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Jesus: The world's true ruler

Archbishop Wenski's column for the November edition of the Florida Catholic

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On the last Sunday of “ordinary time,” this year November 25th, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. At first glance, since today we are not governed by kings, we might be tempted to regard such a feast as an anachronistic relic of a long past era. Yet the solemnity of Christ the King — as a liturgical institution — is actually quite recent. It was established not by some medieval pope but by a quite modern day one, Pope Pius XI in 1925.

The pope was not engaging in some flight of fantasy; in fact, adding the feast of Christ the King was rather a thumb in the eye of a world which had already begun to pretend that it could organize itself without God. The October Revolution of 1917 in Russia had already been consolidated and with it, under the spell of radical secular ideologies of both the right and the left, the 20th century was well on its way to becoming the most violent, the most murderous in history.

This was the climate in which this feast was born — and perhaps what motivated the pope to establish this feast was 
the revolution in Mexico. There, a revolutionary government was established which persecuted the Church — and not just bishops and priests, but the entire community of the baptized — with a ferocity that paralleled what was already happening in Soviet Russia. There in Mexico, thousands were killed in the name of freeing people from religious “superstition.”

Led before firing squads, many died shouting: “Long live Christ the King” (Viva Cristo Rey!) The Church remembers these Mexican martyrs: the feast day of one, Father Miguel Pro, is observed on November 23rd. The story of these “Cristeros” was recently brought to the silver screen in the movie, “For Greater Glory.”

These martyrs and the millions who died in the successive holocausts of the 20th century remind us that when we pretend to organize the world without reference to God and his truth, we end up organizing the world against man himself.

While the establishment of the feast is recent, the content of what we celebrate is indeed quite old — indeed it is as old as Christianity. To say that “Christ reigns” is the equivalent of what we say in our profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord.”

Does this mean that as Christians or as Catholics our aim should be to establish a theocracy — that is, to put into place a government that formally acknowledges Jesus as Lord? This is often the charge leveled against us in response to our efforts as citizens to influence public policy in promotion of the common good. No serious Catholic today would argue against the rather good arrangement in social polity that Americans have made with the “no establishment clause” of the U.S. Constitution. However, the point is that while Church and state are rightly separate, there should be no separation between religion and society, between personally held values and public conduct.

According to St. Paul, there are two possible ways of living: “either for oneself or for the Lord” (cf. Romans 14: 7-9). To live “for oneself” means to live as if one has in oneself one’s own beginning and one’s own end. It indicates an existence shut-in on itself, oriented only to one’s own satisfaction and glory, without any prospect of eternity. Today, we can see individuals and indeed whole societies of people who have opted to live for “themselves.”

Faced with so much pressure to live for oneself — to think that it is all about me, me, me — we do well at the end of our liturgical year to remind ourselves that Jesus is indeed Lord — and to live “for the Lord” means to live in view of him, for his glory, for his kingdom.

And so when many thought that God should be exiled from the affairs of the world — or at least marginalized to the point where he didn’t really matter —  Pope Pius XI in establishing this feast day wished to remind us that Jesus is the world’s true ruler and judge.

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