By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY —The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is celebrated one week before the First Sunday of Advent, this year falling on Nov. 20. The feast takes on a special reverence and meaning at Christ the King Parish.
As the Closing Mass for the Jubilee Year of Mercy was to be held on Nov. 20, the parish patronal feast day was commemorated Nov. 19. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop James Johnston, Jr., with Father Gregory Lockwood, Parochial Administrator, and Father Richard Rocha, President of St. Michael the Archangel High School, concelebrating. Deacon Dave Healy assisted.
The Feast of Christ the King, as it is commonly known, is not an ancient solemnity. It was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas. The first quarter of the century had seen the rise of secularism and the emergence of dangerous dictatorships in Europe. Reverence for the authority of Christ was waning, so the pope set the feast to reaffirm and re-focus faith and respect in Christ’s kingship. It was originally celebrated in October, but later moved to the last week of the liturgical calendar signaling the beginning of Advent, the time of preparation for Christ’s birth.
In his homily Bishop Johnston said it was a “special treat” to be at Christ the King to celebrate the feast with the parish on “your feast day.”
He opened his remarks by recalling “one of the most unusual and surprising elections in our nation’s history,” that had occurred just a week and a half earlier. “The day after the election, President Obama did a very commendable thing,” he said. “He addressed the nation, saying ‘We are not Democrats first; we are not Republicans first. We are Americans first; we are patriots first.’ In one sense, the political sense, that is very true.”
But, he continued, “There is something that precedes that, for us anyway. Something that precedes the political, patriotic firsts. … You and I are Christians first; we are loyal to Christ the King first. That makes us better Americans, because Christ our King is first of all.”
Did you know that his Liturgical title is Christ, the King of the Universe? Bishop Johnston quipped, “You can’t get any higher than that!” The feast marks the end of the liturgical year and marked the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Closing of the Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“Each of the readings gives us an important piece of understanding about Christ our King,” he said.
The first reading, from Second Samuel, recounts one of the most important moments in world history, he continued. It recounts the kingship of David, King of all Israel. The kingdom of David fell apart about 200 years later. The northern part of the kingdom was conquered and the people led into slavery and exile. About 200 years after that, the southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah were also conquered, and the people exiled into Babylon.
After that happened, prophets began to speak of the future restoration of David’s kingdom, the coming of the Messiah. “Thus the kingdom of David in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the restored Kingdom … this restored kingdom is realized in the Church, the visible Church on earth that you and I belong to. “
He described the anointing of David, with olive oil poured over his head. Similarly, Christ was anointed, by the Holy Spirit, as we are, with oil and the Holy Spirit when we enter his kingdom through the sacraments of Initiation — Baptism and Confirmation.
The bishop noted that David also did something ‘unusual’ when he was made king. “He marked the beginning of this new kingdom with a covenant.” A covenant binds people together in kinship, a familial relationship. “We renew our covenant, which binds us to Christ in his kingdom …. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the new and everlasting covenant as we hear said at every Mass. … We are bound as family by the covenant we renew with Christ our King at every Mass.”
The second reading, “one of the most beautiful meditations in the New Testament,” gives another part of the understanding of Christ the King of the Universe. “It explains why Christ is not simply king of the world, but King of the Universe. Jesus Christ is before all things, and in him, all things hold together and, for him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible. In other words, the natural world which we see, but also the supernatural world we don’t see … the world of the Angels. All of these things were created for him and through him. He is before all. His is not simply an earthly kingdom. He is not simply the Messiah, but the foundation of all that is. He is the King of the Universe, and just as all things came from and through him into being, he is the one that through him all things will be brought back into subjection and peace with the Father. He appeared before in weakness and as the crucified, suffering servant. What we await now is his second coming, when he will return in glory and every knee will bend to him as King.”
Luke’s Gospel added one more dimension to Christ’s kingship. Bishop Johnston explained, at his crucifixion between two thieves, two criminals were experiencing capital punishment with him. “On one side is a criminal who mocks him, along with all the others who were there, and on the other is another criminal who makes an act of faith, asking for mercy. This one act of faith, right before he died, ensured this man’s salvation. Jesus said something unique and beautiful to him. He said, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ That was the only time Jesus used the word ‘paradise.’ But it is my understanding that it is the same word in Greek used to describe the Garden of Eden in Genesis.
“Jesus is the King who reigns from the cross. We could even say the cross is our King’s throne. He came to die to save his subjects, to ransom us from the enemy and restore us to Paradise lost.”
When the Jubilee Year of Mercy began, he said, “there was a strong hint that this was to be a time of grace, a time to deliberately pass through the Holy Door, which is Christ, and reenter the restored Garden. This rich symbolism calls to mind the exclusion of Adam and Eve and the entire human family from the Garden of Eden, from Paradise, because of sin, and the re-admittance to those who are penitent of heart. Like the good thief on the cross, let us always turn to Jesus with our daily acts of faith in him, seeking his mercy. In the words of Pope Francis, ‘our salvation depends upon it.’”
God’s mercy, the bishop said, as shown in the Gospel is not abstract. It is concrete. “Jesus is God’s love made visible and tangible. This is why Jesus desired to institute sacraments … concrete manifestations of God’s love and power at work in our lives, including the sacrament of his mercy, the sacrament of reconciliation. Again in the words of Pope Frances, ‘Love, after all can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes and behaviors that are shown in daily living.’”
Bishop Johnston concluded with a suggestion. “… Let us be ever grateful for [God’s] mercy. Let us make daily acts of faith like the good thief did, on the cross, so that we too may also be welcomed into Paradise one day and let us model our lives on that of Christ our King, seeking to extend his reign through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. This Jubilee Year was not meant to be a flash in the pan moment, but a launching pad moment, in which the church, the visible kingdom of Christ on earth, would be renewed in its mission to carry the good news of God’s mercy to the ends of the earth. When we pray those words of the Our Father, ‘thy kingdom come,’ may we be living in such a way that our own lives, through acts of faith and love, not only witness to that kingdom, but hasten its coming. “
The celebration continued after the Mass with a reception in the church’s narthex.