What The Feast Of Christ the King Means Today

Also known as the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, this feast was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to the growing secularism in the West and in the context of the unresolved Roman Question. With great clarity and depth, the Holy See articulated how he hoped the feast would impact the laity, a long quote well worth reading and meditating on:

“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.” (emphasis mine).

Pius XI’s vision is nothing less than of a mature, fully-formed, fully-catechized Catholic who knows Christ both as Savior and Lord. If the pontiff lived in our day and observed trends in the American Catholic Church, he would be apoplectic.

Though self-identified Catholics make up about 68.1 million (20.8%) of the population of the United States, only about one-third attend Mass once a week. Of this one-third, many are not catechized and have heterodox beliefs and practices:

In a recent Pew Research Center study, 58% who attend Mass weekly believe that divorced and remarried parishioners, who have not been through the annulment process, should be allowed to receive Communion; 42 percent think that co-habiting couples should be able to partake of the Eucharist, and only 46 percent think that pre-marital sex is a sin.

It’s not an overstatement to assert that evangelism should start in the pews with many who attend weekly Mass. The problem with our local Church is that it is often no longer the Catholic Church in America but has become the American Catholic Church: the Church and the surrounding culture have become indistinguishable.

The vast majority of people reading this essay probably don’t identify with these malformed parishioners in the pews, lapsed Catholics, Christmas and Easter Catholics, “cafeteria Catholics,” nor “cultural Catholics” who attend weekly Mass mostly because they are of Italian descent from Providence, Rhode Island or are Irish-Americans from Albany, New York. However, it’s important for the orthodox, practicing Catholic to humble themselves and admit that they have many “unevangelized” areas of their heart where Christ is not yet King.

The heart of humility looks at this mess among American Catholics and says, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.” The lowly soul doesn’t grovel or self-flagellate herself but takes an objective look at herself and knows that she must fight and detest sin until her final breath if she wants to be presented to Christ as part of a “Bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

A proactive commitment to humility and serving others is like a well-paved, two-lane highway that Christ the King can travel on in taking ownership of areas of our lives that are presently occupied by the reign of sin. I’ve seen a certain sanctifying process happen in the lives of many young men.

When they are single, life is about them. Often, after they get married and begin to start a family, life is still about them: the wife and kids exist to meet their wants and needs and not vice-versa.

But then, in the properly catechized Catholic, an epiphany happens: the husband/father realizes how selfish he has been and chooses to, in relation to his family, imitate Christ in his Passion of self-sacrifice. This is one major way marriage/family turns boys into men when the heart of the husband/father is infused with humility and self-donation.

Interpersonal relationships can be a source of great joy and a furnace of affliction. The latter can be a “painful gift” in revealing those unevangelized areas of our lives where Christ is not King as the Holy Spirit uses spouses, children, extended family, and friends as “mirrors” to bring it home to us.

The steady, incremental growth of the Lordship of Christ in our lives is greatly facilitated by the practicing Catholic spending time in the Presence of God, both in the Holy Hour and in what St. Faustina referred to as our own “adoration chapel” at home. This cultivates our sanctification which is the “super highway” that Christ the King travels on in establishing his reign in our hearts.

When we are in the presence of God, we rub shoulders with a Holy God and our sinfulness is revealed. Like Isaiah we say, “Woe is me!” (Is. 6:5) or like Peter, after his calling and the miraculous catch of fish in the presence of Christ: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8).

However, this is not the end of the story, for, in the presence of God, there is a Throne of Grace: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is at the Throne of Grace where our fallen and wayward mind, will, heart, and body come under the sole ownership of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, where human resources are exhausted and the grace-filled life begins.

This process is not as mysterious or ethereal as some people think. It’s common for practicing Catholics to go through phases where they feel tight-fisted with their time, talent, and treasure.

Money is tight; time is constrained; we aren’t in the mood to give our gifts for the benefit of others. But then in our morning devotional time, we read the story of “The Widow’s Mite” in the Gospel reading for the day; the responsorial Psalm has a strong emphasis on “offering sacrifices;” and, it’s Friday and the Rosary is focused on the Sorrowful Mysteries which highlight Christ’s self-donation.

We are changed in the presence of God.

There’s righteous anger and unrighteous. We see the former in Christ cleansing the temple and in ourselves when we hear a friend’s name has been smeared by vicious gossip or find out a child in our neighborhood has been physically and sexually abused.

As odious as unrighteous anger is, it can be redemptive in identifying pride and idolatry in our hearts that needs to be eradicated if Christ’s reign is to be established. If you snarled at your wife when you got lost on the way to Uncle Paul’s house as she graciously tried to give you directions, you may have an idol in demanding that she make you feel competent, capable, and in control at all times.

Anger is the smoke, idolatry is the fire. Where humility reigns, Christ reigns.

Another way to expose idols in our lives that are impeding Christ’s reign is to ask the question: “Could I be content merely with food, clothes, a roof over my head, and the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Aquinas identified four major substitutes people use for God: wealth, power, honor, and pleasure.

I know that as a young man involved in local church ministry in charismatic-evangelical circles, vainglory and I spent too much time together in the same room. I couldn’t imagine a world where I didn’t have a fruitful ministry where many lives would be impacted.

Sometimes you must die to such visions before they can be born anew with the fragrance of Christ. As new revelations come to light in the present scandal in the Church, we must again remind ourselves that an idol is an idol even if it is hiding behind religious vestments.

image: I, Alberto Fernandez Fernandez [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5]


Jonathan B. Coe is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before being received into the Catholic Church in 2004, he served in pastoral ministry in rural Alaska, and in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is a frequent contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of Letters from Fawn Creek, a volume of spiritual direction. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. A self-confessed “mediocre fishermen,” he is known to wet a line now and then in the creeks, rivers, and lakes of northeast Washington.

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