Christ is our true king

Last Sunday, Nov. 26, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Bishop David Ricken entrusted the Diocese of Green Bay, as well as Wisconsin and the entire nation, to Christ the King of All Nations. 

“Traditionally, intercession to Christ the King is called upon during times of great turmoil and upheaval,” the bishop said at Mass on Nov. 26 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.

“Our nation is in great trial today,” he added, explaining the need for Christ’s care.

The image of Jesus as ruler of all things has been with the church since the beginning. We know the risen Christ said: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). However, there was not a feast dedicated to Christ as king until 1925.

“The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ … the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making (people) seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because (people) have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society, in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin.”

These words may sound familiar today, but they were written by Pope Pius XI nearly 100 years ago (Quas Primas, n. 24). Bishop Ricken himself wrote similar words in The Compass (Nov. 2, 2021): “It is obvious that our nation is under great trial now with the aftereffect of the pandemic, as well as social, economic and political divisions that seem to grow each day.”

The 1920s were a time of world turmoil. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had brought communism in Russia. Fascism had risen in Italy, with Benito Mussolini gaining power in 1922. The materialism of “the Roaring Twenties” showed increasing secularization in Western society. The world was still recovering from “the war to end all wars” (World War I) and the Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1920.

In this milieu, Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical and erected the feast of “Our Lord, Jesus Christ, King” to be marked on the last Sunday of each October. His intent was to remind us of the glory of Christ, both in this world and in the eternal world. The pope said the new feast would serve to ““proclaim and extol the glory of him who triumphs in all the saints and in all the elect” (n. 29).

Pope Pius XI also wrote that he hoped “the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in the future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior.”

In 1969, Pope St. Paul VI changed the feast’s name to “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” It was also elevated to a “solemnity,” the highest level in the church calendar.

Finally, the solemnity was moved from October to the last Sunday of the church year, just before Advent. This was so that “the eschatological significance of this Sunday is placed in a clearer light” (Calendarium Romanum, [1969] n. 11).

We in the United States aren’t used to the idea of kings. Indeed, we gained our independence from a king (George III of England). So, we have no natural affinity to royal leadership.

However, as Christians, we know Christ’s leadership is unlike that of an earthly ruler. As Jesus told Pilate in the Gospel we heard last Sunday: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36). And what earthly ruler would announce himself wearing a crown of thorns with a cross for a throne?

Yet, that is our true king — humble, riding a donkey, bearing our suffering and transforming it into new life.

As Pope Francis said on this same solemnity in 2015: “For a Christian, speaking of power and strength means referring to the power of the cross, and the strength of Jesus’ love: a love which remains steadfast and complete, even when faced with rejection, and it is shown as the fulfillment of a life expended in the total surrender of oneself for the benefit of humanity.”

(To view Bishop Ricken’s Nov. 26 homily, see sfxcathedralgb.com/73 and click on the Mass videos.)