• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (A)

“The Son of Man will sit upon His glorious throne and He will separate them one from another.”

Entrance Antiphon: Rev: 5:12; 1:6 — “How worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and divinity, and wisdom and strength and honor. To Him belong glory and power for ever and ever.”

First Reading: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17 — “As for you, my flock, I will judge between one sheep and another.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6 — “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Second Reading: 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28 — “Christ will hand over the kingdom to His God and Father so that God may be all in all.”

Alleluia: Mk 11:9, 10 — “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!”

Gospel: Mt 25:31-46 — “The Son of Man will sit upon His glorious throne and He will separate them one from another.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 29(28):10-11— “The Lord sits as King for ever. The Lord will bless His people with peace.”

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” ... “Christ the King” ... the name of this feast … this solemnity … as we commonly know it, brings together two realities that exist in an uncomfortable tension in the United States of America … namely faith and politics. The people of the United States have proudly proclaimed ever since the Declaration of Independence that they have no king. Yet, nearly every high school and college in the country has a homecoming king and queen ... and even in the midst of COVID, I saw pictures of them on various school websites. We also have the “King of Pop” and “King of Swing” and the king of almost every other kind of music, and we even have the “King of Beer.” Kids play “king of the mountain” and tune in to “The King of Queens” and “King of the Hill” on television. So while proclaiming that they have no king, many Americans seem to be constantly in search of one. On this Solemnity that ends the Liturgical Year, we are offered the opportunity to reflect on the relationship of the eternal and the temporal … of faith and politics … of the Church and the state. This Solemnity of Christ the King allows us to reflect on the question of religious freedom, and in all of these quests for a king that I described, we never seem to mention the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or imprisoned as Jesus did today in the Gospel.

Christ the King … Christ OUR King … gave us a completely new and different way of judging the sort of life to which we must aspire if we are to grow close to God, if we are to find the fullness of meaning God intends for human life. Unfortunately in the years since the founding of our nation, the relationship between faith and culture has grown apart. Some of you who are older may well remember a time in our nation when faith and expressions of faith, were less controversial. But things have changed. As a nation we often seem to be defining ourselves with little regard for truth.

Christ represented the ideal human being, the best of what human beings can be. Franciscan philosophers and theologians … drawing upon Scripture and the Christian tradition … have maintained for centuries that God created the universe in order to share divine life and love. In this model of creation, human beings came into existence so that there would be creatures with the ability to experience what it is to love and to be loved. A vital element of that ability to love is freedom … free will … free choice … because love can never be forced or imposed. The highest example of love is freely accepted self-sacrifice of the sort shown by parents for their children and husband and wife for one another. On the cross, Christ became the ideal, the greatest example of self-sacrifice … freely accepted out of love not for one or two or a few people, but for every human being in history.

Although not in the Constitution itself, we sometimes hear about the need for a wall of separation between Church and State. But if we are attentive to the Kingship of Christ in our lives, we know that there can be no “wall of separation” between our lives as believers and our lives as citizens. Our schools, our public institutions, and public debate have only been places where this kind of wall of separation has been built higher and higher … coaches are reprimanded for bowing their heads at a prayer led by players … the two words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance have come under repeated attack in court. Applicants to medical school must hide their Pro-Life views for fear they won’t be accepted. Just consider all the ways the Right to Life and the Right to Family are being attacked. And I’m sorry to say that the list goes on and on and on …

Christ changed our relationship with God … He represents and re-presents all of us to God our Creator. Probably the most common comment made by family members and friends when they see a baby for the first time is a remark about who the baby looks like. Then as the child grows, it will be the parents who look for themselves in the actions and features of their offspring. Parents long to see a “chip off the old block” in their children. When we celebrate the incarnation of Christ at Christmas in a few short weeks, we should hope that when God looks at us, God will see and love in us what God sees and loves in Christ. Will He?” ... Does He?” ... Do our lives imitate Christ’s?

Christ OUR King gave us a new way of looking at our relationships with each other. Christ taught us to judge by our service … especially our service to those in most need. Hunger, thirst and nakedness are immediate needs requiring immediate action, and Christ asks what we are doing right now for those suffering because of these problems. The stranger, the ill and those in prison often indicate more long-term challenges within our society, and Christ asks how we are living our lives that their lives might be better. Christ healed those right in front of Him and sent out His disciples to continue that work. He didn’t care what the Romans or the Pharisees or the Saduccees or the Jewish leadership thought … did He? In other words, our concern for others needs to start right here, right now.

When we sit down and really think about it, Christ is a different kind of king. He is a king who transforms our earthly ideas of kingship … and in transforming that ideal of kingship … Christ challenges us as his subjects and disciples to transform our own lives into lives of service. If we wish to grow close to Christ, who laid aside the glory of heaven in order to grow close to us … then we must also sacrifice out of care and concern for our neighbors.

Any student of history knows just how ironic and how far we have come from the ideals which helped to found our nation. It has been said that America did not create religious liberty but that religious liberty made America. In part, religious liberty allows us to do those things Christ asks us to do. And now, the government is attacking religious freedom by defining it away … reducing freedom of religion to mere freedom of worship. It is becoming more and more inappropriate to bring our conscience and to bring our convictions about the common good of all … the unborn … the family … the needy … the sick … the imprisoned … into the public square. Our government has given itself ever more permission to intrude into the Church’s territory … and sadly we’ve allowed it to happen. And the COVID-19 pandemic only made it worse. The wall of separation has become a way to protect the state from the Church … to prevent the Christian conscience from coming to bear on public policy. This wall is becoming one of enclosure … not protection … as we are relegated to celebrating our faith only in the privacy of our homes or within the walls of our churches.

If we truly wish to celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King … Christ will remain at the heart of the celebration. If we call ourselves Christian … if we call ourselves Catholic … if we dare to venture beyond the wall of separation and bring the truth of Christ the King into the public square … we can live in the freedom as Pope Francis describes it “the freedom to live according to ethical principles both privately and publicly … ultimately our faith needs to shape every dimension of our lives … in active works of charity.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”…whenever we approach a table where bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ … because this is our faith … we have to remember that Jesus Christ truly is our King. We are called to allow our faith to shape every dimension of our lives … including our citizenship. When the Lord teaches us that whatever we do to the least, we do to Him, He teaches us the basic truth that we cannot separate our life and our faith, our politics and our creed, our charitable works and our worship.

Because we as Americans do not have an earthly king, it is especially easy for us to accept the truth about Christ the King. He is a King like no other. His Kingdom is not of this world. Yet, His Kingdom has great implications for this world. Because our Lord has no desire to conquer lands, He is a King who can easily coexist with our form of government. In fact, His kingship is essential to the thriving of our republic. For Christ the King desires to conquer only our hearts, to be the King of our Hearts. When He is the King of our hearts, we see as He sees, we love as He loves. When He is the King of our Hearts, we recognize the dignity of all human persons, we are committed to justice, we have a great love for the poor, and we recognize our call to use the gifts that we have been given for the common good.

There is much debate in our nation about religious freedom. But the government did not give us religious freedom, and the government cannot take it away. Our freedom is a gift from God. Indeed, this gift lies at the heart of what it means for us to be human. By allowing Christ to be our King, our freedom grows. As Saint Paul says in the Second Reading, “in Christ shall all be brought to life.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) Christ frees us from the slavery of materialism … from the slavery of living for the approval of others … from the slavery of the desires of the flesh, and … ultimately, from the slavery to sin. As the prophet Ezekiel says in the First Reading, the Lord God rescues us and, as the Good Shepherd, gives us rest.

Through Christ the King, we become free because only through Christ the King can we become fully who we were created to be. Let us never forget this basic truth: no matter how many limits and restrictions are placed on us as believers, on the Church, or on Church institutions, no government can take away our freedom in Christ.

The feast of Christ the King is a call to holiness. As we celebrate Christ the King, we should be reminded of our call that Christ be the King of every dimension of our lives. Giving ourselves to Him entirely, holding back nothing, is the very essence of what it means to be holy. But this does not mean detachment from the world, for the greatest thing we can do for our society and our nation is to be a saint. Our King has been raised from the dead and has conquered death, so we have nothing to fear. Today’s Responsorial Psalm needs to be taken truly to heart … The Lord is our Shepherd, there is nothing we shall want (Psalm 23:1).

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