Saturday, November 19, 2011

Solemnity of Christ the King: A KINGSHIP UNLIKE ANY OTHER.

I was looking for an image to place in this reflection/homily for this solemnity, which as we all know by now marks the end of the present liturgical cycle. Normally at this time, as people begin to observe this feast in the Internet, specifically in social networking sites, pictures of Christ the King begin to pop out everywhere. The traditional portrayal of Christ in this feast of the Lord with a crown on his head, arrayed with a red cape and wielding a scepter, while seated on a throne. However, I wanted something out of the ordinary, and so I came upon a close-up of the central figure of that immortal work of Michaelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, which shows a young and ageless (mark the contradiction of terms) Christ, masculinely beautiful and powerfully built, with his right hand raised in blessing, but which at the same time is a powerful gesture that unseats the impious and topples them down in supreme confusion. He is not clothed in anything remotely kingly, in fact to the prudish he isn’t clothed at all; the majesty of Michaelangelo’s Christ come as judge and Lord is deduced from many things except from what he wears.

This does well for me because it expresses the first thing that comes to mind when we enter into the reflection of what this feast says to us. Christ is King of the universe, of all creation, but in what way is Christ king? We would remember that standing before Pilate he was asked whether he REALLY was king. “My kingdom is not of this world” he says (cfr. Jn 18:28). This is precisely the reason why I preferred Michaelangelo’s Christ to the crowned King of the Universe of pious representation, which doesn’t mean that it’s bad at all. This is so because his kingship differs radically from any worldly notion of power. “My kingdom is not of this world”.

In the First Reading, taken from the book of Ezequiel, the oracle of the Lord establishes the relationship between the Lord with his people Israel as that of a shepherd with his sheep: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they are scattered when it was cloudy and dark”. We are familiar with this figure in the Sacred Scriptures. It is a figure that evokes the image of a selfless protector who is ready to give life and limb for the sheep; on the other hand it also manifests the dependence of the sheep upon the unselfish care of the shepherd. Who among us has not been moved by the 23rd Psalm, which we have today as our responsory? The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.

This tells us about what the kingship of Christ is all about: it is not about power or domination in itself, though yes Christ has power and dominion over all things, as we read in the reading from the letter of Paul to the Corinthians: Christ has “put all things under his feet”. The power of Christ is that which has been given to him out of love by the Father. This is a power that he has shown and gained through his passion and death on the Cross and by his holy Resurrection. The kingship of Christ is inseparable from the love that he has for his Father and for us, a love that has its highest manifestation in the Cross. It is on the Cross that Jesus Christ shows himself most as the Shepherd who gave us everything so that we may want for nothing; hanging on the Cross he has drawn all thing to himself , has placed all enemies under his feet, the last of which is death. The Cross is the throne from which Christ reigns. Finally, gazing upon the Cross, purpled by the blood of the Son of God, we realize that this is the supreme act of God’s mercy for man.

He is the King most merciful of our weaknesses, and as a merciful king he comes at the end of time—in glory—to judge both the living and the dead. This inevitable scene is brought to us by the Gospel this Sunday, in which we hear the Lord himself telling us about the Son of Man coming in all his glory. “And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The Lord is merciful and at the same time just. St. Augustine, commenting on this passage, in which the sheep were separated from the goats, says that the criteria used by our Lord was the mercy: “Those who were willing to show mercy will be judged with mercy. For it will be said to those placed on his right: come blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world. And he reckons to their account their works of mercy: For I was hungry  and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. What is imputed to those placed on their left side? That they refused to show mercy…”

Regnare Christum volumus! We want Christ to reign! But in order to have Christ reign in us we also have to bear his mark in our hearts: this is none other than the mercy of Christ. How do we live this mercy in our daily life? It may be no more than a smile, a word of encouragement to someone next to us who is undergoing difficulty, a kind word, going the extra mile for a companion. With this we have the Shepherd’s love beating within our hearts in our concern for those who live next to us. Let us be merciful, so that we may be able to receive mercy, as the Beatitude states. And then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (cfr. Phil. 4: 7). Amen

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