I don’t know who first uttered these words but they set forth a truly important bit of wisdom: If there is nothing above us we will be consumed by all that is around us.
Our nation’s Founding Fathers recognized its truth when they wrote: 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.
Our human dignity, rights and freedoms come to us not from our President, our Congress or our Supreme Court, they come to us from God above, our Creator. No king, ruler, president or potentate confers them upon us. Perhaps that concept does not seem to be very bold to us today, but it was the foundation of our Declaration of Independence, the beginning of what back then was known as the American Experiment. Experiment? Yes! What our Founding Fathers asserted back then was radical because the people in the rest of our world were then governed by kings, dictators and totalitarians who ruled as if people were their possessions, as if their subjects belonged to them and not to God.
The situation in our world was not much better in the early 1900s, a time when World War I had been fought as well as a time when Communism, Naziism and Secularism were on the rise. And so it was that on December 11, 1925 Pope Pius XI established this Solemnity of Christ the King for the entire Catholic Church to be celebrated at the end of the Church’s liturgical year.
The popes in 1800s and 1900s introduced other Church Solemnities with similar origins. When reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament had grown cold, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted. So, too, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men and women were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, the Catholic version of Puritanism.
As interesting as history may be, and as interesting as the context may be for the establishment of this liturgical Solemnity may be, we must pay attention to what is meant by the image of Christ as king. What sort of king are we being asked to recognize? What do we understand to be the kingship of Christ?
The first thing we must put behind us is our worldly understanding of kings. Christ as king differs from the kingship of human kings. Perhaps it would be better to say that Christ’s kingship transcends all human notions of what it means to be king.
But there are similarities — two to be specific.
We Americans rebelled against England’s King George III, establishing as we did a democratic republic while rejecting any and all forms of monarchical government. Nevertheless we must recognize that while the subjects of a king owe him allegiance, a king owes duties to the people of His realm. In particular, and of the greatest importance, a king swears to provide His people with peace, security and justice. It is the duty of a king to protect his people from their enemies. He has obligations toward his people. It is also the duty of a king to provide justice for his people. The social contract between a monarch and his or her subjects devolves duties upon a king or queen. But in order for that to happen, the king or queen must rely upon the energy, resources and allegiance of his or her subjects. Unless his people give the king the needed wherewithal, he cannot discharge his duties.
As Christians we claim Jesus Christ to be our King. We find ourselves under His kingship. He will establish His justice and peace among us. But in order to do so, he relies on our allegiance, he relies on our cooperation, and he relies on the gift of our very lives and souls, in order to reveal His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Presently we find ourselves in a political season. The 2016 presidential election campaign looms ahead of us and is already under way. Candidates are presenting their views. What is disturbing in it all is to note how often the candidates talk about what the government should give us and how little they talk about what we can and should do for our country. When and where are we willing to sacrifice our own agendas, our own wants, in order to provide for the needs of others? Government is not merely a necessary evil, it is a means through which we can channel our energies and resources for the sake of others and for the sake of our common good.
This is the way it is in Christ’s kingdom. If Christ’s kingdom is to be revealed here on earth, made real in our world as it is in heaven, we must work to make it so. Do we expect God to be a “Big Daddy” God and give it all to us without any effort on our part, in spite of our indifference, neglect and even our rejection of him? Such would be childish nonsense. Such would be foolish presumption. Such would be arrogance on our part, namely the expectation that God will do it all for us anyway, even though we pay scant attention to him and give him little, if anything, of our hearts and souls.
If there is nothing above us we will be consumed by all that is around us.
If Christ is not our king then the principalities and powers of this world will rule us. We will have sold out to them, sold our hearts and souls for the cheap glitz and glitter of fool’s gold. If God is not our Father and Christ is not our king when we shall have our own gods and goddesses, and they will give us nothing. In the end we will have betrayed ourselves and lost our citizenship in the everlasting kingdom of God.
Christ is our King so that the powers of His world cannot hold us in their grip. Our freedom is found in “the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.” If Christ is not our king then we will be consumed by all that is around us.
And so with the approach of Thanksgiving it is good to bring to mind the Proclamation of Thanksgiving issued by President Abraham Lincoln in the middle of our terrible Civil War.
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln