Sunday, November 21, 2010

Solemnity of Christ the King

"Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Normally when we think of the king, we think of one who is arrayed in glory, we think of the one with the power, we think of the one that everyone has to bow down before. We look, for instance, in the Book of Esther and we hear about the king who is there and seated on his throne. Esther could not enter into the royal throne room unless the king had actually summoned her, otherwise, she would be killed – and not only she as the queen, but anybody; no one could enter the presence of the king or else they would be put to death, unless the king had personally summoned them. So you see the fear that was instilled in people when they thought about a king. We think of all the pageantry and all the things that go along with royalty in the modern day. This is not the idea that the Church has when we celebrate this feast. We need to set aside all of these ideas about what kingship is and what royalty is (and all of the things that have grown up around it) and we need to ask ourselves what, specifically, does this feast really mean? What is this all about?

We see it most clearly in the Gospel reading today, where we see right above Our Lord the inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. It is not about the one with all the power. It is not about the one whom everyone else in the kingdom is to serve. But rather, the royal office in the Church is one of service. That is why in the first reading we hear about David, who is going to shepherd the people. In this particular reading, we hear about how the people of Israel are brought together. David was king of the southern kingdom and then became the king also of the northern part of the kingdom. Under him the two kingdoms were brought together and the people of Israel were once again brought together as one. Then, of course, it split up right after his son Solomon and never again were the two kingdoms united. But there is the complete promise given by the prophets that there will be one shepherd and there will be one flock. And that one shepherd is going to be the Son of David, that is, Jesus Christ: the one Shepherd of the one flock. All are united in Him in the one Mystical Body of Christ.

So we see, then, that it is an office of service, an office of the shepherd - which, actually, we have to keep reminding ourselves is what the word "pastor" means. Pastor, in Latin, means "a shepherd." So it is not the one with all the power but rather it is one who has been invested with a certain authority to be able to serve. A parent can understand that very well. Being a parent is not a power position; that is not God’s intent. But rather, it is a position of service and in order to serve the needs of your family there is an authority which is given by God so that parents can make the determinations and give the guidance and set the course for their family. Parents are given authority over their children because they need to lead; they need to shepherd their children.

That is precisely the case with Our Lord. In fact, we hear in the second reading today that in Him and through Him all things were created. And so all things exist in Him and all things exist for Him. We can ask ourselves: "Why would the Lord go to the Cross for us? Why would He want to do this?" Any parent, I think, can understand. Your children, of course, have in one sense been created through you. It is God who is the Creator, but as parents you have cooperated in the creation of your children. Now there are very few parents that I know who, if they were asked if they would die for their children, would ever say "no" that they would not. Because of that union of the parents with their children, because the parents know that the children were created through them and that they live their lives in service for their children, almost every parent would say, "Absolutely, I will die for my children." Now put yourself into the position of the One who actually created you, the One for whom and through whom all things exist. If you, who cooperated with Him in the creation of your children, would be willing to die for the ones who were created through you, how much more will the One who is actually the Creator of all be willing to die for those whom He created? That is precisely where His kingship is seen most clearly.

But when we look at what we did for Him - the glory of Christ, the kingship of Jesus Christ - we need to look once again at the Cross, because the Cross is the throne which humanity has erected for our King. We indeed put a crown upon His head and we placed Him on a throne. We lifted Him up and we exalted Him above all humanity, indeed above all creation. There He was, suspended between Heaven and earth, so that when He was lifted up from the earth He would draw all things to Himself. It is only in His Crucifixion that we will be able to understand clearly the service of Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul said in the second reading that all things are reconciled to God through the blood of His Cross, it is only in that. So as the chief priests and the leaders of the people would revile Him saying, "If you are the Christ, come down from that cross," or as the thief would say, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us as well," He did not need to save Himself; the thief had it wrong and so did the chief priests. It is because He was the Christ that He stayed on the Cross. And it is by staying on the Cross that He saved us.

Ask yourself, even in a worldly sense: "If the king were to lead his people into battle and when things began to get difficult, the king retreated while saying to all of his subjects: ‘You stay here and fight. I’m going back to the castle,’ what would the people think of their king?" They would lose all respect for him. It is known that when the king would die in battle that was the end of the war: The people all dispersed; the troops would go, each their own way. Our King has led us into battle and He did not withdraw; He did not come down from the Cross. Even the soldiers would revile Him – the soldiers, who would know fully well that the king leads the people into battle; the king does not stay behind. Our King led us into battle, and rather than raising up a flag that would be a standard for everyone to be able to see and rally around, He Himself became the standard around which each one of us would rally in this battle. This is why Saint Paul said that He has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of light, to the kingdom of His heavenly Father, to the kingdom in which we have an inheritance along with Him. Had He come down from the Cross, none of us would have that inheritance; all of us would still belong to darkness and to night; all of us would still be stuck in our sins and nothing would be reconciled, nothing would be forgiven.

He demonstrated His love for us completely. He demonstrated His fidelity. And now, because of that, each one of us can do the same for Him. Even if we look on the natural level (again, going back to that analogy of parenthood), when we look at parents, the ones who in history have been held up with the highest honor are the mothers who died giving birth to their children –someone would die so that someone else would have life - or the fathers who have died defending their families so their families would be safe. They are the ones who have been held up as the highest of the heroes among family life. We are the family of God. He is our Father. When we look upon Him, we see the One who died so we could have life, we see the One who died so the inheritance which is promised to us would be ours, we see the One who has given His life so that each one of us could continue to live forever. He has delivered us from the darkness and brought us into the kingdom of light. He is the Shepherd of our souls.

Again, when we think about the Crucifixion, just consider what Saint Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Hebrews and what Saint John tells us in his Gospel. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Saint John, when He talks about being the Good Shepherd, that He Himself is the sheepgate and no one can enter into the pasture except through Him. There is no way other than Him that we have eternal life; He is the only gate through which we can pass. But Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that Jesus has passed through the veil – and His veil is His flesh, the flesh that has been torn. He reminds us that the veil, the curtain in the temple, was torn in two. But the real veil is the flesh that Jesus took to Himself, the flesh that was torn in two on the Cross so that we could have entrance into the Holy of Holies. Not just into a natural kind of place where the sheep would go, but rather, into Heaven itself, into the place that God has prepared for His sheep. As the Scriptures say: "We are His people, the sheep of His flock." He tells us that His sheep know His voice and He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him and they will follow Him. When we look upon our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, when we understand the love that He has for us because He died for us, when we see that absolute selflessness, it is then that we can have the courage to follow where He has led, that we can enter into this battle against Satan, against sin, against darkness.

Only in Him can we be victorious – but only when we are lifted up with Him and glorified with Him, when we are crowned as He was crowned, when we are nailed to the Cross with Him. He will not ask of any of us what He was unwilling to do Himself. He is not the kind of king that will send us off into battle, but is unwilling to do it himself. He is the One who has led us into this battle and He is the One who will bring us through the battle to be victorious. He has shown us the way and indeed He is the way, the only means for us to be able to enter into Heaven. And the way is through His Body, which was torn open for us on the Cross, the veil that has been opened so that we could enter the sanctuary, so that we could enter into the sheepfold. There we will find our pasture for eternity.

That is what we celebrate today on this Feast of Christ the King: the love of Jesus Christ for us. He is not the King because He is the Creator; He is not the King because He is God; He is the King because He is the Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep so that His sheep could have life. And so today we celebrate not only the Feast of Christ the King, but the last Sunday in the Church’s liturgical year. Next Sunday we begin Advent and the beginning of the new Church year. Again, as we consider these realities, [realize] that the Church places this at the end of the liturgical cycle to remind each one of us that this is the ultimate point of history: the Cross of Christ, the Kingship of Jesus Christ Crucified. He is not only the Creator, but the pinnacle of all creation. The Crucifixion is the central point of history; it is there that all history revolves.

And so we look at Jesus Christ upon His Cross, and we look at the inscription and all of the elements. Look upon that Cross. See Him crowned. Remember the purple that we placed upon Him, the royal colors. Look at the inscription above Him: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Look at the love and the devotion and the fidelity that your King has for you and ask yourself if you are willing to follow in the path that He Himself has walked, if you are willing to follow Him into battle so that you can fully be delivered from the kingdom of darkness, so that you can accept the inheritance which is yours in the kingdom of light - the inheritance won for you by your King on the Cross. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. The office of king is one of service and for each one of us who has been baptized into Christ, each one of us is also a king, each one of us is a priest, each one of us is a prophet. We are called today to exercise that kingly office with Him, to give our lives in the service of our King, so that through Him, through His flesh torn open on the Cross, we will be able to enter into the sanctuary where forever not only will we be crowned with our royal dignity, but we will be able to exercise the priestly office in the eternal worship of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords."

-- From a homily by Fr Robert Altier, ocds (25 November 2001)

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