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Reflections for the feast of Christ the King

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the feast of Christ the King.

Central theme: This Sunday, at the end of Church’s liturgical year, the readings describe the enthronement of the victorious Christ as King in Heaven in all His glory. Instituting this Feast of Christ, the King in 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed: “Pax Christi in regno Christi” (the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ). This means that we live in the peace of Christ when we surrender our lives to him every day, accept him as our God, Savior and King and allow him to rule our lives.

Homily starter anecdote: Christ has conquered, Christ now rules: In the middle of St Peter’s square in Rome, there stands a great obelisk. It about four and half thousand years old and it originally stood in the temple of the sun in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis. But it was bought to Rome by the dreadful Emperor Caligula and it was set right in the middle of Circus of Nero, equally dreadful, that was on the Vatican hill. It was in that Circus that St Peter was martyred, and the obelisk may well have been the last thing on this Earth that Peter saw. On top of the obelisk there now stands a cross. In ancient times there was a gold ball representing, of course, the sun. Now there is a cross however, the cross of Christ, and on the pedestal of the obelisk there are two inscriptions. The first of them in Latin, “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat”, which translated means, Christ has conquered, Christ now rules, Christ now reigns supreme. The other inscription, “The Lion of Judah has conquered”. So here we have the language of victory. Christianity has triumphed by the power of the cross and triumphed over even the greatest power that the ancient world had known, the Roman Empire, and here in the middle of St Peter’s square stands the obelisk bearing those triumphant inscriptions. (

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading, taken from the book of Daniel, speaks of the mysterious Son of Man (with whom Jesus would later identify himself), coming on the clouds, glorified by God and given dominion that will last forever.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 93), proclaims, “The Lord is King,” celebrating the God of Israel as King over all creation.  In the second reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, the risen Christ comes amid the clouds as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last of all things.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus asserts before Pilate that he is a king and clarifies that that his kingdom “does not belong to this world.”  He rules as King by serving others rather than by dominating them; his authority is rooted in truth, not in physical force, and his Kingdom, the reign of God, is based on the Beatitudes. Jesus has come to bear witness to the truth: about God and His love for us, about Himself as the Son of God and about us as the children of God.  There are plenty of texts proving the kingship of Jesus both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament of the Bible. (See the Gospel exegesis).

Introduction: In the Church’s calendar, Christ the King is the parallel of the Super Bowl trophy or the Final Four in college basketball or the last game of the World Series. The Church’s liturgical year concludes with this feast of Christ the King, instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to celebrate the Jubilee Year and the 16th centenary of the Council of Nicaea.  Instituting this feast, Pope Pius XI proclaimed: “Pax Christi in regno Christi” (“The peace of Christ in the reign of Christ”).  This feast was established and proclaimed by the Pope to reassert the sovereignty of Christ and the Church over all forms of government and to remind Christians of the fidelity and loyalty they owed to Christ, who by his Incarnation and sacrificial death on the cross had made them both adopted children of God and future citizens and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Feast was also a reminder to the totalitarian governments of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin that Jesus Christ is the only Sovereign King. Christ is our spiritual King and Ruler who rules by truth and love. We declare our loyalty to him by the quality of our Christian commitment, expressed in our serving of others with sacrificial and forgiving love, and by our solidarity with the poor. Although emperors and kings with real ruling power exist today only in history books, we nevertheless honor Christ as the King of the Universe and the King of our hearts by allowing him to take control of our lives.  In thousands of human hearts all over the world, Jesus still reigns as King.  The Cross is his throne and the Sermon on the Mount, his rule of law.   His citizens need obey only one major law: “Love God with all your being, and love others as I have loved you.”  His love is selfless, compassionate, forgiving, and unconditional.  He is a King with a saving and liberating mission: freeing us from all types of bondage, enabling us to live peacefully and happily on earth, and promising us an inheritance in the eternal life of heaven.

First reading: Daniel 7:13-14, explained: The apocalyptic Book of Daniel came to prominence during a bitter persecution of the Jews in the second century BC, where it bolstered the Faith of the beleaguered chosen people of God.  The book rises from the sixth century BC, during the Captivity of the Jews in Babylon (the Exile).Today’s selection from Daniel expresses well the Jewish understanding of the Kingship of God and that of the Promised Messiah.  It describes the mysterious “Son of Man” (with whom Jesus would later identify himself), as coming on the clouds, glorified by God and given the dominion that will last forever.  In his vision, Daniel saw God seated on a Throne, with millions of people serving Him.  Into His presence there came a human figure, "one like a Son of Man,” to whom were given (v.14)"dominion and glory and kingship, that all should serve him... his kingship is one which shall never be destroyed."  He would be the King of kings and the Lord of glory and His Kingdom would last forever.  The New Testament proves that Jesus is this long-awaited King of the Jews. 

Second reading: Revelation 1:5-8, explained: The New Testament Book of Revelation has the same apocalyptic character as the Book of Daniel, although that element is not very evident in today's short selection.  Its readers were being persecuted, and the author wanted to bolster their Faith.  To the description of Jesus given here, we can apply what was said above about the Son of Man and His commission from the Ancient One.  Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation also explains how the risen Christ will come amid the clouds as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last of all things.  In its apocalyptic style, the Book of Revelation describes how Jesus has become our King by freeing us from our sins by His Blood (and so from the ruler of darkness), and by blessing all of us to be priests for his God and Father -- all because he loves us.  Today’s reading concludes by stating that Christ the King is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, that is, the A and the Z, the beginning and the end of our lives and of all life.  Alpha and Omega are the first and the last letters of the alphabet in Greek, the original language of this book.  Giving Jesus the Alpha title reminds us of the first theme John’s Gospel that Jesus is the Word of God, pre-existing with the Father before all creation.  To call Jesus the Omega is to say that he will be in charge at the end of the world.  The four passages refer to the supreme Kingship of Christ who founded a Kingdom for us, where He has made us priests dedicated to the service of God his Father.  He will come a second time to judge all men.

Gospel exegesis: The Biblical basis of the feast: A) Old Testament texts: The title "Christ the King" has its roots both in Scripture and in the whole theology of the Kingdom of God.   In most of the Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament books of Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel, Christ the Messiah is represented as a King.  B) New Testament texts: a) In the Annunciation, recorded in Lk 13:2-33, we read: “The Lord God will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and He will be the King of the descendants of Jacob forever and His Kingdom will never end."  In fact, the Kingdom of God is the center of Jesus’ teaching and the phrase "Kingdom of God" occurs in the Gospels 122 times, of which 90 instances are uses by Jesus.  b) The Magi from the Far East came to Jerusalem and asked the question: (Mt. 2:2) “Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews?  We saw his star… and we have come to worship him."  c) During the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday, the Jews shouted: (Lk 19:38)“God bless the King, who comes in the name of the Lord."  d) During the trial of Jesus described in today’s Gospel, Pilate asked the question:  (Jn 18:33):  “Are you the king of the Jews?"  Jesus replied: “You say that I am a king.  I was born and came into this world for this one purpose, to bear witness to the Truth."   e) The signboard hung over Jesus’ head on the cross read: “Jesus the Nazarene, king of the Jews."  f) Before his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus declared: (Mt. 28:18): “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.”  g) Finally, in Matthew 25:31, we read that Christ the King will come in glory to judge us on the day of the Last Judgment.

Jesus’ clarification of his kingship before Pilate during his trial: The Jews accused Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God, and they wanted him to die by the most shameful and painful death, Roman execution.  Hence, they brought Jesus before Pilate the Roman governor and accused Jesus of causing sedition against the Roman Empire and Caesar.  "We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king" (Lk 23:2).  Today’s Gospel presents the first part of the trial conducted by Pilate who questions Jesus about his kingship.  In his dialogue with Pilate, Jesus implies that Pilate does not understand the spiritual or transcendent nature of Jesus’ kingship (“My Kingdom does not belong to this world”).  Jesus admits that he is a king but declares that his Kingdom is not of this world.  Neither his present nor his future reign operates according to the world’s criteria of power and dominance.  Jesus’ Kingdom, the reign of God, is based on the beatitudes, and he rules through loving service rather than through domination.  His authority is rooted in truth, not in physical force.  Jesus also claims that he has come to bear witness to the truth about a larger and eternal Kingdom.  Jesus has come to bear witness to the truth: about God and His love, about us and about whom we are called to be. 

What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Kingdom of Christ the King? Here is a beautiful explanation given by Gerald Darring (St. Louis University: Center for Liturgy): The Kingdom of God is a space. It exists in every home where parents and children love each other. It exists in every region and country that cares for its weak and vulnerable. It exists in every parish that reaches out to the needy. The Kingdom of God is a time. It happens whenever someone feeds a hungry person, or shelters a homeless person, or shows care to a neglected person. It happens whenever we overturn an unjust law, or correct an injustice, or avert a war. It happens whenever people join in the struggle to overcome poverty, to erase ignorance, to pass on the Faith. The Kingdom of God is in the past (in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth); it is in the present (in the work of the Church and in the efforts of many others to create a world of goodness and justice); it is in the future (reaching its completion in the age to come). The Kingdom of God is a condition. Its symptoms are love, justice, and peace. Jesus Christ is king! We pray today that God may free all the world to rejoice in His peace, to glory in His justice, to live in His love.

Life Messages: 1) We need to assess our commitment to Christ the King today.  As we celebrate the Kingship of Christ today, let us remember the truth that He is not our King if we do not listen to him, love him, serve him, and follow him.  We belong to his Kingdom only when we try to walk with him, when we try to live our lives fully in the spirit of the Gospel and when that Gospel spirit penetrates every facet of our living.  If Christ is really King of my life, he must be King of every part of my life, and I must let him reign in all parts of my life.  We become Christ the King’s subjects when we sincerely respond to his loving invitation: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29).  By cultivating in our lives the gentle and humble mind of Christ, we show others that Jesus Christ is in indeed our King and that he is in charge of our lives.

2) We need to give Jesus control over our lives.  Today’s Feast of Christ the King reminds us of the great truth that Christ must be in charge of our lives, that we must give him sovereign power over our bodies, our thoughts, our heart and our will.  In every moral decision we face, there’s a choice between Christ the King and Barabbas, and the one who seeks to live in Christ's Kingdom is the one who says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Let us ask ourselves the question, "What does Jesus, my King, want me to do or say in this situation?"  Are we praying each day that our King will give us the right words to say to the people we meet that day, words that will make us true ambassadors of Jesus?  Does our home life as well as the way we conduct ourselves with our friends come under the Kingship of Jesus?  Or do we try to please ourselves rather than him?

3) We need to follow Christ the King’s lesson of humble service to the truth. Christ has come to serve and to be of service to others.  Hence, we are called to his service - service to the truth.  In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying that the reason for his coming – the reason that he was born – was to “bear witness” to the truth.  The truth to which Jesus bears witness by His Life and which he teaches us is that God, His Father, is also our loving and forgiving Father, so we are all His children, forming one body.  Hence, whatever we do for His children, and our sisters and brothers, we do for Him.  So we are called to be a people who reach out to embrace the enemy and the stranger, a people who are called to glory in diversity, a people who will endlessly forgive, a people who will reach out in compassion to the poor and to the marginalized sectors of our society, a people who will support one another in prayer, a people who will realize that we are called not to be served, but to serve.  In other words, servant-leadership is the model that Christ the King has given us. “For the Christian, ‘to reign is to serve Him,’ particularly when serving ‘the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder’” (CCC #786).

4) We need to obey the law of love of Christ the King.  Citizens of Christ’s kingdom are expected to observe only one major law--the law of love.  "Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”  "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments."  Jesus expects a higher degree of love from His followers: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  On this great Feast of Christ, the King, let us resolve to give him the central place in our lives and promise to obey his commandment of love by sharing what we have with all his needy children. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

22 November 2018, 10:34