Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe Reflection by Gabriel Mayhugh
Sin the beginning of time, people have risen to become kings and to seek dominion over civilization. Some have come close such as Caesar and Hitler. And some kingdoms, like the Roman Empire, lasted for many centuries. These kings and empires jealously protected their power, they sought to become more powerful, and they did not let anyone get in their way. Despite everything, they all had one thing in common: they ultimately passed away and their kingdoms passed with them. The years of plundering, death, and self-glorification simply scattered like dust.
The notion of “king” often carries with it a negative connotation, a connotation that one person is ruling and everyone else is submitting. It is simply absurd to think that an earthy king would serve. Or that he would come to be known as a servant king or a loving king or even as a shepherding king. Today’s solemnity does seem odd when taken on the surface and in light of how we know Christ. Would Christ ever call himself an earthly king? Let alone “King of the Universe?”
Today’s feast is relatively new. Pope Pius XI began this feast in 1925 with the release of his encyclical entitled Quas Primas (In the First). The encyclical was a direct response to the growing nationalism that was taking hold across the world. The first world war had only recently come to end, fear was everywhere, and the time was ripe for there to be a rise of tyrants. The tyranny of Hitler and Mussolini arrived soon thereafter the establishment of this feast. These tyrants rose to power through the false hope they gave to their followers. Hope that centered around the tyrant’s personality and played upon the greatest fears of their followers. Truth died, others were demonized, power was centralized, and the rest is written in history for us to hopefully never repeat again. Pius intended that this new feast would put at the forefront of people’s minds the Kingdom of Christ. The kingdom of servant king, loving king, and shepherding king. The goal of the feast as envisioned by Pius is to remind us that Christ is our guiding authority, not the state or any other person.
Pope Pius wrote:
The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal … He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
The gospel reading for today is taken from John’s Passion, which we read on Good Friday. There is a remarkable exchange in the reading between Jesus and Pilate. We hear a portion of their exchange in today’s gospel reading. Jesus says to Pilate: “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” We don’t hear the next portion in today’s reading, but Pilate’s next remark is, “What is truth?” He then went out to the crowd and told them “I find no basis for a charge against him.”
What is truth? That question still resounds as today’s feast has renewed meaning. Our time in history has seen a new rise of nationalism across the globe and a demonization of those who are different from us. On top of that, our church leaders are once again surrounded by lies and scandal. This leads us to a crisis in understanding the truth of Christ’s message. This crisis of truth spreads throughout politics, into our churches, and into our own families. What is truth? The truth that Christ is talking about is the truth of his kingdom, a kingdom of love and acceptance. Christ is a unique king with a unique kingdom. As disciples of Christ, we are called to stop fighting against his truth and begin fighting for the truth of his kingdom.
Today also marks the final Sunday of our liturgical year.We begin a new liturgical year next Sunday with the start of Advent. Our readings next week talk about darkness and the end of time. But as Advent progresses, the light begins to shine until we celebrate the coming of that light through Christ’s birth. Advent is an opportunity for us to trust and hope. I pray that today’s feast and this Advent season will be a renewed time of hope for our church, our nation and our world.