Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe
In Remembrance of Those Who Died from the Coronavirus
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
November 22, 2020
More than once, I have heard people say how happy they will be when the year 2020 finally draws to a merciful close. The list of 2020 laments are very familiar to all of us. It includes a very divisive campaign and election, as well as fresh indicators that racism is unfortunately alive in our midst, not to mention the unrest on the streets of cities across the United States. But in addition to all of that, there is the unhappy fact of the coronavirus – the pandemic that has radically altered how we live and work. But this pandemic is more than an inconvenience; it is deadly. In the United States, more than 250,000 people have died from COVID-19, and world-wide, the death toll stands at about 1.4 million. Thankfully, many more recovered from the virus as compared with those who died from it – yet, in this day and age, the death toll is startlingly high and very unsettling. By now, each of us personally knows someone who either died from the virus or was badly stricken by it. Yes, we are all anxious to see the year 2020 pass into the history books!
Of course, there were other similar years in the not too distant past. I could imagine that people were happy to see 1918 come to end, a year that saw the bloodletting of World War I reach its tragic apex, a year when the so-called Spanish flu swept through our country with a vengeance. Nor should we imagine that the dawning of 2021 would suddenly make things better, or enable us to return to what passes for normality. Still less should we imagine that there will not be other years like 2020 in our future, for the ebb and flow of history teaches us otherwise.
Yet, in this week when we will celebrate Thanksgiving, albeit a Thanksgiving quite unlike any other in recent memory, we should not descend into pessimism or, God forbid, despair. Even as we have experienced painfully the limits of science and human ingenuity, so too, on this Solemnity, let us experience afresh the saving power of Christ our King, Christ the King of the Universe. For whether we are in what seem like good times or bad times, the Lord’s Kingdom of truth and love, holiness and grace, justice, love, and peace remains. It is this immutable fact in the changing fortunes of human history that we celebrate today with joy, thanksgiving, and unshakeable faith.
Conqueror of Sin and Death
Jesus walked the earth at a time when the Roman Empire dominated the world. Unlike the earthly rulers of his day and ours, Jesus shunned the trappings of power, for he came to earth, not to conquer but to save, not for the triumph of violence and vengeance, but for the triumph of love. As we see both in the reading from the Prophet Ezekiel and St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is more a Shepherd than a King and a King because he is a Shepherd. The supreme value in his Kingdom is neither power, nor wealth, nor pleasure, but rather it is love, a love than conquers evil, and love that conquers death, a love that is to be shared with the defenseless, the poor, and vulnerable – those who count for little in the estimation of worldly power.
Jesus accomplished his victory over sin and death in a most unlikely manner. As God’s Son, he entered human history in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire, and he did this so that he could establish himself in solidarity with the human race, indeed with each one of us. He came to proclaim the dawning of the Kingdom of God in our midst, and indeed, Jesus personified the Kingdom of truth, life, holiness, and love, as he went from place to place, preaching, healing, and raising from the dead. And instead of conquering sin and death with marching armies and gleaming armor, Christ entered the City of Jerusalem on a donkey and days later, he was tried for treason and condemned to death. As he made his way to the summit of Mt. Calvary, he carried his own cross, the instrument of death which became the means of our salvation. There, on Calvary, Christ gave his life for us, the ultimate sacrifice of love – the sacrifice of love that is remembered and renewed each time Mass is celebrated. In laying down his life and in rising from the dead, Jesus broke the power of sin and death until that day, at the end of time, when sin and death will be permanently vanquished and ‘God will be all in all’.
Our sharing in Jesus’ victory over sin and death should bring us hope and joy, no matter how difficult or challenging the times may be. In today’s reading from First Corinthians, St. Paul speaks about our solidarity, our oneness, with Adam and Christ. From our oneness with Adam, we inherited a legacy of sin and death but from our oneness with Christ, we become the sons and daughters of God and will inherit the gift and blessing of everlasting life and joy … to quote St. Paul: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the first-fruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ” … and that includes our friends and loved ones who, during the course of this year, succumbed to the coronavirus and the many other maladies that still afflict the human family. Counted in that number is my own dear Father who went home to God last February.
This is the faith we celebrate today, and in the power of that faith, we commend to the Lord of the Universe, the Lord of Life and Love, those who have died, those whose companionship and love we miss so dearly, those who were taken from us prematurely, at least by our reckoning. It is for them that I offer this Holy Mass, the selfsame sacrifice of love which Christ the Shepherd and King of love offered on the Cross.
In the Meantime, What Shall We Do?
Still, life goes on and inevitably we hope for the dawning of a brighter day, even in this vale of tears, this valley of darkness through which we traverse. How, then, shall we proceed? What direction shall we follow? I think Pope Francis gives us the answer to that question in his newly published encyclical on human solidarity, Fratelli Tutti, and it’s this: Just as God’s Son became one of us to establish his solidarity with us, so too in Christ we must be brothers and sisters to one another, leaving no neighbor behind but rather loving those most in need as though we were pouring out our love for Christ our Savior. When we love and respect the poor and defenseless as if they were Christ, then the victory of love Christ came to accomplish lives in us.
And the more Christ’s victory of love takes root in our hearts, the greater our capacity to transform and heal our broken and divided world, the greater our capacity to overcome fear with trust, anger with forgiveness, loneliness with friendship, poverty with generosity, racism with respect. If, on this Feast of Christ the King each of us would open our hearts widely to the one who is our Shepherd, our King of love, we, as a community of faith, could make a tremendous difference in the world today.
To Christ the King, the Lord of holiness and grace, we commend our beloved dead. And to Christ, the Lord of justice, love, and peace, we rededicate ourselves and our efforts to create a world more worthy of the humanity that the Eternal Son has both created and redeemed. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!