As we observe the Feast of Christ, the King, we are celebrating a ruler who was willing to die for us, for all humanity, to give us true freedom. Jesus radically redefined the traditional concept of kingship. His example of radical love and kindness is lived out by us, his followers, in our reaching out to those in need – beginning with those with whom we live.
For over four and a half thousand years there has stood a great obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The structure, originally located in the Temple of the Sun in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis, was brought to Rome by the dreaded Emperor Caligula. He had it set right in the middle of a Roman racetrack known as the Circus of Nero. It was in that Circus that St. Peter was martyred. On the base is inscribed two phrases, The first, in Latin, the words of a familiar hymn: Christ Jesus Victor! Christ Jesus Ruler! Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer!” The other is an inscription that proclaims: “The Lion of Judah has conquered.” It may well have been the last earthly thing that St. Peter saw as has he hung upside-down crucified to die.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI universally instituted the Feast of Christ the King to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October. However, since the reform in the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feast falls on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Sunday before Advent.
At the time of the institution of the feast, secularism was on the rise and respect for Christ and the Church was waning. Today, we witness the same sense of distrust of authority – accelerated by political situations and the rise of individualism. Some reject the titles of "lord" and "king" for Christ, believing that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. History proves that some kings have been oppressive. Others have been converted to a more Christian style of ruling, often by the influence of a woman.
In 2015, during the Jubilee year of Mercy, Pope Francis added another part to the title: “…the living face of the Father’s mercy.” The combined readings this year for the solemnity give us a glimpse of how Christ is at the same time both king and the face of the Father’s mercy. In contrast to the oppression so prevalent in Jesus’ day, he connected his role as king to humble service, and taught his followers to be servants as well. “You are my disciples if you do what I command you: love one another as I have loved you.”
Deep down do we believe JESUS IS LORD or is it just from force of habit that we say or sing those titles for Jesus? At the opening of every Eucharistic gathering, the celebrant greets us with the words: “The Lord be with you.” In tomorrow’s Responsorial Psalm we will proclaim: “The Lord is my shepherd.” We will profess in the Creed: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ.” We often raise a hand in benediction as we sing: “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you.” If we believe it’s true that Jesus is Lord, why do we sometimes scramble to find a substitute to replace the word “Lord?” It strikes me that while we may struggle with the concept of Jesus as king, somehow, especially on feasts of Mary most of us have no problem calling Mary queen: Queen of the Universe, Queen of Heaven, Regina Caeli.
At the end of this coming week, we will be jump-started into the season of Advent: an experience of an “ending that is a beginning” – a time of waiting for the One who will come. This is the One who is promised to us in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, he is coming and everyone will see him; the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come.”
Let us pray that we can portray to the world the beneficence of a humble king, truly putting flesh on our Corporate Commitment: to be Christ to one another. For it is not so much what we say or what we do that puts flesh on our commitment. It is who we are that “responds with compassion to the hungers of God’s people.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB