Years ago, I met a friend who was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the time, he and his family had just moved to Michigan. As a born and bred Midwesterner (if you consider Michigan to be part of the midwest), I remember how difficult it was for me to understand him through his Southern accent. One day, I remember telling him just that. And as I did so, he quickly smiled and responded: “So you think that I am the one with the accent. I think that you had better think again!” At the time, we laughed. But to this day, I continue to remind him that when he is in Michigan, he is the one with the accent.
Now in acknowledging the many accents across our nation, we should also recognize that certain American sayings seem to cut across all regional boundaries. That is, they are understood by every one of us. Some examples include: “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Or, ”A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Or, still yet, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Whether we live in the North, South, East, or West, such sayings are well understood. Oh, and there is one more: “You can cut the atmosphere in the room with a knife.” I would guess that we’ve all heard that one and understand that it describes a situation where there is anger, nervousness, and a feeling that something unpleasant could soon occur.
By now, you may be asking yourself, just where is the deacon going with all of this. And rightly so. But the reason I bring this up is because many of us (especially if we follow the daily news) are probably feeling this way. Each day, it seems that ISIS has captured the headlines. And for the past couple of years, we have been inundated with a steady drumbeat of new Christian martyrs across the Middle East. In fact, so many Christians have needlessly lost their lives that Pope Francis has publicly stated that there are more Christians being martyred today than during the founding centuries of the Church. And so, as a growing wave of those who kill in the name of Islam rears its head across Europe, people are afraid that the same could be coming to a theatre near us. But still, you may wonder just what has this to do with the Solemnity of Christ the King? And the answer is—plenty.
Let me explain. On December 11th, it will have been 90 years since Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical, Quas Primas (On the Feast of Christ the King). It was an encyclical addressed to his brother bishops across the world notifying them that this Sunday should be celebrated as Christ the King. As he wrote them in 1925, the world was in shambles. At that time, just seven years had passed since the end of World War I. With Europe having been overrun, nine million soldiers and seven million civilians had been killed. In its immediate aftermath, the allies passed the Treaty of Versailles that sought to extract war reparations from an already bankrupt Germany. One famous 20th-century economist, John Maynard Keynes, predicted that by doing so, it would lead to greater unrest and an even greater war. And he was right. Thus, it was out of this concern that Pope Pius XI wrote:
“…the manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: and we said further, that there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ…”
Ninety years later, it is right for us to contemplate this fundamental observation made by Pius XI, a pope who in 1938, just months before his death and the outbreak of World War II, had secretly commissioned a fourth encyclical that would have denounced racism and the persecution of the Jews and that would have explicitly condemned anti-Semitism.
In the same way that Pope Francis warns us today, Pope Pius XI warned the people of his time that if it is peace that we seek, it will only be found in Jesus Christ. Not in money. Not in wealth. Not in possessions. And not through a variety of politicians who parade in our midst. True peace will be found in one source alone—-Jesus Christ!
As such, we should ask ourselves a simple question: Is Jesus first in our lives? If we are truly honest, our answer will be—no! In the 21st-century world we occupy, we are inundated, 24/7, with an unending list of distractions that seem to call our name. In mentioning this, please don’t think that I am providing excuses for our not maintaining a steadfast focus on the Lord. Rather, I am trying to point out the many distractions that exist today that draw us away from him. Through them, our response to Jesus when he calls us often ends with a qualified yes? We say: “Ok, Lord, I know that you are calling me to do this or that, but just be patient and I promise that I’ll get back to you.” And so, at the end of each day, the reality is that each one of us will have fallen short in varying degrees of remaining in true communion with him.
A friend of mine continually reminds me that Jesus has won, that he has conquered sin and death. This reality is certainly borne out by the scriptures given us on this Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Prophet Daniel (7:13-14), Psalm (93), and Book of Revelation (1:5-8) provide us with deep and powerful insights regarding who Jesus really is. Jesus is the Son of Man. Jesus is the faithful witness. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. Jesus loves us so much that he has freed us from our sins by his own blood. And at the end of time, Jesus will come powerfully amid the clouds. For those of us who have loved him, we will joyfully bend our knees and praise our king! And for those who never recognized Jesus or even persecuted him or his Church, they also will bow down and recognize him as Lord and King.
But until that divine hour strikes, Jesus has provided us with a way—the way—for living out our lives. If we follow his way, we will also build up peace and love in our world. In the Gospel of John (18:33-37), Pilate questions Jesus on whether he is a king. Quietly, Jesus responds: “You say I am a king. 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.”
In hearing Jesus’ voice, what resonates in our own hearts? Perhaps it is what I can do in my own family to bring about peace? Perhaps it is what I can do in my own parish community to build up love? Or perhaps it is what I can do to create an atmosphere in my life that will build up a more loving and peaceful world.
Mother Teresa often reminded those around her that “a life not lived for others is not a life.” Next week, Advent is upon us. At its completion, we will stand in Bethlehem before the King of kings. True God. True love. True peace. If we heed his words and live our lives for him, true peace will be ours.