On this Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church claims that Jesus is the King of the Universe and that his kingdom is mysteriously present in the Church where Jesus reigns as King. In the reading from the Prophet Daniel we hear in reference to the Son of man who we understand to be Jesus, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” It is imperative for us today in 2018, in the midst of the crisis in the Church, to personally verify this claim. Is the Church (with all its many failings) truly the prolongation Christ? Is the Church the place and sign of his presence where one can encounter Christ and enter into the Kingdom of God? The Christian claim is not that the Son of God came once 2000 years ago, but that he continues to come to meet us in the Church. We hear today from the Book of Revelation, “Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” Through the Church, Jesus continues to witness that his kingdom does not belong to this world but has entered this world. He brings about his victory in a way contrary to the way the world operates. What Jesus asks of Pilate, he asks of each of us today regarding his kingship. “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” It is not good enough, in order to live Christianity today, merely to accept his kingship on the word of others, but we have to ask and to answer this question of Jesus’ kingship on our own. Our judgment and verification can only come from our own experience. What the Church witnesses to is not a set of teachings or traditions or formal structures that are all part of the reality of the Church; rather, the Church witnesses to the life that animates all those visible things. A Christian is a human that carries within him something of the divine – the life of the divine. What we communicate as Christians is not something that happened 2000 years ago, but what is happening to us now – what is given to us now. Witnessing to the presence of the kingdom is to communicate our true nature – that we are humans who belong to a kingdom that does not belong to this world. We are humans who have been touched and informed by a divine love that has freed us from our sins and “made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” We’ve become persons who live other-centered lives, i.e., someone who lives according to the desire of God. We live like Jesus the high priest who offered himself for others, sacrificed himself for others, not because it is something that we should do, but because we have met this love. This is where we have found life or what has given us life. Witnessing is not a presentation of my beliefs or the actions that flow from those beliefs but the invitation to enter into the life of another. What witnesses to the presence of the kingdom of God is when I am looked at as someone desired. I am not a problem to be fixed or a project to be managed – someone to be looked on with pity or who needs help. Rather, I’m looked at as a good – someone wanted. What is scandalous to us is that the divine chooses weak and fragile persons to communicate himself to others. Knowing our own weaknesses and failures, we’d want something uncorrupted as his vehicle for victory, but from the beginning, that is not how God works.
The other week when I went to the gathering of priests and lay people interested in parish renewal, I met a young woman on the evangelization committee at her parish. I asked her how she had gotten involved in evangelization. She told me she was away from the church for twenty years and was living a totally secular life. She was married and then separated and had a child with her boyfriend. He too was raised Catholic but not practicing. His mother begged that they get the child baptized. The couple had no connection to a parish and had no intention to go to church. Since the mother gave them a check for $1000 to pay for the baptism party, she decided to “sign up” for a baptism at the local parish. She described sitting in the lobby of the parish office and not even knowing the name of the current pope whose picture was on the wall. She thought she could just sign up for the baptism with the parish secretary, but before she knew it, she was face to face with the pastor who came out to see her. In filling out the paperwork, the priest found out about her marital situation and her lack of practice. She was embarrassed by all of her problems, but the priest just said to her, “these are not problems. All you need is faith.” She was thinking to herself, “I have no faith”, but this encounter with the priest who did not judge her but embraced her in her need, saw the good in her, and desired that she belong, awakened in her the response of faith. It took several years for her marriage to be blessed in the church, but to her own surprise, at some point she returned to Mass and became a daily communicant and active in parish ministry. What I love about the story is that I know the priest. He was on the administration when I was in the seminary and then became the rector of the Cathedral. He had a reputation for money management and administration. “Pastoral” would not be one of the adjectives that would readily come to mind to describe this priest. She and I both had a big chuckle that the Lord used that Monsignor to bring her back into the church.
One of my priest friends was ordained over ten years ago for a religious order. He spent about a dozen years in formation with the order prior to ordination. Several years after my friend became a priest, it was found out that the founder of the order, a priest, was a very corrupt man who lived an immoral life and designed this order, in many ways, as a way to protect and to sustain his corrupt lifestyle. This world-wide order of priests known for their education, fidelity to the church, and their ability to attract vocations, was rotten at its root. Yet my friend, who is a holy and good priest today, found his vocation through them, and didn’t lose his vocation through the scandal. From the time of the stable in Bethlehem, God chooses to reveal himself as King in unexpected ways and in the midst of filthy circumstances. Love and holiness in the midst of the mess is what is credible – what resonates with the human heart longing for love in its messed-up state. Jesus says to Pilate, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” We are made for this love, and when we experience it, we hear his voice and know he lives and reigns. Have you experienced the love of God in the life of the Church? Has the change I’ve experienced in myself, like the woman who returned to the church, been the result of my own will or the result of a surprising love that has come to me through someone who belongs to the Church? Where have I met a good that makes me desire to be better and to desire more good? Where have I seen the divine pass through the filth?
This crisis, we can say, has been given to us for us to come to a deeper understanding and realization of what it means to be the Church and to discover for ourselves that Christ is King and who lives and reigns forever and ever. Our contribution to the church and the world is to verify this claim ourselves because only when Christ is our King, can we live in peace.