By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King
Last Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B - on the Gospel
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Acknowledging Christ as King

Daniel 7:13-14 Revelation 1:5-8 John 18:33-37

Christians in Nigeria and some other West African countries celebrate Christ the King Sunday with a big, festive parade through the main streets of their cities. This may sound unfamiliar to Christians in other parts of the world, but a public manifestation of faith may not be far from what Pope Pius XI had in mind when, in 1925, he established the feast of Christ the King. The feast is a proclamation of the Christian belief that the reign of Christ should be felt not only in the private lives of Christians but also in the public domain.

The feast was originally celebrated on the last Sunday in October. This meant that only Roman Catholics and Anglo Catholics could celebrate it because Lutherans and most other Protestant churches celebrated Reformation Sunday on the same day. Vatican Council II did well to shift the feast to the last Sunday of the liturgical year because now most Christians, Catholics and Protestants together, can celebrate it. In this way the whole Church bears common witness to Christ whom we proclaim as king of our lives and of our world.

One reason why the feast was initially celebrated on the last Sunday of October was, perhaps, to associate it with the feast of All Saints on November 1. For, who are the saints if not those generous men, women and children who bore courageous witness to Christ in their lives, private as well as public? One such saint who has been in the news lately is St Thomas More, recently proclaimed patron saint of politicians. Thomas More was a brilliant lawyer and diplomat in 16th century England. His patriotism and loyalty to the throne attracted the attention of King Henry VIII who made him Lord Chancellor of England, the first layperson to be entrusted with such an honourable responsibility. What Henry VIII did not know was that loyal as More was to him, his first loyalty was to Christ, the king of kings.

When Henry VIII, therefore, decided to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon, marry Anne Boleyn, and make himself head of the Church of England, More thought this was not right. Rather than approve what he believed to be against the divine will, he resigned from his prestigious and wealthy position as Lord Chancellor and lived a life of poverty. Because he would not give his support to the king, More was arrested, convicted of treason, imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534 and beheaded in July of the following year. On his way to public execution, More encouraged the people to remain steadfast in the faith. His last recorded words were: "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." For More, it was not simply enough to confess Christ privately in the safety of one's heart and home; one must also confess him in one's business and professional life as well as in the laws and policies that govern society.

This does not mean that the kingship of Christ is necessarily a threat to the kingdoms of the world. This was the thinking of Pontius Pilate when he was interrogating Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus was a king. Jesus' answer was that, yes, he was indeed a king, but not the sort of king he had in mind. "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). Wherein lies the difference between the kingship of Christ and that of Pilate and other kings of this world? We can name three: (1) Other kingdoms have territorial boundaries but the kingship of Christ is universal. Christ is king without borders. (2) Other kingdoms come and go, but the kingship of Christ is eternal. (3) Other kingdoms are sustained by military or economic power, but the kingship of Christ is sustained by the power of truth. Citizens of Christ's kingdom must, therefore, stand by the truth even when it is hurting and embarrassing to do so.

When we speak about the kingdom of God in this way, some people ask: what then becomes of patriotism and national loyalty? Patriotism and national loyalty certainly have their place in the Christian life, but loyalty to God comes first. In the name of patriotism and national loyalty some Christians have surrendered their consciences to the state. If the state says it is lawful, then it is all right to do it. A good example is abortion. Or, if the state says it is illegal, then it is wrong to do it. An example is helping a needy "illegal" immigrant. Today's celebration challenges us to do better than that: to look more critically at the laws and policies governing public life and examine them in the light of the law of Christ. As Christians we should be loyal citizens of our countries, but loyal citizens of God's kingdom first.

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