Christ, King of the Universe is the closing reading of a liturgical year. Next week starts Advent, which begins the next calendar year. Superimpose the two, just for a moment. The King is a mature figure, and the feast clearly points to the return of Christ. Advent, is the awaiting of the Nativity of Christ, but also points towards Christ the King. One a conclusion, the other a beginning; yet both address the eternal. One can’t separate the Christ that majestically returns from the one that humbly enters creation. They are the same. The Christ of Christ the King might hint towards judgement, and that judgement gives hint of the reason for Advent. Both these days also speak to history. The Nativity was an historical event, the day the solemnity of Christ the King was instituted also was a reaction to history. 1929 was an era of changes for the Christendom of Europe. Monarchies were collapsing, and dictators were filling the void. The religious day was counterpoint to the political turmoil, a flock’s reminder of who the true King is. Read that reading where Pontius Pilot questions Christs Kingship. Politics are there too, and a monumental change is set into motion.
Did I say anything new? I don’t think so, I am just pondering this day. With one thought a year ends and a new one begins. In another thought there is a link of unbroken continuity. Does one day point towards the LORDS judgement, and the other HIS mercy? Does one gain importance over the other, does the feast of the King emphasize the importance of the Advent as a time of preparation? Does today serve as a reminder not only of that second coming of Christ, but does it also contrast two natures of the same Christ; judgement and forgiveness? Shouldn’t one also be reminded of the lessons of history, our history? The battles of yesterday and today, there is a political context to this day after all.
This is one of those days that raises more questions that it does to provide answers a day reminiscent of the same parables “Christ the King” preached. This day can’t be the conclusion of something eternal, yet one day hints towards an end and the other a beginning. Paradoxically, Christ has neither beginning nor end. How can we await the return of a God that never abandoned us? Perhaps in this day lies the meaning of the word majesty? Ours is a majestic King, a mysterious King, a King of justice, and of mercy. A King of wisdom and understanding.
Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
John’s book of Revelation has some of the most dramatic imagery in the bible, it is a film makers dream. It is, I think, perhaps the best written imagery that is on par with the fantasy film genre. Its message, though not fantasy, is encoded against a fantastical backdrop to make it difficult for the outsider to understand. Those outsiders were the persecutors of the early Church John was writing to. Its subject though is also enigmatic to many readers. It deals with the end of days, the end of time. To the early audience it also described the end of their persecution and their salvation. It is dramatic fantastical writing about a very important subject, the way it is written it seems to be a once in a lifetime event. Jesus parable describes the coming of the Kingdom of God as the blossoming of a tree, a springtime event and an ordinary event people experience many times in their lifetime. What a contrast to Johns Revelation! To think of that a little though, isn’t that Kingdom so often within our reach, and are there not many “ends of time” in our lifetimes? Many times that “end of time”, is the starting of a new chapter in life, or reaching a final decision on an important event that will likely never be overturned. Each of those seasonal events of a lifetime have the opportunity to bear fruit, if only people stop to recognize them. The problem then I that if one peers at the Kingdom of God as an afterlife event, they might miss the events of a lifetime that serve as entry points towards that same Kingdom. Jesus did destroy that barrier between life and death, between heaven and earth. When he taught the Kingdom of God is at hand, it indeed is as close as a blossoming tree. If one only is attentive to the signs of its presence, it too can blossom before our eyes.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
When I think of wars and insurrections I think of two things, one is that a group wants to stay in power and the other is someone wants to remove them from power. Two warring parties are never in agreement. The debate comes down to how one group rises and maintains their power, and why that other group might want to remove them. The argument does not place a moral opinion on either group as either the aggressor or the defender can be justified. Often it is the group that has established power are the just ones. The aggressors often are bandits simply trying to profit from another’s labor. It happens too though that those in power gained that power purely through aggression, or tactical advantage; a moral right might have little to do with their success. Often too the degree of disagreement or injustice indicates the level of peace between two groups. No battle does not mean there is no tension, and if there is tension and that tension builds, there eventually will be a settling of scores. Think back to that ancient temple, the Roman oppressors, the opportunist Jewish leaders, the oppressed masses; they might have been able to maintain a truce, but the only way a true peace would occur is for all sides to fight for it. Their old unjust society needed to be torn down so that a just one could replace it. The tearing down of the old though did not require the destruction of property, only the destruction of the injustice. Interesting that this gospel of the tearing down of the temple comes today. Today, rather than looking at an ancient society, it is so much easier to see that scriptural message in today’s society. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Ferguson: I wonder how many of these battles will be fought only to reach a partial settlement. Or might those conflicts be taken to their completion where the injustice is torn down so that justice can replace it. That tearing down of injustice though does not require the destruction of property, only the annihilation of injustice. Sadly though it is easier for us to face the destruction of the battle field, rather than face injustices of our own making. Such is our stubbornness.
I am sure that when Jesus fellow citizens of Jerusalem heard him speak of destroying and rebuilding the temple, they thought of the destruction of property that is so common in wars and uprisings. Having they given it a little thought though, they might have understood the destruction of that temple society as they knew it and the rebuilding of the relationship with their God that the temple was representing. The conflict was not only between Jesus and the Temple, the temple itself was conflicted. In one instance it was the center of that covenant between God and man, on the other it was an economical and nationalistic focal point for a people that had a relationship with God. That temple society needed to be deconstructed so that the relationship between God and man could be restored. I wonder though if that required the toppling of stone and mortar. It seems that all that needed to be removed were the obstacles surrounding that building that interfered with that relationship between God and man. Restoring that relationship though, took more than destruction of a building. It took Jesus Christ’s death on a cross and His resurrection. In today’s wars and insurrections, do we really need the destructions of battle fields and angry mobs; or do we really need the destruction of injustices, and the rising to a life restored? Is what really needed the dying to sin and the rising to life?
One of the things that is so memorable about Andrew Dung-Lac is that he was born a poor pagan Vietnamese. His catechesis was coupled with food and shelter, and then baptism. He was not born into Christianity, and the country he lived in was not historically Christian, and he was ethnically Vietnamese. Why do these points interest me? To start, Andrew became a priest, and taught catechism. That was a step up from the impoverished life he was born into, but does not begin to explain this person’s character. Andrews’s character and spirituality come out after the first time he went through imprisonment and persecution for his Christian faith. That persecution was under the emperor’s directive, and was wide spread; though Andrew was able at first to gain freedom with the support of his congregation. This is the part where this priest’s character and spirituality are revealed. After that persecution the priest changed his name, modified his location, and continued his mission. After imprisonment, how easy would it have been for him to simply remove his collar and blend in amongst his countrymen? He was ethnically Vietnamese, so blending in would have been easy. The persecutions going on in that country were among the most brutal in history, yet he did not remove his clerical collar, and to me that speaks volumes about the extent the Holy Spirit descended onto that priest. At his baptism he was initiated into the faith with water, at his first persecution was proof positive that he had received that Spirit. As he continued preaching and baptizing people into the faith, those persecutions continued and they were directed at Christians with unspeakable brutality. Andrew continued with his mission until he was beheaded for the faith at the age of forty-four. His story contains examples of the three types of baptism, that one of water, of the spirit, and by blood. The brutality towards Christians in that country at that time were horrendous. Andrews’s story is easy to tell because it is a brief biographical sketch of a single person. There were one hundred and seventeen martyrs, and each had their own unique story, though I am certain they all had that desire to live and die for their faith and preach the gospel of Christ. It was that faith that defined them, not their ethnicity or social standing. They were European and Vietnamese, Priests, Religious, and Lay people: all placing their faith in Christ. Their story of faith is remarkable and unforgettable.
It is the last Sunday of the Liturgical year, and also the Sunday of the feast “Christ the King.” It is a hint of what the advent season is awaiting for, Christ the King in a manger. It is also a Feast day that was established with a clear purpose. The feast day was initiated in1925 by Pope Pius XI to combat the rise of secularism. Secularism is informally the separation of Church and state, it also separates the moral and ethical norms of a community from a religious institution. Pope Pius wished to remind Catholics of Christ as the true and supreme King, and also of the supremacy of the Kingdom of God. How important is that to remember! It is Christ the King, not the presidents, prime ministers, dictators, corporate executives, governments, armies, educators. It is that Kings law’s that are supreme, not the whims of any politician that managed to rise to power. That is important to remember as World War One drew to a close, and the Second World War was on the horizon. With this feast of Christ the King, there also is that reminder of the qualities of a fitting King. Christ the King is also the Good Shepard, and the shepherd in the ancient world was the symbol of a true king. It is a reminder of his Kingdom against the manifestos of so many earthly Kings. It is a reminder of one kingdom, against all of the boundaries that were, and are, being drawn on this earthly kingdom. All of the reasons for this day in 1925, truly do to exist today. Secularism today is not a rising force, it is a fully mature and entrenched part of the landscape. Today politicians have no qualms with going against the teaching of Churches, there is little reason for them to fear a pontiff’s rebuttal. Today morals, ethics, beliefs are shaped by the state, not the Church. The objection is that the Church should not interfere in the States affairs; there is no argument for the State interfering with the Church’s teachings. Today most issues that were discerned by Church, today are decided by a political system based on popular vote and its associated lobbyist system. Most often it is not discerned through truth, but bartered for through a capitalist machinery. These are good reasons to remember Christ as King, and the laws and ways of that divine and eternal Kingdom. His kingdom is so much better than our bickering little parcels of land. His kingship is so much better than our feeble heads of state. The problem though is that we do live in this world and are affected by its laws, demands, and realities. Secular society does try to lure us away from Christ Kingdom and into the ideologies of the day. We do battle here, though with all of the advertisements of the earthly fractions of society, days like the feast of Christ the King are needed as a reminder of the true kingdom worth fighting for. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and Jesus Christ is its King.