Christ the King (B)
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in response to growing secularism and atheism. What he recognized was that attempts to remove Christ and the fruits of Christian culture from public life would result in continuing discord among people and nations. In the early twentieth century, starting toward the end of World War I, militantly secularistic regimes came to power in Russia, Mexico, and some parts of Europe. The Holy Father saw these atheistic regimes as not only a threat to the Catholic Church but to civilization itself. With the rise of these regimes came the persecution of the Church, the confiscation of church property, and banning of public worship. In order for the state to maintain control and power, it had to break allegiance to anything greater than the state. As Americans, because it is written into our founding documents, we are more aware than most cultures that our fundamental rights as individuals and human beings are not granted by the state, but are God-given. We have these rights because we are created in the image and likeness of God. The state doesn’t confer these rights on us. The role of the state is to protect those rights. But with the rise of secularism and the loss of the awareness of the source of our rights, it becomes much easier for the state to take away our freedoms. When the public worship of God wanes, the rights that are the foundation of a free and vibrant culture, like the freedom of speech, are put in jeopardy. Human beings made in the image of God and made for communion with God are born with a religious impulse that seeks meaning, identity, and belonging in something greater than ourselves. That impulse and need does not go away when formal religious practice goes away or is taken away. We end up seeking unity and identity in something else. We “worship” something else. But when ideologies and man-made systems replace true worship, they become an idol, a false God. But something man-made cannot satisfy the longing in our heart for meaning and belonging. Something man-made doesn’t correspond to our identity as children of God. An ideology cannot generate the unity nor the identity or belonging that we desire. The atheistic regimes must resort to violence and coercion to achieve the semblance of unity, but it is at the cost of our humanity and our freedom. What Pope Pius XI was concerned about was proven to be true with the rise of the nationalist movements in Italy and Germany that spawned World War II and the Communist systems that enslaved and murdered their own people in the millions for the good of the “party”. By far, many more people have died at the hands of “godless” regimes than because of so-called “religious wars” or “wars of religion”. 20th century history alone tells us that trying to purge religion from humanity is not the path to peace; rather, it is the source of greater conflict and human destruction. “Religion” becomes dangerous when it is reduced to an ideology or when an ideology is treated as a “religion”. One of the critiques of the “woke” ideology that is driving the current cultural upheaval we are experiencing is that it is followed with a “religious” fervor. There are so called “dogmas” that cannot be violated. And for those who commit the “sin” of “racism” or the sin of even questioning the dominant mentality, they “excommunicated” or “purged” from society. To use the current terminology, they are “cancelled”. That means much more than simply having a Twitter account blocked our a Facebook page taken down. They are punished with on-line harassment and their means of making a living in an internet economy are taken away from them. Woke-ism may have a religious character, but it is a religion without forgiveness or the possibility of redemption. Like the religious ideologies before it, woke-ism will eventually burn itself out and the culture infected by it will eventually collapse. But at what human cost? The rise of woke ideology is the direct result of the rise of secularization and the purging from society of what gives meaning and purpose to our lives and can answer the longing of the human heart. It is not the fault of the young generation that they have not been given a foundation in the faith. There is a pressure in society to keep our faith “private” - to not speak about our beliefs rooted in our faith or allow them to impact our political decisions. But that is not what religious liberty or religious freedom means. When our faith is repeatedly marginalized in public life, we can fall into the habit of compartmentalizing our lives - i.e., faith and belief are expressed on Sundays and in religious rituals and events, but those beliefs don’t impact other areas of my life. But that compartmentalization or division within our lives makes us, individually, more susceptible or less resistant to being swept up in the popular ideological movements. And without that public expression of the faith, our culture is weakened and the foundations of our civilization are eroded.
Regarding the Kingship of Jesus, Jesus today asks us the same question he asked Pilate: “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” We have to make the judgment on our own whether Jesus is “king” or “lord” of our lives. Following him for “cultural” reasons or because I learned it in the Catechism is not enough to save us, not only in reference to “eternal salvation”, but from being dominated by the rulers of this world who want to be king. Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” Our desire for unity and belonging can only be realized in something that does not belong to this world - something greater than this world. If we seek the kingdom in what belongs to this world, out attempts end up in fighting and violence. Jesus is the King of the Universe. His kingdom is for everyone, and the kingdom is built and sustained not by force or coercion but by love. A love willing to die - to take the violence and hatred and the injustice of the world upon himself, so that we may be free from sin and live. Only in Christ is found the freedom, justice, unity and identity that we all desire. Jesus was born and came into the world to reveal to us the truth of what it means to be a human being and to give us the answer to what our heart seeks. As members of his kingdom, may we testify to this truth. It is a truth our culture and brothers and sisters desperately need to hear.