The Sunday past was The Feast of Jesus Christ the King, usually shortened to Christ the King Sunday. Unlike many major feast days of the Church, this one is not yet a century old. How did it come about? Concerned about the rise of secularism in the world, Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925. In the encyclical, or letter to the Church, in which he announced this new feast, he asserted that many Christians had begun to doubt Christ’s authority and even Christ’s existence. He also worried that the Church was having a diminished ability to continue to exert Christ’s authority in the world.
The religious world was being shaken. Darwin’s theories had made their mark. Geologists were asserting an age of the world far older than the Church had been teaching. Biblical scholars, especially in Germany, had begun to study the Bible in new ways. One of the results was a theory that the first five books of the Bible or Torah were written, not by Moses, but by a collection of four authors or schools over a period of hundreds of years. All this was flying in the face of traditional Christian thought. In the U.S., a movement that continues to today, Fundamentalism, was the reaction to these non-traditional ideas. Pius was right to be concerned.
The date of the feast was eventually set as the last Sunday or Ordinary Time, that is, the Sunday prior to Advent. Pius hoped the feast would result in three things. First, he hoped the nations of the world would see that the Church has the right to be free from State interference. Second, he hoped world leaders would see that, because Christ is King, they would give him the respect he deserves. Third, he hoped the faithful would be reminded that Christ is King of their hearts, minds and bodies and would gain strength from the celebration to live a Christian life.
Unfortunately, it seems as if Pius’ hopes have yet to be realized. The Church continues to do battle with secularism. In some parts of the world, Christians are still persecuted by the State; in others, like England, it has become all but irrelevant. But perhaps the greatest threat to Christ’s kingship is the growing emphasis on individuality and personal entitlement throughout many parts of the world, the western world in particular. Who wants to obey a King if it requires submission of one’s wishes and desires? Sadly, not many, apparently.
In some parts of the Church, there are those who want to stop identifying Christ as King or Lord because these titles have a history of oppression attached to them. Historically, kings and lords have, in fact, tended to care little for their subjects. But we need to remember what Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, NAB).”
Clearly Christ’s lordship is not the ordinary kind.
Some things to think about.