25 November 2011
¡Que viva Cristo Rey!
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
American’s seem to have a love/hate relationship with monarchies. The very founding of our country was based upon the fact that we wanted a republican democracy, where, instead of the King of England, we would elect representatives to enact laws, representatives that we could then vote out of office. We love our rugged independence, so much so that, in order to prevent even coming close to a monarchy, we only allow our elected presidents to serve two terms.
On the other hand, the common idea of the “Golden Age” of American, despite all it’s trials and tribulations, was the time of Camelot (a monarchial reference) when we had John F. Kennedy as president, and Jackie as First Lady, whom many considered, and some still consider, America’s royalty. And how many people stayed up to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge last May? There’s something about royalty that draws us in.
And so, as we celebrate the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ the King we probably have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think we’re still enamored with the idea of a king in royal robes with a stately court. Some of us love the idea of having a king for whom we can offer our lives. It’s a very personal way of service. On the other hand, some of us don’t like to think of Jesus as a king, however benevolent. We would much rather have democracy, and choice of the people. Monarchies seem, to these people, to be contrary to the very dignity of the human person.
The history of this feast probably only further solidifies each camp’s position. Pope Pius XI created this celebration in his Encyclical Quam primas in 1925, in response to growing trends of nationalism and secularism, reminding Catholics that, while they are legitimately part of a nation, there is a high authority, the King of kings, to whom we owe all our loyalty and fealty. To be honest, then, there’s bad news for both those who love monarchy, and those who hate it.
The bad news for those who hate monarchy is that Jesus is a King. He’s a benevolent King, but He is the King of kings. We cannot elect Him out of office if we don’t like His policies. We cannot veto His teachings when they make us uncomfortable or when we dislike them. We have the choice of accepting His rule over our entire lives: marriage, sexuality, work, charity, liturgy, justice, etc., or rejecting it. Of course, as our Creator, our King knows what is best for us and what will make us truly happy, so following the decrees of the King is really in our best interest, because our King is not moved by greed, the desire for power or popularity, or any ill will, but rules by love, which is always faithful to the truth. At the end of our lives, when we are judged, we will be part of a kingdom. We will either be subjects of Christ the King in Purgatory or Heaven, or we will be subjects of Satan in Hell. Those are the two options, without middle ground. So part of us may have to get used to the idea of being in a monarchy.
For those who love monarchy, the bad news is that our King is not a king like others. He is indeed seated on a throne, as the Book of Revelation tells us, but, as our readings tell us today, He is a Shepherd-King. He does not rule with a scepter, but with the shepherd’s staff. His crown is the crown of thorns, the marks still being born on his body of his love. All of our readings this year focus on Christ as the Shepherd, and this needs to instruct our understanding of Christ as King.
In the first reading, the Lord speaks through Ezekiel the prophet saying, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep…I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.” Our King will seek out the lost sheep, will bring them back, and will heal the sick sheep. I’m told by sheep farmers that sheep cannot be chased by a shepherd. They will simply run away, farther from the safety that the shepherd provides. But sheep can and want to be led. If the shepherd approaches slowly and leads the flock, they will follow. The Good Shepherd, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to John, lays down his life for His sheep. Our King, our Shepherd-King, so loves us, his sheep, that when the wolves of sin and death and evil come to attack us, He does battle with them to protect us. And, having protected us, he gives us rest in green pastures, refreshes our souls, and sets a feast before us so that we only receive goodness and kindness, and dwell in the Lord’s house, the Kingdom of our Shepherd-King.
But, our shepherd cares for sheep, not goats. So we have to examine our conscience to see in which group we fall. Because at the end of time, as we hear in the Gospel, our Shepherd-King will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep, those who ministered to Jesus in the least of His brothers and sisters, will go on to eternal reward. The goats, those who neglected Jesus in the least of His brothers and sisters, will go on to eternal punishment.
Whether we like it or not, Jesus is King of the Universe, and all things fall under His rule. But, our King is not a despot or a tyrant. He is a Shepherd, who wants to protect us and care for us, leading us to good pasture, if only we will follow Him. And how we follow Him is made known by the way we live out our faith. May our lives and our words echo those of the Mexican martyrs who chose to be executed by firing squad rather than deny the authority of Christ over all parts of their lives: ¡Que viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!