Christ the King Catholic ChurchIndianapolis. Indiana
Today we come to the end of our Church Year. The Civil Year ends on December 31 and the Fiscal Year ends on June 30, but the Church Year ends on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This feast has special importance for us as a parish because it is our patronal feast. When a parish is established the bishop of the diocese has the privilege of 'naming' the parish. How blessed we are that when then-Bishop (later Cardinal) Ritter established our parish eighty years ago, he placed our parish under the patronage of Christ the King.
There could be no greater patron!
The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new feast in our 2000 plus year history as a Church. It was established as a feast of the Universal Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925. Some of us are old enough to remember when it was celebrated on the last Sunday of October, just before the celebration of All Saints and All Souls Day. After the Second Vatican Council, revisions were made to the Church's liturgical calendar and the Feast of Christ the King was moved to the last Sunday of the Church Year. It is an appropriate and beautiful way to conclude a Year of Grace.
For the past year in the liturgies of our Church we have followed Jesus - beginning with the long centuries of anticipating his coming that we remember in Advent, to the joy of his birth that we celebrate at Christmas and all through the Christmas Season, to his public ministry and the words and miracles that accompanied that ministry during 33 weeks of Ordinary Time, to his suffering and death on the cross and his resurrection and ascension into heaven that we commemorate during Lent and Easter and the Easter Season to our anticipation of his return in glory with which we live our lives through every season of our lives. And as we come to the end of this Year of Grace, we boldly proclaim that Jesus Christ is King-King of our lives and King of the Universe.
Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. Four years earlier Adolf Hitler had become the leader of the National Socialist German Workers' Party-the Nazi's. His two closest aides. Martin Borman who served as Deputy Prime Minister and Joseph Goebbels, his notorious Minister of Propaganda, were both avowed atheists. Hitler was very shrewd. He never outlawed religion as
Joseph Stalin would, he simply said that religion would have no place in the public life of the nation. In 1922 Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister of Italy. His political party, the Revolutionary Fascist Party, summed up its philosophy in the motto: "The State is Everything."
It was in response to the rise of totalitarian regimes which claimed an absolute control over the conscience of their citizens that Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The state does not have absolute power over the conscience of its citizens. That authority belongs to God. Today's feast is the Church's response to radical secular and totalitarian ideologies that would exclude God from the public square. Today's feast proclaims God's sovereignty over our lives. No regime and no political party have the ultimate claim on a person's conscience. That claim belongs to God and to God alone.
Regimes and political parties come and go. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and the regimes they ushered into being now belong to the ash heap of history. Only one Kingdom is an eternal Kingdom and that is the Kingdom of God. At the end of our lives we will not stand before Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin or any other political leader. At the end of our lives we will stand before the judgement seat of God.
In the 1920's a totalitarian regime also came to power in Mexico. Realizing that the Catholic Church was enemy number one in its goal to establish absolute authority over the citizens of Mexico, it sought to suppress the Church - to silence its voice. Public worship was forbidden outside of churches and priests and religious were stripped of their civil rights. Many Catholics resisted the regime and the series of laws it enacted that tried to remove the influence of Christianity from Mexico's life. Christians took up the cry, "Viva Cristo Rey!" Long live Christ the King! The members of this resistance movement called themselves 'Cristeros'.
The most famous Cristero was a young Jesuit priest named Fr. Miguel Pro. Fr. Miguel ministered to the people of Mexico City, using many disguises as he would move about the city celebrating clandestine Masses, anointing the sick, burying the dead and celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Eventually he was arrested by the government and sentenced to death. President Calles was certain that this young priest, faced with death, would beg for mercy and renounce his faith. And so, he invited the press to cover the execution of Fr.
Miguel. Fr. Miguel did not beg for mercy. He did not plead for his life. Instead he extended his arms as if on the cross and shouted, "Viva Cristo Rey!" At that very moment the soldiers fired their rifles and journalists took their picture. That picture was seen around the world and it was that picture and the martyrdom of Fr. Miguel Pro that turned the people of Mexico decisively against a government that had claimed power over the conscience of its citizens.
As a side note of history, when Pope Saint John Paul II visited Mexico in 1991, Lopez Portillo was president of Mexico. As President Portillo waited with other dignitaries to greet the Pope at the airport, he was asked by a Mexican journalist if the Pope would be fined for wearing religious garb in public as the law forbidding religious garb remained on the books of Mexican jurisprudence. Portillo responded that he would personally pay the Pope's fine. Soon after, that law, dating back to the time of the Cristeros, was repealed.
Saint Thomas More was a 16th century English lawyer and diplomat. King Henry VIII made Thomas the Lord Chancellor of England. But when Henry proclaimed himself to be head of the Church in England after Pope Clement VII refused to grant the king an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Thomas More refused to recognize the authority of Henry as head of the Church. The king sentenced Thomas to death and he went to his death saying, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." For Saint Thomas More it was not enough to simply confess Christ privately in the safety of his heart and his home; his profession of faith extended to his political and professional life.
Fr. Miguel Pro and Saint Thomas More are just two examples of a whole cloud of witnesses that surround us in the Church who have died proclaiming Christ as their King. The man crucified with Jesus in today's Gospel who proclaimed Jesus to be his King did the same and he was given the beautiful promise from Jesus, "This day you shall be with me in paradise."
Jesus is King. He is king of our lives and he is king of the universe. He alone has absolute claim over our consciences. Others can make that claim as governments and regimes and political parties have all throughout history. But only we can decide to whom we will surrender our conscience.
As we come to the end of this Year of Grace and prepare to embark on a new one, let us pray that we will not only die acknowledging Jesus as our King, but strive to live our lives as loyal citizens of his Kingdom each and every day. Viva Christo Re!