This, the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, the Church calls us to reflect on the kingship of Jesus Christ. His kingship is anticipated in the anointing of David as the king of Israel. In today’s first reading at Mass from 2 Samuel, we hear the Lord God say to David, “You shall shepherd my people Israel.” And, in the Gospel passage from Luke, we hear the Jewish rulers, who have just succeeded in having Jesus crucified, taunt him with “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Rather than saving himself, however, our crucified Lord assures the thief crucified with him, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” These images of a king are very different from those that the secular world presents to us and we are grateful to God for sending us a king who has offered his life for us! Of course, as we hear in John’s Gospel, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is “the King of the Jews,” Jesus responds, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36). Jesus died so that we could be admitted into God’s eternal kingdom in heaven. We have seen in the course of history that all of the great empires of the world – just think of the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongolians and the Mayans – have long since vanished, but the Church has persevered. This is due to the reality that, in its essence, the Church – the kingdom of God here on earth – is not ruled by men but by the Spirit of God.
Faced with growing secularism in his day, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Jesus Christ King of the Universe almost 100 years ago in 1925 with his encyclical Quas primas (“In the first”). He recognized that attempting to “thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law” out of public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. Today’s feast remains very appropriate today as we continue to struggle with secularism and are experiencing increased discord among people here in our country and, indeed, in so many countries around the world. Today’s feast reminds us that while governments and secular movements come and go, Jesus Christ reigns as King forever. The Church has faced oppression from its very beginning – from pagan Rome – and continues to do so even today. We are citizens of this country and of the world. But, we are citizens first and foremost of the Kingdom of God. As we hear St. Paul proclaim so clearly in his letter to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we also await a savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
When Pope Francis visited the White House a few years ago, he encouraged all American Catholics with these words:
American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
In today’s feast, we are called to acknowledge our Lord’s kingship over us. As his followers, we believe that our kingdom is not here but with our Lord and God. And so, we live in this world as subjects to our Lord and not subject to the gods of this world.
As we come to the end of the liturgical year – next Sunday is already the first Sunday of Advent – let us reflect on this truth and reflect it in our lives. As we hear in the Gospel of Matthew, “When the Son of Man comes in glory, he will sit upon his glorious throne and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates sheep from the goats.” Let us live lives worthy to be among the sheep of his flock!
On this, the last Sunday of this year on the Church calendar, let us reflect seriously on the end of our lives and rededicate ourselves to preparing for that time when Jesus Christ, our Lord and king, will establish his kingdom in its fullness and draw to himself all those who listen to his voice and belong to the truth!