our first reading of today, that Christ will destroy “every sovereignty and every authority and power,” we can wrongly think of Christ as an aggressor or an invader. Christ, however, is reclaiming what rightfully belongs to God. Sin and death and the authority claimed by them and their agents are the invaders, and they have no place in the sovereignty of God.

The Solemnity of Christ the King ends our liturgical year and reminds us of the end or the goal of our lives. The goal is that Christ truly be our King, the one for whom we live, not just at the end of life but now. Matthew today, drawing on the first reading of Ezekiel, calls Jesus shepherd and not king. This informs us what kind of king Jesus is — a king who like a shepherd knows each of his sheep by name and cares so deeply for them that he will search out everyone who is lost. But Matthew in the Gospel also talks about what it costs each of us to be a part of the flock of the Good Shepherd and what it costs us if we are not part of His flock.

The King will separate good sheep from bad goats on the basis of each one’s obedience and love for one another. For us to arrive at the Kingdom presupposes that we are obedient and merciful — that we have practiced the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Kingdom is present even now by Christ’s presence and in the way we practice the works of mercy.

The corporal works of mercy are mentioned four times in the Gospel today: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned. The repetition indicates how important these are, and in performing them we do what God does for us through the actions of Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus especially directs our actions to those whom the world entices us to ignore as of least importance. The least are the most insignificant and the most forgotten. The word least is also used by Saint Matthew when he refers to Bethlehem, the insignificant town from which the Messiah was prophesied to come. The poor and forgotten are like Bethlehem, since from them and in them the Lord comes to us. In serving the neediest we come face-to-face with the Lord; He reveals Himself to us in the disguise of each of them.

Christ is King and His sovereignty is directed towards the will of the Father through His obedience and His attentive love for each of us; He seeks out the lost, binds up the injured, heals the sick, gives us tranquility, and finally vanquishes sin and death. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “the lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up,
the sick I will heal, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, shepherding them rightly.” The sleek and the strong are those who live life as if God is unnecessary or does not exist.

Our work is to accept our share in His sovereignty by first acknowledging that He is our Lord and King and not simply a figurehead. This means that we can no longer attempt to run our lives by our own willpower but instead by His right order and governance. It also means that we cannot relate and interact with each other and with society as if God neither matters nor exists, let alone that He loves us and offered His Son as a ransom for our salvation. It means that we must consider His rule in the way you love each other as husbands and wives; it means that you must consider His rule in what and how you teach and educate your children; it means that we must consider His rule in how we honor our fathers and mothers. It also means that we must consider His rule by how we treat our neighbor in society, how we care for the poor and the sick, the elderly and the unborn, how we approach matters of employment, race and law enforcement.  All of these are to be considered and addressed on our part by obedience to the Sovereignty of Christ.

It is this functional atheism that prompted Pope Pius XI to establish this Solemnity in the liturgical calendar. He wrote, “The religion of Christ has come to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. His religion has been put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some have gone even further and wished to set up in the place of God’s religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. There are even some nations who have thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God. The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences.”

While Pope Pius XI was writing in the situation of 1925, we need not look far to recognize similarly deplorable circumstances. We need Christ as our King, the Wise Warrior who offers us vision and protection, boundaries and horizons. Christ the King protects the vulnerable and prevents the withering of His people in sin and death. The rallying place of Christ the King for us to assemble is His Cross. The Cross is the banner of sacrificial love to the point of suffering. Our share in His suffering involves love and not simply the purposeless experience of being in pain. Christ the King is now at work. He is calling each of us to distinguish ourselves in our service to Him as King. As Saint Thérèse of  Lisieux once wrote, “We who run in the way of love shouldn’t be thinking of sufferings that can take place in the future: it’s a lack of confidence, it’s like meddling in the work of creation.”

Henry David Thoreau once said that most people live lives of quiet desperation. Yet, we the baptized know with confidence that because we are ruled by Christ our King and not by self-will, we have a peace in our hearts that the world cannot give. Saint Augustine spoke of peace as the “tranquility of order.” It is when we live with Christ as our sovereign that we experience this tranquility and freedom.  The source of so much chaos and disorder in the world today is that in the hearts of so many — even among the baptized — Christ remains uncrowned and dishonestly misrepresented by the rebellious as a rival to our freedom. We must accept the sovereignty of Christ and reject the rebels by reverencing Christ as the source of our freedom who reclaims our lives as rightfully belonging to God, and not as to treat Him as an adversary who invades our lives and enslaves us. Christ our King calls us to battle against evil, first against our own sins, then against the sins perpetrated by the powerful and haughty against the weak and the vulnerable.

I ask you to pray for three graces this week. First, as we prepare to join all people of good will in our nation on Thursday in our celebration of Thanksgiving, pray for gratitude especially to God for offering us the call to heroic holiness during these times. Secondly, I ask you to pray for the Holy Spirit’s counsel that each of us might discern the specificity of Christ’s call to each of us to serve the establishment of His Kingdom in our lives and in the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Finally, I ask you to pray for the gift of obedience, the ability and willingness to respond affirmatively with confidence to witness to the truth of the Gospel in the face of its opposition in the public square of today. If we do this, then we will be free of quiet desperation and instead enjoy the confident tranquility of disciples serving our King in His rightful reclamation of what belongs to Him.

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