Monday, 26 November 2007

The Solemnity of Christ the King Year C

If you think about it, all through the liturgical year, we implicitly acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus. For example, Epiphany is when the kings of the world come to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Lord of creation. Easter is when Christ by dying destroys our death and by rising restores our life. Ascension is when the conqueror of sin and death ascends to heaven while the angels sing His praises. Every Eucharist rings out loudly and clearly that Christ is the Lord of all because we proclaim at the mystery of faith: “Lord Jesus, come in glory” and at the doxology “Through Him, with Him, in Him”.

Historically, Christ the King was celebrated on the last Sunday of October—as instituted by Pius XI in 1925. The Pope instituted the feast to counter what was perceived to be the increasing atheism and secularism of that time. Jesus and His rule “had no place either in private affairs or in politics”. So, the Pope reminded the Church that “as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Saviour, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations” – ultimately, “Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ” (Quas Primas, 1).

But Vatican II’s reform moved the Solemnity to the last Sunday of Ordinary time and this time putting greater emphasis on the cosmic and eschatological characteristics of the Lordship or “Kingship” of Jesus. As the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, the cosmic and eschatological emphasis becomes more “universal” as it encompasses this world and the next. Ultimately, the rule of Christ the King in the private affairs and political structure of our time in this world is to ensure that through Him, all things can be brought into unity by the Holy Spirit to the glory and honour of God our Father—in the world to come.

Christ the King reminds us to centre our lives on Him who will lead us back to the Father. The definition of the word “Sacrament” is where we begin to understand how we are to live the Kingship of Christ. First, a sacrament is defined as an outward sign of an inward reality. What this means is that every sacrament uses material things to point to a spiritual reality. For example, water in baptism, a material element points to the cleansing that is accomplished or brought about by the shedding of the blood of Christ. This use of material things to signify a spiritual reality holds a tension which many people are uncomfortable with.

The Gnostics for example, disdain, disparage and despise the material world. They believe that humans are spirits trapped in a material world created by an imperfect spirit. This is why the Gnostics will have difficulty accepting the “incarnation” of Christ—they do not think that Christ can ever take on “flesh” because flesh is evil. As such, their aim is to avoid contamination.

At the other end of the spectrum are the materialists. They hold a philosophy which states that everything in the universe is matter, without any true spiritual or intellectual existence. Such a philosophy gives us the rule of life that says that material success and progress are the highest values in life. This doctrine appears to be prevalent in our thinking. For example, people who live to eat personify this philosophy.

In summary, there is a tension between these two poles which can work itself out in the attitude either of “accommodation” or of “isolation”—a pull between “assimilation” and “aloofness”. If you like, sell your soul or be a ghetto. On the one hand, it is easy to be a ghetto. Live your life with your head in the sand. After a while, you realise that it is impossible to live because you have to avoid people for fear of contamination. Some countries like Myanmar, for example, have existed almost in a time warp because they have decided to take themselves off the “human highway”. That I think many people will realise is not the way to go. After all, the whole idea of the Epiphany is to show that Christ is the Lord and our task as Christians is to engage the world in such a way that Christ can be Lord of all. Check out the 2nd Reading… It’s one of the most beautiful hymns describing Christ and all He is and does.

On the other hand, there is the “sell your soul out”. This is by and large many of our experiences. Many of us are “idealists”. We started out in life with a sense of purpose. Many of us have also given up. I hear this often: “You got to live in the real world lah”. When a person says that, he or she has sold out to the world. But, nobody likes to hear that he or she has given up on their ideals and so excuses the fact of their selling out with the idea that he or she is being realistic.

This is a tension which many of us have to live with. We have to bring the grace of Christ to the world without selling out our souls. Fortunately, St John’s gospel tells that it is possible to hold the tension between these two poles because he says that Christians are in the world but they are not of the world. The definition of what a sacrament is was our starting point to understand the tension involved in focusing on Christ our King. We live a tension. It’s the celebration of the sacraments now that enables us to embrace a life in which Christ can truly be our King despite the tension.

We claim Christ to be King. This means that He leads us in our life. Our understanding of His Leadership is that “He is there and we are here”. But really the Sacraments are Christ with us in this world, both spiritually and materially. As King on a mission, He ensures that He is amongst his people and the sacraments are the perfect ways of His being with us. He fed the hungry. He continues to feed us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He forgave sinners. He continues to forgive us in Confession.

My point is: a Sacramental life, rigorously and vigorously celebrated is a sign that Christ is King in our lives and a sacramental life is needed in order to help us navigate through the tension of engaging the world without succumbing to the spirit of the world. Christ the King is a time to re-look at how we celebrate the sacraments. Are we as present to our King as He is to us in the sacraments?