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The cross is the throne of this king

Archbishop Wenski's homily at the 2022 Thanks-for-Giving Mass

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the annual Thanks-for-Giving Mass, celebrated Nov. 19, 2022, at St. Mary Cathedral in Miami. The Mass acknowledges those who have contributed each year to the ABCD (Archbishop’s Charities and Development Campaign).

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, which concludes our liturgical year. Later this week, we will gather with family and loved ones to observe a great national holiday, Thanksgiving.

And that’s the reason to bring together to the cathedral parishioners from across the archdiocese: because if Thursday is “Thanksgiving Day,” today is the Archdiocese of Miami’s opportunity to celebrate you with a special “Thanks-for-giving Day.”

As Archbishop, I am grateful to you because through your support of the ABCD, we as a Catholic community in South Florida are truly “one in faith, one in hope, and one in charity.”

One of the central teachings of the Second Vatican Council is that the human person can only realize himself as a human being through the sincere gift of himself or herself. True human fulfillment, true happiness, is not found through self-seeking or self-assertion but through self-giving. And this gift of self is modeled for us by our Lord Jesus Christ – who gives himself to the Father for us on the cross. Again, thank you for giving.

Again, today 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. The only kings most of us have heard about are the king of diamonds, the king of hearts, the king of clubs and the king of spades. Yet the solemnity of Christ the King – as a liturgical institution – is 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, by adding the feast of Christ the King to the liturgical calendar, he wanted to put his 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. Whenever and wherever humanity seeks to organize itself without God or against God, confusion is sown – and the harvest is hatred, distrust, and violence.

This was the climate in which this feast was born – and perhaps what motivated the pope to establish this feast was 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! November 23rd is the feast day of one of these Mexican martyrs, a Jesuit priest, Father Miguel Pro. 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 today 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.”

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.

The Gospel reading chosen for today’s feast is that of the death of Christ because it was at that moment that Christ began to rule over the world. The cross is the throne of this king. His crown is not of jewels but of thorns. He is robed not in majesty but in mercy – and, even as he hung on the cross, some of his followers (and even his enemies) still expected some sort of spectacular manifestation of his kingship. And he revealed it not by coming down from the cross but by saying to one man – and a criminal at that: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Not majesty but mercy; not pomp and circumstance but poverty; not power but compassion. These are the attributes of our King and Lord who will judge us and our history. 

The moment of death’s seeming triumph over Jesus on the cross was in fact its defeat.

Jesus’ kingship is really about a new existence – the new existence promised to the repentant thief, and to us. The greatest contradiction, which man has always experienced – that between life and death – has been overcome. The most radical contradiction is no longer between “living” and “dying” but between living “for oneself” and living “for the Lord.”

And so, we have gathered once again at the cathedral, the mother church of our archdiocese, for this special Eucharist – a word that itself means “thanksgiving” – to celebrate that new existence of grace. The Lord gives himself to us in the communion of his Body and Blood so that we might give ourselves to him and to one another.

At this “thanksgiving” Mass, as your archbishop, I remember each of you with gratitude for your continued support of the Church here in South Florida through the ABCD, the Archbishop’s Charities and Development Campaign. Your support remains critical; through the many works of tenderness, compassion and mercy made possible by you through the ABCD, you make present Christ’s kingdom.