[Homily] Christ the King: Am I Responsible for my Neighbor’s Salvation?
It’s the Feast of Christ the King- What a beautiful feast!
When you think of this feast- if you put much consideration into it at all- you probably imagine it as an ancient ritual, one dating to the early Middle Ages, when the king was the beginning and end of the law, the unfettered ruler of his domain. Yet, this feast only dates to 1925. Pope Pius XI proposed the celebration in the wake of WWI, after seeing first-hand the rise of communist and fascist powers which would rock the world in the Second World War. In the document promulgating the feast, Pius tells us that Christ must reign in a particular way over our “Will and our Heart.” Further, he points to the scriptures and Christ as the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords!”
I was caught in a difficult position today- preach on the gospel which speaks to us so beautifully of our salvation- and the salvation of “the nations” – or speak of Christ’s kingship. I chose both but I promise I will not give two homilies.
In our reading from Matthew today we see the judgment of the nations. We ought to find this equally comforting and terrifying.
Jesus tells those who seem to have not heard the gospel yet faithfully followed the law written on their hearts- “you did this for me, come into my heavenly kingdom.” What hope that gives us for those outside the Church. Yet then he turns and tells those who did not help him in the poor- who also seem to have never heard the gospel because they did not know it was him they neglected, “depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire.”
They did not know it was Christ they were neglecting, oppressing, taking advantage of, but they are responsible nonetheless because the law has been written on our hearts.
Certainly this passage is shocking, but what does it have to do with the kingship of Jesus Christ? Let us move on to that point and return here shortly to try to elucidate this passage.
Let us begin with a question: what was Pope Pius XI trying to teach us in instituting the feast of Christ the King? In the contemporary west, when we ponder royalty, we likely think of English royalty, of the cover of People magazine and a perpetual royal fashion show. This is obviously not Jesus Christ’s kingship. What about remembering Louis XIV and the beautiful gardens of Versailles? A massive show of might, an absolute monarch at his height. This is also not the kingship of Jesus Christ. So, then what is Jesus’ kingship and what does it mean for us?
The best place to begin when considering Christ’s kingship is- his own words. At the trial in which he is condemned, Pilate asks Jesus: “So are you a king?” How does Jesus respond? Does he deny Pilate’s words? No, in fact he offers an answer suggesting he is in fact a king, basically responding “You said it.” Yet he adds one qualifier, that his kingdom is not of this world. So, Jesus kingdom is not of this world- then is it merely a thing we seek in eternity, in the life to come. No, his kingdom is absolutely in this world, yet it does not have its source, its foundations, nor its life-source in this world.
This Kingdom, then, also does not rule in the worldly ways- by power, force, or law, but instead Jesus rules by the power of the truth- the great English preacher Ronald Knox tells us that the “truth, once it is rightly apprehended, has a compelling power over men’s [and women’s] hearts; they must assert and defend what they know to be the truth.” Jesus tells Pilate “For this I was born, to bear witness to the truth.” The Kingdom of Jesus Christ- the Kingdom of God- conquers the world by means of truth, this infectious truth which sets our hearts on fire once we grasp it.
The Roman Empire conquered the world by might. Yet, within 300 years of Christ’s death it would be conquered by another kingdom without a single sword lifted against it. It was conquered by the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, which does not reign from an earthly throne, rather He reigns in human hearts which hold tightly to the truth of His Gospel.
Ok, but what does this mean? We have learned a great deal through the ages, for example in the origins of Christendom, whenever the Christian King attempted to spread the gospel by force, by the point of the sword, it failed. God’s kingdom is not of this world, so it does not lend itself to the forces of this world.
For us today, we find ourselves in the almost opposite dilemma. Our culture today fervently preaches the gospel of relativism. Relativism rules the day, it is its own dictatorship, and thus the truth has been kicked aside, it has become a matter of individual preference: “I have my truth, you have yours.”
Yet we as Christians have grasped the Truth, we know that Jesus Christ is our King, not because he is our preference but because he is God. We know that he died and rose for us, that our sins have been forgiven, and that we are destined for eternal life. This feast is important today because it reminds us of our mission to bring the kingship of Christ to the fringes of this world.
Then this gospel passage ought to give us a missionary spirit- not a sense of fear, but a zealous love. That is your mission as the laity- to range Christ’s kingdom to the fringes. I as a priest cannot be in your work place, I cannot access the peripheries as you can. Remember that those who have not heard the gospel must hear it, and much is expected of us!
I am not usually one to give homework or a “practical application” for my homily, but this week I will.
Think of 3 Catholics you know who no longer go to Church- or at least have not gone recently. Invite them back during this Advent season. Don’t just do it once, do it one time per week. If necessary, bribe them with a meal afterward. For my part, I invite you and them to the penance service on December 10th @ St. Ann’s.
God’s kingdom is at hand, yet the world- as always- rages against it. We must take hope, for the battle has already been won! Let us take courage in the mission Christ has given us to spread the Truth!