"My kingdom does not belong to this world." (John 18:36)
In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new solemnity that we celebrate today: Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The pope's reasons were twofold: to combat the totalitarianism and the over pietism that existed at the time. Pope Pius was seeing the state, or in some cases a dictator, become the dominant figure in many societies, so he wanted to emphasize that Jesus Christ was the only King of our lives and he could not be replaced by a figure, a state, or an ideology. Communism and Fascism were on the rise with Naziism in its infancy so the people were reminded of Christ’s kingship in their daily lives and to not allow an ideology to replace Christ. Those three “-isms” have fallen into “the ash heap of history,” but have been replaced with other “-isms” like materialism and secularism. We’ve seen materialism all too much in the last three days with the onslaught of Black Friday. Well, it isn’t so much on Friday anymore as it has crept into Thanksgiving evening when people are supposed to be spending time with their families. It is a bit surreal and incredibly tragic that we go from a day that is set aside to give thanks to God and to focus on family to being totally consumed by all things material the next day. We used to cherish Thanksgiving because it had not been commercialized and it was a true family and God-centered day, but it is slowly being secularized like Christmas was long ago where the true meaning of the holiday is replaced by things that have nothing to do with the day itself. Speaking of secularism, Pope Benedict mentions this quite often because our society is consumed by it. We live in a world where God isn’t relevant, necessary, or even acknowledged. This is why today’s feast is so important because we need to be reminded that Jesus is King!
When it came to the second reason why Pope Pius XI began this feast, pietism, he wanted to make sure that whatever we were doing inside our churches translated into genuine action out in the world. It isn’t enough to proclaim that Jesus is King with our lips but we also have to make people aware of this kingship through our actions. To say that He is King means that he reigns in my heart and that he lives in me and through me and that we work to build up his kingdom daily. If Christ is truly the King of our lives, then prayer is genuinely transformed into action. Jesus mentions his kingdom in today’s gospel when Pilate is interrogating him. Jesus asserts that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate was asking about a temporal kingdom while Jesus referred to the spiritual kingdom which he instituted on this earth and that we are all called to help bring to completion. This morning in his homily, Pope Benedict talked about this kingdom that is consumed by love: “We invoke the kingdom daily in the prayer of the Our Father with the words `thy kingdom come’; in effect we say to Jesus: Lord, make us yours, live in us, gather together a scattered and suffering humanity, so that in you all may be subjected to the Father of mercy and love.” Christ shares his kingship with us through baptism, but this kingship is one of service towards our brothers and sisters. Building up this kingdom entails proclaiming Christ the King even when it is unpopular and even when it may cost us our lives.
This morning, right before I came out to celebrate Mass, I was in my office and I read about another tragedy in Nigeria where a suicide bomber loaded a bus with explosives and rammed into a church in a military barracks killing 11 Christians. Most of the people that died were killed in a second explosion that went off ten minutes after the first in a parked car outside the church. Those people were merely rushing in to try to help the first victims. Needless to say, it is not safe to worship Jesus Christ in some parts of the world. Yet many still go to worship Christ their King in spite of adversity even if it may cost them their lives as it has for so many martyrs during the history of the Church. Martyrs like Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, whose feast we celebrated on Friday, who died during the Cristero War in Mexico in the 1920’s right around the time this solemnity of Christ the King began to be celebrated. The Church was under great persecution in Mexico and Father Miguel, a Jesuit priest, was arrested and executed under false charges. While he was being executed he, as well as many who died during those times, proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live, Christ the King!)” Those words should not only be on lips, but engraved in our hearts every single day. Christ must reign in our hearts so that we might make his kingdom known to all even in the face of adversity. It is getting harder to be a Christian, even in this country, but this is why Pope Pius instituted this great solemnity: to remind us that no matter what adversity we may face, Jesus Christ is King!