A friend once told me of being invited to the White House. As part of a group that would have an audience with the president, his invitation also included specific protocols that would need to be followed. The list included items such as when and where to arrive and what to wear. I imagine the same would be true if we were invited to an audience with a king or queen. For a moment, however, ask yourself what would happen if we approached the king or queen and asked them if they were the king or queen. My guess is that the palace guards would quickly whisk us away with the trash and declare that we were both rude and ignorant.
Yet, with Jesus, it is different. As Jesus stands before Pilate in these verses from the Gospel of John (18:33-37), I imagine that human eyes attuned to only earthly things would never mistake Him to be a king, especially since He has been stripped of His human dignity. And so, Pilate, who has been inserted into this divine moment, plays his part and questions Jesus’ royalty: “Are you the King of the Jews?” And 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.”
Note the key word that Jesus mentions: belongs. It is a word that, following our baptism, characterizes our relationship with Him. We are His. We belong to His mystical body. We have been granted royalty in the eternal sense of the word. For at our baptism, after the water was poured, the priest or deacon anointed us with Sacred Chrism on the crown of our heads and proclaimed these words: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
As such, belonging to Christ means something! It means that we are meant to carry out His mission in our world, nation, and communities. As baptized members of His body, in a mysterious sense, we share in Our Lord’s “royal” stature by-and-through our association with Him. And as members of His body, we also remember the words that Jesus told his disciples; namely, that “no disciple is above his teacher” (Lk 6:40) and that, “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you, as well.” (Jn 15:20)
All of this provides us with a backdrop for this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. If we are good readers of history, we know that when Pope Pius XI declared this Solemnity in 1925, the Holy Father noted that “Christ must reign in our minds, in our wills, and in our hearts.” Back then, the state of the world, much like ours, was in rough shape. With leaders such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin on the scene, the freedom to live one’s life—freely and devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, was collapsing. In short, these ascendant dictators were ceasing to deal with those who failed to “get on board” with their programs of atheistic socialism.
In our own times, we see similar aspects in the so-called cancel culture, which basically is saying the very same thing. When we stand up for Jesus Christ in the public square, they promise to unleash upon us a torrent of rain meant to humiliate, marginalize, and cancel us. On so many fronts, traditional Christianity is being attacked and those who stand up for Christ are being ostracized. It makes one wonder: Today, if Jesus Christ stood before us, would we cancel Him?
So, what can we do, you and me? The people’s poet, Edgar A. Guest, provides us with a way forward in a poem entitled Laypeople.