Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Knights of Columbus Mid-Year Meeting
Nov. 24, 2019
Today’s Solemnity, Christ the King of the Universe, is an immense feast, a feast that humbles any homilist who imagines he can master it. So, like a worker in a warehouse or on a dock who pulls an immense object with ropes attached to it with little hooks, so too my words will be like ropes attached by three little hooks, to the immensity and the glory of this feast day. The hooks are three prepositions: “above”; “within”; and “through”. The Kingdom of God is “above us”; the Kingdom of God is “within” us; and the Kingdom of God works “through: us.
The Kingdom of God Is “Above” Us
First, then, the Kingdom of God is “above” us, and let’s begin with this: The Kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom. As Jesus stood before Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” When previously the Pharisees had asked him when the Kingdom would arrive, Jesus told them that it would not be confined in any specific place or time. When St. Paul in his letter to the Romans described the Kingdom of God, he said that it “is not a matter of eating or drinking but of joy in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, the Kingdom of God is neither confined to space and time nor is it captured by human speculation, ingenuity, or artistry. Still less is it reducible to any sum of human pleasures, even the most sublime.
Rather, the Kingdom of God is, as it were, “encapsulated in the Person of Jesus”. It is Christ the King who embodies the Kingdom of God, and indeed heaven itself. Jesus not only exemplifies what it means to belong to the Kingdom of God; rather, he sums up in himself that Kingdom for which long: that kingdom of truth and life; holiness and grace; justice, love, and peace. St. Paul says something similar in today’s reading from his letter to the Colossians: “He [the Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” through whom and for whom the universe, in all its wonder, was created, the heavens, the earth, things both visible and invisible. Or as we profess each Sunday in the Nicene Creed, Christ our King is “God from God and light from light and true God from true God”. Let us never take Our Savior for granted or corral him for our petty purposes.
Yet, as we contemplate the Christ who reigns above us in majesty, do we not risk imagining that Our Redeemer is thereby rendered inaccessible? Lest we think such a thing, we hasten toward the Gospel, where we discover how it is that Christ our King truly reigns high above the earth and high above us. There we find our King lifted high and reigning from the heights of the Cross, the King who emptied himself and took the condition of a slave… … so much does he love us, even amid our sinful folly. For the Kingdom of God, Paradise, is for us sinners always a kingdom of mercy. As we gaze upward at Jesus crucified, we bend the knee in humility and thanksgiving, for our King has conquered our sins and vanquished our death.
The Kingdom of God is “Within” Us
Let us now see how the Kingdom of God is “within” us, beginning with this: As we reflect on the exodus of so many from the Church, we must conclude, sadly, that religious faith has remained extraneous in the lives far too many people. Many never encountered Christ in prayer or fell in love with him, even though they were baptized and received him in Holy Communion. On this Feast of Christ the King we must ask ourselves if Jesus is the center of our lives, if we have encountered him in prayer, if we have fallen in love with him, if we have welcomed him into our hearts, if, indeed, the Kingdom of God is within us. When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them to say: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are saying, ‘may Christ’s kingdom come alive in us; may Jesus reign in our hearts! When we say “Vivat Jesus” we are praying that Jesus may live in us!
Practically speaking, what does it mean that Jesus would live and reign in us? St. Paul in Colossians speaks of our being “made fit” ‘to share the lot of the saints in light’, even now, even in this world. We are made fit for the Kingdom, he tells us, by our being transferred – transferred from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Father’s beloved Son. in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We saw just such a transfer in this morning’s Gospel from St. Luke where Jesus forgave the sins of the repentant thief who hung next to him: “This day,” he said, “you will be with me in Paradise”…from perdition to Paradise! That sublime moment of grace lives on in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
But, as Origen, an ancient Christian writer, makes clear, that transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light must be complete. The Kingdom of God, he says, is not an admixture of good and evil, dark and light. If we would experience within ourselves the peace of God’s Kingdom, then our hearts and our lives must be like a well-cultivated garden or an ordered city… free of sin, directed by truth, made orderly by virtue, made beautiful by love. Christ must reign in our minds and hearts and, yes, even our bodies such that the whole of our lives would be shaped by the Beatitudes which, as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, form a self-portrait of the King in whose blessed reign we share, even now, through Word, Sacrament, and Charity.
The Kingdom of God Works “Through” Us
Yes, Christ must reign above us, Christ must reign within us, but even that is not enough, for Christ must reign through us. St. John Eudes, writing in the 17th century, teaches us that the mysteries, the saving events of the life of Jesus, are not complete or made perfect until they are brought to perfection in us, the members of Christ’s Body, Church. He goes on to say that this wonderful thing comes about “first through the graces [Jesus] has resolved to impart to us, and then, through the works he seeks to accomplish in us [and through us].” Or as St. John Henry Newman, put it so beautifully in his prayer to Jesus: “Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may be only a radiance of yours. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but [you, O] Jesus.”
And this brings us back to a major thrust of this weekend, to that firm resolve of the Knights of Columbus to assist the Church in this extremely difficult hour in its life. If we are to be the Church’s strong right arm in turning things around, then we must humbly worship and adore the One who is our King; and welcome him into the interior of our lives and homes. And, as we do so, we must also allow Jesus to work through us in healing the Church, in restoring integrity to the Church, in spreading the Gospel. We must be his witnesses, his messengers, his missionary disciples, his Knights — to fellow Catholics in our parishes, to men who need what the Knights has to offer, to the poor and the vulnerable, and indeed to a world in the grip of godless secularism. Praise be Christ our King! To him belong glory, honor, and power forever and ever! Vivat Jesus!