I have three random and short reflections about kings.
I’ve been thinking about Pope Saint Leo the Great, our 45th pope (+Francis is our 266th). We celebrated Pope Leo the Great’s feast day not long ago, on November 10. A Benedictine monk friend of mine, Fr. Christian Raab, reminded me that Leo the Great was pope at the end of the Roman Empire, during a time of great uncertainty when the future was largely unknown. Many were terrified. What will be our future? Who will lead us? Will my family be okay? Will there be war now? There were all sorts of problems. Pope Leo responded to all that by reminding the faithful that earthly kingdoms, empires, nations, and cities fall apart. Leaders come and go. Presidents come and go. Kings come and go. But Christ the King is the king forever and his Kingdom will have no end—and the policies of Christ the King, of His Kingdom, are mercy, love, and peace. Pope Leo reminded his people that even should their home be invaded, sacked, burned down, or destroyed, they belonged to a kingdom that endures forever. Jesus is King of that Kingdom, and we don’t have to worry about who the next king will be, what he will do or undo. Christ is the King eternally, and his kingdom will never fall apart, never go to ruins. As our Preface at Holy Mass says today: Christ’s is “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” And thanks be to God his reign is eternal, something to be counted on. Today, at the close of the Year of Mercy, the last line of the Gospel is an invitation to a thief to enter that kingdom. That is mercy.
I’ve also been thinking about how Christ the King is like King Aslan in CS Lewis’ Narnia series. A week ago we had a lock-in at the school, sponsored by our library. It was a read-in. I decided to finally read the Narnia series by CS Lewis. Now I can’t set it down. King Aslan intrigues me. He is the king of Narnia, and he is a lion. There is an important paradox with this fellow. King Aslan is mighty yet gentle, “terrible and beautiful” as Lewis puts it. His roar is fierce, and when he uses it, everybody listens. He commands respect, and a healthy fear. But he is also a teddy bear, a gentlest and kindest being the four human invaders into Narnia could have dreamed of. Physically, he is big and powerful, but also soft and glorious, beautiful. Is this not like Christ the King? Jesus Christ is both mighty and merciful, kind but demanding. We think of him as that gentle, beautiful baby boy in the manger, as the peaceful and good shepherd. But, as our reading from Colossians today captures well, he is equally mighty, all powerful. He turns over tables, he commands the storm to cease, he puts the scribes in their place. That is Our King. And his throne, according to the Church Fathers, is the Holy Cross. The nails do not bind him there; his love does. This is why a cross without Jesus on it should make no sense to a Christian. He is enthroned eternally on his throne, on his cross—ruling us with his might and with his mercy, and always with his love—the love we see perfectly on the cross.
MY third reflection on Christ the King is about kneeling. Yesterday I was in Ohio, visiting my brother and his family there. I got to meet my new niece, Rachel. She is beautiful. I baptized her after the evening Mass at their parish, and we attended that Mass. It was the second time since I’ve been a priest that I sat in the pews. (I had had the early Mass here.) It felt so good to kneel. I notice that every time I go to confession, I come out wanting to kneel more. Maybe that is strange. Maybe not. Maybe there is something there. I think we kneel—at Mass, in our confessions, at the sides of our beds, in our holy hours—I think we kneel for two reasons: we kneel to remind ourselves who is King. It is not me. It is not Donald Trump. It is not Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, not even Pope Francis. Our King is Jesus. We kneel at his name, we kneel at his throne. And we kneel, too, to thank God for being so good to us when we don’t deserve it. And we don’t a bit of it. May we give God thanks on our knees this Thanksgiving.
A priest should end every homily with a challenge. Here it is. Get on your knees more. Adore Christ the king. Thank him with all you’ve got, every fiber of your being. Thank him for your children, for their health, their quirks and their energy. Thanks God for your house, your food, even for your crosses. Most of all thank him for inviting you—like the blasted thief in our gospel—into the Promised Land, into the only kingdom that endures eternally and delivers on its promises of life and love.
As they say in Spanish, Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!