Sunday, 26 November 2006

Viva Cristo Rey!

A Parish Sermon for Christ the King

Earlier this week the Church celebrated the feast of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Mexican Jesuit who was executed by firing squad on 23 November 1927. He lived at a time of great persecution of the Church in Mexico; religious services were illegal but this didn’t prevent Fr Pro from secretly celebrating the sacraments and promoting the League for the Defence of Religious Freedom. He was arrested and falsely accused of conspiracy against the Government. As the young priest stood before the firing squad he raised his arms in the form of the cross and cried: Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!

Two years before Fr Pro’s martyrdom, Pope Pius XI introduced the Feast of Christ the King, which we celebrate today. It is the culmination and end of the Church’s Year and also an introduction to the coming Season of Advent, when we await the coming of Christ in glory.

The image of Christ the King is a familiar one in Sacred Scripture: the prophets spoke of the coming of a great King, on whom was ‘conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship’; the Angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would ‘reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end’; in today’s Gospel Jesus refers to Himself as a king, though His Kingdom is not of this world; Apocalypse calls Christ the ‘Ruler of the kings of the earth.’

But what does it mean? Is Christ’s Kingship just a metaphorical title? Or is it something real in our lives? Christ is King because He is God and because He has redeemed us through the shedding of His blood. His Kingdom is ‘not of this world’; frequently in the Gospels Jesus shies away from the idea of becoming a political leader and liberating Israel. As Pius XI wrote in Quas Primas (1925), ‘this kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness. It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross.’

However, today’s Feast was introduced 81 years ago in order to emphasise an important truth: that Christ’s Kingship doesn’t just involve individual Christians but the whole of mankind: Catholics and Protestants, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers.
We live in a society where religion is seen as little more than a lifestyle option; where an employee of a well-known airline can be disciplined for wearing a crucifix in case it offends others; where liberty is seen as doing whatever we please rather than seeking the truth. This mentality has led to many Catholics minimalising the Faith and keeping it out of public affairs. Many believe that the Church should stay out of political matters, that a Catholic MP, for example, has no right to ‘impose’ his or her private beliefs on a Parliamentary discussion.

Today’s Feast proclaims that Christ is King in every aspect of human life and that His laws need to be followed. As Pius XI wrote, ‘while nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.’ The bishops recently did this by defending Catholic education and defeating the proposal to have a quota of non-Catholics in our already over-subscribed schools. We can also promote the Kingship of Christ by defending the Gospel of Life and fighting attempts to extend abortion, euthanasia and the scientific misuse of human life.

For the most part, it is not Christ who reigns collectively and individually; it is the ‘I,’ the ego that reigns. Yet in Christ is the salvation of the individual and of society. Christ reigns everywhere – in Parliament and in the workplace, in our families and on TV, in the classroom and the hospital, just as much as here in church on Sunday. It’s up to us to make that a reality. If Christ reigns in our lives and if we try to build up His Kingdom around us, we will promote the Kingship of Christ. As we celebrate this final Sunday in the Church’s Year and prepare for the coming of Christ in December, may Christ truly reign in our hearts, minds and will! Viva Cristo Rey!

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Anonymous Andrew said...

I always did wonder what was the "pastoral" reason that the feast of Christ the King was moved from the last Sunday of October to the last Sunday of November? Do you know the reason why?

2:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not 100% certain, but I think that Miguel Pro has recently been made a saint.

-Michael J. Ernst

6:35 pm  
Anonymous Woody Jones said...

Blessed Miguel Pro is still a Blessed. We are fortunate to have a relic of his in our parish of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, in our "martyrs chapel".

As to the transfer of the feats, I understood that at the time of publication of Quas Primas, the last Sunday of October was Reformation Sunday. Perhaps having the feast on that day was thought, after the Council, to be a little bit too "in your face".

Thank you for your inspiring homily, Father. I'm sure you are aware that in addition to Bl. Miguel, the same cry constituted the last words of many other martyrs, including Bl. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio (14 years old):

"José was told that he had only to say "Death to Christ the King!" and he would be let free, but the young man resolutely shouted, "Long live Christ the King!" In the evening of February 10, 1928, the government officials skinned the soles of his feet and then forced him to walk towards the town cemetery. José cried in pain, but continued to defy the orders of the soldiers.

Upon reaching the cemetery, he was made to stand in a grave that had been dug for him and given one last opportunity to reject Jesus. When he again shouted the Cristero cry of "Long live Christ the King," he was shot by the soldiers seven times and killed. He was shot first in the head, and still alive, he drew in the ground a big cross with his blood. After the other shots, he died kissing the cross." [From the Wikipedia, but accurate from what else I have read].

4:41 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thanks Woody, that's a powerful story about Blessed Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio - and one I must use in a future sermon!

Andrew, I don't exactly know the answer to your question - I think the reformers felt it was more 'appropriate' that such a feast should crown the year and be a fitting link between Ordinary Time and Advent. Pius XI had originally intended the Feast to be on the Sunday before All Saints.

Indeed, in Quas Primas Pius XI said that 'the last Sunday of October seemed the most convenient of all for [the new Feast], because it is at the end of the liturgical year, and thus the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year, and, before celebrating the triumph of all the Saints, we proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the Saints and in all the Elect.'

6:56 pm  

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