A Pastoral Reflection on the Feast of Christ the King
At the time of Christ Jesus, Israel was a nation in expectation, hoping and waiting for the promised messiah, the king that would set them free from the tyranny of foreign oppression and restore the glory of David’s kingdom. They were waiting for a king, God’s anointed, but they were expecting an earthly king, a return to “the good old days”. And so their vision was obscured. To their credit though, the promised one of God was wholly other than what anyone would expect, as Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “It was a sign no one ever asked for, for no one ever hoped that a virgin would become pregnant… or that this offspring should be ‘God with us’.”
Today, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. We celebrate the fact that Christ Jesus, the God-Man reigns eternal in heaven, as the first fruits of humanity, opening the way for each of us to join him in paradise. In our celebration of Christ the King we celebrate his eternal reign in heaven and on earth, and hopefully in each of our hearts as ‘God with us’. Next Sunday we begin Advent when we prepare for the coming of the King, both in celebration of his birth on earth and in hopeful expectation of his coming again and the completion of all things.
‘Beyond what we ask for; beyond what we hope’; this sums up what St. Irenaeus meant in his above quote. When God sent his only begotten Son, it was beyond our wildest imagination. The general expectation of Israel was for another king like David. God, however, wanted more than to establish a mere earthly kingdom. Rather, he meant to establish the heavenly kingdom, to reunite humanity to God, lost in original sin.
The only begotten Son of the Father became Man, not merely in name or thought, but in actuality. The divine Logos was born of a virgin and became man. He took on human flesh, a human mind, and a human will and united it to his divine person. This is the one we call Jesus Christ, perfectly God and perfectly man. And through this unmixed unity he has redeemed all mankind enabling us to share in his inheritance, which is the kingdom of God.
But what should we expect when his kingdom comes? What are we waiting for? Should we be waiting at all or should we be actively seeking to make his kingdom present here and now? What hope do we have of ever establishing his kingdom in such a broken world?
Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925. In writing the encyclical Quas Primas Pope Pius stated,
These manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics… that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
In other words, without Christ there is no hope for peace and our present world has reached a point that it believes it does not need Christ. Hence, Pope Pius established the feast of Christ the King to combat this evil, to give the world hope.
But in the face of the tidal wave of evil that now confronts us, how can we bring back the reign of Christ in our lives and the lives of those around us? To begin with, we must, like Mary, remain faithful ourselves. Like the Most Blessed Virgin, we must let Christ reign in our own lives, over our own wills, in our own hearts and minds and through our very bodies. Then and only then will we be able to withstand the tidal wave of evil sweeping over our world and to build the kingdom of God.
We do this primarily through prayer, by coming to know and love the Lord God personally. First and foremost we unite ourselves to Mary, our Mother. We also participate in the feasts and celebrations of the Church; learn to pray in the rhythm of her seasons, through acts of penance and charity and through obedience to Christ and his Church. In all this we will begin to live in that kingdom that is not of this world, of which this world has no power except what is given it from above. And living under the rule of Christ we will become indomitable for, “all things work for good for those who love God.”
So we first let Christ reign in our lives as King. We then teach and encourage others to participate in the life of the Church and in prayer and fasting. In this we will create a reverse wave. We will turn the tide of evil. But we cannot wait on it happening to us. We must participate in making the kingdom come! Actively seek and work for justice; not a mere human justice, but the justice of love, of the cross, which is love in action.
Be wary, though. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of busy-ness and lose sight of what it is we work for, or rather, whom it is we work for. We work and love for the King and we must keep our eyes on the prize. We accomplish this by learning to see Christ everywhere and in everyone and to be Christ to all those we meet. Remember, too, God loves to surprise us with the unexpected.
We need to ask ourselves, whom are we expecting? When we attend Mass on Sundays, looking to encounter our God, when we join Bible studies or serve at soup kitchens, whom are we expecting to meet? Are we trying to pigeonhole Jesus into a savior of this moment, someone who will lift us out of our misfortune and suffering and give us the good life, someone who will return us to those ‘good old days’?
Or are we open to encountering our Lord as he wills to reveal himself beyond our wildest imagination? Do we see him in the eyes of those we serve, in the words we read in Scripture or in the veiled reality of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist? Do we go to be served or to serve, to be loved or to love?
As we work to build the kingdom of God, remember that the kingdom we are building is not one of this earth but rather of heaven. The kingdom is made present in our love but also retains a “yet to be fulfilled” dynamic. The ultimate fulfillment of this kingdom will only happen at the end of time, at the fulfillment of all things. So find your strength in the hope that looks forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we will be with him in paradise.
As Jesus hung dying, mocked by the rulers, soldiers and criminals, one man resisted this tide of evil. The criminal on Jesus’ right rebuked the other thief, reminded him of the justice they deserved, and begged for forgiveness. Rather, he merely asked to be remembered. He didn’t ask for salvation or anything wild, but merely to be remembered. And how did Christ respond? By promising him more than he could have possibly hoped for, eternal life in paradise! So love in the moment and hope for the unimaginable.
Brown, Robin K. “25 November 2007 • Christ the King.” Homily Service 40, no. 12 (November 2007): 58-68. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).
Goodwin, Mark J. “Hosea and “the Son of the living God” in Matthew 16:16b.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 67, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 265-283. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 10, 2010).
Norris, Richard A., Jr. trans./ed. The Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
Pius XI. Quas Primas. December, 1925. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010].
West, Fritz, et al. “Christ the King • Reign of Christ • Proper 29.” Homily Service 38, no. 12 (November 2005): 51-63. Religion and Philosophy Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed November 17, 2010).
Richard A. Norris, Jr., trans./ed, The Christological Controversy, Sources of Early Christian Thought [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 57.
 Pius XI, Quas Primas, December, 1925, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html [accessed November 4, 2010], 1.
 Ibid, 33.
 John 18:36, 19:11 All biblical references in this paper are from the NAB, 1991, unless otherwise specified.
 Romans, 8:28.
 Luke 23:35-43.