It is a great pleasure to visit St. Ignatius Loyola Parish and to have the opportunity to celebrate with you the Solemnity of Christ the King. Indeed, there is quite a lot going on this Sunday – the feast day itself that proclaims the true nature of Christ’s kingship & dominion; the closing of the Year of Faith; coupled with a reflection on religious freedom, all in the context of today’s Scripture readings. Without further ado, let’s get started.
The Solemnity Itself
The Solemnity of Christ the King was begun by Pope Pius XI in 1925. That year was designated a special Holy Year that celebrated the 1600th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea. It was from that Council that we received the Creed we profess every Sunday. In particular, Pope Pius XI wanted to highlight a particular phrase in the Creed: “…His Kingdom will have no end.” He wanted to show us that Christ, truly God and truly man, invites us to participate in “a kingdom of truth and life, holiness and grace, justice love and peace” (Preface).
In doing so, Pope Pius XI called attention to totalitarian regimes and false ideologies that were gaining traction in Europe, Mexico, and elsewhere – socialism, nationalism, materialism, anti-clericalism to name a few. For example, just yesterday the Church celebrated the feast of Bl. Miguel Pro, a priest and a Knight of Columbus, who was executed in Mexico in 1927 for steadfastly bearing witness to the faith. As he faced his executioners, the stretched out his hands in the form of the Cross, and proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” – “Long live, Christ the King!”
In the context of his times, Pope Pius XI desired to strengthen the faith of Catholics everywhere by focusing on the Person of Jesus who offers us true freedom and dignity. In our times Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have called us in the Year of Faith to unite as members of the Church in gazing with renewed faith on the Person of Christ, to encounter Christ anew so that we might bear witness to Him before others. In his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis challenged the Church – each member and the community as a whole– to rekindle the fire of faith. He told us that the light of faith is real, that it illuminates every aspect of our lives: “Faith,” he said, “is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals His love, a love which precedes us, and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see . . .”
But there’s more. Pope Francis reminds us that this love is meant to be shared: “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard His voice and received His light, cannot keep this to themselves….” With these words, dear friends, Pope Francis urges us to encounter Christ, to know and love Him, to bear witness to His love, and by doing so invite others to rekindle their faith and to become active members of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Surveying the situation of the Church in so many parts of the world where Christians and others continue to suffer from bloody persecution or where religious freedom is being eroded by an overarching secularism, Pope Francis added these prophetic words: “In the context of society,” he said, “there is only one thing that the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.” In the same vein, Pope Francis constantly urges us to bring the Gospel and the light of faith from the walls of the Church into the world. By word and example, he tells us to bring the Gospel to the margins of society. It is for this reason that the Church is willing to face persecution in so many places and for the same reason that we must resist any attempt to reduce freedom of religion merely to freedom of worship, or to force the Church to insinuate into those ministries of service that which is contrary to the Gospel. Our ministries of healing, education, and service to the poor and vulnerable all flow from our faith in and worship of Christ, our King, whose truth and love we are called to proclaim by a charity that evangelizes.
The Witness of Scripture
As this Year of Faith draws to a close, let us ask ourselves whether we have opened our hearts to the Christ whose kingdom will have no end? Are we indeed His witnesses at home, at work, among our friends? To answer those questions, let us look for a moment at today’s Scripture readings.
The Gospel brings us to the foot of the Cross where Jesus reveals and unleashes in human history a love that is stronger than sin and more powerful than death. Obedient to the saving will of the Father, Jesus would not abandon the Cross but showed it to be the never-ending source of mercy. Jesus who came to give His life ‘as a ransom for many’ forgives the repentant thief and in forgiving that man, Jesus extends His love and forgiveness to us all. Indeed, Jesus reveals His Kingship in a love so powerful it can forgive even our sins. The first reading from the 1st Book of Samuel told how the people of Israel sought out David to be their king, a king in whom all their hopes resided. The Gospel shows us a king who upends our thoughts about kingly dominion and instead presents us with a king who is supremely poor, meek, gentle, pure of heart, hungering for holiness and justice, obedient to the Father, The One who ‘loves us to the very end.’
It is for St. Paul in the reading from Colossians to spell this out for us. He tells us to rejoice, to give thanks because through our baptism, we have been called and chosen to be to be ‘delivered from the power of darkness’ and ‘transferred to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son – in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.’ Indeed, St. Paul shows us that Christ truly is our King: ‘He is the image of the invisible God; the one through whom all things were made; the one who holds creation together, the one who is the head of the body, the Church… the one who has made peace by the blood of his Cross.’
At this Mass, let us pray intensely that the Kingdom of God will dawn ever more brightly in our hearts, that we will share in Jesus’ kingship by imitating His obedience to the Father – and to do so by professing our faith with renewed vigor and integrity, by keeping the commandments in the spirit of the Beatitudes by allowing ourselves to be transformed through the Church’s sacraments, and by serving others with the same truth and love we have received from the One who is truly our King.
He who lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.