The Solemnity of Christ the King

Today we bring the liturgical year to a close with the solemnity of Christ the King, a solemnity John Paul II once termed “a synthesis of the entire salvific mystery.”

In today’s Gospel, a piece of St. John’s account of the trial of Jesus before Pilate, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The idea of Jesus as king is part of what made some people – including Pilate – nervous during Jesus’ lifetime. People like Pilate and Herod saw Jesus being king as a threat to their own power.

In reply to Pilate’s question, Jesus acknowledges his kingship, but makes clear his kingship is not the sort Pilate had in mind, replying, “My kingdom does not belong to this world….My kingdom is not here.”

Jesus’ acknowledgement of his kingship in the context of the trial that will result in his execution reminds us of the paradoxical truth that we Christians celebrate a king crucified. Not a king who rules triumphantly over an earthly kingdom, but one who dies an ignominious death.

Jesus’ kingship is not the sort Pilate could understand. As Pope Benedict once explained, Jesus is a new kind of king. “This king does not break the people with an iron rod (cf. Ps 2:9) – he rules from the Cross, and does so in an entirely new way. Universality is achieved through the humility of communion in faith; this king rules by faith and love, and in no other way.”

Blessings on this solemnity of Christ the King.

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Participating in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Mission of Christ

I spent the past two days at a seminar on Woman in the Church and in the World, sponsored by the Siena Symposium for Women, Family, and Culture. The seminar included some wonderful sessions on the problems confronting women, the Marian Dimension of the Church, the family as “domestic Church,” the mission of the laity, among others.

Near the end of the first day, we talked about an important subject not unique to women – the role of the laity. We looked at some beautiful language in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World) addressing a subject we don’t often think about: “the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God.”

When we receive the sacrament of Baptism, we are anointed with oil as a sign that we are joined to Christ and share in his threefold mission as prophet, priest, and king. One of the aims of Christifideles Laici is to remind us of this charge, to encourage us to take seriously our role in this mission.

What does it mean for us to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ? (Do we even think about that question?)

To be a prophet in the Christian sense means to “accept the Gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed.”

To participate in the kingly mission means to “seek to overcome in [ourselves] the kingdom of sin.” Someone suggested in our discussion that for us to act kingly means for us to exercise sovereignty over ourself to that we may then make a gift of ourself to others.

To share in Jesus priestly mission, which for Jesus meant sacrificing himself on the cross, means for us to let all of our activities become spiritual sacrifices, that is, to carry out all of our deeds in the Spirit and with love.

It is a tall order. But that is what we are called to by our baptism.

Christ the King

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which, among other things, signals for us that the liturgical year is coming to an end and Advent is almost here. We hear in our first reading the prophesy of Daniel, who saw “one like a Son of man coming” and saw this son of man receive “dominion, glory, and kingship.”

Calling Jesus a king is part of what made some people nervous during his lifetime; it certainly made Pilate nervous. (In today’s Gospel we listen to Pilate question Jesus about being King of the Jews.) Misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s kingship, people like Pilate and Herod saw His being king as a threat to their own power. Misunderstanding the nature of Christ’s kingship, others thought it meant a relationship of subjugation.

But Christ’s kingship is not political. As Pope Benedict explains, Jesus is a new kind of king. “This king does not break the people with an iron rod (cf. Ps 2:9) – he rules form the Cross, and does so in an entirely new way. Universality is achieved through the humility of communion in faith; this king rules by faith and love, and in no other way.”

Thus, today’s feast, in Pope Benedict’s words, “is not a feast of those who are subjugated, but a feast of those who know that they are in the hands of the one who writes straight on crooked lines.”

Happy feast of Christ the King!