Homily November 20, 2022
Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
2 Samuel 5:1-3. Collossians 1:12-20. Luke 23:35-43
There are many passages in both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures similar to those we have heard this morning, rich in imagery of the kingship of Jesus, especially of Jesus risen, of Christ the King. It is a surprise, then, to discover that the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is “new”, created only a century ago by Pope Pius XI, in a time of increasing social turmoil following the Great War.
By the mid-1920s, pessimism, a sense of helplessness, compounded by hatred among the nations, was overwhelming. Secularism and atheism threatened to wipe out traditional ways of faith. Kings were being dethroned and chaos was replacing civil order. The time was ripe for the festering philosophies of fascism, Nazism and communism, hastening the rise of dictators who would dominate the world stage for decades.
Pope Pius XI believed that social disintegration and the appeal of secular authoritarianism could and should be countered by the Church asserting and celebrating the absolute authority of Christ. He wrote, “As long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.” On Dec. 11, 1925, in his encyclical Quas Primas the Pope asserted the mystical and factual supremacy of Jesus Christ over all men, nations and earthly allegiances, writing: “The empire of our Redeemer embraces all men. His empire includes not only Catholic nations, not only baptized persons…, but also all those who are outside the Christian faith; so that truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ.’ ” So that all Catholics might experience the truth of this assertion, the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe” was added to the annual liturgical calendar.
Much of the social unsettledness of the 1920s seems to be with us today. But attitudes have changed. Many of us gathered in this community have spent our lives building a tradition of inclusiveness and appreciation for diversity, creating practices of shared authority involving subsidiarity and collegiality, and committing ourselves to mutual respect and the primacy of individual dignity and conscience. In the church too, attitudes have changed. Today’s feast, and the purposes for which it was created were reframed by Benedict XVI in 2009. He wrote, “…In what does this “power” of Jesus Christ the King consist? It is not the power of the kings or the great people of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart, bring peace amid the harshest conflict and kindle hope in the thickest darkness. This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom.”
Elaine Prevallet explored still newer development in our theological understandings in her booklet Making the Shift. Her reflections, published fifteen years ago, “grew out of my concern that, while we were learning a great deal about the story of our evolving universe, and while we were fruitfully engaged in dealing with environmental concerns, we were doing little to bring our theology into sync with new and enlarged…notions of God, of Jesus, of creation, of spiritual practice.” Exploring her own widening awareness and a deepening consciousness of the whole of creation, Elaine described how she came to appreciate Jesus, not as King of the Universe, but as one who “lived the reign of God… lived in complete congruence with the divine energies that infuse everything that is.” And Elaine saw Jesus’ Way of congruence as our path too.
If in the 2020s we were to initiate a new feast day tailored to our times, what would we create? What belief about God or Jesus or Mary or the saints would we raise up to give courage and comfort to our daily lives? Perhaps we would choose virtues of the Earth to sustain our spiritual practice? Would we celebrate the Big Bang as an annual feast of creation?
Perhaps we could create a new Loretto feast of Jesus the Way. Some awareness of the divine Mystery, new or ancient, is strengthening and stretching our personal and communal ability to live full lives of joy and service. How would we name it and celebrate it as Loretto?