On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, or Christ the King.
Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 with his encyclical Quas primas (“In the first”) to respond to growing nationalism and secularism. He recognized that these related societal ills would breed increasing hostility against the Church. Today reminds us that while governments and ideologies come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.
During the early twentieth century, in Mexico, Russia, and in many parts of Europe, atheistic regimes threatened not just the Catholic Church and its faithful but civilization itself. Pope Pius XI’s encyclical gave Catholics hope and—while governments around them crumbled—the assurance that Christ the King shall reign forever. Pope Pius XI said that Christ “reign[s] ‘in the hearts of men,’ both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind” (Quas primas, 6).
Quas primas continues to ring true. In recent years, aggressive secularist campaigns have sought to marginalize the Church and other religious institutions. In response to the alienation and loss of solidarity which have accompanied these secularist assaults, racist movements have become more influential in the United States. Now, as always, we must turn and gaze on the face of Christ, who is Lord over all nations.
First Reading - 1 Samuel 5:1-3
In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said:
“Here we are, your bone and your flesh.
In days past, when Saul was our king,
it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.
And the LORD said to you,
‘You shall shepherd my people Israel
and shall be commander of Israel.’”
When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron,
King David made an agreement with them there before the LORD,
and they anointed him king of Israel.
- David’s kingship points us to Christ’s kingship, and it reveals the contrast between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God. Saul pursues his own interests, while David rules according to God’s will. The tribes come to David to anoint him their King. In the same way, Christ is the King of the New People of Israel. All people are invited to participate in his Kingdom.
- This is God’s work of gathering his people: He uses his king as an instrument to draw the people who are scattered. God continues this work in the Church as he uses the instrument of his Church and her ministers to shepherd the flock.
- The people proclaim themselves as “your bone and your flesh”; their deepest identity is as David’s kinsmen. This is true of all of us in Christ, as St. Paul teaches in the second reading: we are created in Christ and for Christ. We are “his bone and his flesh.” Only in following him do we find authentic freedom.
- [One important way that we, the Church in the United States, participate in Christ’s Kingdom of service is by caring for the poor. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the U.S. Bishops’ program for addressing the root causes of poverty in our country. Over the course of 40 years, CCHD has funded nearly 8,000 projects that empower the poor to come together and solve community problems. CCHD funds projects that produce real and lasting change. Today, we will be taking the collection to fund this Campaign.]
Second Reading - Colossians 1:12-20
Brothers and sisters:
Let us give thanks to the Father,
who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
- St. Paul describes the effect of God’s merciful love for us in Christ. We were under the rule of the kingdom of evil and sin and have been “delivered … from the power of darkness” and made members of the Kingdom of his Son.
- Pope Francis comments on this passage by saying: "Jesus is the center of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this center is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves."
- Christ is King of the entire universe because “in him were created all things in heaven and on earth...all things were created through him and for him.” As the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et spes, 22) taught, only in Christ is man’s true identity revealed. The Church instituted this feast day to remind an increasingly secular world that only by acknowledging our origin and end in Christ will human individuals and societies find peace, justice, freedom, and happiness. Christ is the authentic measure of all creation, including governments, states, and societies.
- The Saints are great witnesses to the primacy of Christ in the face of government encroachment. St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, and especially Blessed Miguel Pro, who died, arms outstretched, crying “Viva Cristo Rey,” all witnessed to the centrality of Christ in society to the point of shedding blood. While American Christians do not face such dire circumstance, we should ask God for the grace to face our own challenges with courage and charity. Moreover, we should pray every day for those Christians who do face severe persecution in places like China, parts of Africa, and the Middle East.
Gospel - Luke 23:35-43
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
- Christ’s kingship is fully revealed by the cross. To the world, the cross is the domain of a criminal, but as Rupert of Deutz, a medieval Abbott, has called it, the cross of Christ is the “Throne of Love.” This is echoed by Pope Francis: “The kingdoms of this world at times are sustained by arrogance, rivalries and oppression; the reign of Christ is a ‘kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ …For a Christian, speaking of power and strength means referring to the power of the Cross, and the strength of Jesus’ love: a love which remains steadfast and complete, even when faced with rejection, and it is shown as the fulfillment of a life expended in the total surrender of oneself for the benefit of humanity.
- The Kingdom of Christ is not spread by force, but rather by the power of the love of Christ that draws all things to himself. The Church does not impose the Gospel on anyone, but we propose it to all, inviting them by the love of Christ to experience the fullness of life as his subjects.
- The kingdom of God changes the status of all human kingdoms. When Christians proclaim Christ as Lord, no other lord can claim their undivided loyalty. Only to Jesus Christ do we give our complete fidelity.
- Christ is a different and new kind of king. We normally think of kings as covered in jewels and fine clothes. We imagine them followed by a great entourage. Christ the King is stripped, beaten, and crowned not with jewels and gold, but with thorns. His only attendants are his sorrowing Mother, his young friend, and a few women devoted to him. Christ teaches us that his Kingdom belongs not to those who seem to have power in this world, but to the poor and humble who embrace the cross. It is when we walk with Jesus and when we unite any of our suffering to his that we come to experience his glory and life in resurrection.
- St. Dismas, the good thief who was crucified with Jesus, teaches us that no one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. It is never too late to turn to Christ and ask for your sins to be forgiven. As priests, we experience this in the way in which God’s mercy can draw people back to him, even at the end of their lives. It is not uncommon to offer the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick to people near the end of their lives. The mercy of Christ the King reaches out to them in their last moments, and they can hear the words that St. Dismas heard: “today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Used with permission.