November 25, 2007
Readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King
|Reading 1: 2 Sam. 5:1–3|
|Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 122:1–2, 3–4, 4–5|
|Reading 2: Col. 1:12–20|
|Gospel: Lk. 23:35–43|
|Link to Readings|
By Most Reverend John F. Donoghue
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is amazing, but true, that many people doubt or deny the effects of original sin upon the human race. And doubting the effects, many people soon doubt the sin itself, the story of Adam and Eve, and most importantly, the tension that remains between the Creator and what He created, between heaven and earth.
It is true that God sent His Son to redeem us, to “redeem the earth” as poets like to say, and indeed, by a life of grace, by living in the bounty of the Sacraments, we are able to obtain God’s forgiveness and enjoy fully the fruits of the Redemption. But this dispensation pertains to our individual souls, and revelation assures us that a day of general reckoning will occur—the final judgment will come, and the universe will be rolled up in the hand of God, in His eternal embrace for those He has loved and chosen, and who have chosen Him and loved Him in return.
Many times during the history of mankind, God has presented His creatures with gifts reflecting His mercy, His desire to embrace us with love. When He brought the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt, God gave them laws—rules to lead them on the path of perfection, to strengthen and shield them in the midst of their enemies. And God gave His people prophets, to remind them of the law, to restore their awareness of the Covenant, when trouble or sin dimmed their vision and cooled their faith. But it was not enough for the people—they wanted a king. Finally, God granted their wish.
But did it work?—this desire of the people for a king?
Well, it worked sometimes—but most of the time, it didn’t.
Kings and Kingdoms
The first king, Saul, fell victim to his own greed and the influences of sorcery and died by his own hand. David and Solomon followed, both great kings, but with great faults as well. And thereafter, the tale is one of ups and downs—of a few reasonable and fair monarchs, and of many tyrants and weaklings. The effects of original sin, were well visible in the strivings of the Chosen People to form and keep a government after their own design.
Fast forward to the time after Christ, when for a few centuries, the ideal of the Godly King seemed again to be attainable—the era we call now the Age of Christendom, when the Western world, was chiefly governed by one power—the power of the Church, the legacy of the Apostles. But again, the temporal reign was not to succeed—for the rulers of the Church were no less susceptible to the effects of original sin than those who came before. The love of God the Father that gave us Jesus Christ remained intact—the power of the Holy Spirit has watched over the deposit of Christ’s teaching without fail. But the Church could not rule the world—the fracture of original sin is with us, and human utopia is a bad and unattainable dream.
The truth of this assertion was at no time more real, more visible, than in the aftermath of World War I, the “war to end all wars.” But in the ruins of the terrible conflict, the Holy Spirit put it in the mind of Christ’s vicar on earth, to once more proclaim a king—but this King was to be the Real One, the one mankind has always waited for, the One who cannot fail, because He is without the disfiguring scar of original sin.
A New Feast
In 1925, one of the greatest of the Church’s popes, Pius XI, instituted the Feast of Christ the King, the feast we celebrate today, and the feast which encapsulates the faith, the fervor, and the pride of Christ’s Church on earth—the pilgrim and the militant Church.
In that year, the Holy Father must have contemplated, as we have briefly today, the truth about original sin, the truth about human plans, and the truth about earthly kings. He had lived through the horrors of the First World War—he had witnessed the terrible failure of earthly kings to come to grips with the needs of their nations. Some may have claimed victory, some may have accepted defeat, but the final result was that eight and a half million men died as a result of this struggle—human self-destruction on an epic scale.
And surely, with the prescience given by the Holy Spirit, he saw festering just beneath the surface of a harsh and resented peace, the poison of the next conflagration. For people were not tired of kings—they just wanted a different variety, born not of the ancestral homes of the monarchy, but from the people—a new kind of king, with names that now make us shudder—Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler. Before too long, a sorrowful Pius XI was to see all these men in firm control of their countries, embarking again on a plan of world conquest, a plan of death and destruction, a plan riddled with the terrible fractures
of original sin.
Honoring the King of Kings
Moved by this apocalyptic vision, and his burgeoning fear, Pope Pius XI determined to say—to define with a certainty only the Holy Spirit can bestow—once and for all, that there can be only one King for all mankind, and He is named Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the King did not prevent the Second World War—or wars to follow, of a smaller but no less cruel scale. And as much as we long for peace, as much as we treasure those moments when we have it for a few years, no one can say that we will never have war again—no one can say that we will never have tyrants for kings—they exist today, and war exists
But what we do have is a King to lead us through the conflicts of earth, and the sins of mankind upon itself—a King, who if followed, will lead us to justice and peace, and a resolution of the conflicts that beset us—a King with a prefect plan. In his proclamation establishing the Feast of Christ the King, Pius XI declared:
Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ. It will call to their minds the thought of the last judgment, wherein Christ, who has been cast out of public life, despised, neglected and ignored, will most severely avenge these insults; for his kingly dignity demands that the State should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.
This is the message the Church recalls and renews as we celebrate this great Feast of Christ the King. This is the message we wish to send to the world. That if it ignores Christ, it prolongs its own misery. For peace can only come when we bow to the Prince of Peace. Any other prince can only be the one of darkness, who delights in our conflicts and wars, and who pleasures in the destruction of our souls.
The Humility of the Good Thief
Let us pray, as a people who worship and who walk every day under the banner of Jesus Christ the King, that the world will embrace the message of our Redeemer – and the power, not of brute human strength, but the power of Christ’s perfect way, the power of Christ’s perfect love. For only from His way and from His love, can we ever find our way, our love, and be ready to face judgment, when God rolls everything up, in the justice, and we pray, the mercy of His strong hand. Let our wisdom be the humility of the good thief, who knew his place, knew his sin, knew his King, and died upon this confession:
“…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.”
And Jesus answered him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The Most Reverend John F. Donoghue is Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, GA. He has contributed to Lay Witness magazine, including an article on Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia entitled “From the Heart of the Church: A Personal Message from Our Holy Father”.
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