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The Solemnity of Christ the King
November 25, 2018


    
This feast of Christ the King has its origins in the years between the two world wars of the twentieth century when various forms of totalitarianism were on the rise: Fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, and Soviet Communism.  As a counterpoint to those godless grabs for power that denied and trampled on basic human dignity, Pope Pius XI boldly placed the figure of Christ the King, the most unlikely of kings – a king with no armies, no weapons other than the truth, and no territorial ambitions other than human hearts.

     The world situation has changed dramatically since 1925 when this feast was inaugurated, but the need for the feast is no less pressing.  Soviet Communism, Nazism, and Fascism may have disappeared – or maybe not - but other frightening ‘isms’ have not. Think of the present alarming rise of nationalism, racism, and sexism. Each of these represents a serious distortion of the truth. Each cries out for a confrontation with truth like the one between Jesus and Pilate in today’s gospel.

     The confrontation began as a conversation, or more accurately, an interrogation.  Pilate, representing the imperial power of the Roman Caesar, asks Jesus a simple question: “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Jesus, though on trial for his life, is serenely in charge of this exchange.  He answers by questioning Pilate: What prompts your question?  ‘Are you asking this on your own or are you just repeating what you’ve heard from others?’  At that point Pilate shifts to another line of questioning: “What have you done?” he asks Jesus.  But Jesus calmly stays with the original question: ‘You asked me if I was a king.  Let me tell you about my kingdom.  It’s not what you think.  My kingdom is not about power, it’s about truth’: “The reason I was born; the reason I came into the world is to testify to the truth.”  And with those words, Jesus puts Pilate on trial.  He confronts him with the most important question of all; namely, which is greater – power or truth?

     For me, this question is where the feast of Christ the King gets its present and perennial relevance. It may have been a twentieth century inspiration but it’s a twenty-first century imperative because power is still more highly valued than truth - as is so evident from the political currents awash in our country and across the world.  And so we need a feast that runs counter to all the ethical, political and social vacuums that suck from our world so much that is good and beautiful and noble and true. Pilate’s cynical question to Jesus, “What is truth?” was a chilling foreshadowing of today’s moral relativism where there are no answers, only questions; no truth, only what works.

     But Christ the prisoner, hands bound before Pilate, puts the lie to all this. He is bound, but he is free. And he freely speaks the truth to power. And his freedom no one can take from him because his is an inner freedom grounded in one thing only: the truth.  “For this I was born,” he says to Pilate, “and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.” 

     My friends, those words of Jesus say it all. “Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.” Without equivocation or qualification, Jesus identifies his voice, his Word, with the truth.  He dares to say that there is such a thing as truth and that he himself embodies it. That’s quite a claim and it’s what gives this feast of Christ the King particular relevance for our moment in time - for one of the great challenges of our moment is to find the truth, and Jesus says we find it by hearing his voice. We find it by letting his word, his gospel, pierce and penetrate our consciences; we find it by holding his gospel before us like a mirror – long enough and often enough that we begin to see not only his face but our own. For, my friends, the gospel is only words until it takes flesh in people’s lives, in our lives. And when it does we begin to see things differently – radically differently. We begin to change our outlook: the way we look at the world, at people, at politics, at life itself. Bridges begin to be built instead of walls, divisiveness gives way to dialogue and power plays to the pursuit of peace.

     How different our world will be when we take the gospel of Jesus seriously!  How different our world will be when his word becomes our truth.

     My friends, it begins with us – in the court of our conscience and in this community of faith we call the Church.  Our responsibility is always personal, yes, but we carry it out communally. That’s why we keep coming here and why we go together to the altar of Christ’s sacrifice, the table of the Eucharist.  We will meet him there today – meet Christ our King.  He comes with his truth to transform us.  And through us he can transform the world!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

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