Christ the King

Preached November 24, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which was only added to the Church’s
calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. Originally, Pope Pius XI assigned the celebration to the last
Sunday of October, right before the celebration of All Saint’s Day. The order of celebration
spoke of the reign of Christ, already upon earth, guiding the faithful on the path to holiness and
eternal life that we see fulfilled in the saints. Now, the celebration has been moved to the last
Sunday of Ordinary time right after what could be called “End of the World Sunday” in which
the Gospel speaks about end of time and Christ’s return in glory. This order speaks to us of the
eternal solidity of Christ’s Kingdom as the one reality that will truly survive this passing world.
Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever, declared, Heaven and earth will pass
away, but my words will not pass away. (Mt 24:35; cf. Heb 13:2)

The classic Latin motto for this celebration is Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! –
Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!

Does this militant and triumphant language seem strange to us today? Consider, then, the
words of the book of Revelation: I saw the heavens opened and behold a white horse; and he
that sat upon it was called faithful and true; and with justice does he judge and wage war. And
his eyes were as flames of fire and on his head were many crowns. And he had a name written
that no man knows but himself. And he was clothed in a garment dipped in blood and his name
is called: The Word of God. And the armies that are in heaven followed him on white horses,
clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth there proceeds a sharp two-edged
sword, that with it he may strike the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he
treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God. And on his garment and on his thigh
there is written: King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:11-16)

The One upon whom men sat in judgment and condemned to be crucified will come and judge
those who judged him. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. (Rev 1:7)

Yes, Jesus Christ is a king, not just a king, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. All the power
and glory of human nations and kingdoms, all the might of armies, all the power of wealth and
industry, all the accomplishments of technology, will perish at his coming.

Today’s readings speak to us of true kingship in the eyes of God, the one who is our king, and
the character of his kingship. First, though we should know that a king has authority to rule.
We must, then, distinguish between authority and raw power. The modern world has confused
the two and, fearful of the abuse of power, has rejected also true authority. For the modern
world there is no difference between a king and a tyrant. As a result, by rejecting authority and
kingship, we have also ended up rejecting the Kingship of Christ. Now, in place of kingship, we
have only tyranny.

Power, we could say, is simply the ability to act, whether for good or ill. Authority, however, is
power that is ordered and legitimized through hierarchical subordination that has its ultimate
source in God, the ruler of all, the supreme authority, whose power is always exercised with
wisdom and justice. Authority, then, when possessed by intelligent creatures, is always received
from a higher authority, always limited in its scope by that higher authority, and always
accountable to that higher authority. When, the person having authority exercises power
beyond the scope of his authority, it becomes an abuse of power, lacks authority, and cannot
bind the conscience of his subjects. In the end, the subject must always obey the higher
authority, rather than submit to the abuse of power by the lower authority; it is necessary to
obey God, not man. (cf. Acts 5:29)

The kingship of David, which prefigures the kingship of Christ, shows us that a king is of the
same flesh and blood as his people, he proves his leadership before entering into his reign and
assuming his royal authority, he is chosen by God to rule, and that choice is recognized and
accepted by the People of God, the faithful who freely submit to his rule.
Jesus Christ took on our flesh and blood when he was born of the Virgin Mary. He proved his
leadership by showing us the way to battle against evil through his obedience to the Father, all
the way to death, death on a Cross. (Cf. Ph 2:8) God made known his choice of the King by
raising him from the dead. (cf. Acts 2:36) His people recognize and accept his rule by believing
the Gospel, repenting of their sins, submitting to baptism, and obeying his commands. (cf. Acts
2:38; Mt 17:5)

When we submit to Christ the King, we are submitting to the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
the love that is given to us in the Holy Eucharist.

In the 2nd reading we learn that this same man Jesus Christ, whom God has established as our
King, is himself, from all eternity, the image of the invisible God, God from God, light from light,
true God from true God, the eternal Son of God, through whom all things were made, who
sustains all things in being, including the heavenly hierarchies, the angelic orders.

This same almighty ruler of the universe has become the head of the Church, the instrument of
his kingdom upon earth, through which he extends his reign, through which he brings peace to
men by the blood of his Cross.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the Word made flesh, is now enthroned at the right
hand of his Father. The Church, his body, is the instrument of his Kingdom upon the earth.
Through the Church he brings men into his kingdom by giving to them the life of grace, received
in baptism; the life of grace is a true and real sharing in God’s life and nature that makes us to
be children of God. The life of the Church is structured by the unity of faith in Jesus Christ, the
communion of the same sacraments of grace, and subordination to the sacred hierarchy that
has received its authority from Christ himself, by means of sacred Tradition. This means that
the hierarchy itself is subordinate to sacred Tradition and the word of God transmitted by
Tradition.

What does that mean? The Apostles lived with Christ for some three years and all that he, the
eternal Word of God, came to give to us was, we could say, deposited in the souls of the
Apostles, written upon their hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the sacred deposit of
faith. After his resurrection, Jesus said to them: As the Father sent me, so I send you. (Jn 20:21)
When the Apostles went forth from Jerusalem, preaching the Gospel, they communicated, they
handed on, in both word and power, everything they received from Jesus Christ.

This established the Church and the whole deposit of faith is handed on from generation to
generation in the Church; this is the Sacred Tradition that is the very life of the Church. Vatican
II taught: “What was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward
the holiness of life and increase in faith of the people of God; and so the Church, in her
teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all
that she believes.” (DV 8)

Note here the priority of Tradition over Scripture. We do not need to ‘prove’ our faith from
Scripture; we receive it rather from the Tradition of the Church. Scripture itself comes to us
from Tradition, as do such things as the apostolic succession, making the sign of the Cross,
infant baptism, the rite of the Mass, priestly celibacy, the Sunday obligation, and devotion to
the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the saints.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit who leads us to all truth, (cf. Jn 16:13) Tradition has
grown and developed during the course of time (not evolving into some different kind of thing,
but always maintaining the same teaching, the same meaning, and the same import [St. Vincent
of Lerins, Commonitorium 28) and has been distilled in a variety of teachings, expressions, and
practices. Words like Trinity, Incarnation, and Transubstantiation belong to the inheritance of
our Tradition.

We receive Scripture from Tradition; Scripture in turn guides and illumines the development of
Tradition, while Tradition guides and illumines the proper Catholic understanding of Scripture.
We do not need to ‘prove’ our faith from Scripture, but the more we understand Scripture in
Tradition and Tradition in Scripture, the richer and stronger our faith will be.

It is very important to insist on Tradition today because, under the influence of Protestantism,
we have tended to neglect Tradition and rely on Scripture alone, losing thereby the richness
and fullness of our faith.

Further, I have recently spoken much about ‘modernism’; modernism involves a radical denial
of Tradition. Modernism would replace the continuous growth and development of Tradition
with the ‘evolution of dogma’ into something different. Modernism resents having to look to
the past for guidance; modernism does not want to receive and inheritance from the past, but
wants the Church to begin anew today in our times.

Beware. Those who attack law, want to be free of law and want power for themselves. Those
who attack doctrine want to be free of doctrine and want to manipulate words for the sake of
their own power. Those who attack Tradition want to be free of Tradition so as to establish
their own power. Through the Tradition, the doctrine, and the law of the Church we are subject
to Christ the King.

During the course of history, the Kingdom of Christ is opposed by the power of darkness, the
power of the devil, to which we were all once subject due to Adam’s sin. It is only by violence,
the violence of the Cross, that we were rescued from the power of darkness, redeemed,
forgiven our sins, and brought into the Kingdom of Christ to find peace with God.
Now we turn to the Gospel, which reveals to us the character and purpose of Christ’s kingdom
and the reason it meets with such opposition in this world.

The world rejects the Cross; the world wants Christ to come down from the Cross ‘to save
himself and us’, to save us for this world, to save this world, to give us the happiness we desire
in this world.

Instead, in this world, Christ reigns from and through the Cross, in order to bring us to the
kingdom of eternal life and resurrection.

The Cross reveals that, like the two criminals, we stand under judgment for our sins. The Cross
reveals that we will either, like one of the criminals, become hardened in our sin and reject the
Cross, or like the other, we will recognize that Christ Crucified, the one who is truly innocent,
has taken our judgment on himself. Then we will plead for mercy and entrance into his
kingdom. Only then will we receive the promise of the new, heavenly, eternal paradise.

The fundamental law of Christ’s kingdom is: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny
himself daily and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Lk 9:23-24) This is true love.

The Cross reveals that the Kingdom of Christ does not reach its fulfillment in this world. The
Cross reveals the value of the things in this world in relation to the eternal Kingdom of Christ.
The Cross reveals the value of all the goods of this world in relation to the salvation of a single
soul, such as that of the one criminal who pleaded, Lord, remember me when you come into
your kingdom.

Our salvation depends on our letting ourselves be conquered by the love of Christ, the King.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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