November 21, 2021 – Solemnity of Christ the King
The following is a homily I delivered on this same feast day last year (2020) at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis:
Here are some thoughts on my interactions with those in authority while growing up:
As a child, I appreciated my dad when he played football with me in the backyard – not so much when he disciplined me.
As a student, I appreciated my teacher when she told jokes before class or complimented me on my school work – not so much when she corrected me or pointed out my academic shortcomings.
You likely see a pattern developing. I appreciated coaches that praised my athletic ability, bosses that gave me glowing job reviews, and pastors that know the value of a quality parish deacon.
And so it is in my relationship with Jesus. I appreciate the Jesus that tells stories, heals the sick, and loves unconditionally – not so much the Jesus that flips over tables in the temple, tells me to turn the other cheek, and sees me as a potential candidate for wailing and grinding of teeth.
I want my Jesus sitting in my fishing boat, telling me how much he loves me. He is my companion and friend. I don’t want my Jesus on a throne judging me, deciding if I am a sheep or a goat.
Is it this ‘Throne Jesus” we celebrate on today’s Feast of Christ the King? Today’s gospel from Matthew says: “When the Son of Man comes…he will sit upon his glorious throne…he will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Inherit the kingdom prepared for you. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me into the eternal fire.”
While I want to honor this Feast Day as the Church intends, the truth is I can’t get excited about Throne Jesus. I think there are two reasons for this: First, and I have already admitted this to you, being held accountable makes me uncomfortable; I might be a goat. Second, my current understanding of what a king does and what his kingdom looks like are not compatible with my understanding of who Jesus is.
To become more comfortable with the image of Jesus as a king, it may be necessary for us to re-define both king and kingdom through the lens of our faith.
We can look to the origin of the Feast of Christ the King to help us with this.
When Pope Pius XI began his papacy, much of the world was in shambles. The year was 1922, and the devastating effects of World War I lingered. Governments were in economic chaos, unemployment was rampant, and people in many places were literally starving to death.
Pessimism and a sense of helplessness were overwhelming. People sought to be self-sufficient to the exclusion of Christ from their everyday lives – that is human nature when things get tough – “I can do this myself.”
Pope Pius XI saw that people were denying Christ in favor of a secular lifestyle dominated by material advantage and false hope.
Seeking guidance, he looked to the Nicene Creed, which we still profess at Mass every Sunday: “His kingdom will have no end.”
In 1925, the pope issued the encyclical Quas Primas or Christ the King. This directive ultimately added the Solemnity of Christ the King to the liturgical calendar.
The words of that encyclical offered me a new perspective on Jesus as a king – a perspective that is compatible with my image of Him as my companion and friend.
If Christ is a king, he needs a kingdom. This is what Pope Pius XI wrote in Quas Primas:
Christ reigns in the hearts of men. His kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.
Christ must reign in our hearts, He must reign in our minds, He must reign in our communities.
This simple message re-defines our understanding of king and kingdom while also addressing the responsibility of Jesus to hold us accountable.
These words still ring true today and are perhaps needed even more. On the Feast of Christ the King in 2015, Pope Francis said in his homily:
The kingdoms of this world are often sustained by arrogance, rivalry and oppression. However, the kingdom of Christ is a ‘kingdom of justice, love and peace.’
The dad that threw the football with me was the same dad that disciplined me – held me accountable. He was the same dad with the dual responsibilities of companionship and authority.
The teacher that told jokes before class and complimented my school work was the same teacher that corrected me and pointed out my academic shortcomings – held me accountable. She was the same teacher with the dual responsibilities of companionship and authority.
The Jesus that sits in my fishing boat and assures me I am loved is the same Jesus that flips over the tables in my temple and warns me not to be a goat – holds me accountable. He is the same Jesus with the dual responsibilities of companionship and authority, both friend and king.
Jesus is all we need him to be: friend, guide, confidant, conscience, and yes, king. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus is King and we are his kingdom – he reigns forever in our hearts.
In a homily several years ago, Fr. John Kamwendo, our Associate Pastor at the time, shared what he viewed as a distinction between Jesus our Friend, and Jesus our King. He said we need to experience both of these relationships with Jesus.
Then he offered this image: We have just purchased a brand-new car. If we invite Jesus our Friend to go with us, we allow Him to ride shotgun. If we invite Jesus our King to go with us, we give Him the keys.