Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 21, 2021
Reading I – Daniel 7:13-14
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 93:1, 1-2, 5
Reading II – Revelation 1:5-8
Gospel: John 18:33b-37
Taken together, these readings are striking in the way they depict the glory of the King of Kings, who will be sentenced to death on a cross.
The psalmist celebrates the splendor and the permanence of the reign of God and of his precepts. The prophet Daniel tells of a king whose dominion shall never be overcome. The Book of Revelation presents Jesus in triumph. But in the gospel, Jesus prepares for his crucifixion.
Here, the Scriptures reveal the great mystery of Jesus showing his power by suffering. At a superficial level, it seems that Pilate is the one in power. And Jesus seems to be the failed leader, whose supporters were not with him. But, with sacred wisdom, we see the reverse. The seemingly powerful Roman governor is in fact cowering before the mobs, allowing a death he knows is unjustified and only keeping the pretense of order. By contrast, Jesus heads triumphantly to face death, preparing to defeat it.
Although he is heading towards what appears to be defeat, Jesus announces his victory in his response to Pilate: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37). The Word of God has entered the world to open the way for fallen humanity to live in accordance with the truth. This is his mission, and no earthly authority can prevent Christ from carrying it out. Even in the face of suffering, Christ’s reign is undefeated, because he and all who are conformed to him testify to the truth.
Hope in the Lord
It may not seem as if Christ reigns as king. Much of Western culture has turned away from the Christian religion in favor of an individualistic religion, with self-selected practices and spiritualities. As Pope Benedict XVI has said regarding the consensus about the nature of reality, the moral good, and the conditions for human flourishing that is enshrined in the founding documents of the United States: “Today, that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents, which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition but are also increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.” And Christians in the Middle East, Nigeria, China, and other places face intense, violent persecution. On top of all these struggles, the Church in many places has squandered her credibility to deal with these issues by failing to deal with corruption and immorality within her own ranks.
We should not become despondent. The faithful have always struggled. Daniel saw this vision when his people were in exile in Babylon. And the vision recounted in this reading begins with a prophecy of four terrible powers on earth imposing war and oppression. Moreover, John of Patmos related his vision in the Book of Revelation at a time when the early Church was undergoing persecution. As those who proclaim Christ’s death at Mass and receive the body and blood of the risen Lord in holy communion, we put our hope in the Son of God who suffers and ultimately conquers death.
The Church Serves the Kingdom
John sees Jesus as the great ruler of the kings of the earth, who makes his people a free kingdom, freed from sin and able to be “priests for his God and Father.” Americans often misunderstand what freedom is. If one asks what freedom is, the most common response would probably be the ability to do whatever one likes. That is, however, a very impoverished understanding of freedom. This vision describes what true freedom is, namely freedom from sin and freedom to participate in the love of God.
As Pope St. John Paul II says in Memory and Identity, “Freedom is for love.” For love is the one thing that cannot be compelled. It must be freely given and freely received; otherwise, it is not love. And love, so freely given and received, makes us, as St. John says, born of God and able to know Him (see 1 Jn 4:7).
In this context, we see the rightful basis for freedom and human rights. We are entitled to certain rights because we have the calling to live out the love of God in many ways. Pope Benedict writes: “it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license” (Caritas in veritate, 43). This connection between a person’s rights and her corresponding duties may seem like a limitation, but it is in fact the only sure foundation for human dignity and liberty. Rights that are not balanced by duties threaten to become license.
As Christians, we understand that we realize our freedom most fully in service to God and to his good creation. We are free as those who enjoy and bear witness to the kingdom of God.
As Catholics, we contribute to the building of the common good in our society by bearing witness to the reign of Christ in public life. Pope Francis encouraged American Catholics in this regard during his speech at the White House: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”
Jesus tells Pilate that everyone who belongs to the truth listens to the voice of Jesus, the king. The Solemnity of Christ the King is a day for Catholics to rededicate themselves to the truth by listening to the voice of Christ and by obeying his word. It is only under the reign of Christ our sovereign king that we will experience true freedom and see renewal in our Church and in our country.