November 20, 2022
Just a short time ago, we witnessed all the pomp and majesty of the death of Queen Elizabeth II of England. In the coming months, we will sit enthralled at the coronation of King Charles. As American citizens, we have grown up in a republic of Presidents, Congress members and an American constitution.
If I were Pope, I would replace today’s title of Christ the King and the first reading and gospel with a different theme, not emphasizing an old European and Middle Eastern ruler, but a feast of the New Man for All Seasons.
Perhaps, if St. Paul lived today, he would use one of Jesus’ titles that he used in our second reading: “The Feast of God Made Visible,” “The Feast of the One Who Created All Things.” “The Feast of the One Who Began All Things.” “The Feast of the Firstborn from the Dead.” “The Feast of the Peacemaker by the Blood of the Cross.” We do not need a king, I believe.
We do not need a “king of the Jews,” but we do need “A Light in Our World.” We do need “The Living Word of God.” Perhaps, this is the Feast of “Jesus of the Divine Presence.”
What Pope Pius XI was trying to combat in 1925 is what he perceived to be a growing selfish nationalism among the countries of Europe, the rising of a secularism that tells the world that it can live and get along without God. Those were the days of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. To know that past helps us not to fall into the traps of the future.
Pope Pius XI believed that the Catholic world and all humanity needed the influence of Jesus Christ who reveals a path to a full human life here and to the destiny of eternal life somewhere else.
Our gospel story shows how Jesus was jeered and how he was nailed to the Cross. Many European leaders smirked at Pope Pius XI – what planet was he living on, they must have said to one another – another pious thought from a simpleton.
“Have you no fear of God?” the one thief asked the other. That is a good question for our thoughtful reflection: What will we see or feel or experience in the weeks or months or seconds before we die? All God asks is for basic respect. All God hopes for is loving relationship. All God wants to give is His help, His energy, His know-how as we walk through life. Why is it so difficult to give Jesus the benefit of doubt, to take his life and gifts and run with them?
Hopefully, when we come to the end of our time here, we will hear Jesus say: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – thought to be “pie in the sky” or Karl Marx’s “opium of the people.”
One of St. Paul’s titles for Jesus in today’s reading is “The Firstborn from the Dead.” We don’t need a king. We need a mentor and guide to get us from this life to the next. We need a Jesus who will be our companion and help us to get where God wants us to be.
So, Pope Pius XI was an inspired voice inviting us to give Jesus the first place in our hearts, to understand his spirituality of giving our lives away to help others find theirs.
One sideline thought is the role that God gave King David among the people of his day was to shepherd His people, to be a model of how to behave and how to live – an example to others.
There was a great deal of jealousy and rivalry between King David and his predecessor King Saul. When they reconciled, the baton of leadership was handed to David.
In following Jesus, we are following someone who is leading us into finding ourselves with a heart of respect and love, who works on softening the jealousy in our lives, and our need to be always in the first place.
St. Paul writes that we have been “transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son. In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
And God is pleased even to this day when we let his fullness dwell in us!