Jesus Christ enthroned in Paradise, St Mark's Basilica, Venice. Photographer unknown

Fr Neil’s homily for Christ the King, 21 November 2021

“So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”¹

Today, we celebrate Christ the King. The language of kingship here is a means of trying to portray an idea: the meaning of the authority and reign of Christ.

Any kingship requires a kingdom and subjects of that kingdom. In his dialogue with Pilate, Christ states that his kingship is not of this world. There is a stark contrast between the manner and nature of the emperor’s rule and that of Christ’s. The nation of Israel had suffered from the moment of its existence from enemies and kingdoms that sought to subdue it. The Babylonian, Medes, Greek and Roman empires were some of the greatest of ancient history and the people of God suffered greatly under the weight of their tyranny.

It is no wonder that the promised figure of a liberating Messiah was longed for by many of the people. Indeed it may have contributed to Judas Iscariot’s betrayal when he realised that Christ was not to lead an army to glorious victory over the pagan Romans but instead was to establish a body of disciples liberated from spiritual oppression rather than a physical enemy.

The human imagination so often lacks the expansive vision hinted at in the word of God and made manifest in Christ. There was something far greater at stake and an immensely more powerful enemy than the mere Romans. Sin, death, Satan and his legions had held humanity under its power since the Fall. Death and eternal alienation was the lot of those held captive by this oppressive power.

Christ as Messiah was to deal with the root cause of man’s inhumanity to man, not just in a manifestation of its symptoms like pagan Roman rule.

Christ’s triumph over death in his resurrection established the kingdom of God that would reign in the realm of the spiritual, and would be made manifest in the created order through the Church and the the lives of the saints who inhabit it. This heavenly kingdom reaches across all eternity.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925². These were turbulent times across the whole of Europe and beyond, seeing the devastation of the First World War, the revolutions in Russia which would establish the communist regime, the coming Depression and rise of fascism. As a whole there was an intellectual move away from centring societal thought on the divine and towards modernist, material human progress.

Christ was being moved from the centre to the margins and when one neglects the physician of our soul it doesn’t take long for corruption and fear to motivate people’s desires and actions. Without Christ as King people more readily look to saviours of another kind to solve their problems and thus open the door for oppression and tyranny. Authoritarianism in turn looks to identify a scapegoat, people upon whom the blame for the crisis might be laid.

Pope Pius XI asserted that the most effective defence against the destructive forces of the age is the recognition of the kingship of Christ; and, furthermore, a feast which is celebrated every year by everyone is a far better way of deploying that defence than any number of books written by learned people. First, we do; then we come to understand what it is that we are doing.

It is difficult not to draw some parallels with some of the events of recent years and the growing practice of self-censorship. Freedom of speech is under threat with a growing “cancel culture” and the stifling of the use of certain words and the highlighting of scientific facts. Alongside this there are very worrying trend with vaccine implementation policies. Fear is being used as a tool that means people are willing to give up cherished freedoms, and victimise certain groups of people who will be blamed for the pandemic.

A part of the kingship of Christ is that as King he will bear witness to, and be an embodiment of, the truth. The revelation of truth is dangerous and spiritually revolutionary. All too often the world apes Pilate’s cynical response, “what is truth?” yet only by engaging in the words of Christ are we able to set ourselves free from our self-constructed fantasy and be able to understand that ‘the truth will set us free’³ and that ‘perfect love drives out all fear’⁴, and release us from the perpetual cycle of fear, violence and self-destruction.

The reading from Daniel⁵ tells us that the Son of Man will come and all dominion, glory and power will be his. He will reign over a kingdom that is everlasting and universal where all peoples, nations and languages will serve him. Whether we choose to hear this truth or not won’t stop the inevitable reality of it. When Christ returns in his glory, revealing the extent of his kingdom, I want to be numbered as one of its citizens, hearing and serving the word of truth he speaks rather than blindly denying it.

¹ John 18:37
² Quas Primas
³ John 8:32
⁴ 1 John 4:18
⁵ Daniel 7:13–14

The editorial title comes from Philippians 2:9–11.