Monday, 3 December 2018

Solemnity of Christ the King Year B 2018

As far as Solemnities go, we are not celebrating an ancient liturgy. In a few years’ time, say seven(?), the Church might just initiate a centenary celebration for Christ the King. As history would have it, it was instituted as recent as in 1925. It was not too long after WWI, when quite a few European monarchies had been abolished to be replaced by republics at best and dictatorships are worst. The political structures were crumbling and in its wake, nationalism and fascism waded in to fill the void. Socially, the rise of the machinery ushered in the age of consumerism from which we are still reeling from its ravages. [Check out the plastic mass the size of China floating in the Pacific Ocean. Or that Malaysia is an importer of plastic waste from the UK]. Secularism had become the rule of the day and in the face of all these new powers that demand our allegiance, Pope Pius XI chose to remind the Church that there is a King whose sovereignty stretches beyond the temporal.

Whilst the Solemnity of the Kingship of Christ may have a recent provenance, the idea itself is not. In the NT, the Lord has been called the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, to whom honour and glory be given forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1). According to Rev 19:16, “On His thigh a name was written, King of kings and Lord of lords”.

If the idea of the Kingship is still relevant, what sort of practical implications can we draw from it? Our current experience of the monarchy is rather shallow in the sense that we are captivated by the glitz, the glamour and the glitter surrounding royalty. Since there are so few of them around, we tend to treat our celebrities like royalty.

For us, the royalty of Jesus could be interpreted according to the Munus Triplex, that is, the threefold office of being Priest, Prophet and King. The equivalence of this threefold ministry is expressed as the Priest who alone is able to offer a sacrifice worthy of God, the Prophet who teaches with the authority of God and the King who came to serve and not to be served.

Therefore, He is Priest, Prophet and King in a pastoral mould—for He is the Good Shepherd whose ultimate service was to lay down His life for His sheep. This has profound implications for us. When we are baptised, we are incorporated into His Body, the Church which means we also share in His threefold ministry of santifying, enlightening and also ministering or pastoring or serving the world.

We minister in two ways and they are both inter-related. Firstly, we serve in such a way as to initiate a kingdom that goes beyond time. This end or this goal, that is, eternity, to which we aspire provides the foundation for our ethics and morals—they determine our behaviour and actions. Otherwise why be good at all if there were nothing to be had at the end. If you think about it, we are suffering a crisis of confidence. We are not entirely sure if there is a God at the end of this earthly journey and this lack of confidence may just account for our practical atheism meaning, if there is a God, well and good. If God is not there, we have not lost much anyway.

This practical atheism wreaks havoc on our moral compass. Today, it is not so much right or wrong/good or bad that guides our actions. Rather, it is the fear of being caught that inhibits our criminal behaviour. As someone used to say, “Don’t be caught dead with dirty underwear”. (What about being caught dead stacked full with evil and bad deeds?) In other words, we are good not because we are afraid that there is judgement at the end. Instead, we are “good” only because we fear the shame of being caught. 1MDB is a brilliant example of this kind of morality—the arrogance that dared to leave a paper trail arose because the perpetrators did not think they could be caught. Unfortunately, the absence of moral compass which resulted has in this practical atheism has trapped many of us in a vortex of narcissism that is incapable of transcending the “self” into the plane of the common good. (Look at our driving in a traffic jam).

We must be in the business of the right and good because we are not solipsistic narcissists. Like it or not, we are thrown together in this world. Our so-called climate crisis is living proof that it does not only affect one part of the planet but the entire ecosystem. [Principle of conservation of energy]. It is in this context that we are not alone that Jesus in the Gospel spoke of those who are on the side of truth will listen to His voice. Witnessing to the right and the good is our way of listening to Him and in the service of the common good we are carried beyond this earthly realm. 

It fits into the answer that Jesus gave to Pilate in today’s Gospel. “My Kingdom is not of this world” does not contradict the service of the common good. If anything, St Augustine says that the city of man is actually a preparation for the city of God. We should be involved very much in this world only because it is a prelude to the world that is to come. How do we achieve this?

This leads me to the second way of service to the world. It touches very much on our understanding of freedom. We think freedom in terms of self-expression and self-fulfilment. You ask any young person here and he or she will tell you that freedom is doing what I want, when I want and how I want. The Catechism states almost the opposite that true freedom is exercised in the service of good and just. This form of service bring us back into the territory of the common good which is but an expression of human solidarity. Service is not determined by “Me” but rather by the “We”. That kind of service requires self-abnegation—the kind that was exemplified by Jesus Himself: “Take up your Cross and follow me”.

Unfortunately, not many people speak of self-discipline these days and sadly, the relativistic culture easily equates the lack of discipline as freedom. We can do whatever we want and call it freedom but in reality, we know that this kind of “freedom” leads to enslavement and unhappiness. Ask a man with a modicum of conscience who frequents prostitutes if that is freedom for him? You will find him anguishing after the fact. See, for freedom to be true, it is aptly achieved through the conquest or the mastery of the self. By ruling our body and its desires through self-discipline and God's grace, we slowly acquire the freedom to choose what is best based on the true needs of our human nature. This freedom offers us far greater happiness than self-indulgence could ever grant us. Freedom is so not the choices that are available but rather the ability to choose even an option which is disadvantageous to oneself—like to lay down one’s life for another. The freer we are with regard to choosing right and good, the more we grow in likeness to our Lord and King. The more we are like Him, the faster will His Kingdom come.

In conclusion, the Solemnity may be newish but the idea is definitely as old as Christianity itself. His Kingdom is definitely beyond of this world but the entrance to this privilege place is purchased through the conquest of the self. But, we are never going to initiate the Kingdom for heaven unless His Kingdom is first established in our souls. Long may His reign be in our hearts and souls. Long live Christ the King.