- On December 9, 2019
Today’s Feast of Christ the King brings to a close the annual cycle of the church’s liturgy. It fittingly focuses our attention on Jesus Christ and brings alive once again in our hearts the words spoken at the great Easter Vigil last spring while inscribing the paschal candle, the symbol of the risen Christ: “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.” These consoling words and profession of faith ought to be for us at all times the source of our consolation and peace.
What we are celebrating today was brought home to me lucidly and beautifully just this past week during a visit with one of our alumni. He and his wife are helping in their parish’s marriage preparation program and they by chance are meeting with two engaged couples who are recent graduates of our college. In working with them, he has been impressed by the vitality of their faith and the central place it holds in their relationship and in their preparation for this most important event of their entire lives. When he had finished telling me about this, he said, “The church is alive! It’s great!”
After seemingly endless months of heaviness with revelations of scandals, abuse of persons and of power, this revelation – “The Church is alive!” – was like a beam of sunlight piercing the clouds of a fall day and setting the landscape ablaze with color. The church is indeed alive because it is the Body of Christ, joined to our Lord and Head by a bond that can never be broken. The church is alive because God has willed it so, and has called it together to continue His saving presence in the world until the end of time.
Just as there is a danger of missing the teaching of this Feast of Christ the King by calling to mind historical models, such as the King of England or the King of France, so also there is the danger, so prevalent today, or thinking of the church in terms of the dysfunctional model of political life. It has become popular to describe the church as divided into progressive and conservative factions. Just as it has become accepted at least in American political life to disparage and demean one’s opponents rather than engage in a careful and reasoned examination of policies and positions, so also has it become fashionable even in the church to speak of Pope Francis in some circles as a heretic and in others as a savior, distorting in both directions the role of the pope in the church and too often basing one’s judgments on soundbites from preferred media outlets rather than an informed and careful study of issues. This is wrong. It divides the church, the Body of Christ.
In the midst of all this, the church provides us today with Christ the King, the one who came to gather into one the dispersed children of God, and who taught his disciples that by this all will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another. The church provides us today with Christ the King, the one who reveals the unfathomable mercy of God who had such compassion on our weak and sinful humanity that he took our human nature himself in all things but sin to heal and restore it. Far more profoundly than the Israelites of old could say to David can we say to Jesus Christ: Here we are, your bone and your flesh. He knows well our hopes, our sorrows, our weakness, our joy, because he has shared them. The church provides us today with Christ the King, who entered into his reign on the cross, powerless before the powers of the world, to reveal that love, which is the very life of God, is more powerful than all the forces of evil and death. His words to the thief, preserved for us in today’s gospel: Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise, have led countless martyrs through the ages to bear witness to the power of God’s love even to the shedding of their blood. Through their witness time and again, the power of God’s love present in their seeming powerlessness has overthrown earthly powers from the Roman Empire down to the murderous and totalitarian regimes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The church provides us today with Christ the King to remind us again that Jesus lives and that we need not be afraid, because God has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
So we are not celebrating Christ as some earthly power, but the Lord who guides the hearts and minds of all who have been baptized. If Jesus Christ rules us then it is we who have been sent to make Jesus Christ present in the world. If Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives then it is we who have been called to restore the church as a communion in charity and truth. Just as in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, his divine power worked through his true humanity in a way that amazed people and caused them to wonder, so fully was it united to our ordinary humanity. Likewise today, through the ordinary forms of bread and wine, the divine presence of the risen Lord comes to us through his power in this Eucharist, the true body and blood of the Risen Jesus, to empower us to witness to his lordship.
The church gives us this Feast of Christ the King to renew our belief, our confidence, our hope and our love for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. He is risen from the dead, never to die again, promises us victory over sin and evil and even death itself. Most fittingly today can we proclaim at the end of the church’s year of grace those words with which we began the celebration of his triumph in the Easter Feast: “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.”
Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B.