Today Holy Mother Church celebrates In Festo Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Regis: Christ the King. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 to help correct the world’s tilt toward the chaos of secularism. The Great War (which ended in November 1918) made terrifyingly evident that universal devastation is the price we must pay for casting God out of public life. A few years after this war, and foreseeing the next global war to come, Pius XI wrote the encyclical Quas primas: “These manifold evils in the world are due to the fact that the majority of men have thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; [with] no place either in private affairs or in politics: as long as individuals and states refuse to submit to the rule of our Savior, there will be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.” Before Christ, the world knew no peace, but on a certain year in human history, the Son of God became incarnate and established his Kingdom. It is at this moment we enter today’s Gospel reading. Jesus Christ faces Pilate. The Roman king of Judea stands in judgment over the eternal King of heaven.
A King faces the King
Pilate was not a bad king, as earthly rulers go. He had nothing against God—he just didn’t know him. He was only trying to keep order in the best way he knew. He was like most political officials in our day—non-Christian, with no recourse to a higher moral authority—for our social order has lapsed into its primitive, non-Christian state. Like Pilate, Christ has nothing to do with our decision-making, and we are trying to maintain peace without God.
Pilate asks Jesus: who are you? Are you a king? Jesus answers Pilate’s question with a question: “Do you say this on your own?” In other words, do you really want to know who I am, and what it means to be a king? Pilate becomes a little frustrated with these deeper questions, which seem like riddles to his crudely political mind: “Do I look like a Jew to you?” he flings back at Jesus. “How am I supposed to know about your weird religion? Just tell me who you are and what you’ve done to cause a riot in my district.”
Pilate Doesn’t Get It
Then Jesus gives Pilate, and all humanity, the answer we have been longing to hear: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Every worldly political order will fail to the degree that it refuses to have reference beyond the world. We can’t keep order by ourselves. What do you think will happen if you put three children in a room by themselves for five hours? They need an adult to keep from hurting each other. We “adults” need a Father greater than any earthly father. Deep down, we all know this, and we know that the answer to our political conflicts is not found in this world.
Jesus continues: “I came to testify to the truth.” Every politically mature person asks whether an earthly ruler ever be completely honest. And Jesus answers that question: No, he can’t. The world is ruined; it is lost to original sin. Only the ruler who is beyond this world can bring peace and order. Only God bears the fullness of truth, and the only way to rule this world is to refer beyond it. Pilate doesn’t get it, and, with all due respect, Barak Obama doesn’t get it. Few rulers have ever understood this; most politicians who call themselves “Catholic” don’t get it, and I’m not sure how much we get it either. It is enormously difficult for anyone in our society, soaked as we are in secularism, to grasp how empty, how frail, how vain is any attempt at a peaceful order divorced from God’s laws.
Are We Taking Earthly Politics Too Seriously?
Many good Catholics complain to me that they struggle with despair over our country. American leadership, and world politics, becomes more anti-Christian, more irrational and chaotic, more dishonest, every day. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we can’t do anything about it.
But remember this: Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. So why do we expect order, peace, and honest politics from this world? The world as we know it is passing away. Our hopes are not in this world, but in Jesus Christ, the Lord of a Kingdom not of this world. If we are discouraged by earthly politics, we probably think too much of them. If you never miss the evening news, whether it’s Fox or CNN or NPR, but you do miss your evening family rosary, you are bound to be depressed. But don’t you know that the rosary is far more real than the news? Turn the TV and computer off, and pray the rosary together, and you will gain courage and hope.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King to remind us how transitory are this world’s rule. The Lord Jesus Christ reigns over heaven and earth; nothing and nobody can topple him. We put our hope in him, we commit our allegiance to him. With our Lady, we work to bring about his Kingdom in this world, but with our heart set on the Kingdom that is not of this world.