‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:43). ⧾
From the moment that Our Lord spoke these words, the Church has lived in this time frame. Although the chronology of time progresses and unfolds, the eternal today of God’s time reaches across and underlies all history. This today of the living God that we are called to enter is ‘the hour’ of Jesus’ Passover which reaches across and underlies all history (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1165). St. Hippolytus further explains it in this manner: A day of long eternal light is ushered in for us who believe in Him, a day which is never blotted out: the mystical Passover (Ibid. 1165).
The eternal today is the Mass; for the Mass is the celebration of Our Lord’s Passover. This unending Sacrifice which Our Lord commanded us to offer and to celebrate is the eternal Mass. Through the ages this sacrificial Offering has been the very life of the Church and it is in the strength derived from this Sacrifice and only in this strength that Our Lord’s Kingdom is established, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace (Preface, Solemnity of Christ the King, The Roman Missal).
Our Gospel reading today however, gives no indication of such a kingdom. Our text records the dialogue of three dying men, condemned to a cruel and slow death. The King between the two criminals has been rejected by His people. He hangs on the Cross alone. Betrayed by one of His friends, indicted on false charges, condemned by public opinion, tried before a prejudiced jury, convicted by a cowardly judge, He waits for death. He nevertheless makes an astonishing promise in response to the request of a dying man: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. He replies, ‘Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:42-43).
In the course of His ministry Our Lord had often spoken of His kingdom; and by signs and wonders and above all by the power of His word had sought to establish it. St. Luke tells us that once, being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Our Lord answered: ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed …for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you’ (Lk. 17: 20-21). These few words express the essential and complete truth of the human person in relation to God. The disciple of Christ who has accepted Our Lord’s invitation to belong to God’s kingdom produces its fruits by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit, says St. Paul, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22).
Our Lord affirms the presence of this kingdom in our midst, indeed, within us as a reality that we endeavour to establish, foster, build up and share. The true disciple of Christ the King seeks the reign of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart first and foremost in his own heart. This is why we foster devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a practical means of furthering the social kingship of Jesus Christ. We who know and experience the benefits of having the heart and mind of Christ seek the establishment of God’s kingdom in every heart. Among other things, Our Lord’s ministry of preaching and healing was an effort to bring His listeners to understand this truth, namely: the kingdom of God is within you. It is within our reach. In other words, we have the power to establish this kingdom not by force, not by persuasion, but by humble charity – the most powerful force on earth. This is the power Our Lord used and only in this power is Our Lord’s kingdom established. It is a power that imposes nothing and proposes everything; for what one is able to accomplish through supernatural grace is endless.
Humble charity helps us to realise that in our lifetime we accomplish only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s kingdom. We all contribute to its growth by our growth in holiness –humble charity at work in an enterprise that is eternal and universal; but its point of reference always and everywhere is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the source and summit of the Church’s life and the font of all graces. Nourished and strengthened by the Eucharist, we become God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9). St. Paul uses this expression, a phrase that expresses more than just cooperation with God’s grace. As God’s kingdom becomes a reality in us, His indwelling through grace transforms our hearts and minds and the Sacred Heart of Our Lord truly becomes the King and centre of our hearts.
Our Lord wishes to be King of our hearts and when we welcome Him in our midst, in the very intimacy of our own individual soul, then we experience and already begin to participate in His eternal and universal kingdom. This is brought about most effectively and intimately through the transformation effected by Holy Communion, the fruit of the Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Peter Julian Eymard (+1868) a Saint known as the Apostle of the Holy Eucharist, teaches us that the Triumph of Christ the King is brought about through the Eucharist. Christus vincit, regnat, imperat; ab omni malo plebem suam defendat. )Christ conquers, He reigns, He commands. May He defend His people from all evil. Pope Sixtus V had these words engraved on the obelisk which stands in the centre of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. These magnificent words are in the present tense, and not in the past, to indicate that Christ’s triumph is always actual, and that it is brought about in the Eucharist and by the Eucharist. This is why even in the midst of the darkest confusion we never lose heart, for His Eucharistic Presence guarantees us the assistance of His grace and strength and Presence. May we never despair of His presence and help. His eternal today embraces all history including our own individual history, with its lights and shadows. Everything is illumined by the healing truth and light of Christ. St. Peter Julian further explains: Jesus does not rule over earthly territories, but over souls, and He does so through the Eucharist. A king must rule through his laws and through the love of his subjects for him. The Eucharist is the law of the Christian. How unhappy are the nations that no longer possess the Eucharist! [If I may paraphrase, how unhappy is the Catholic who has forsaken the Eucharist!] What darkness! What confusion in the minds! What a chill in the hearts! Satan alone rules supreme, and with him all evil passions. As for us, the Eucharist delivers us from all evil.
For this, we thank Our Lord and King; and with grateful hearts we pray that His Kingdom may be firmly established in every human heart to God’s greater glory and the salvation of all. Christus vincit, regnat, imperat; ab omni malo plebem suam defendat. Christ conquers, He reigns, He commands. May He defend His people from all evil. ⧾