By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, NOV. 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The solemnity of Christ the King was instituted only recently. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the atheist and totalitarian political regimes that denied the rights of God and the Church. The climate in which the feast was born was, for example, that of the Mexican revolution, when many Christians went to their deaths crying out to their last breath, “Long live Christ the King!”
But if the feast is recent, its content and its central idea are not; they are quite ancient and we can say that they were born with Christianity. The phrase “Christ reigns” has its equivalent in the profession of faith: “Jesus is Lord,” which occupies a central place in the preaching of the apostles.
Sunday’s Gospel passage narrates the death of Christ, because it is at that moment that Christ begins to rule over the world. The cross is Christ’s throne. “Above him there was an inscription that read, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’” That which in the intention of his enemies was the justification of his condemnation, was, in the eyes of the heavenly Father, the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.
To see what this feast has to do with us, we need only recall to our minds a very simple distinction. There are two universes, two worlds or cosmoses: the “macrocosm,” which is the whole universe external to us, and the “microcosm,” or the little universe, which is each individual man. The liturgy itself, in the reform that followed Vatican II, felt the need to accent the human and spiritual aspect of the feast over the, so to speak, political aspect of the feast. The prayer of the feast no longer asks, as it once did, “that all the families of nations, now kept apart by the wound of sin, may be brought under the sweet yoke of [Christ’s] rule” but that “every creature, freed from the slavery of sin, serve and praise [Christ] forever.”
Let us consider again the inscription placed above Christ: “This is the King of the Jews.” The onlookers challenged him to manifest his royalty openly and many, even among his friends, expected a spectacular demonstration of his kingship. But he chose only to show his kingship in his solicitousness for one man, who was, in fact, a criminal: “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
From this point of view, the most important question to ask on the feast of Christ the King is not whether he reigns in the world but whether he reigns in me; it is not whether his kingship is recognized by states and governments, but whether it is recognized and lived in me.
Is Christ the King and Lord of my life? Who rules in me, who determines the goals and establishes priorities: Christ or someone else? According to St. Paul, there are two ways to live: either for ourselves or for the Lord (Romans 14:7-9). Living “for ourselves” means living like someone who takes himself to be the beginning and the end; it is a life closed in on itself, drawn only by its own satisfaction and glory, without any perspective of eternity. Living “for the Lord,” on the contrary, means living for the Lord, that is, with a view to him, for his glory, for his kingdom.
What we have here is truly a new existence, in the face of which, death itself has lost its definitiveness. The greatest contradiction that man has always experienced — that between life and death — has been overcome. The contradiction is no longer between “living” and “dying” but between living “for ourselves” and living “for the Lord.”
[Translation by ZENIT]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43.