Grace to you!
As the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some background stories that informed the celebration. Hopefully, it would help us in our connection with the feast of Christ the King. So, our reflection today will have some historical touch to it, be longer than usual, and the style a little different, given the nature of the subject.
The 1920s was a period in history remarkable in many ways. World War I (1914-1918) had just ended and the world was beginning to gather the wreckages of that dastardly unfortunate human violence, including the influenza epidemic (nicknamed the Spanish Flu), a global catastrophe which claimed about 40 million lives worldwide. Despite the horrors, peace seemed to be on the horizon. Many political camps started to realign.
Recall that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to Lucia, Francesco and Jacinta in Fatima (five times at Cova da Iria and once at Los Valinhos) on the 13th day of the month (May to October), 1917. She warned of the imminent threat to the world peace and asked the children to pray and sacrifice for the sins of the world and the conversion of Russia.
The period also witnessed a number of developments in science and technology that gave many a false sense of hope. The decade, more often referred to as the “roaring twenties”, ushered in new advancements, inventions and discoveries, such as the inventions of radio, television, mass production of cars by Henry Ford, invention of automatic vending machines for dispensing soft drinks and the use of airplanes as a means of transportation and mail distribution, not just as a weapon of warfare, etc.
With relative peace and a seemingly overwhelming surplus, many people started to ignore morality; enthroning material wellbeing to the neglect of the spiritual. Virtues like self-control, restraint or temperance were ignored and regarded as the vestigial of medieval control. A new culture—consumerism—was born.
In the political arena, thirst for power was evident. Worthy of mention is 1925, one year after the death of the communist leader, Vladimir Lenin, who was replaced by Joseph Stalin, that terrible leader of a 19-year reign over communist Russia. It was also the second year of the Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles, the atheist whose leadership led to the Cristero War, a civil war between Catholic protesters and government forces.
1925 deserves special notice also, because in that particular year, Adolf Hitler (future founder of Nazism), published his autobiography and political manifesto, Mein Kampf, in which politics, leadership and morality were orchestrated in terms of supremacy of the Aryan Race. Benito Mussolini (originator of Italian Fascism) was to ascend as the Italian Prime Minister. In that same year of 1925, on the eleventh day of the month of December at St. Peter’s Rome, His Holiness Pius XI, speaking as the voice of conscience in the era, wrote his Quas Primas, an encyclical decreeing the universal feast of Christ the King.
What exactly was in the mind of His Holiness as he let his deep thoughts flow through the ink on the parchment of his papal journal? The interlude between World War I and World War II was wearily calm, not the kind that could be described as peace. His Holiness realized that with Stalin in Russia, Mussolini in Italy, Calles in Mexico and the growing popularity of Hitler in Germany, peace was farfetched. All three had one thing in common, a grain and thirst for “absolute” power. They were, in various forms, mean monarchs.
Was this why the pope wrote, reminding the world that Christ is the only King? I know not. What is clear, though, is just as the Word of God reveals to any generation the mind of God in response to the challenges of the Zeitgeist (spirit of the times), there could be no better time in human history to draw attention to the universal kingship of Christ.
How did the pope remind the world of this old common custom of the title of Christ as King? He teaches that Christ is the King because of his highest degree of perfection, his reign in the hearts and wills of all peoples, truth itself and the source of all truth, as well as by the fact of the Incarnation (see Quas Primas, no.7).
If Christ is the King, then he must have a kingdom, for no king is without a kingdom. Where then is this kingdom? Our Lord Jesus himself provides the answer in response to Pilate: “My kingship is not of this world” (John 18:36).
What then is this kingship? Which road leads to the kingdom? The road to Christ’s throne could be seen as the windy route to Calvary; his crown made of thorns; his scepter justice and mercy; his throne the wood of the cross; and his palace Golgotha. From there, crimsoned against the moody skies, he is to reign in the hearts of all humanity. Philippians 2:8-11 captures the profound connection: “And being found in human form he [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
His kingdom is also universal, since in him all things hold together (Col 1:17), visible and invisible. It is a kingdom of righteousness, of peace and of joy where the conflicts that divide families, peoples and nations are resolved. In this kingdom, incompatibles live in harmony with the weak, having as fair a shot as the strong. The messianic expectation is indeed fulfilled in himself as Hope, Savior of the entire universe, spiritual and temporal. It is the very opposite of what worldly monarchy stands for and a judgment of a power-turn world which, at the time, had witnessed two world wars in less than thirty years. His Kingdom is, therefore, spiritual and concerns the eternal destiny of all creation.
If Christ’s reign is spiritual, does it mean he is set apart from the civil affairs and is of no relevance to the kingdoms of the earth? His Holiness objects, saying it will be a grave error to assume Jesus has no authority in civil affairs, because “by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power” (Quas Primas, no. 17). Though during his life on earth, he never allowed the temptation of confusing his mission with political affairs; otherwise, we could have confused the very objective of the Incarnation.
In keeping with the gift of freedom he has given to us to make the choice for our temporal lives, God does not infringe on our freedom like the tyrants of the modern times. A recognition of this, which also implies recognition of the kingship of Christ and the response to its demands, is salvation. “In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society” (Quas Primas, no.18).
May Christ reign in our hearts, in our families, in our communities and in the world. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.