Father MIKAEL SCHINK S.J.
Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King
2020-11-22, St. Eugenia Catholic Church
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, one sometimes finds the definition of God that he is the one who has universal providence over the world: this is what all people understand by the name of God, he says (e.g. ST I.13.8 co.). God is therefore the supreme governor and ruler of the all things – he is the king of the universe.
Now, what people understand by the name of ‘god’ is very different and has been very different throughout history. In ancient times, people believed in a multitude of ‘gods’, i.e. they believed that there was not a single principle of government of the world. Rather, there different gods that you could pray to depending on the matter at hand and your personal preferences. There were gods associated with different natural phenomena such as the weather, the sea or the sky; gods of justice, war and peace; or of love, marriage and chastity.
What are the ‘gods’ of today? Of course, polytheism and paganism have for the most part been abandoned; western culture and society has been secularized; but there are still various “gods” in the sense of persons, institutions and phenomena that govern and rule our lives.
An obvious candidate for a modern ‘god’ is our feelings and emotions. In many or even most cases, it would seem that my own personal preferences, feelings, intuitions and whims are the ultimate standard for good and evil, right and wrong. It doesn’t matter how trivial or banal your interests or likings are, ‘as long as it feels right for you’, ‘as long as it makes you happy’. And we should not question other people’s values. If we do, we might hear comments like: ‘Who are you to impose your values on others!’, or: ‘That’s intolerant and judgmental!’
Another one of the modern ‘gods’ is public consensus. In all times, people have been worried about what others might think, what ‘one’ does or should do; and in an age of internet and social media, we tend to worry even more about what others will think about us. But the ‘god’ of public consensus not only governs our private lives but also the social and political sphere. Especially in our country, the basic foundation for social norms are often taken to be nothing else than various conventions, agreements or positive laws.
Ultimately, however, we are ruled by the laws of nature. These impersonal and immutable entities have superseded the unpredictable and personal deities of old. In the end, there are only the entities of physics. We cannot pray to them, we cannot worship them, but they do govern and control the whole universe.
Today, we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King. As Catholics we believe that Christ is the source of all authority; he is the supreme governor of the universe. Therefore, our lives should conform to his divine decrees. That is also why we are here, why we celebrate mass. The mass is not a social gathering, it is not something that we go to because we feel like it – we go to mass to worship Christ, the King of the Universe. We go to Church to honour and revere him, and to testify to our subjection to him.
Since Christ is our King and ruler, we must therefore order our lives in a way that conforms with his doctrine. As Catholics, we cannot accept our feelings or personal preferences as the ultimate guide to how we should order our lives. Rather, our feelings and preferences have to be order so that they correspond to the life of Christ and the teaching of the Catholic Church, that he founded. To the reproaching question ‘Who are you to impose your values on others’, the Catholic Church must respond with a reference to the authority given her by Christ. The Church has no other authority in matters of faith and morals other than that given her by Christ.
Similarly, as Catholics, we cannot just accept public opinion or general consensus if it goes against the teachings of the Church, but we must rather point out that some things are wrong and go against the will of God. Even the state or perhaps even a very large consensus cannot abolish or nullify the laws of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity and King of the whole world. In the encyclical Quas Primas, by which pope Pius XI instituted the solemnity of Christ the King in 1925, we can read that
truly the whole of mankind is subject to the power of Jesus Christ. Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the state; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. (no. 18)
Even the natural laws of science are subjected to God’s rule. Therefore, as Catholic’s we cannot expect science to present us with the ultimate truth about the universe; rather, scientific knowledge participates in the wisdom of God, which is nothing else than Christ himself. Saint Paul writes that Christ is ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24). And so, the universe is ordered by God in a regular way that is described by the natural sciences, but God can transcend or depart from the usual course of nature and act in a special way through for instance miracles.
Christ kingship has a very prominent place in the Gospel. We find it written on the Cross itself, written in the three holy languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This was indeed the reason why the Lord was sentenced and crucified, because he claimed that he had an authority from God.
This reminds us that in a way, the primary sin is against the kingship of God and against divine authority. Also today, we want to decide for ourselves and be completely free. This was also the case for our first parents in paradise. This is what it means that Adam and Eve wanted to have the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, i.e. they wanted themselves to define what good and evil should consist in.
This was a sin of pride because man wanted to be like God in a disordered way. Paradoxically, God gives us the likeness and communion with him if we submit to him through humility and reverence, and let him be the ruler of our lives. But if we resist and revolt against God’s providence and try to find happiness by our own powers, we lose the likeness with God, just as the first parents.
This is what we want to manifest in mass. We do not go to church for a social gathering where we sing songs that we like, but to worship God, to manifest that he is the creator and ultimate end of our lives, that he is the supreme ruler of the universe.
Let us therefore turn to our Lord Jesus Christ, the King and ask him for the gift of humility and reverence for his kingship, so that we may subject ourselves to his government and in this way one day reach eternal beatitude together with the saints in heaven. + Amen