Fr. Charles Irvin
Daniel 7:13-14, Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37
Pope Pius XI entered this Mass, a Solemnity in the Church’s liturgical celebrations, into the Church’s calendar in 1925. In the life of the Church this is something that rarely happens. So we should ask, “Why?” why did the pope establish this Solemnity? What is so important about it? As always, context leads us to discover his reasoning.
Back during the time of Pius XI powerful forces were claiming the allegiance of men and women. Soviet Communism asserted that the lives of men and women belonged to the Soviet State ruled by the Communist party. Their labors were not for their own benefit; their toil and labor, along with their lives, belonged totally to the Communist State.
Fascism, another totalitarian movement, was taking hold at that time in Western Europe, especially in Italy. It likewise claimed total control and ownership over the lives and labors of men and women. In Germany, Adolph Hitler would rise to power on the tide of Fascism.
Colonialism, too, was rampant. It operated under the notion that Western European nations were entitled to have their colonies in areas of the world that were deemed “backward.” That claim, however, was only a public relations excuse. The real goal of colonization was to grab power and control over the natural resources found in those colonial territories.
Who, the Church asks, holds sovereignty over the hearts and souls of men and women?
God, and God alone is our answer. Christ is our ultimate king. All human authority is an authority held in trust. God gives it to our leaders for the peace and security of the men and women of any nation. It is through the citizenry, through God’s people, that governing authority is conferred upon our elected leaders and judges. They hold an authority that comes from God.
Just now we Americans are engaged in a great debate, a great debate dealing with the question of the role of government. What is the role of our federal government? What the role of our state governments? To what extent shall government at any level control our own personal lives as expressed in our private contracts and personal decisions? This is not a debate simply between Republicans and Democrats, this is discussion among American citizens, a discussion of such importance that it goes to foundation of our republic, sometimes known as The American Experiment.
I put before you now these famous words of our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Presently there are powerful forces in the world, ideological extremists, who seek to challenge and even eliminate the foundational beliefs of our nation. Their ideology rejects the foundational beliefs of our democratic republic, our belief that our freedoms are God-given — endowed upon us by the Creator. Strangely united with them are those among us who are secularists – those who reject the role of God in the foundation and in the life of our nation.
The Civil War tested our beliefs, our American Experiment. Now, in our day, we are entering upon our own time of testing. We are badly divided. Consequently I want to bring to mind here on this Christ the King Sunday the renewing vision Abraham Lincoln gave us in his unforgettable Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
In a few short weeks we will celebrate Christ’s birth among us. As Christians we acknowledge His unending reign as sovereign of the universe, the Lord of the Universe given by God our Father. Shortly, in the Preface beginning our Eucharistic Prayer we will pray these words:
Father, all-powerful and ever living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks. You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as the eternal priest and universal king.
As priest he offered his life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace.
As king he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.
Our country’s Founding Fathers along with our great leaders who followed them have continually reminded us that our nation’s future stability rests upon citizens who have a moral sense, citizens who will elect leaders who recognize that our unalienable rights come not from the Oval Office, not from the halls of Congress, and not from the decisions of our Supreme Court, but that our rights come rather from our Creator who has endowed us with our rights, rights that inhere in our nature and not from legislative enactments or judicial decrees.
It is altogether right, important, and vital, then, that we as Catholics celebrate today’s Solemnity, the Solemnity of Christ the King.