Christ the King statue in Swiebodzin, Poland. The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI through his encyclical Quas Primas. The context was a rising secularism in Europe and the Roman Question. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Feast of Christ the King is a call to action

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  • November 20, 2017
“So you are a king?” Pilate questioned Jesus.

“You say that I am a king,” Jesus replied. “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice.”

Nov. 26, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is the feast of Christ the King. Is Christ our king?

How we live our lives is the measure by which we may answer yes. For when we say Christ is King, we are not saying, “Christ is King…once we get to Heaven.” We are not saying, “Christ is King…but a spiritual king.” We are saying Christ is King here and now, over all things in this world and the next, over the material alive with the spiritual.

What does that mean, then, when Catholics are living under one form of government or another?

The Church declares the kingship of Christ as a way of protecting herself and all of the mystical body from being subject to any oppressive earthly power or ideology that militates against the truth. That is the beauty of Christ’s response to Pilate.

To say that Christ is King means that we can accept no earthly authority which goes against the truth of God’s love. It is because Christ is King that many people of deep faith have broken the laws of earthly authorities — a spectrum that ranges from totalitarian and fascist regimes to liberal democracies.

The feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI through his encyclical Quas Primas. The context was a rising secularism in Europe and the Roman Question (which ended with the Lateran treaty and creation of the Vatican city-state in 1929). What is striking about the encyclical is the assertion that the power of Christ the King is not rooted in violence. Pius quotes Cyril of Alexandria in asserting that Christ “has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but His by essence and by nature.”

When you Google “Christ the King” you find many images of Jesus wearing, in most cases, a western European-looking crown. While it would be easy to make an argument that such images were meant to reinforce notions of a European Christendom, I prefer a different interpretation. When we place the crown on the head of Christ, we recognize that no earthly power can claim the absolute authority that the crown has come to symbolize. Absolute authority can only reside in God, by virtue of God’s nature.

The only actual crown Christ wore was a crown of thorns. By testifying to the Truth, and refraining from the exercise of earthly power that many of His followers expected, He redeemed the world. This is the great paradox of what it means to belong to the kingdom where Christ reigns. Like Christ, we must testify to the Truth. This is the fruit of every human encounter with God. And like Christ, it often means asserting ourselves in the public realm, despite the consequences.

Celebrating the feast of Christ the King is a way to assert that as Catholics we will not allow the values of our faith to be confined to the private sphere of our personal lives. The feast calls us to bring the values of our faith to bear on wider society, to raise our voices in the public realm on public affairs relating to human dignity and the common good.

For this reason, Development and Peace Caritas Canada, with the support of Archbishop Thomas Cardinal Collins, has established a tradition in the Toronto archdiocese these past few years of carrying out its annual education and action campaign on the weekend of Christ the King. The political action of the campaigns are predicated on the kingship of Christ — our faith has a place in the public realm.

D&P members have been busy delivering workshops, ordering campaign postcards, distributing materials and calling parishes for the Women at the Heart of Peace campaign, which highlights the important role of women in building peace. On Nov. 26, the feast of Christ the King, the campaign culminates in a call to action.

Parishioners are being invited to send a postcard to the prime minister urging the federal government to put its money where its mouth is. We want our leaders to commit to hitting the United Nations target of giving 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Income to support our brothers and sisters in the global south and women who are working to build peace.

Is Christ our King? Every Catholic has an opportunity to celebrate that feast day by actively saying “Yes.”

(Stocking is Central Ontario animator with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.)

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