By: Fr. James Gross
We Americans don’t care very much for the idea of kings and queens. I dare say that an increasing number of people in the world share that viewpoint. Times are a lot different than they were in 1776. Nations that have retained royal families now consider them as ceremonial heads of state. Think, for example, of England or Norway. Their monarchs don’t wield absolute political power. But in Europe in the Middle Ages, monarchs were the rule, not the exception. A good deal of them took their responsibility before God and neighbor seriously. They were just, compassionate, and charitable. A number of them have even been canonized as saints. But history tends to remember the nutcases best—those who were spoiled, flighty, or out of touch with reality. Many people also became weary of tyrannical leaders who were constantly mustering up armies to fight this or that foe. It often got to the point where the citizens said, “Why are we doing this? If our duke has a beef with another duke, what on earth does that have to do with me?”
Today the Church asks us to reflect on the Kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, and on what His Kingship demands of us. There are plenty of scenes one could use from the life of Christ for today’s celebration. We could recall his entrance into the Holy City riding a donkey on Palm Sunday, or his appearance to the Apostles after rising from the dead. For that matter, there’s even a scene from the Gospel of John that you may remember, after Our Lord multiplied the loaves and fishes, in which the adoring crowd wanted to carry him into Jerusalem to declare him king, but then he slipped away from them and went to a private place to pray.
But we heard none of those today. Instead, we are presented with the scene of Calvary. Our Lord is bloodied, beaten, and crucified. To his detractors, he looks like a doomed and defeated man. And yet, today’s Mass shows us that the Lord’s Holy Cross is the most august throne he ever occupied on this earth, and the branches of thorns woven together were his truest crown. The cross was Christ’s altar of sacrifice, and from it was paid the price of our salvation. The Son of God, St. Augustine tells us, received from us the ability to die so that we could receive from him the ability to live forever.
Pontius Pilate ordered that a sign be attached to the Lord’s Cross, and the Latin inscription read “_________________________” (abbreviated to INRI); Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. His enemies vehemently objected to the sign, because it implies that they agreed with this title. For his part, Jesus had told Pilate that very morning that his kingdom was not of this world, or else the hosts of heaven would be fighting to deliver him. But Jesus showed himself the king of mercy in forgiving the criminal at his side who confessed his guilt and begged for the gift God alone can give. Is there any more joyous declaration in the history of the world than these words of Christ: “This day you will be with me in paradise?” St. Cyril of Jerusalem points out that after an hour’s faith and coming to repentance, the good thief was saved: why then could Jesus not do for each of us what Jesus did for him?
If we were to travel to Israel today, we would see that, although churches have been built in their places, the cross has long since been taken down and the tomb stands empty. The battle has been won. It is up to us now to consent to Jesus’ kingship, and to allow him to be our ruler and guide. And his allegiance, his nearness, to the human race makes this easier to do.
Read through any of the Gospels and see how many different kinds of people could relate to the person Jesus was. We are not talking about a machine. Jesus wept in times of sadness and laughed in times of joy. He knew hunger and thirst. His muscles ached at the end of a hard day’s work. The disciples came to know and love him because, despite the mighty deeds he performed, he was so approachable. Very few of the average folks in that time period ever saw a king up close, much less spoke to him. But the Lord Jesus is ours! He is on hand to listen to our joys and troubles, at any time we choose.
This weekend we have put out our parish calendars for 2017. The theme of the artwork is “Saints of the Americas.” I invite each of our households to take a calendar home, and to look upon the examples each month of the people who have made Jesus the king of their hearts in such admirable and heroic ways.
It’s up to each of us to decide if Christ will be reigning in our lives. He already is a king. But will his kingdom reign through you? If you choose to act in the opposite way of the teachings of Jesus, it doesn’t mean that no one or nothing else is in charge of your life. If you follow your every whim, you’re going to feel fancy-free for a while, but you won’t really be free. Someone will be in charge of you. That’s one of the Devil’s dirty little secrets.
The reign of Christ takes charge of our lives, not so much to hem them in, as to lead them to broader horizons. Have you ever thought of it that way? In Christ we can become more, do more, and love better. Most importantly, only in Christ is the burden of sin thrown off our shoulders, and the gifts of his grace offered to us in His Church. Doesn’t that make the trivial things in life seem very small by comparison?
What is the prize we possess in our Catholic faith? I’d like to use this example. For decades the name Rolls-Royce has been synonymous with extreme luxury in automobiles, the finest that money could buy. What if you were to ride up to a Rolls Royce dealership—on a unicycle, and ask the first salesperson you saw, “How about if I trade this unicycle even up for a 2016 Phantom Sedan?” The example is absurd, not only because of the disparity between the two items, but because those who possess these things know the value of what they have.
Guess what? No Rolls Royce can drive you from here to heaven or deliver the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But these divine gifts, and so much more, God freely gives to you in His Church. How many people do we know who are riding the unicycle or, worse yet, standing still? The Church of Christ is the Rolls Royce in our garage. May the Lord’s Kingly rule be a sure guide for us to eternal blessings.