On the Feast of Christ the King, we can think of many symbols that are affiliated with regal authority –the crown, the scepter, and the orb. We see these symbols come out most clearly in the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II back in September and we will see them again when her son and successor King Charles III is crowned King of England in May 2023. Yet one of the most identifiable symbols of a king is the throne that he sits upon. The throne is a symbol of authority where he sits in governance and judgment over his kingdom. Another symbol of the throne of a king is closeness and intimacy with his people – that He loves them and will take care of them as a father lovingly cares and provides for his children and as a husband lovingly cares for his wife. We see this reality alluded to in scripture where the throne of King Solomon is spoken about in nuptial terms: “King Solomon has made him a litter [throne] of the wood of Lebanon: The pillars thereof he made of silver, the seat of gold, the going up of purple: the midst he covered with charity for the daughters of Jerusalem. Go forth, you daughters of Sion, and see king Solomon in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the joy of his heart.” – Song of Songs 3:11 – See The Crown of Thorns.
In the Gospel for the Feast of Christ the King, (Lk 23:35-43), we see Jesus Christ as king upon his throne of glory – the cross of His passion. Yet the glory that we see him in is not the merely human and earthly glory of kings of ancient times. The glory we see Jesus embrace is one obedience to the Father’s will in humble love and humility unto death. In His regal glory, He shows us the reality of Divine Love which leads him to step into a battle that we could not fight on our own – the battle against sin, death, and Satan brought about by the sin of Adam. We hear as Jesus is nailed to the throne of His cross the rulers of the people, the soldiers, and one of the thieves crucified beside him say, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God…save yourself and us.” The crowds that come out do not recognize the Christ King upon his throne before them and His great sacrifice of love that will win them redemption. Even the ones who ask Jesus to come down from His Cross do so to placate worldly curiosity and feed in mockery.
The recognition of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe then touches upon another ancient practice of reverence and recognition towards the person of a king. When a new king was anointed and crowned, his lords and vassals would approach the king on his throne and pledge their love, loyalty, and obedience. This would involve them kneeling before the king on his throne, and placing their hands folded in his own hands while making this oath. We see this oath of loyalty, obedience, and love made to Jesus by the most unlikeliest source at the foot of the cross, Dismas the good thief. In acknowledging the innocence of Christ the King, he then pledges his loving allegiance through the surrender of his life to His king, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus accepts the pledge of His heart by saying, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We see in Dismas’ profession of faith and loving surrender to Christ the King, Jesus as King and Shepherd in love takes him from the cross of His sin and condemnation to the throne room of the sanctuary of Heaven. We see this recognition and pledge of loyalty and obedience made by all the tribes of Israel to King David in Hebron before He is anointed and enthroned as king (cf. 2 Sm 5:1-3).
When I embrace my cross alongside Christ the King I acknowledge who He is by living the holy obedience of faith and love day to day. With the entrustment and surrender of my life in this virtue to the loving reign of His Sacred Heart, I then find a companion in a King who then becomes present and who knows my burdens and my cross. Jesus then gives me the grace of the Holy Spirit that helps me bear the burdens of my wounds, and frees me from my sins, leading me to healing, rest, and salvation. In his presence then, I find in Jesus a King who does not dominate or lord over me but a shepherd who is strong and gentle in His love and leads to freedom. Such reality we shall hear spoken of in the verses of the hymn, The King of Love My Shepherd Is: “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed, But yet in love he sought me, And on his shoulder gently laid, And home, rejoicing, brought me. “
In his presence then, I find in Jesus a King who does not dominate or lord over me but a shepherd who is strong and gentle in His love and leads to freedom.
The profession of holy obedience can become a gate by which the presence and love of Christ the King become manifest. We see this act of loving surrender made to Christ the King made manifest in various ways in the life of the Church, but especially in the promise of obedience that is seen at masses of ordination. This is when the deacon, priest, or bishop that is ordained goes before his ordaining bishop on his cathedra, places their folded hands into his, while they are asked, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?” After they give their yes, the bishop responds, “May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” After this comes the completion of their ordination through the laying on of hands, anointing, and other prayers and rituals.
This manifestation of the love of holy obedience is not only seen in the promise of the ordinand toward his ordaining bishop. A return promise is made by the ordaining bishop before God and toward the man being ordained by him through his embrace of the ordinand’s hands as they make their promise to God and to him. The bishop here promises in accepting this promise of a holy stewardship rooted in the love of Christ the King to their brother who now becomes their spiritual son through ordination. They promise that they will love them in such a way that will lead them to paradise with Christ the King as they give them His love as spiritual sons. Bishops in this moment become Fathers who are called to nourish and guard the people of God – priests, religious and lay faithful. Bishops in their embrace of the ordinand’s hands imply a promise that they will not leave them to the spiritual wolves who seek to devour their lives. Rather, they promise to their sons that they will love them, guard them, and form them in the same love of Christ the King they seek to grow and abide in a way that leads both of them to paradise. Such a sacred promise is also reechoed in a similar fashion at the final religious professions of a sister, nun, or brother to their superior as well as by husbands and wives when they state their marriage vows to each other before God on their wedding day.
The holy obedience and profession of faith in Christ the King is not merely an external disposition on the will but an encounter by those given authority and placed under authority with a fundamental decision that defines the rest of their lives. We sacrifice our self-will yet to be purified to the providential care of the will of Christ the King who forms and guides us in His love. When we offer our self-will to Him as Dismas did before His cross and throne, we find a strength and a tranquility that we cannot achieve by ourselves. Pope Pius XI also speaks of this reality in his encyclical, Quas Primas, which placed this feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Church:
If the kingdom of Christ, then, receives, as it should, all nations under its way, there seems no reason why we should despair of seeing that peace which the King of Peace came to bring on earth – he who came to reconcile all things, who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, who, though Lord of all, gave himself to us as a model of humility, and with his principal law united the precept of charity; who said also: “My yoke is sweet and my burden light.” Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ! “Then at length… will many evils be cured; then will the law regain its former authority; peace with all its blessings be restored. Men will sheathe their swords and lay down their arms when all freely acknowledge and obey the authority of Christ, and every tongue confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.” (n.20)
A danger is seen when obedience becomes only an end to itself rooted in use, self-opportunism, and authoritarianism. Besides leading to injustice and disobedience, the misuse of obedience can lead to abuses and destruction by becoming unfatherly, tyrannical, and unholy. If left unchecked it can even become one with the perverse utilitarian cry of the crowd telling Jesus to come down from His cross for the sake of his own self-preservation and self-promotion. It then leaves the flock to fend for themselves through their own willfulness, prone to demonic abuse and manipulation.
May our prayer on this Feast of Christ the King as he approaches the throne of our hearts in the Eucharist be that he conquers the disobedience of sin and its tyrannical tendencies that enslave and manipulate our own hearts and our world. May we be brought anew into the authority and care of the Sacred Heart of Christ the King so that He may guide and inspire all our dispositions, leading us to true peace. Finally, may He take us upon His shoulder as the King of Love and lead us from our share in the throne of His cross so we may one day rest before His throne in His heavenly glory.