King kingdom

Hello, my king – Catholic Philly

Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS

During the week, usually before sunrise, I go to a nearby monastery to celebrate mass. Every day after my arrival and before the chapel bell rings, I see him. Dressed in a sweatshirt and reflective vest, with a ski cap keeping his noggin warm, he waves as he walks by, determined to get the job done.

Her morning routine takes up the nocturnal activities of nature. Fallen branches dot the landscape, while wild leaves clutter the small parking lot. And so he rakes. And rakes. And rakes. And piled it up on a tarpaulin which he then took to place it out of sight of the sisters. Along the way, he always stops to reposition the single rose planted next to the statue of Saint Joseph.

Watching this daily, I was struck by the fact that the solemnity of Christ the King may be too great for us.

Certainly, we should celebrate this divine designation. The kingship of Jesus was recognized at his birth, by a celestial star and earthly Magi. It was proclaimed at his death, not only by the repentant thief who asked to be remembered in his kingdom, but also by an empirical poster identifying him as “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

It is therefore rightly that the Church adores the one that the book of Revelation reveals as “the Alpha and the Omega … he who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty”.

Yes, the party is okay. And it is not.

Without a doubt, the grand vision of “rulership, glory, and kingship” over “all peoples, nations, and tongues” that Daniel describes is theologically correct in terms of who Jesus is. We proclaim Jesus as “king” not only of a nation or empire or the world, but as king of the entire universe!

It’s huge. Indeed, it is so big that it is difficult to understand, too spectacular for us to grasp it in any meaningful way.

The problem becomes apparent when we compare it to what we can see. Those who are subjects of a king generally admire him from afar, or in a moment of passage here or there, often proud to be called his subjects. But after such a rare and distant encounter, they must return to the mundane routine of their life.

Royalty, where kings still exist, does not seem to have any real impact on people’s daily lives.

Perhaps then we should not only consider Jesus as the King of the universe, but rather consider whether he is my king.

This is the question asked in the Gospel passage of the last Sunday of the liturgical year. There, Jesus’ kingship is revealed in simple, direct, one-on-one conversation.

Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews? Jesus answers in the affirmative, although indirectly, linking his royal authority to a “kingdom (which) does not belong to this world”.

The power of Christ’s kingship does not come from military might or political influence, as it does in the logic of the rulers of this world, but from “truth” – the truth that He reveals in his words and his actions, the truth that God is love, that mercy is his strength, that reconciliation is his way of governing. The power of this truth becomes evident on the cross, on this unique and particular throne where sacrificial love triumphs over the selfish sin of the world.

None of this matters to Pilate. He accedes to the clamor of the crowd. He allows the crucifixion to take place. He displays a sign summarizing the alleged crime.

But this sign matters to us. This is why we go to church on this solemnity and every Sunday that we come together to worship. As Christians, we believe in our minds and hearts that “all who belong to the truth listen to (his) voice”.

We want to belong to this truth. We want it. We want it. We remain restless in this world until his kingdom comes.

This agitation is mitigated by recognizing Christ as king – not only as king of the universe, but as my king, our king, the one whose reign envelops the world not in regal splendor but in the daily wonder of a God who never ceases to care for his people despite our wavering loyalty.

When we belong to this truth, we don’t just admire Jesus from afar. We see it in the daily manifestations of his kingdom, in the leaves and branches of our daily tasks, wherever whatever our calling we pray for God’s will to be done.

And when we listen to that voice in our hearts, we will know why nothing compares to being in the presence of this king every week.

***

Father Thomas Dailey, OSFS, is John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood.