By Fr. David Friel
The proclamation of the Kingdom, begun by Jesus in the countryside of Galilee, is extended through time and space by the Church, with particular reliance upon the gifts and zeal of her lay members.
Jesus Christ is a matchless King. Solomon dressed in splendid clothes and built a magnificent temple; David led his army to victory in numerous battles; Pharaoh maintained an iron rule over the Egyptians and their Israelite slaves. Jesus, meanwhile, lay in a manger, shared meals with the poor and public sinners, and hung stripped and bloodied upon the Cross. Christ never looked very much like a King.
Even now, the Kingship of Christ is unique, inasmuch as the reign of God extends throughout both heaven and earth. Christ's Kingdom is among us (Lk 17:21), as a present reality, and yet beyond us (Jn 18:36), as an eschatological reality. As the preface for the feast proclaims, the reign of God is "a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace."
All Christians, by virtue of their Baptism, are subjects of Christ's benevolent Kingship. In addition to the many graces that flow from being Christ's subject, this identity also entails responsibilities. Citizenship in the Kingdom of God (Phil 3:20) bestows, for example, a mission. This mission is not entrusted solely to bishops, priests, and deacons, nor is it the preserve of saints, scholars, and mystics who seem beyond the reach of ordinary people. All followers of Christ, rather, have a part to play in the realization of the Kingdom.
One of the most significant, difficult, and all-encompassing missions related to the Kingdom of God, in fact, is entrusted to the laity. According to the Second Vatican Council, the vocation of the lay faithful is to sanctify the world. In its dogmatic constitution on the Church, the Council teaches that the laity have the specific vocation of making the Church present and active in the world (Lumen gentium
, no. 33). This teaching is further developed in the Council's decree on the apostolate of the laity, which states that laypeople fulfill their mission by evangelizing and sanctifying people; by their lives, the laity are called to permeate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel (Apostolicam actuositatem
, no. 2). The laity, in this vision, are bearers of a mission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-14).
Sanctifying the world, therefore, is not chiefly the task of chanceries or committees or curial officials. The sanctification of the world properly belongs to the apostolate of the laity. This extraordinary call to discipleship remains unchanged in every place, in every period, and in every person. It is the task of the laity to make the Father known, to allow the love of Christ to shine forth, and to become suitable temples for the Holy Spirit. The proclamation of the Kingdom, begun by Jesus in the countryside of Galilee, is extended through time and space by the Church, with particular reliance upon the gifts and zeal of her lay members.
The Roman soldier who nailed a placard to the Cross identifying Jesus as the "King of the Jews" did so as an act of sarcasm. Every Christian has the opportunity to make the same proclamation, not in mockery, but as an act of worship. By the manner of our lives and our commitment to the Gospel, we announce to all the world the joy and freedom that come from submitting ourselves to the sweet dominion of Christ the King.
Rev. David M. Friel is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.