Christus Vincit. Christus Regnat. Christus Imperat.
Christ conquers. Christ reigns. Christ commands.
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family.
He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a cosmopolitan city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that contemporary society would consider a sign of greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing of this world, only the power of His divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him.
His friends ran away. One of them denied Him; another betrayed Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth—His coat. When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today He is the centerpiece of the human race, the greatest source of guidance and divine inspiration.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as that one solitary life—Jesus! the King of heaven and earth.
The story is told that many years ago, a little boy was visiting London with his family, and he decided he wanted to see the Queen. Of course, when he arrived at the palace, the gates were closed and the soldiers refused his request to see the Queen. He took his case to a nearby policeman, who said, “I’m afraid you’re not allowed in there.”
A well-dressed gentleman had walked up and heard the conversation. He turned to the boy and said, “What’s the matter?” The boy answered, “I want so much to see the Queen.” The gentleman took the boy by the hand and said, “Come with me.” As they moved toward the gate, the soldiers sprang to attention and a guard quickly opened the gate for them to enter. He led the boy into the palace and up the steps, and no one tried to stop them as they went right into the king’s offices.
The reason is that the well-dressed gentleman was the Prince of Wales, the Queen’s son, and he was the one who could give the boy access to his mother, the Queen.
So it is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, alone can give us access to God the Father – and he purchased that access with his own blood, shed on the cross. And he says to each one of us too, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today is the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it is also the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year C.On the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year the Church always celebrates the Feast of “Christ the King.” This feast was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and is observed on this Sunday as it helps us to meditate on Christ the King and Lord, and at the same time reflect on the Second and Final Coming of Christ, the Last Judgment, and the End of the World.
Now, the word ‘king’ evokes all kinds of images, and whatever image of king comes to our mind may influence subconsciously our thoughts about this feast. Also, while it is true that kings and kingship belong to the past – they are extinct and if at all they exist, they could be found in history books. King David is one such king given as an example in the First Reading of today. Again, in the Second Reading and the Gospel Reading, we are given two highly contrasting pictures of Jesus as King – a highly triumphant one and utterly disgraced one respectively. Surely, to call Jesus Christ “King” is a paradox – but in this is also hidden the central paradox of our Christian faith.
So, what really is this feast of Christ the King all about? Is it still relevant to call Christ – the King? And why is it celebrated at the end of the Liturgical Year? – The feast of Christ the King fits very appropriately into the liturgical year – a cycle which begins with Advent, then moves on to Christmas or the actual birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, then to the dying and rising of Jesus at Easter, and finally, after the Sundays in Ordinary time, to the end of the liturgical year where Jesus Christ comes in glory at the end of time in today’s feast of Christ the King. This is as it were, a synthesis of the entire salvific mystery. After reflecting on the mysteries in the life of Jesus for the entire year, we eventually come to the definite conclusion that Jesus is Lord, the King of all kings.
DAVID ANOINTED KING OF ISRAEL :
In the First Reading of today from the 2nd Book of Samuel, we see all the tribes of Israel coming to David in Hebron to make him their king. Called by God to lead the chosen people, David had been a shepherd, musician, military hero, and respected leader of his people. Now he would rule as king and make the Israelites secure against their enemies.
Actually, this was the second time that David had been anointed as king. In 2 Samuel, verse 2:4, we read that David was first anointed as king over the house of Judah. But Saul, Israel’s first king, though side-lined by God already, refused to step aside. This led to a prolonged struggle between them and finally ends when Saul took his own life in a battle with the Philistines. With Saul dead now, all the tribes come to David in Hebron to make him their king. The tribes of Israel express their own conviction that David’s appointment as king comes from God. There is a clear reference to his God-given authority, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.” King David then makes an agreement with them before God, thus invoking Divine blessings on his reign. Those tribes once loyal to Saul accept this divine appointment of David and affirm that he is the Shepherd of Israel. Shepherd was a traditional title for a king and in Israel it was also a title for God. Thus at this point of his life, David was their shepherd on behalf of God.
Now, David was the greatest of all the kings in Israel; and in a way, he was an image of things to come. The Lord Jesus was a descendant of David. Both King David and the Lord Jesus were shepherds. The Almighty God who chose David to shepherd His people Israel is the same God who chose Christ the King as the Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.
THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST OVER ALL CREATION:
Next, the Second Reading of today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is dense and refers to a series of theological realities. It highlights probably an early Christian ‘Hymn to Christ.’ There in it is given the highly triumphant and magnificent picture of Christ. Two themes are predominant: the kingship of Jesus Christ over all creation and the reconciliation with God of all things, especially man, by means of Jesus’ death on the cross. The first stanza describes Christ before his birth. He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation… The second stanza describes Christ after his earthly life. He is the beginning, the first born of the dead… Christ, the God-man, completely divine and completely human, moves from heaven to earth and back to heaven. He is the head of the Church and the One who holds everything ‘in being.’ St. Paul’s meditation on the Father summing up and reconciling all things in and through Christ, is one of the most beautiful prayers of thanksgiving to the Father. It reminds us to be grateful that we are loved and saved by such a supreme King.
It’s interesting that today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, we are transported back to the pivotal moment of human history – Christ on Calvary. Today is the day when the whole Church celebrates Christ’s universal Kingship, and this story of Jesus on the Cross is his coronation day. Now of course, we all know what happens, but imagine if you didn’t. If I’m looking at this scene from that position, I’m thinking that a king is supposed to be strong, successful, victorious, and all those things we just said. So why are we staring at this dying, helpless man as he is hanging on a Cross? If I’m honest, I’m not sure I would want this guy for a king.
So how can a sign of utter defeat become a sign of the King’s everlasting victory? John Paul II called this the “Paradox of Christ’s Kingship.” It really is a paradox – it doesn’t seem to make sense in an earthly way. In 2001, he spoke to the crowds in one of his Angelus addresses, saying, “If it is assessed according to the criteria of this world, Jesus’ kingship can appear ‘paradoxical’. Indeed, the power he exercises does not fit into earthly logic. On the contrary, his is the power of love and service that requires the gratuitous gift of self and the consistent witness to the truth.”
He’s right! The Kingdom of Christ isn’t about strength or success or victory, at least not in the normal human sense. We see this very clearly in our readings. In our First Reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we hear that David was king not so that he could dominate, but so that he could “shepherd God’s people, Israel.” Back to the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of Luke, we see that Christ the King doesn’t rule by selfishness and greed, but by sacrifice. He doesn’t rule by bringing in his heavenly hordes to destroy the evildoers who put him there, as he could have. He didn’t rule by sending the wretched man hanging next to him away, but by mercy and forgiveness. And so he said to that man, “Today, you will be with me in paradise. Today, you will be with me in my kingdom.”
The thief, usually referred to as St. Dismas, gets it. He realized that there is more to the human story than we see, experience, or understand here. Jesus, in his example of selfless sacrifice, held a key to a Kingdom much greater than the earth would ever know. He realized that the Kingdom began on earth through faith, hope, obedience, and love, and that it would only truly reach its fullness in heaven. St. Dismas understood this. And so he said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” He surrendered himself, and all the terrible things of his past, to the authority and reign of Christ the King.
I think we are called to do the same, to allow Jesus to be our King. That is so difficult to do! It’s easy to allow other things to conquer and dominate our lives. These other things can begin to dictate what we do and how we do it, how we treat others and ourselves, how we look at God. We can easily allow convenience to be our king. Maybe ambition and success can become our ruler. Or maybe it’s on the other side of the spectrum – self-loathing and unworthiness begin to rule us.
But today’s feast is about allowing Christ to have dominion over our hearts. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the greatest preachers of the Church, who lived in the 12th century, spoke on this same topic in one of his homilies. And because he’s a lot better preacher than I am, I’m going to just read that paragraph to you!
And now, Lord Jesus, come and remove the stumbling blocks within the kingdom, which is my soul, so that you who ought to may reign in it. Greed comes along and claims its throne in me; arrogance would dominate me; pride would be my king. Comfort and pleasure say: We shall reign! Ambition, detraction, envy, anger fight within me for supremacy, and seem to have me entirely in their power. But I resist insofar as I can; I struggle against them insofar as I receive your help. I protest that Jesus is my Lord. I keep myself for him since I acknowledge his rights over me. To me he is God, to me he is the Lord, and I declare: I will have no king but the Lord Jesus! Come then, Lord, rout them by your power and you will reign in me, for you are my king and my God.
In St. Peter’s Square in Rome, there is a massive Egyptian obelisk that stands in the center of the plaza. Now I don’t know if you’re that familiar with geography, but Egypt is a long way from Rome. It’s somewhat strange to see the obelisk standing there. Actually, it was erected about 2400 BC as a monument to the Egyptian Pharaoh. After Rome had conquered Egypt, the Emperor Caligula brought the obelisk to Rome as a trophy, a symbol of their superiority over Egypt. It was placed in the Circus of Nero, where it presided over brutal gladiatorial games and Christian executions. Eventually, it was toppled by the barbarians, and it became buried under dirt and ivy. But eventually, the Church overtook the Roman Empire, and it baptized the barbarian tribes, and persisted through the Dark Ages until a new Christian culture emerged and flourished. And when St. Peter’s Basilica was rebuilt and expanded, the obelisk was once again raised from the dust to stand in the square, where it is today. The difference is that now it is topped with a bronze cross, and within that cross is another small fragment of the True Cross, the Cross on which Christ was crucified for us, and the place where he ascended to his throne.
There was an interesting inscription written on the obelisk – two actually. The first faces out to the rest of the world and it reads, “Ecce Crux Domini! Behold the cross of the Lord! Let his enemies flee! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered!” On the other side, facing the basilica, the inscription reads, “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ conquers! Christ rules! Christ reigns!” That ancient obelisk is no longer a trophy of Rome conquering Egypt, and it no longer stands as a reminder of the destruction of barbarian hordes. Now it stands in the center of St. Peter’s Square, a place usually filled with people praying and worshipping God and listening to the words of the successor of Peter. It stands as if to say, “Now, this stands for another conqueror. Now, Christ has conquered our hearts!
Brothers and sisters, let us allow our hearts to be ruled by this loving and merciful Lord. Christ the King has conquered indeed, and his Kingdom will last forever.
This prayer of indulgence of Pope Pius XI
is solemnly recited on the feast of Christ the King.
CONSECRATION OF THE HUMAN RACE TO THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
Most sweet Jesus, Redeemer of the human race, look down upon us humbly prostrate before Your altar. We are Yours, and Yours we wish to be; but, to be more surely united with You, behold each one of us freely consecrates himself today to Your most Sacred Heart.
Many indeed have never known You; many too, despising Your precepts, have rejected You. Have mercy on them all, most merciful Jesus, and draw them to Your Sacred Heart. Be King, O Lord, not only of the faithful who have never forsaken You, but also of the prodigal children who have abandoned You; grant that they may quickly return to Your Father’s house lest they die of wretchedness and hunger.
Be King of those who are deceived by erroneous opinions, or whom discord keeps aloof, and call them back to the harbor of truth and unity of faith, so that there may be but one flock and one Shepherd.
Grant, O Lord, to Your Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: Praise be to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to It be glory and honor for ever. Amen.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.