The Feast of Christ the King was officially instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It was a direct Catholic response to the rise of secularism and nationalism. Everyone had still a very vivid memory of the devastation of World War I. Mussolini had just seized power in Italy and European countries were no more colonial power because they had lost control of almost 90% of the earth’s surface. In Russia Stalin had replaced Lenin in the Soviet Union. It was a time when execution of Christians (and everyone else) in the name of an independence from God was common. To state it simply, with the institution of the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the Church and the world, of whom was the true leader of nations: Jesus Christ.
Today we live in a different world. However we can find some strong similarities with the time when the Feast of Christ the King was instituted. For instance, we currently live in a very secularised country and world. God and any references to him tend to be down played and make them irrelevant to people’s lives. Sometimes, small but significant changes in the vocabulary used to name community events are just an acknowledgment of how deeply this ongoing secularising process permeates our daily lives. Just think of the way of naming some events: Easter and Christmas Fairs are now Spring and Winter fairs. Also, Christmas time seems to be far more an opportunity for shopping than for celebrating the coming of the Lord. Meanwhile, the celebration of Jesus’ birth would play a very little role in the overwhelming consumeristic world that every year would envelops us more and more, especially when we may feel bombarded with the Black Friday deals from mid November on. It is frankly a little bit depressing.
At the same time, dangerous seeds of neo-nationalisms are blossoming all over Europe. Something to be really worried of!
Now just before the beginning of Advent, the time were we set to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, the liturgy invites us to celebrate Christ the King. A very strange king, I have to say, because kings are usually monarchs, which in greek would mean “one who rules alone”. A monarch symbolises then the concentration of all the power in one person, who is the head of the state and chief commander of the army.
Today, instead, we have just heard Matthew’s gospel describing a king who delegates his power to his disciples. A power that is not based on the monopoly of the force or the ability to rule over people, and essentially to control a territory through bureaucracy and taxes, but on love. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. Jesus doesn’t have any financial power to enforce “all nations” to believe in him, but the power of his word and his love. As a matter of fact, he refuses to rely on what usually makes a king powerful on earth: army, money and territory. Paradoxically, He is the peaceful king who rides a donkey while entering the city of Jerusalem. Christ the King is then a powerful sign of contradiction for our modern societies and a strong prophetic message to the world: Jesus Christ is the ultimate sovereign of this world, and to him belongs the earth and what is in it.
This is feast is also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our church leaders. Is it Jesus our main point of reference, our benchmark when we look at our leaders and religious guides? I remind myself every day that Jesus is the only shepherd of the flock, the only true leader, the authentic pastor, and I’m just a sheepdog: the people of God don’t follow me, but him, who is the only king we worship. This seems something obvious! Something we should already know, but very often forget. Always more frequently church leaders seem to be tempted to fall either into the messianic role of helping people or managing people. And to be honest there is nothing wrong with helping people or being a good manager of people’s gifts. The danger is that having people working with a religious leader, could enhance the leader’s image to the point of no return. In other words, a church leader could cross the line when what started out as managing people’s gift for the work of the kingdom of God could become the manipulation of people’s lives for the building up of one’s pastoral ego.
The feast of Christ the King is a strong reminder for leaders then, and the way we -as congregation and community of faith- see our leadership in our daily parish life. Good vicars, leaders, pastors, or whatevers you may call them, will show the way to Jesus, but they won’t never pretend to be the way. Jesus is. It is extremely important for all of us to understand that, because we all are part of the process of shaping our futures leaders. Vicars don’t blossom overnight from the grass like mushrooms in the woods. They are nurtured in our congregations.
The feast of Christ the King is certainly a strong reminder to us, vicars and would be vicars, to be spiritual directors, to pay attention to God, call attention to him. Being attentive to God in a person or circumstances or situations is a real response to our vocation to be holy. We are not called to make ourselves the focus of people’s lives, but to point them to Jesus. Sometimes we have to do nothing but enable people to find Jesus, be still and let God do his work. Your job as believers -and indeed your vocation- is to nurture your future leaders by demanding what is needed for your lives. You help your leaders to be true to their vocation when you ask them to show you the Lord who is here to save, to heal and give true meaning to your lives. When the center of a church life is Jesus Christ, we will see the signs of it every where. There will always be time for silence and adoration, time to praise the presence of God in a person, a group or circumstances that enrich our faith. We will then be able to name “the peaceful king” while he walks among us, and tell other people: meet the Kurios. Good vicars would learn through experience and patient listening to the word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist how important is to constantly name God when his name slips our minds and hearts. Good congregations would have the courage to call back their church leaders to their true vocation when their ego threaten to become the center of their pastoral life.