Good morning everyone, and happy feast day of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, and that means that next Sunday we begin a brand new liturgical season, a new liturgical year I should say, and that is the first Sunday of Advent.
And of course it’s also kind of providential that we have this secular feast of Thanksgiving which happens this week, because in a certain sense we’re able to look at Thanksgiving as a way for us to think about our blessings, about those things that we are thankful for over the course of this past year.
So as this liturgical year ends, it’s a time for us to reflect upon God’s goodness to us, even through our sufferings and wounds. God is ever faithful to bring us here to this day, so let’s look upon this great feast that we have today. And celebrating Christ the King in the end of the liturgical year as a way to kind of get us ready for how to bring a more of a religious sense, if you will, to the secular celebration of Thanksgiving. This is always a very interesting Feast because it’s quite new when it comes to the ecclesial calendar. It’s only been around since the 1920s and it was put into place by the pope at the time because while the world was leaving away or moving away from kingdoms – kings and queens – and moving to other forms of government, the Church wanted to remind us that there’s something very, very important about the notion of king, of kingship. Now this is most clearly understood because Jesus spoke very often about the kingdom of God. So to help us be grounded in the importance of kingship, we have this Feast of Christ the King.
Yet perhaps as Americans, we may find this to be a little bit foreign to us because we seem to have a love-hate relationship with monarchy. Clearly, we know from our history we broke away from a monarchy: the king of England. Yet, we also seem to be still fascinated by monarchs, by the Royal Family.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I was driving. I saw there was an advertisement for this Netflix series called “The Crown”, which documents the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. And of course, we also know we’re very fascinated by royal weddings, royal births, royal scandals. All these things seem to have us very intrigued by royalty, monarchy. Yeah, of course we’re also very suspicious of monarchies, and of course this is very much embedded in our history because we tend to think that monarchs can often become dictators. Meaning that, here, they did nothing to earn their position – it was just a birthright, and then they somehow lord off their power to people in a very, let’s just say, unjust manner at times. Which is of course whynmany countries around the world, especially at the turn of the century, start to move away from monarchies.
Yeah, but when we call Christ the King, we have to really think about what is the kingship of Jesus Christ. We think about kingship in a worldly sense and it would be hard for us to understand the kingship of Jesus Christ. Just as if we have a very bad relationship with, say, our own biological father, and may be difficult for us to understand the fatherhood of God.
Yet today’s readings and particularly the Gospel get us to the heart of the type of King that Jesus is and what characterizes the kingship of Jesus Christ. And it boils down to one word. It’s a word that you hear often today. The kingship of Jesus Christ is simply a kingship of vulnerability, a kingship of vulnerability. And I think that would be the last word that we would associate with a king in a worldly sense . A king or queen that is surrounded by the security of their palace and with their subjects serving them almost, we would not look at them as being Kings or Queens, monarchs of vulnerability.
Yet rather than Jesus being mindful of the multitude of his subjects. The kingship of Jesus is one of subjecting himself, in a certain sense, to us, to the world, more specifically subjecting Himself to sin, the effect of sin, the consequence of sin, which is ultimately death, and that is what we hear today in the Gospel when we hear Jesus on the cross, about to die.
Yet when we look at the entire earthly life of Jesus, when we look at the Incarnation in its fullness, every aspect of the Incarnation is an exhibition, a manifestation of vulnerability. What would be reminded of that once again at the end of this year when we celebrate Christmas: the vulnerability of the Christ-child being born and laid in the manger. The vulnerability of having to leave and run off to Egypt with his parents when he’s just a child. The vulnerability of working and living in a very, very poor area of Nazareth. The vulnerability of always healing and giving words of hope and always being rejected through his public ministry. The vulnerability of going to the Cross, suffering and hanging on the cross naked. And yet that vulnerability even continues in the way that Jesus comes to us today. The vulnerability of the Eucharist, perhaps, is the most profound exhibit of the vulnerability of Christ. Kingship in that the host which is breakable and the chalice which is spillable is what comes to us as God’s full presence.
I was reminded of this in a very, very profound way this past week. It’s not very often anymore that I’m able to concelebrate Mass. Mostly I have to do public Mass where I’m saying the Mass myself or I’m saying that by myself, privately, but this past week I was on a retreat at a monastery in New Mexico, and each day I was concelebating the Mass and what are the beauties of concelebrating Mass is the fact that when it comes time for communion, all the priests are given a part of the Host and they’re able to hold the Host for quite a longer time than when you’re saying Mass. And there’s something very profound in holding the Host, because you hold it between these two fingers, and if you hold your two fingers together and focus on that, you can feel a pulse. And to have that little Host between your two fingers and feel your pulse pulsing through the body of Christ, you’re struck in awe that the one who’s actually allowing my pulse to beat is right here between my two little fingers. That is profound vulnerability on the part of our Lord.
There was the hymn that came out during the Eucharistic Congress back in 1976, “Gift of Finest Wheat”, and it said to what the world could not contain comes in our hearts to dwell. The God of the universe. This small, in between my fingers, to come into my heart, to dwell. Yet what are we doing when we receive, that Lord enters into ourselves. What are we communicating with, what are we striving to become, if you will, vulnerable.
One thing our communion with Jesus, and Eucharist, is a way for us to actually become vulnerable as He is vulnerable. It’s not necessarily meant for us to kind of have some type of power trip, or once again to feel like now we can put ourselves together, or now we have the willpower to live a holier life, or that somehow our lives have been now perfected in a certain way. It’s not some type of vitamin: it’s a medicine that actually makes us weak.
And why do we need to become weak? Why do we need to be vulnerable? There’s only one reason: because vulnerability allows us to truly grow in harmony with each other. Vulnerability is the way that allows us to be mindful that we’re not the only person in the world. That there’s countless souls around us, that there’s countless souls that not only meet us, but we need that.
I’m often struck by how vulnerability can allow us to grow in profound places of compassion and empathy. I was just watching last night this TV show that I watch off and on, called “This Is Us” on NBC, and there was this really interesting scene last night where this family – I don’t need to go to the whole details – but this family moves into a new house and the neighbor is all mad that the car is parked in front of the sidewalk, and so he kind of really gives his person attitude to the new occupant of this house, saying if your husband keeps on parking their car there, I’m going to have it towed.
And of course this woman’s completely just taken aback, like what’s this guy’s problem, and then you find out later on in the series, in the show, how once again, she has an encounter with this guy, and of course she has her guard up because you know she doesn’t like the way his attitude is, and then he’s somehow explains that he recently had a stroke, and that he can’t walk very well, and the only thing he’s striving to do is to walk around the block one time a week, and this car makes it impossible for him to actually do that. It takes a person who is vulnerable to admit that and it takes a person who’s vulnerable to accept that . And what do you bring there: you then have harmony.
And what is harmony ultimately revealing to us? Harmony simply reveals to us that we desire heaven. I spoke about this a couple weeks ago, and that many times we’ve only reduce heaven to being a place where there’s lots of really nice stuff, almost like going to this world-class resort. Yet, but what’s the most fundamental about heaven is the fact that we are in perfect relationship with our brothers and sisters. There’s no more war. There’s no more violence. There’s no more jealousy. There’s no more pride. There’s no more friction between spouses, siblings, friends, neighbors.
And every time we struggle with why things are not right between us and our brothers and sisters, between the people around us when we had that struggle and we had that yearning for things to be right and perfected, it is a yearning for heaven.
I’m often taken by how the kingship of Jesus is revealed to us, through the priesthood of Jesus Christ,. I was commenting before mass today – I think this is the first time I’ve ever wore gold vestments at a Mass. Father Kenneth does a really good job with having like all the colors of the liturgical spectrum in the closet, and it’s very rare that we wear gold vestments, but of course in the sight of the world it’s looked upon as, well there you go – the priest looking like a king or exhibiting something of great worldly value. But yet, when the priest puts on the gold vestments it’s actually a sign of mockery of the world, because the priest – dressed up really nice – is only dressed up so they can get down on his knees to serve. What king in the world sense does that? We come to Mass and we see all of the great art, and the gold, and the smells, and the bells, and the priest dressed up. All these things, which on our eyes may appear to be just like the worldly kings that existed throughout history. We are brought to remind ourselves that it’s all done to actually be a mockery to what the world values, because all of these things only exist to allow us to be vulnerable.
With each other today as we celebrate the kingship of Jesus Christ, let us ask ourselves: are we open to becoming as vulnerable as Jesus? Do we desire the harmony which only Jesus in his vulnerability can enable us to experience? And most importantly, do we desire the kingdom of God, not just in heaven, but here. Because the more we’re able to desire in here, the more we are ready for heaven.
May God bless you.