20 November 2016

Homily - 20 November 2016 - The Solemnity of Our Lord Christ, King of the Universe

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

With great joy and gladness, Holy Mother Church today acknowledges the Son of God and Son of Mary as “the King of the universe” to whom “belong glory and power for ever and ever” (Collect, Revelation1:6). In this age in which we live in a constitutional republic, today’s Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, may seem an antiquated notion of medieval piety. This, however, is not the case, because today’s celebration is not even one hundred years old.

BL Royal 15 D II, f. 122
Capello tip to A Clerk of Oxford
Pope Pius XI established this liturgical celebration in 1925 because he recognized the lamentable state of society at that time. He went so far as to enumerate the ills of the then-present day:

...the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.[1]

His words maintain a striking parallel to our own day. How is it, then, that society is not much improved? How, indeed, could society have actually worsened? With the diagnosis so clearly given, how could we have become more gravely ill? The answer is really quite simple: individuals, families, and societies have not yielded themselves to the power of Christ’s love, nor have they placed themselves under the gentle yoke of his kingship (cf. Matthew 11:29).

Our modern day has rejected the authority of kings, thinking them all to be tyrannical despots like King Henry VIII. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people – even many among us today – reject the authority of Christ the King over their lives? We forget that not every king is a tyrant. History has known good kings, like King Alfred the Great, who saw to the welfare and education of his people more than his own pleasure. We, on the other hand, try to make ourselves little kings over our lives and seek our own pleasure before the welfare of others. It is time for us to remove our self-made crowns and cast them – together with our self-absorption - at the feet of the One who alone is worthy (cf. Revelation 4:10).

In the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel, we heard a brief account of the anointing of David, the former shepherd who slew Goliath and so defeated the army of the Philistines, as King of Israel (cf. II Samuel 5:3). Many kings would succeed him and sit on his throne, but at the time of our Lord’s birth the throne of David was vacant, awaiting the fulfillment of the ancient promise given through the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and for evermore (9:6-7).

Soon we will enter the season of Advent and reflect on these words in a particular way, by turning our thoughts to the One of whom the Archangel Gabriel declared when he said to the Blessed Virgin: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

Crucifixion Scene, manuscript, ca. 1300-1350
Kranmert Art Museum

It is this Child, this King, whom we see today hanging on the Cross in order to save us from our sins. The government upon his shoulder is the Cross he carried for us, the Cross he ascended for us, and from which he reigns over us; his government is one of mercy and love, not of tyranny and oppression. It is to this King that we must give the obedience of faith; it is to this King that we must entrust ourselves. If we hope to find the joy and enthusiasm of a renewed conversion of heart and will so as to know the joy of Christmas each day, if we hope to attain the joy and peace for which our hearts long, we must willingly submit to him in all things; we must seek to serve him alone, and not ourselves.

We know that the obedience we are to give to Christ is, ultimately, the same obedience that led Jesus to the Cross. He makes it clear that if we are to be in his service, we must take up the cross each day – without exception – and follow him (cf. Luke 9:23). Yet we also know that to those who pledge their obedience to him and take up their cross, Christ Jesus will say, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The conversion the Lord desires is full and complete, one that continually calls out for his mercy, and one by which we allow ourselves to be entirely his - and his alone - so that we can be found “glorying in obedience to the commands of Christ” and “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Prayer After Communion; Psalm 122:1). But this is only possible if we recognize we are not sovereign over our own lives.

Is it unreasonable to place oneself under the authority of one who loves? While those crucifying Jesus, together with the crowd and even one crucified with him, mocked and reviled him, Jesus chose instead to

display patience, commend humility, render obedience, and bring love to perfection. Now by these gems of the virtues the four corners of the cross are adorned: love at the top; obedience on the right; patience on the left; and the root of virtues, humility, at the base. The consummation of the Lord’s passion has enriched the triumphant trophy of the cross with these virtues.[2]

Jesus displays his kingship in this manner. He allows his heart to be pierced for us so that we can enter into it and see how much he loves us.

Let us, then, recognize his authority over our lives. Let us willingly kneel before him and ask to be sent out as heralds and emissaries of his merciful love. Let us seek to uproot the seeds of discord and bring peace to the enmities and rivalries between individuals and nations. Let us change our greed into generosity and temper our selfishness with an honest recognition of our sins, of our failures to love. Let us bring a sincere concern for others into our families and joyfully fulfill our duties towards them. After all, as Pope Francis said, this morning, “it would mean very little … if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but did not make him Lord of our lives: all this is empty if we do not personally accept Jesus and if we do not also accept his way of being King.[3]

If we live in this way, if we live as loyal and loving subjects of Christ the King, if we live our lives under the shadow of his Cross adorned with love, obedience, patience, and humility, then the dream and ambition of Pope Pius XI will be fulfilled: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.”[4]

Queen Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is said to have once asked, “How could I wear a crown of gold when my Lord wears a crown of thorns? And he wears it for me,” she added in honest humility. If she, an earthly queen, placed herself under the kingship of Christ and strove to follow his example in all things, we can do the same. May we never tire of doing so! By conforming our lives to the mystery of his Cross, by adorning our lives with the gems of love, obedience, patience, and humility, may the Lord bring us into his “eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Preface). Amen.

[1] Pope Pius XI, Qua primas, 24.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 23.45. In Works of Saint Bonaventure, Vol. III, Part 3: Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: Chapters 17-24 (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2004), 2158.
[3] Pope Francis, Homily, 20 November 2016.
[4] Pope Pius XI, Qua primas, 19.

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