Saturday, November 21, 2009

"You say that I am a king."


“You say I am a king. For this I was born and came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Yesterday (Friday), there was one of the most remarkable public displays of the faith as 22,000 Catholic young people walked in a Eucharistic Procession through the streets of Kansas City as they gathered for this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference. They were part of a truly impressive celebration of the Kingship of Christ following Christ their King present in the Blessed Sacrament. This year’s conference is fittingly themed, “Christ reigns.” As I saw video and photos of that event, I couldn’t help but think that this might not be far from what Pope Pius the 11th had in mind when, in 1925, he established today’s feast as a proclamation of our belief that the reign of Christ should be felt not only in the private lives of Christians but also in the public domain.

We know that the Kingship of Jesus is different from what our worldly standards of kingly power are. This is the trouble that the Jews had in accepting Jesus. They thought their Messiah, their anointed King, would be one who would bring political and military strength and freedom to their nation and lift it out from under the oppression of the Roman Empire. But, this was not what the Kingdom of God would look like.

In thinking of today’s feast, the life of St. Thomas More comes to mind. Thomas understood the difference between worldly and heavenly Kings. Thomas More was a brilliant lawyer and diplomat in 13th century England. His patriotism and loyalty to the throne attracted the attention of King Henry the 8th who made him Lord Chancellor of England, the first layperson to be entrusted with such an honorable responsibility. What Henry did not know was that as loyal as More was to him, his first loyalty was to Christ, the only True King.

And so, when Henry decided to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon, marry Anne Boleyn, and make himself head of the Church of England, More could not consent. Rather than approve what he believed to be against Divine Will, he resigned from his prestigious and wealthy position as Lord Chancellor and lived a life of poverty. Because he would not give his support to the king, More was arrested, convicted of treason, imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534 and beheaded the following July. On his way to public execution, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the true faith. His last recorded words were: “I die the king's good servant, but God's first.” You see, for Thomas More, it was not enough to simply confess Christ privately in the safety of his heart and among his family; he knew he must also confess Christ in the public realm too.

So today’s feast not only proclaims Jesus Christ as the True King, but it poses a question to all of us: Who is our king? Does our king reign privately in our hearts; or is He the King of our lives? Can we publicly profess His kingship as the 22,000 young people did in Kansas City this week?

What does it look like when we proclaim Christ the King of our lives? The kingship of Christ is not a threat to the kingdoms of the world, as Pontius Pilate thought. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

There are basically three defining characteristics of Christ’s Kingship. First, while other kingdoms have territorial boundaries, the kingship of Christ is universal. Christ is king without borders. Second, while other kingdoms come and go, the kingship of Christ is eternal. And third, while other kingdoms are sustained by military and economic power, the kingship of Christ is sustained by the power of Truth and Love – the Truth and Love that come from God alone. Citizens of Christ's kingdom must, therefore, stand by this Truth, to proclaim this Truth, even when it is inconvenient, embarrassing or challenging to do so.

What Jesus had to say to Pilate ends with a challenge when He said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Would Pilate listen? More importantly, will we? Pilate did not choose to accept the invitation of Christ to listen to the Truth. What he did at the end of the day, instead of listening to Christ, was to wash his hands of Him. Will we do the same? None of us really wants to. But, to make sure that we won’t, don’t we have to take Him at His word, accept Christ as God’s truth and try to live our lives in accordance with His teachings? Don’t we have to give Him an allegiance that is total and undivided, so that He is the King of our hearts and of our lives? It is in that spiritual sense that Christ is meant to be our king.

There are many voices in our modern world competing for our allegiance. Among them the call to unbridled sensuality and sexuality; the more contemporary call to a secular self-sufficiency, the daily distracting calls to the trivial and the transitory. There is no shortage of calls. But, in the midst of all the din, Christ is calling too. He is telling us emphatically about the uniqueness of His authority and the reliability of His claim to be the very incarnation of God’s Truth. This is a time for choosing or for confirming a choice we’ve already made. Let’s be decisive about it.

The Church will have a place in that Kingdom if, at the end of one Church year and the beginning of another, we renew our commitment to the Lord; if we each make a decisive turn in Christ’s favor.

“You say I am a king. For this I was born and came into the world, to testify to the truth.” As this Church year comes to a close, we realize we have traveled a long journey. We have heard all year about the demands and costs of discipleship. Today we must ask: Who is our King? Do we belong to the Truth that is the foundation of God’s Kingdom? Let that Truth take root in our hearts, let it be proclaimed in all that we do.

Let us bring the Truth from Jesus Christ our King – the only King worthy of our allegiance – to all whom we meet.

May God give you peace!

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