Gift of Self

Detail from Saint Patrick's Pro-Cathedral, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, CC4.0 Andreas F. Borchert

The full name for this weekend’s Feast of Christ the King is “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” and as we contemplate the kingship of Jesus our Redeemer, it is striking how strange it sounds in today’s world!  He’s the “King”?  And “of the Universe”?

This Sunday’s gospel dialogue between Pilate and Jesus reminds us that Christ’s kingship is unlike any other.  He did not come politically to rule over peoples and countries. For Him, to reign was to serve!  Notice that Jesus is King of the universe, not simply all Christians.  Whether a person worships Jesus or not, or even believes he exists, he is their King higher than all earthly powers.  As St. Thomas More said before he was executed for refusing to falsely acknowledge Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church of England, “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the power of Christ the King in this way: “It is not the power of the kings or the great people of this world; it is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart, bring peace amid the harshest conflict and kindle hope in the thickest darkness.”

So, this kingship is not based on human power but on loving and serving others. In instituting the feast of Christ the King in 1925, Pope Pius XI wanted to remind Christians that their first allegiance must be to their spiritual King in Heaven, especially as then we faced the temptations of our growing culture of secularism and relativism.  These are even more prevalent today.

Saint John Paul II said that “if it is assessed according to the criteria of this world, Jesus’ kingship can appear ‘paradoxical’.  Indeed, the power he exercises does not fit into earthly logic. On the contrary, his is the power of love and service that requires the gratuitous gift of self and the consistent witness to the truth (cf. John 18, 37).”   St. John Paul II took this a stage further in a long series of 129 sermons given to his public Wednesday audiences in St. Peter’s Square.  These have been collected together in his publication “Theology of the Body”, a study of who God is (and who we are) by reflecting on what God has revealed about the human body, especially in the context of Christian marriage.  In Ephesians 5:21-33 St. Paul says that Christian marriage is a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church, which is his body. The real marriage is that of Jesus and His Bride the Church, ours is a visible sign of that marriage. This does not mean that our marriages are not real. On the contrary, it shows the awesome dignity of Christian marriage by emphasising its divine origin in the union of Christ and his Church.

Detail from Saint Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, CC4.0 Andreas F. Borchert