Christ the King - Homily 4

 Homily 4 - 2017

The Feast of Christ the King is one of those feasts etched deeply in my soul. It marks the day when I began my priestly ministry in the diocese of Ballarat a year or two short of sixty years ago. It was a feast that in those days was inspirational to the Lay Apostolate of the 1950s & 60s, holding high the values and attitudes according to which young workers in the YCW movement strove to shape the world they worked and lived in. It was a feast cherished by the Second Vatican Council as it called the faithful everywhere to build Christ’s “kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, his Kingdom of justice, love and peace”.

Though the sense of Christ as King had been with the Church for centuries from the time of Constantine, the special Feast day was fairly new, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI only a few years before I was born. By stirring up devotion to Christ the King, he hoped to counteract the rising tide of militant secularism already triumphant in Russia and threatening to assert itself across Europe and elsewhere. Until then, the image of Christ as shepherd had largely held sway. The possible differences in mood suggested by the two images gave rise to a certain amount of tension in the Australian Church, and indeed in our own diocese in the earlier years of my priestly life. Is the role of the Church to serve humanity or to control it? Is it to bring God to a godless world, or to find God already at work, somehow, everywhere in the world? Or is there room for something of both? It is interesting how much Pope Francis uses the imagery of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

I remember reading around that time a thoughtful book pointing out that the most perfectly moral social order could not express the will of Christ if it were forcefully imposed on people either by dictatorial decree or by the ballot box. It would not reflect the Kingdom of Christ until and unless it were freely and knowingly chosen by people. There are no short-cuts to the Kingdom of Christ the King.

I went through an uncertain period in my life as a priest early in the 1970s. Fortunately around then I was occasionally involved, unofficially, in Australian Catholic Relief that coordinated the Church’s outreach to countries struggling with injustice and under-development. I remember attending a weekend gathering of representatives of non-government organisations discussing issues of international aid and advocacy. At first I felt overwhelmed by the participants’ commitment, effectiveness and competence. By the end of the weekend, however, I was struck by the depth of anger and hostility shown by some to whoever disagreed with their views. My disillusionment with priesthood disappeared when I realized the wonderful opportunities that I had as priest to keep insisting that, without love and compassion for everyone, work for justice might not always serve to build God’s Kingdom. And I have not looked back since then.

Today’s Readings get me thinking. Both the reading from Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew illustrate clearly God’s “option for the poor”. Through most of my life I have interpreted in a metaphorical, though clearly serious, sense Jesus’ statement that he takes actions done to “the least of these ” as done to him. I have come to the conclusion now that he means something more breathtaking than metaphor. Through his creative activity as Word of God, through his becoming flesh and bone with us, and then through his drawing us into his resurrection to new life, he has mysteriously yet clearly so identified with us that we are all inseparable. We truly are the Body of Christ. In giving everyone existence, God gives reality to us, shares life with each one and enables our loving. Every single human person is sacred. Every single person shares a divine dignity. This has mind-blowing implications for how we relate to everyone, to the so-called least no less than to the would-be greatest.

I believe this with my head. It has yet to soak into my heart. Give me ten more years of quiet pondering!