By Ryan Browne
Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!
Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands!
These striking words proclaimed at the Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King evoke powerful images. They are often chanted with strength and vigour by the choir, akin to more of a football match than a prayer. The words evoke an image of a victorious king returning from battle, banners unfurled, who marches on to conquer his next enemy. This image fits perfectly with our human, often romanticised, notions of kingship: A leader, rich in wealth and physical strength, adorned in courage, ready to defend those under his dominion at any given moment.
In today’s Gospel (John 18:33-7) we find ourselves immersed in the passion narrative. Here we see Jesus questioned by Pontius Pilate and humiliated. Jesus is handed a rod, vested in a cloak and, finally, crowned with thorns. Scorned, hated and ridiculed – Jesus the King is handed his cross, the very means by which He is to die.
Is this kingship? Is this glory? Is this someone I want as my leader and guide?
Today, Jesus turns the triangle of power upside-down. As Jesus says, “Mine is not a Kingdom of this world.” All of a sudden, the king is placed at the bottom. The servants are given prime place. We are reminded of Jesus’ words regarding those who would be first will be last. The language of heaven penetrates our earthly hearts, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ power comes through His suffering and self-giving. Indeed St Paul reminds us that our power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Gospel is inviting us to a place of transformation. How often do we seek out the ‘kingship’ of everyday life? Riches, recognition, vengeance – or at least tit for tat – over those who harm us. We’re being challenged to enter into a renewed vision, God’s vision, of kingship.
Through our baptism we have already inherited the kingship of Jesus, for at our baptism we were made priest, prophet and king. These gifts, however, must be renewed and cultivated every day in the life of a baptised Christian. So, we must constantly ask ourselves: How can I be a king like Jesus? How can I be a humble servant? How can I offer myself totally to Jesus, whilst recognising my frailties, but trusting that God will transform them in love and use them for work in His kingdom?
As we conclude this liturgical year, let’s reflect on these questions. Let’s discern God’s kingdom, revealed in the small helpless Child in the manger, and in the condemned Convict on the Cross. By perceiving power in helplessness, we can be led to a more authentic proclamation of the Gospel in the hymn we sing today:
Christus Vincit! – He conquers our sinfulness and weakness.
Christus Regnat! – He reigns in our hearts.
Christus Imperat! – He commands us to go out into the world to heal, serve and make His heavenly kingdom present in the here and now.
Ryan Browne, from Bournemouth, England, is a seminarian studying at the Venerable English College in Rome, in his first year of theology.