If one had to describe Jesus from all that we have learned about him, from what we have experienced with him, I’m pretty sure “king” wouldn’t be among the descriptors.
But here we are celebrating the feast of Christ the King, calling this man a king, a title he most certainly would have shunned, this man who called out the hypocrisy of the high priests when he saw it, who touched lepers, who was kind to women and children, and then who was put to death like a common criminal. A king? Hardly.
We have seen the Royal Family in England. We know how royalty acts. We have seen the pomp and circumstance surrounding them If Jesus were a king and we were to meet him as such, the men would give a neck bow, women would give a brief courtesy and both would address Jesus as “His Majesty, the King,” and then address him as “Sir” in conversation afterwards. That all sounds very un-Jesus like, doesn’t it? That’s not the Jesus we have come to know. And yet, here we are, celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.
Seems a bit odd.
I did a little research to see when and why this feast was instituted. We know Christ has a lot of titles, Christ the King is an ancient title that has been around and used for centuries.
However, this feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. Why? Think about the year 1925. What was happening in the world? The World was just coming out of WWI. Dictatorships were being formed. Mussolini was coming to power in Italy and laying the groundwork for a totalitarian style of government.
Hitler was also busy laying the groundwork for his ascension to power in Germany and subsequent horrors his regime unleashed on the world. Lenin who had instituted a totalitarian government for the Soviet Union had died the year before in 1924. Stalin as General Secretary in the Soviet Government was able to eliminate any opposition to him by executing people or forcing them into gulags. The totalitarian regime of Spain’s Francisco Franco was right around the corner.
Pius XI saw the rise of these dictatorships in Europe and saw respect for the Church and belief in Christ being put down by the dictators. Pius also saw that the dictators were starting to sway people with their political arguments. His response was the aforementioned encyclical Quas Primas, which explained why he felt the world needed this feast.
Pope Pius noted that Jesus’s kingship was given to him by God, and was not obtained by violence. Here is his statement:
Christ has dominion over all creatures,
a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature.
Clearly he was calling out all the dictators who were claiming leadership through terror.
Here are three other quotes from the Pope Pius’s encyclical that really sum up Pius’s reasoning:
That leaders and nations would seeQuas Primas, 31
that they are bound to give respect to
That nations would see that the ChurchQuas Primas, 32
has the right to freedom, and immunity
from the state.
That the faithful would gain strengthQuas Primas, 33
and courage from the celebration of
the feast, as we are reminded that
Christ must reign in our hearts, minds,
wills, and bodies.
This feast then was a concrete offering of hope to a world in a dark time of history. Knowing the history of the feast, I find I have a newfound respect for the title of Christ the King.
I will hold this image in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who also held onto this image of Christ as King as a beacon of hope as they lived under those brutal regimes. as the world now lives under political and social unrest.
This feast should be talked about, should be celebrated and if it isn’t, also a living breathing feast day, then it is just a reminder of a dark time in history.
Let me close with a Jesus story and challenge.
The story part happened while I was on a retreat. Marianne, the retreat leader asked all of us,
“What would you do if Jesus showed up at your door? What would be your first thought?”
I shared with the group that my first thought would be panic wondering if my house was clean enough to let him in.
I wasn’t intending my remark to get a laugh, but it did. I was serious. Marianne said the first thing she would do would be to throw her arms around him and hug him. “Really?” I thought. “That’s kind of forward. Do you know him that well?”
During the reflection time in the afternoon I had one of those ah- ha moments. I realized Marianne DID know Jesus and
knew Jesus would be tickled to get that hug from her.
It was me who didn’t know Jesus that well. My first thought if Jesus showed up at my door was Jesus would judge me if my house was dirty.
I vowed then and there to get to know Jesus so that someday my response would be the same as Marianne’s response of delight.
So now, let me put the question to you. If Jesus showed up unannounced at your front door, what would you do? What would be your first thought?
What would be your first thought?
Happy Christ the King Sunday, Holy Family.
Homily shared on Saturday, 20 November 2021, by Rev. Mary Keldermans.