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Reflection on the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Posted on November 22, 2020, by Mary Swain SL

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; I Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

Here we are, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, celebrating Christ as king.  For some of us, “king” may carry negative connotations — kings and their subjects, power and prestige, wealth and castles. For others, “king” may bring memories of kings and rulers in the past who were kind, considerate, gracious and helpful to those in their kingdoms.

During Holy Week we listen to John’s account of Jesus’ passion. We hear Pilate ask Jesus if he were a king. Jesus would not claim the title. “It is you [Pilate] who say that I am a king,” Jesus tells Pilate.

Five days earlier remember Palm Sunday. Jesus had sent two of his disciples off to get an ass and her colt. Susan Classen told us one year in her homily that Jesus was riding into Jerusalem from the east, coming on a donkey. At the same time, fearing a riot at Passover time, the Roman cavalry was riding in from the west, complete with soldiers, horses and armor. Such a juxtaposition of different kinds of power! We are accustomed to the military kind of power, the ways of force and of violence to gain or to retain power over others. And then Jesus comes into town riding on a donkey!  What kind of power is that?!

I find the history of this Feast of Christ the King enlightening. After World War I, especially in Europe, the authorities in the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps in other Christian churches, too, were concerned that society could no longer be called “Christendom.” Society had escaped from the grasp of the Church’s authority. There was more of what we in the United States take for granted — a separation of church and state. Such had not been the way in Europe. Therefore, Pius XI wrote an encyclical and also established the feast in December 1925. The encyclical emerged, according to Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, from a reactionary Roman Catholic Church movement, which sought to re-establish the Church’s age-old position of power in society.  

The feast as it was established, however, did not carry forward this movement to return to a past where the Church had more temporal authority. The kingship of Jesus put forth in this feast has nothing to do with power over others. Schillebeeckx sees the feast as a “criticism of any ideology of power, whether in the world or in the church.” (“God Among Us,” p.118.)  Further, he notes, “a sure instinct of faith put the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, just before the new beginning with … Advent.” Further, the readings do not present Jesus as ruling over anyone.

In the reading of Ezekiel God is seeking out the lost, the injured the sick — certainly a way of living that Jesus imitated. In today’s Gospel story of a king we heard the urgency of giving the hungry food and of visiting the sick. It is as though Jesus is saying, Love must reign; the lowly must receive their rights. That is the way Jesus taught. The feast of Christ the King is a feast of change and renewal in the world and in the Church. Schillebeeckx suggests that in a non-monarchical society like ours, Christ the King becomes a symbol of unrest in an established order, the symbol of justice and peace for those who experience injustice and have no peace.

So we each try to do our part to bring change and renewal to our world and to our church. It is small things we do, mostly — kindness to someone, a letter to Congress, having a spirit of hope when we don’t feel like it. We gather now in Eucharist, in thanksgiving to God for Jesus as king, a symbol of unrest, a symbol of peace, a symbol of justice.


Mary Swain SL

Mary Swain SL has been a consultant to the National Religious Retirement Office and has served on the board for the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes. Along with her math background and service to the Loretto Community in the financial area, she has experience as a church organist and plans and prepares materials for Loretto liturgies at Loretto Motherhouse and for special occasions. Mary resides at Loretto Motherhouse, the grounds of which receive her careful tending and loving touch.