Unlike earthly sovereigns, he invites all to be His royal brothers and sisters
Just one verse each day.
I lied. I don’t remember exactly what I said; but I know it would not have been the truth. When Sister Frances Marie would ask us first graders what we wanted to be when we grew up, I’m sure I must have lied. All of the usual (for that time) childlike answers were shouted out: policeman, nurse, doctor (those were simpler days without the possibility of being an IT expert or a blogger.) Whether out of a true vocation or out of a desire to impress the good Sister, there would always be a few who would say “priest” or “nun”; but I dissembled. I did not say what I wanted to be.
Because I wanted to be a king.
What a great job – so I thought then (and maybe, secretly, even still) – what with people obeying you and with living in a castle and having gold and jewels and armies and all that! It seemed the ideal job. And out of my early love for this career choice was born my great love for this Feast of Christ the Universal King.
Perhaps most people don’t dream of being a king, but many throughout the world, even a large number of let’s-throw-off-the-yoke-of-oppression, democracy-loving Americans follow faithfully and with fascination the antics of royals. The pageantry, the history, the symbolism capture something in our imagination. Some resist – apparently – this temptation. A fellow in a parish where I once served could not stand the Feast of Christ the King; we sparred over this frequently and in a (mostly) friendly way: his last word on the subject was always the same: “The only King for me . . . is Elvis.” But in the end, if we’re honest, we all need a king. Not politically, perhaps, but spiritually.
The Lord Jesus reminds us often in the Scriptures that we are like sheep (that’s sort of nice, I guess), because we need a Shepherd. If the cute little sheep (adorable but not too bright – if you’ve ever dealt with sheep, you know this) were to elect, appoint, or choose their own shepherd, they’d very soon become his dinner.
So, too, we who need a strong arm to save us (if I ever doubt this, I just look at the world, or at my own fickle heart), shouldn’t really pretend that we are in a position to choose the one who is best for us. While this sometimes works in politics, it would certainly fail in the greater realm of the spiritual life. We don’t need a god whom we elect or choose or create – such a god would always be too small, too weak, and – let’s be honest – would always look a little bit too much like us.
The elevating reality of having a king (at least in this case) is that we did not choose him to be king; his credentials come from a higher source. Whether we choose to follow a king is another matter.
For many of us today, kings and the office of king have been reduced to the image of wealthy people, who may or may not do anything profitable, who live on the whole a very comfortable and privileged life, travelling around and waving and laying wreaths and other civic functions. Even while granting the possible symbolic, nationalistic value of such people, the role is less than crucial.
But that is not what kings can be. A king – a good one – was meant to be a leader who would sacrifice his life for his people, who would protect them, who would work constantly for their well-being and happiness, and even their spiritual health and salvation. When looking at Christ as king, we should not be distracted by the less-than-meaningful roles some kings have made popular.
A king is marked by certain signs – he wears a crown, he wears a great and fine robe to show his dignity; he lives in a palace, usually with a great balcony from which to greet his people; and deep in that grand palace, he has a throne from which he rules, on which he alone may be seated. By these signs and insignia is a king known.
But Christ – the King – appears under a different guise, or at least so the world thinks. I disagree. With eyes unclouded – and may this Feast open our eyes – we can see that He is not only a king but The King.
Because, like all kings, He has a crown. Not golden and bejeweled, not crafted by the finest artisans, but nevertheless He has a crown. The piercing cruel crown of thorns, woven in mockery – but a mockery which was at the same time an unwitting proclamation of His Kingship by the guards in the Praetorium (remember! The Praetorian Guard in Rome often chose and proclaimed the Emperor – how clever Providence is!) Christ wears this crown until the very end. This symbol of His true power was not removed when he was stripped naked; He walked to Calvary a King.
And like all kings, He has a royal robe. Not for Him the silk and ermine, the fine embroidered fabrics which will one day rot. He wears – naked on the Cross – His true robe, the One He Himself chose to wear forever – our flesh, transformed and glorified, which will never decay. By taking on and never putting off our human nature, He strides forward wearing what He will save, our skin.
Christ the King also has a palace, as all kings must. Eschewing stone and even the fragrant Cyprus wood which adorned the Temple, the King of the Universe, whose command the whole of creation cannot contain, chooses to make His dwelling in our hearts, in our bodies, in our lives. From there, standing on the balcony of our lips and our deeds, He speaks to the world inviting all to His Kingdom. We become the living moving palaces which transport Him and His Reign wherever we go.
And He has a Throne. Here the divine irony is the greatest, the throne most hidden, but not to our eyes. His Throne is of course the Cross, the very weapon wielded against Him becomes not only the trophy of His victory but the very spot on which He inaugurates His Reign. Strangely shaped, His Throne nonetheless perfectly proclaims the magnitude of His victory.
And while perhaps a tourist on a guided tour of a king’s palace might be permitted to gaze upon the king’s throne, none would dare sit on it. But Christ the King invites us to join Him there, on His Throne, on the Cross, reigning with Him as we suffer with Him, until that great day – which this Feast boldly and universally proclaims – when the glory of the Throne of the Cross will be revealed and suffering will have served its purpose and be no more.
Kings are jealous, as is Christ. (Jealousy is not envy, which is the desiring of what others have; jealousy is the desire to keep what is one’s own). Christ wants all of us, who are His, to be in His Kingdom. The confusion of our life is when we only live partially in His Kingdom, incompletely under His Reign of Love. This Feast reminds and strengthens us to enter fully into the Kingdom where Christ is King.
And Christ IS the King – in this we have no choice, nor does the world, nor Satan, nor any other being. He IS the King. Our choice is whether we wish to live in His Kingship, not simply as an unknown subject, but as a member of His royal family. Remember, the King is now your brother. What does that make you?
I will never fulfill my one-time vocation of becoming a king; with only a small tinge of regret I must admit that this has worked out for the best, for me and certainly for everyone else! I didn’t get to be a king, but I am the King’s brother, and what more could I want?
Prepared for Aleteia by the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.