Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Solemnity of Christ the King Year A 2017

It began with the catholic Church. Even though, it felt like the world was judging her, in reality, some may perceive that as the rise of accountability. Movies have been made on the theme of boundary violation highlighting the shortcomings of the Church and the need to be vigilant against predation, sexual or otherwise. 

Thus, it was spectacular to witness the fall of Kevin Spacey within a space of days. As Maroon 5 crooned in Sugar: “Hotter than a southern California day”, your man Kevin is definitely hotter than Kryptonite is to Superman. Pariah aptly describes him and by no means is he alone. It would appear an industry that prides itself as a champion of truth since it is based on a close mimicry of life (so many movies based on true stories) has finally gathered enough courage to scrutinise its own hypocrisy. Of course, with a “boor” (as depicted by The Washington Post or The New York Times) for a President, this fallout has also extended into the political realm. 

As a Catholic, on the one hand, one has to be careful that there is no schadenfreude when describing this. On the other hand, it is a welcome development as it shows how far we have come in the area of protection of minors and the vulnerable. However, as we rejoice, it might be good for us to explore the connexion between the Solemnity we are celebrating and the current state of affairs.

Firstly, in this turn of events for Spacey et al, it shows a hunger for accountability. In an era of small people, it is wonderful that no one is exempted from being answerable for his deeds. This accountability happens to coincide with the Gospel theme as the distinction between sheep and goat is a challenge to take responsibility for one’s actions or lack thereof for the weak and marginalised.

Secondly, we celebrate the Solemnity which in itself is not that old. Pius XI instituted it in 1925 through an encyclical Quas primas. Nevertheless, the symbol utilised is getting more remote and antiquated. The air we breathe is democratic and any concept that does not stand on merits is anachronistic to our equal rights sensibilities. In fact, many would think that a title such as “King” should be rejected as it is a sad reminder of past oppressions under autocratic kings.

Democracy is the great equaliser. In fact, some translations would like to replace Kingship with kinship and Kingdom with Kindom. Thus, baptism initiates us into a “Kindom with God”—where no one is greater or lesser than anyone else. Where advocacy is concerned, this is democracy at work. No more patriarchal domination for everyone is equal in the “Kindom” of God.

Yet, we are made for someone other than ourselves. An entire musical genre is dedicated to this notion of belonging—love songs. Interestingly, the etymology of the word authority, which is associated with the idea of kingship, suggests as much. Authority designates authorship—that is, originating from somewhere. We came from somewhere and as such we belong to someone. Again, such a notion violates our sense of being because we feel our freedom curtailed simply by the suggestion that we belong to someone. Ironically, when we replace the word “King”, with its attendant notion of authority and the idea of belonging to, we would have substituted it with something else, which in this case is ourselves. Our understanding of freedom means “I belong to myself” and thus I am the initiator of all my actions. In other words, we distrust “external” authority that much that the only authority we listened to is ourselves.

The death of the symbol of kingship has a dire consequence. It is the rise of individualism and with it, the demise of accountability. In the mentioned encyclical, the Pope says, that the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33). What is this reign but accountability, the very virtue that is exalted by Hollywood now?

What happened you might ask that we have arrived at this?

When Descartes posited the cogito little did he know that he had contributed to the present state that we are in. Protestants like to think that they have introduced the idea of entering into a personal relationship. Thus, “Do you have a personal Saviour”? Whilst this question is important, what has happened is in fact not a personalisation of religion but rather a privatisation. What does this mean? Personalised religion is definitely a good because we form a personal relationship with the Lord. He becomes our Lord and Saviour and that our practice of the faith is not, as what the Proddies like to characterise, dead ritualism in which the person (read: inner self—emotions and psyche) is not there. He (read: the unthinking body) is just going through the motion. 

Unfortunately, what Descartes did not contend with, was this: when the “personal” met “science”, what cannot be proven, should not only remain personal but, it is condemned to stay private. Hence, the Cartesian cogito, more than forging a path to a personal encounter with Christ, has sentenced that relationship to a prison deeper than personal and it is privatistic. In effect, personalised religion has become basically privatised beliefs. “Who am I to judge?” is symptomatic of religious practice privatised. In this realm, there is no “Other”. The domain of the private means that one is no longer accountable to the “Other”.

The current liberal thinking finds that youths today are misguided in the sense that they seek the old, forgetting that there is a present. What do I mean? They are fixated with the Traditional Latin Mass, Religious Garb etc etc.... And what is more debilitating is that they do not recognise the structure of society and the latent pathologies hidden therein that give rise to inequalities. What is worse is how the young show no concern for issues of social justice. And the reaction to this “devolution” is to condemn the youths as being out of touch. The truth is, they are not wilful in their nostalgic focus but rather they exhibit the reality that all of us, old and young, are trapped in a prison called “private” religion.

Christ the King used to be celebrated on the last Sunday of October but ever since the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar, it has been shifted to the final Sunday of the Liturgical Year. It is pædagogical in a sense. The Last Sunday is associated with the Last Things—death, judgement, heaven and hell. The end of life comes into focus and with it, accountability. When religion is privatised, it loses its strength to be accountable. The “abuse” especially of the sexual kind—is testament to the enervation of authority or more precisely the severing of the innate sense of “belonging”. When we no longer belong to each other, then boundaries are reduced to no more than limits to be breached. Where there is no accountability, that is, no morals, then being on the right side of the law just means that one has not been caught breaking a law.

And breaking the law is not limited to sexual behaviour. Our kinship, so highly prized, is not just a belonging to each other but also a belonging to God. In that way, we recognise the accountability we owe to God. Thus, scientific exploration that does not take into account human dignity (inalienable rights conferred by God and therefore is accountable to Him) violates the chain of command in the sense that it defaces God Himself, the author of human dignity. Furthermore, when religion is privatised, then gender becomes fluid which means that we are no longer accountable to creation. Instead, we take creation to be what we want it to be. In other words, we are gods in our self-creation.

When the personal is hemmed in by the private, then democracy, the so-called champion of individual rights will not lead greater accountability. Instead, what it has done is to deepen our debauchery. In the realm of private practice, there is a forgetfulness that the personal is relative to the social; that one cannot be an “individual” if there are no “many” against whom one can claim it. Even Tom Hanks stranded on an island claimed his individuality in relation to an imaginary social.

We are both individuals and social. The care we owe to ourselves is what we owe to society. This accountability or belonging is not restricted to the present but as mentioned earlier, the last Sunday of the Year directs our minds to the end time. Thus, the Solemnity at the end of the liturgical year invites us to live today with the end in mind—helping our accountability to climb out of the pit of private loneliness because our care of each other expresses our belonging to Christ and His Body, both now and forever.