The way of Christ the King

Today is the solemnity of Christ the King, and the final Sunday of the Church year, as well as the day when Pope Francis closes the door of mercy to conclude the Jubilee Year of Mercy (though if there is anyone to whom we wish to extend mercy as part of our own closure for this year, there is still time!) Advent begins next Sunday, and in the next week, people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, but in a time of much political and social turmoil.

The celebration of Christ the King was started by Pope Pius XI in 1925 as a response to secularism and the perceived need to remind Catholics to put Christ as the center of one’s life. In 1925 there was also social and political turmoil: it’s the year of the Scopes trial, the year Mussolini declared he was taking over Italy, and the year that Hitler published Mein Kampf. I don’t know whether Pope Pius XI had such specific events in mind, but the world then, as now, is in need of alternative models of virtue. For Christians, Christ is not only God, but also a model of what it means to live a good human life. To say that he is King, however, doesn’t mean to suggest that we ought to ourselves try to be kinglike, but rather to express the idea that his kingship is a metaphor for the idea that we Christians ought to follow his way rather than other ways.

The way of Christ is the way of the poor. The way of Christ is the way of the Cross. The three biggest feast days of the church year that is coming our way are Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. At Christmas, we recall that God entered the world of a poor, displaced family and grew up in a relatively poor area among a politically marginalized group—the Jewish people, God’s chosen people—living under Roman oppression. During Holy Week, we remember that Christ’s way was also the way of the cross, being willing to suffer for the sake of love and to love others in society that others would not—the sick, the lepers, those with disabilities, the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan who practiced a different faith tradition, the tax collector, even the Roman soldier. At Pentecost, we remember that we receive the Holy Spirit and are asked to cooperate in the process of redemption, to know that Jesus as Messiah includes our own co-creating a new kingdom along with God. The first disciples knew well the experience that this cooperation with the Spirit was also the way of suffering and of their own crosses as well, insofar as they, too, were called to be with those who are on the margins. This is true for us, too, today in our own time and own places.

The way of Christ is the way of the poor. The way of Christ is the way of the Cross.