Yesterday was the solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and the perfect occasion to reflect on what it means to call Christ my king.
Our culture doesn’t like mixing politics and religion. Every year we witness numerous efforts to push religion from the public square. A relativistic, pluralist society simply cannot tolerate the absolute claims of religion, specifically those of Christianity. But, to call Christ King is as much a political as it is a religious statement. When Paul claimed “Jesus is Lord” it was a direct challenge to Caesar’s claim to be Lord. In fact, it was the rise of modernism and secularism that motivated Pope Pius XI to institute this feast in 1925, when he stated: “Nor is there any difference in this matter between the individual and the family or the State; for all men, whether collectively or individually, are under the dominion of Christ. In him is the salvation of the individual, in him is the salvation of society.” (Quas Primas, #18)
Of course before Christ can reign over society he must reign over us individually. Before Jesus can be Lord over our culture he must be Lord of our hearts, minds, and wills. Pius XI recognized this and presented the Church with the following challenges.
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God." (Quas Primas #33)
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
Allowing Christ to be King of our minds requires that we learn how to think like Jesus and submit our own thoughts and ideas to him. It is so easy to be shaped by our culture. It is tempting to let our politics flavor our faith. But, minds submitted to Christ allow him to work through us to shape the culture, our church, and our society. This requires that we be attentive and active, engaging our minds to critically think about all of the outside influences trying to sway us. It means recognizing that we are called to give our assent to the teaching of the Church and trust the wisdom of God in using the Church to reveal and interpret the truth about faith and morals.
“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:9)
It’s not enough to simply think the right things; we must submit our actions to the service of Christ the King as well. As the Gospel story from Sunday—the sheep and the goats—illustrates, it’s what we do or do not do that will be judged. Learning to practice the beatitudes or virtues is much more difficult than merely memorizing what they are. As St. Paul testified, sinning comes naturally to us, that’s our fallen nature at work. We must struggle with our flesh to make the practice of virtue as natural as the practice of sin. By grace, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving we can re-train our nature to seek and do what is right.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
It’s all a matter of priorities. I know for myself, when I am committed to taking time for prayer or fasting I can tell the difference it makes. But it is so hard to make Jesus the King of my calendar. There are so many distractions, so many meetings and demands for my time. Work, friends, and family all compete for the same 24 hours each day and yet before any of them I know I should be setting time aside to be with my King. Like the story of Martha and Mary. I am too often consumed with doing many things (even though they may be good things) that rob time from just sitting at his feet. This is the challenge we all face in making Christ the King of our hearts; to make him the most important, most central person, place or thing in our lives every day.
Well this one pretty much hits close to home as well. Have I submitted my body to the King? Do I honor God with the way I care for myself? God is deeply interested in our wellbeing and that includes the care and upkeep of these fragile temples of the Holy Spirit. Submitting our bodies to the reign of the King means making sure we care for the physical abode of his presence, his Spirit in us. Exercise, sleep, food and drink may all seem inconsequential and even out of place when discussing our relationship with Christ, the King of the Universe, but they are not. We are embodied souls, and if St. John Paul II’s theology of the body should teach us anything it is that what we do with our bodies matter. We can use our bodies (and not just in a sexual context) to worship and honor God.