Return of the Kings

“Our calendar is our catechism,” says Rabbi Heschel of Judaism, and it holds equally true for Catholics.   This weekend marks the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King, our reminder that Christ is our true King.  C.S. Lewis has said that Christianity is the greatest story and that it is a story of the return of the King.  Lewis and Tolkien produced some immensely popular fiction with the same theme.  There is something in us that longs for a kingly presence in our lives.

Back in our non-fiction world, we may live in geographical locations under forms of government that may include a king or queen, but Christ is our true ruler—the King of kings.  This feast day is a reminder that Jesus inaugurated a whole new and revolutionary kingdom and that there is a war going on in heaven and on earth (Caesar Augustus vs. Jesus and a multitude of angels, Lk 2).  The King of the Jews has invaded the world with his radical life and subversive message.  He has come to turn the ways of the world right side up—nothing is ever the same.  (The King on the throne says, “Behold, I make all things new” [Rev. 21:5], referring to a new heaven and earth).  But this has become background noise and gets lost in translation—a little like when the teacher speaks in the Charlie Brown movies, “Wha wha wha wha.”

This example of a radical and subversive King is lost on Catholic men, who are in a crisis of identity.  There is the attack on marriage, and gender distinctions have multiplied faster than rabbits (Facebook has 51 or 56 or 58 choices).  The crisis of fatherlessness is destroying our men, our children, our families, and our culture.  As a result of these devastating challenges, the Catholic Church has lost a large chunk of working-class men, and men comprise only 40% of those who attend church.  This is a major problem for the Church if a Swiss census study of generational church attendance is correct: if fathers don’t attend church regularly, only 3-4% of the next generation will be regular attenders, as opposed to 33-42% if the father does attend.  The Church needs to be leading the way on a comprehensive vision of masculinity.

To contribute to such an effort, I am collecting/developing a Catholic vision of masculinity.  Part of that vision is that the summit of being a man is spiritual fatherhood—all men are called to it, single and married, with or without kids.  Spiritual fatherhood, as well as physical, must be lived out in our baptismal gifts as anointed priests, prophets, and kings.  (This could also be said of women and motherhood.)  Fr. Barron, who has talked about these three roles on a number of occasions, has summarized them this way:  the priest sanctifies, the prophet teaches, and the king governs.  All of them are present in Jesus in a complete way.  He continues, “the Cross is the altar on which he offers himself as the sacrifice, the pulpit from which he preaches, and the throne from which he reigns,” a beautiful image to ponder.  Since it is the weekend of Christ the King, I will focus on this kingly role and how it is to be lived out by all men.  First, let’s turn to the biblical images of kings and then to spiritual fathers.

Very briefly, Fr. Barron says that Jesus and often biblical kings were raised behind enemy lines (Moses, Daniel, Esther, Joseph); endured long periods of chastening and discipline (40 years in the desert, 40 days of fasting in the desert); had visions after being cleansed (the burning bush, making all things new) which always led to the liberation of their people (from addictions or false gods); and provided new laws (the 10 commandments, the beatitudes) that made freedom first possible and then effortless.  The kings were also warrior kings (Jesus, Saul, and David) so they were protectors.  Jesus was also a provider and servant.  All of these roles could be developed further for use in the spiritual household—the Church, and the physical household—the family, but I want to focus on the last characteristic:  the king who governs as one who orders the charisms—the gifts of others, who restores the “Garden of Eden” where God is rightly praised.

As kings, spiritual fathers order the gifts for both the spiritual and physical households.  For men this means knowing and discovering others’ gifts and then cultivating them.  This means that you help your spiritual children to know who they are, to encounter the living and loving God, and to find their mission in life that will help others get to heaven.  Doing this sets up right worship of God.  Some examples follow.  On the job you can think about the strengths of your employees or co-workers and set things up for them to use their gifts to succeed in a right-ordered way.  If you have children, you can discover what they are good at and enjoy and then cultivate those strengths in the service of the kingdom.  You do not try to fit them into a preconceived slot to make them a junior you, or make all the kids the same—no one yells at an apple tree to produce oranges! (Or if he does, he won’t get results!)  If you are a young man or still a boy, there are always younger boys or girls in school or church who could use a mentor to show them the ropes and encourage them, thus fulfilling the law of love.

There are two possible distortions of the kingly role: on the brutality side, one can become a dictator, and on the passive side, an enabler.  The dictator wants it done his way, with a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude.  The dictator demands obedience based on his authority rather than his relationship.  If a leader is inspiring, obedience is not a problem.  But with the dictator there are rules but no relationship, which only leads to rebellion.  On the passive side is enabling—doing too much and keeping someone stuck in the same place.  Another way to say this is that enabling allows the bad behavior to continue by preventing natural consequences.

The true kingly role is based on Jesus the King who has great love for us.  His love is not based on our behavior but on our being—just because we breathe.  We are his beloved sons, his friends for whom he lays down his life!  We are gifts from the Father to Jesus (Jn 17:24, NAB), and we are delighted in anytime we come home (see the prodigal son story, Lk 15:11-32).  We need, as St. John Paul II says, to experience this love, to encounter it, and to participate intimately in it; otherwise our life becomes senseless and incomprehensible (see Redeemer of Man, n. 10). But the King does not just leave us in this overwhelming love.  He then challenges us down to our very core.  It is a “demanding love”:  take up your cross, die daily, love your enemies, don’t just not commit adultery—don’t lust!  All of this must be done working from love, not for love.  Christ the King first loves us (1 Jn 4:19) and then profoundly challenges us.  Men need to be challenged!

Too many Catholic men have forgotten who they are; they are lukewarm and ready to be spit out (Rev 3:16).  Wake up, O sleepers, and remember who you truly are in the sight of God, so that you can become who you are. We need a return of the kings—spiritual fathers who know they are loved and then love and challenge others to a right-ordered worship of God!  We need a return of the King in our masculinity, our identity.  Spiritual fathers (who may also be physical fathers) are those who provide, protect, serve, and most especially govern by ordering the gifts of others for the good of all and for God.  If all men reclaimed their identity as spiritual fathers living out their kingly roles, the face of our churches and society would change in a hurry.  So men, there is the challenge:  we need a return of the kings!


Avatar photo


Dave McClow, M.Div., LSCW, LMFT, is a pastoral counselor, writer, and speaker. He works with Dr. Greg Popcak at the Pastoral Solutions Institute as a Clinical Pastoral Counseling Associate and provides tele-counseling services to Catholics internationally (check us out at, or call to schedule an appointment:  740-266-6461).  For over 30 years he has served in many capacities in the mental health and addictions fields.  He is the founder of four text ministries for men: “Faith on The Phone,” “Fasting on the Phone,” “Pure Hearts” and The Abba Challenge  for Rekindle the Fire’s men’s group and is active on its central core team. He and his wife converted to the Catholic Church in 1996.  He was a catechist for 15 years in his diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.  He is currently developing a comprehensive Catholic vision of masculinity that he believes is an integral and leveraged component of the New Evangelization.  It is summarized in The Abba Prayer for Men found at with more at The Ultimate Challenge: Men & Faith.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage