Christ The King
In this beautiful homily for the Feast of Christ the King, Year A, Father Hanly looks at the importance of the great Feast of Christ the King.
First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6
Second Reading: First Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
Kings are not in fashion these days. When I was young, the storybooks were full of kings and queens and all the kind of excitement that goes, maybe, perhaps, in the old days when kings ruled the world in so many ways.
But these days, kings are only symbols, symbols of unity perhaps, very important, symbols of the past and the history, the continuity moving into the future. And so they have a role, but it’s very minor. And it’s like the tiger that is toothless. It doesn’t have the kind of power that people sought, for those who aspired to be kings in the old days.
Perhaps a lot of it goes back to the times of the French Revolution, when throughout Europe there was this feeling that somehow the kings had lost their right to rule and there was a great tumult through all the countries.
And before this took place, there’s a story of two men. They were in Paris and they were watching the King of France alighting from his golden chariot, full of courtiers and people bowing and scraping, everybody wearing beautiful clothing. And one of the men said, “I live to see the day when royalty is treated like commoners.” And his friend smiled and he said, “I live to see the day when commoners are treated like royalty.” It was that kind of a situation at the time.
Of course, then the whole world changed. There was great, what we thought would be a wonderful, new world turned out to be even worse than the one that they were trying to change.
What happened then, of course, was that Pius, Pope Pius XI, was reigning as Pope, and that was after the First World War. It began with one Pope dying of a broken heart when the war started. And then Pius XI was the one who became Pope at the conclusion of it. And he was the one who started Christ the King, the ceremony.
And some people felt, “Why would he do that?” But Pius XI was a very, very tough guy and he knew the people he was dealing with and he wanted to show them what a real king is and what a real king should be.
So he deliberately said that we will celebrate Christ as the King, not building him up as if he was a superman, but presenting a man, beaten and mocked and crowned with thorns, with a bleeding side, people making fun of him. This was the King that he presented. It was Jesus on a throne, Jesus crowned, and Jesus was the one who came to heal us and save us.
And then you say, “How could God let this happen? How could it happen?”
And then, probably, we’re supposed to ask Jesus, “How could it happen?”
And Jesus will say, “I only do my Father’s will.”
And then if you ask God, “Why did you allow this terrible thing? We human beings rose up as one terrible voice and destroyed the lovely Saviour of the world. And for no reason. It was as empty as the First World War, thousands killed and smashed, and for no reason that anybody to this day can think of was even worth the trip.
Guardini, Romano Guardini, was a very fine theologian, an Italian German, and when they asked him, “How could this happen, that God would allow His Son, who He sent to save us and redeem us, allow this to happen to him?” And he would shrug his shoulders and he’d say, “Love does such things. Only love does such things.”
And Simone Weil, a very famous little mystical girl who died in the Second World War, who fell in love with Jesus, her comment was: “When I look up onto the bloody cross and see him bleeding and dying for me, I say to myself, now he understands.”
He understands that the world is not full of jolly little kings hopping around and feeling important and throwing big parties and all this nonsense. He understands that so many people go to bed hungry, that so many people are born just to die neglected. We must remember that we belong to a world where over half the children go to bed hungry and many of them die.
What can we even think about in terms of what are we expected to do? Well now, of course, a man on the cross who says to his Father, “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” and lays his life down only for one reason, out of love. And God the Father, out of love all of this is done.
Because only love can save us.
But it’s not the love where “love me today, forget me tomorrow.” It is the only love that God knows, because God only knows how to love by giving, self-sacrifice. God does not say, “If you don’t love me, I’m going to punish you.” God loves and loves and never stops loving, no matter how bad it is.
And how do we know that?
If God Himself didn’t send His Son to become man, be one with us and suffer all things that we go through and even more and yet look up at his Father and say, “Love them.” Forgiveness: the only words we want to hear in a world so desolate and hungry for love, hungry for the love of God and for each other.
So that is what makes today an extremely important feast for us.
At the end of the church year, we are presented with the solution.
A broken body on the cross?
Of course not.
The solution of a God who lays his life down out of love. And he says to us in this gesture, “Now turn to each other, turn to each other and love as Jesus loved, care as Jesus cared. Go the extra step as Jesus always did. Laugh when people are happy, weep with them when people are sad.”
This is the one and the only way that this world will understand that it is God who is changing it.
But He’s not going to change it by massive armies winning arguments, fighting back and forth. He’s not going to end it by competition and all the kind of things that we pretend are going to lead to joy and happiness and only end up in futility.
The only way that it’s going to be the world that God created, that God conceived and created and still works in and never tires, because He believes in us, because He loves us and He cares for us, is when we finally wake up and say, “I’ve run out of everything else. The only thing left is to love people. And if I don’t love people there’s no point in life itself.”
And I think that is what makes today a great feast.
And Pius XI knew that. He knew that the (inaudible) covered with blood and pain all through that last terrible century that they all endured, that out of that will come a continued movement towards forgiveness, towards caring, towards loving, towards self-sacrifice, until we finally get it right, as they say.
Get it right. How often must it happen before we get it right?
And God has promised us one thing: “I cannot tell you how long it will take, I cannot give you any hope except one: I will be with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.
“I have created you for greatness and great you shall be. I have created you to use your time and attention to learn how to love, because, in the learning how to love, you are healed and you are saved.”