Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King

The Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, is celebrated each year on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It recognises that, through the event of the Incarnation, Christ reigns in history. It also looks forward to the final realisation of His Kingdom when God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28).

“Long live Christ the King!” Such were the dying words of Blessed Miguel Pro, priest and martyr, who was executed during the wave of anti-clericalism that gripped his native Mexico early last century. Blessed Miguel was a priest of the Jesuit Order. He had been forced to flee Mexico during his years of formation because of political instability, but returned after ordination to serve the Church in the face of grave religious persecution. The churches had been closed and the priests gone into hiding. In these difficult circumstances, Fr. Pro carried out his ministry secretly, adopting many disguises: dressing as a beggar to get him into homes to celebrate Mass; posing as a police officer in order to bring the sacraments to prisoners. He was eventually arrested on suspicion of political treason and was sentenced to death. On the day of his execution, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, and refusing the blindfold, stretched out his arms in prayer proclaiming: “Viva Cristo Rey! – Long live Christ the King!”
We might ask ourselves what type of king would allow his faithful subject to suffer in this way? What sort of king is Christ that Blessed Miguel would die for him? A similar question is put to Christ himself in the Gospels. At his crucifixion, the soldiers, and one of those crucified with him, question Christ’s kingship. “If you are the King of the Jews,” they insist, “save yourself” (Lk 23:37). They mock him. For in light of the scandal of the cross, in his humility and weakness, our Lord appears to be anything but kingly.

But the Church in her Catechism teaches that “the true meaning of Christ’s kingdom is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross” (CCC, 440). For the cross is in truth the hour of his exaltation, the proclamation of the Kingdom – not one of power and domination, but a kingdom of love – a divine love that expresses itself in the Son of God’s intimate sharing in our human suffering and in the total gift of himself. In his Angelus Address for the Feast of Christ the King in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed that “the Cross is the ‘throne’ where he manifested his sublime kingship as a God of Love: by offering himself in expiation for the sin of the world, he defeated the ‘ruler of this world’ (Jn 12: 31) and established the Kingdom of God once and for all.”

Yet, while Christ already reigns, ‘all things of this world are not yet subjected to him’ (CCC, 680). We don’t have to look very far to know this to be true. Wherever there is hatred and injustice, the kingdom of God is not there. Whenever we find that human life is not respected – where there is poverty and hunger, abortion and the destruction of human embryos, wherever human rights are not upheld and people are exploited – we know that the kingdom of God has not yet fully come. In short, as long as there is sin, God’s kingdom is frustrated. That is why the first words of Jesus in his ministry are: ‘Repent – turn away from sin – for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mk 1:15).

Through our Baptism we have been turned away from sin, to share in the life of Christ, to share in our King’s victory over sin. It is our Christian duty to see that the divine life which God has given us is kept safe from the poison of sin, that the life of grace grow always stronger within us (cf. Rite of Baptism). Our recourse to the Sacrament of Penance and our participation in Christ’s loving sacrifice of the Cross through the Holy Eucharist, makes real Christ’s victory over sin and proclaims his kingdom present in our midst. “Christ already reigns through the Church” (CCC, 680), not as earthly power and privilege, but as the medium, the sacrament, of God’s love. The Church, as the sacrament of communion between God and humankind, through the grace of the Sacraments and works of charity, makes present the reign of Christ’s love.

The example of Blessed Miguel Pro is given to us as one who, by his Christ-like love, gave himself totally for the sake of the Kingdom. May we in our turn, by our loving fidelity to Christ and his Church, further his kingdom of justice, love and peace. May we allow Christ’s love to reign in our hearts, to overwhelm us, and flow out of us in love for God and neighbour.

Blessed Miguel Pro was born in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1891. He was executed in 1927, and beatified by John Paul II as a martyr in 1988. His feast day is celebrated on November 23, the day of his execution.

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