In 1925 Pope Pius XI spoke strongly against secularism. The secularist wave then (as 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 promised prosperity.
However there was a sinister, powerful and pervasive element in this new ‘vision’. The hope promised by flourishing ideologies was no longer seen as eternal life gifted by God. Instead anyone who shouted loudly enough into the vacuum, became a saviour.These idealogues promoted worldly structures and achievements 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 better than any before. In July 1925 Hitler published “Mein Kampf”, an autobiographical manifesto outlining his plans for a new world that promised ‘salvation’ for all those whom he (alone) considered to be deserving.In December 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 true 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. The problem that 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 common 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 jet plane. The passengers are ready for the journey but there is no way this thing is going to move until the real pilot is found.
Pius XI speaks to this paralysis directly by reminding us of the only method capable of delivering the life we yearn for:
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)
Ninety+ years after the first celebration of the feast of Christ the King, it is timely to consider if we have made any progress. I see many signs of hope, even more now than in the latter years of last century. However progress is hindered when worldly glamour and successes continue to be promoted as the default desires for human existence.
In these early years of the third millennium, we who embrace a life of faith, live a life of subjection to Christ, and pray with the Church every Sunday, are considered to be a bit odd. However we are responding to THE truth: religious belief and practice is of the nature of the human person. We are made for God. We cannot live without God.
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 God. 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 Pope Francis. There are no surprises in this since both popes and unknown pilgrims (and everyone between) know that human health and happiness, liberty, discipline, peace and harmony are ours only when we live as servants and subjects of Christ THE King.