A blessed and joyous solemnity of Christ the King to all our readers, a feast first put in the calendar in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. The pontiff had first issued the encyclical Ubi Arcani Dei Consilio – literally, ‘when the counsel of God was hidden’ – in 1922 in the aftermath of the insane carnage of World War I, signifying a world which had lost its moral moorings, unhinged. Without Christ, and the revelation He offers, the world will falls apart; or, more properly, under demonic hegemony. It really is Christ, or nothing.
Hence, the Pope’s later promulgation of the encyclical Quas Primas three years later, teaching that Christ was Lord of heaven and earth, and to Him, as the Creator and Redeemer of that same heaven and earth, all must bow, from the lowest to the highest.
Yet we frail and anxious humans still seek an earthly king, and often it is the mediocre amongst us who vie most eagerly for the task. As Father Scott Murray recounts, the Israelites learned this the hard way, and it would do us much good to ponder this warning from thousands of years ago in the time of the Judges, when Jotham warned the people who had made the worthless Abimelech king – a strongman who, they hoped, would solve all their earthly woes, the very one who had just slaughtered the entire family of Gideon.
When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
We seem to have quite a few brambles about.
Abimelech, whose name ironically means ‘my father, king’, is a type of all the unworthy rulers in history, those who have not much better to do than to ‘lord it over people’, whose only aim is to ‘get elected’, and keep doing so, even at the expense of the truth. Abimelech is a type of the anti-Christ, who seek, as Father Murray points out, to rule by enslaving, subtly, perhaps in the modern milieu, by the panem et circenses, all the ‘bread and circuses’ this life offers. We are in chains and, what is most tragic, know it not.
But Christ, the true ‘Father-King’ signifies true kingship, one that paradoxically ‘sets us free’, a kingship of of service, even – as today’s Gospel signifies. – unto death.
As Christ says to the wavering, agnostic, vacillating Pilate, a modern type of all too many of our current ‘kings’:
For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.
We all know Pilate’s evasive answer: Quid est veritas? What is truth?
And that, really, is the question.
Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Amen.