Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 11, 2007
Christ the King bestows human dignity
In 1925, Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King as a counterpoint to the growing atheism and secularism of his day. It hardly needs to be said that a trend that was obvious to Pius XI is like a runaway freight train today.
The Church is seen as a danger when it comes anywhere near the public square because the Church's speaking out for universal moral norms is supposedly a threat to human liberty or, in reality, to the desire of humans to do as they please.
The problem is that when everyone does as they please, it is really only the powerful that get their own way. When interests conflict and there are no norms, the less powerful are liable to get trodden upon. As well, those with fewer resources have far less room for the consequences of moral error in their lives. When moral norms break down, the poor are the first to suffer from their own folly.
But the feast of Christ the King is something more glorious than an insurance policy against moral and societal shipwreck. It is a celebration of reality - the reality that Christ is "the firstborn of all creation." As Sunday's Second Reading proclaims, in him, all things were created and, through him, all things are reconciled to God. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.
Christ is not only the king, but also the kingdom itself. While the kingdom is present in our midst, we pray for it to come to fullness. This is why the feast of Christ the King is placed at the end of the liturgical year. The kingdom is here now; it will come to fullness at the end of time.
In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict describes the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector as something more than a moral lesson about pride and humility in how we pray.
"The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not really need God, because he does everything right by himself. . . . The tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself" (p. 62).
The Second Vatican Council said the same thing: "Christ, the new Adam, . . . fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling."
Without seeing Jesus as Lord, by pushing him out of the picture as secularism tries to do, the human person is not liberated, but diminished. Secularism and atheism cannot bring about social justice because they are ignorant of the basic truth about man. It is the Son of God who, by becoming human, raises humanity to a dignity beyond compare.
The world needs Jesus so it can truly be itself. It needs the Church to speak Jesus' word today. Specifically, it needs the Church to speak Jesus' word to power so that the less powerful - whether they be unborn children, homeless people eating out of dumpsters, or women bought and sold in the sex trade - can have their rights defended. It needs Jesus and the Church to raise human dignity out of the junk heap.
The illusion of secularism is that we can do it all ourselves and do it right. We don't need God. He is an optional warm fuzzy for people who want that sort of thing.
The opposite of secularism is the tax collector - the sinner - who knows he brings nothing to the table. This is the wisdom of St. Th‚rŠse of Lisieux who wrote, "In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you Lord to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice."
Paradoxically, the feast of Christ the King marks both the source of human dignity and the necessity of profound humility. We cannot have social justice or personal authenticity without them both.
- Glen Argan
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