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In 1925 Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) established the feast of Christ the King in response to growing nationalism and secularism in Europe after WWI. With this new feast, Pope Pius XI desired to return Catholics to Christ and to unite all people in Christ, the supreme ruler whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries.
Originally celebrated on the last Sunday of October, Pope Paul VI moved this feast to the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and raised it to the level of a Solemnity. In addition to its celebratory character, the placement on this Solemnity at the end of the liturgical year also gives it an apocalyptic and sobering character.
The readings for the day speak about God’s mercy but also of God’s justice. The first reading from Ezekiel presents God as the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep but who also judges between the rams and the goats. Matthew 25 offers a vision of the end of times when Christ, the Judge, will separate those who saw him hungry and fed him, thirsty and clothed him, a stranger and welcomed him, naked and clothed him, in prison and visited him from those who did not.
The notion of Jesus as King is not new. This is as old as Christianity itself and as profound as the mystery of our faith. Throughout Scripture many royal titles are given to Jesus. First and most frequent is the title of Christ or Anointed One, the Savior of Israel. Second, is the title Kyrios or Lord which came to be interpreted as Jesus being the Lord of the Universe. Third is that of King as e.g. in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy where Jesus is referred to as “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” (1 Tim. 6:15).
When we hear these titles we are quick to impose our earthly understanding onto them and to be sure, that is where they originated. However, Jesus is in no way like earthly kings or earthly rulers. When questioned by Pilate Jesus responds that his “kingdom is not of this earth”. Surely, had he been an earthly king, his armies would have defended him and prevented his arrest. Rather, Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword so he may be arrested to fulfill the prophecies.
We hail Jesus as the Anointed One not because he commands mighty armies, wields earthly powers, or displays great wealth. Rather, because he is the Good Shepherd and Suffering Servant who eats and drinks with sinners; who feeds the hungry; who heels the sick; who brings the dead back to life; and who accepted suffering and death so we might live. In sum, we profess him as anointed because he is the perfect image and embodiment of God’s boundless love and endless mercy.
On the Solemnity of Christ the King we honor Christ as the Ruler of the Universe and as the Savior of the World. As King he will judge us at the end of time and he will separate the goats from the sheep. As Savior he will do this with justice and love. Thankfully, as our Savior he has also given us a roadmap to ensure that we end up with the sheep by recognizing and serving Christ in everyone, especially in those who are most in need.
In these times of rising nationalism and rampant secularism worldwide, let us celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King with great fervor and let us meditate on the true Ruler of the Universe whose reign knows neither borders nor boundaries and whose desire is for all us to be one in Him.
We have a beautiful stained glass window of Christ the King in our sacristy. It was created by Gaytee Glass Studios in 1928, just three years after the proclamation of the Solemnity of Christ the King.
In this window we see Christ seated on a royal throne. He is wearing the regalia typical for an earthly king: he has a crown on his head, a scepter in his right hand and the Globus Cruciger or the orb crowned with a cross in his left hand.
The globe with the cross is of particular interest. The image of a ruler holding an orb suggests that the ruler holds the world in his hand. Christian rulers had a cross added to the orb indicating that they were governing the world for God. Placing the globus cruciger in Christ’s hands affirms that Christ is the Ruler of the Universe but also the Salvator Mundi or Savior of the World.
I knew it would be a hard election. I didn’t allow myself to believe it would be this hard. As Christians, we have a fundamental call to see each other as sacred children of God. And that recognition beckons us toward action marked by the work of reconciliation and healing.
Scripture continually centers us: The great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, The story of the Good Samaritan, The image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, The final judgement in Matthew 25. Over and over, we are challenged to embrace God’s love in our own heart and to share that love with others. Even more profound, there is a primary call to share that love with those we see as most undeserving.
So, looking in the mirror, I am forced to ask myself: Am I seeing the other side of the election battle with love? How am I engaging others to foster reconciliation and healing? Do I avoid joining the partisan battles and engage in a positive way?
On November 4th, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reflected on our election, “Whatever the outcome is going to be, we remain a deeply divided, polarized nation, more than at any time in our recent history.” Reaching out and working toward healing and reconciliation will not happen without intention and hard work. It will not happen without surrendering our own sense of superiority. It will not happen without being willing to see the glimmer of truth and gift in the other side.
There is a concept central to BeFriender Ministry called Mutuality. Mutuality is the respectful give and take between and among two or more persons. It requires intentional willingness to engage. It requires a wise understanding that people make sense of the world through a complicated mixture of past experiences—interpreting life through the lens they have lived. While neither right nor wrong, it is their interpretation. It requires a willingness to hold oneself open to another—letting go of one’s own judgements or agendas. Mutuality can exist on two levels—both valid, sacred ways of connecting.
Level One Mutuality calls us to actively listen to the story of another. With respect and dignity, “we listen not to judge, probe, evaluate, or advise but rather to hear and understand from that person’s perspective.” This takes work. It requires commitment to surrender the desire for rebuttals. It requires remembering the sacredness of the other. It opens us up for possible transformation. In the wisdom of BeFriender Ministry, this Level One Mutuality is to be 90% of our communication. Ninety percent of our time is actively listening, staying willing to engage.
Level Two Mutuality, only 10% of this sacred communication, is experienced when trust is built through non-judgmental listening of Level One. It is in this moment that we respectfully offer our perspective. The reality: you may stay at Level One and never enter Level Two—and that can be enough.
Can we listen to understand? Trusting that God is present, actively listening in a non-judgmental way, makes room for the miracles of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, our God is active among the division and brokenness. We are all called to trust God and listen.
Our new outdoor banner shares the powerful words of Pope Francis.
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every Life.”
Pope Francis – On the Death of George Floyd, June 3, 2020
Recently I was able to coordinate our annual young adult retreat. In more normal times, we typically go away for a weekend in the fall. In our present situation we made the retreat a day-long experience rather than a weekend. How different it was to be in a room together spread out and masked up! The ability to be together in person, reflect on our lives and enjoy some of the beautiful trails at the retreat center was a great blessing (and it was the weekend before snow started falling, so the right time!)
One of our materials on prayer featured the life of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton from the 1960s. It was enlightening to reflect on his life as a young adult, and spiritual experiences that led him to desire personal growth in faith and holiness. His experience ultimately led him to a religious community, but all of us could relate to reflecting on where we are in our lives with faith, jobs, relationships, and our present world still dealing with this pandemic and so much unrest. How has God called each of us with our own gifts and talents to help bring about God’s Kingdom?
One of Merton’s most famous quotes came from a mystical experience he had on a fairly random day in Louisville, Kentucky. I was reminded of it at the retreat and it has stayed with me since then. Merton wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Merton connects this experience in part to the Incarnation of Jesus. One of the most precious realities of God’s becoming a human being is that we are called to relationship with God and each other in a new way. Wherever we are and whoever we are with, “they are mine and I theirs,” as he put it.
We are just coming off one of the most divisive presidential elections in our country’s history; we may still not know who won the election. No matter the result, a significant part of the country will be unhappy with the result. One almost constant temptation will be to demonize those with whom do not agree. While we will not all have the same experience of Thomas Merton on that street corner, what if we could “wake from a dream of separateness” and try to see those around us “shining like the sun”? In what ways are we being called to bring about more civility, peace and connection in a world that remains so broken and fragmented? Perhaps our prayer this week can be to ask God for that wisdom to be aware of those opportunities, and the courage to act with grace and mercy.
Coordinator of Young Adult, Young Family, and Marriage Ministry
The Basilica of Saint Mary