It has been a bit hard to escape the royal family this week. Media reports are saturated with news of the engagement of William and Kate.
When I consider ‘royalty’, I find it hard to think beyond the trappings of contemporary royalty: wealth, glamour, and image. This scene is far from the reality of the feast we celebrate today. Christ is a different kind of king. His palace was the stable of his birth and the simple homes and open roadsides where he slept. His royal court was occupied by the poor and the powerless. Repentant sinners had pride of place in his company. His banquet was the loaves he shared and the cup of his blood outpoured. His throne was a cross. His crown was of thorns.
In 1925 Pope Pius XI
spoke strongly against secularism. The secular wave both then and now promotes worldly achievement and wealth as the ultimate human success. Following the difficult years of World War I, the 1920’s brought renewed hope. This new age appeared to herald prosperity.
However there was a sinister, powerful and pervasive element in this new ‘vision’. The hope promised by flourishing ideologies was no longer an eternal life gifted by God. Instead anyone who shouted loudly enough into the vacuum became a saviour. These ideologies promoted worldly structures as the only real hope for the people.
In the opening days of 1925 Mussolini
powered his way into position as dictator of Italy. He promised a kingdom that would supass any previous realm. In July 1925 Hitler published “Mein Kampf”. This autobiographical manifesto outlined his plans for a new world that would bring salvation for all those whom he considered to be deserving.
In December 1925 Pope Pius XI closed the 1925 Holy Year
by issuing an encyclical letter announcing a new feast of Christ the King. This letter was a powerful reminder that human persons are not created to rule the earth as dictators as of right, but to serve. Our maker is our monarch.
The Pope was speaking from the heart of Catholic (and therefore human) truth: it is of the nature of the human person to be subject to God. Indeed the problem Adam and Eve had in the garden was that they grasped at the role of God. They attempted to dominate and control what did not belong to them. While this sin may have been original at the time it is now the oldest and most serious failing of all.
With tragic consequences we reject the beauty of human existence and grasp at the divine role. After all our work we end up like the newborn baby in the pilot’s seat of the 747. The passengers are ready for the journey but there is no way that this thing is going to move until we find the pilot!
Pius XI speaks to this directly by reminding us of the method that brings all that we seek:
“When once people recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord’s regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen’s duty of obedience. (par.19)
Eighty-six years after our first celebration of the feast of Christ the King, it is timely to consider whether we have made any progress. Without hesitation I can name many signs of hope, perhaps more now than in the middle years of last century. However our progress does feel like a battle at times. This is the case especially when secularism is promoted as the default position for the human person.
Instead, the person who embraces a life of faith, and lives a life of subjection to Christ worshipping with the faith community every Sabbath, is today considered to be a bit odd. The truth is that religious belief and practice is our default setting. We are made for God and cannot live without God.
As we celebrate this feast of faith we acknowledge that, by the generosity of God, we are the subjects of Christ the King. Life in this Kingdom (both eternally and present) frees us from having to make divine decisions: we can let God be God and relax into the natural human position of being loved by God and led by him. We are as helpless and as erratic as sheep. But our shepherd will carry us.
Here the teaching of Pius XI is of one voice with Benedict XVI. There are no surprises in that since both popes (and all between) know that human health and happiness, liberty, discipline, peace and harmony comes when we live as servants and subjects of Christ our King.