The following guest commentary was written by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and provided to Catholic News Service. The archbishop is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
On the last Sunday of each liturgical year, the church celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This is a day when the church echoes one of the earliest Christian creeds: Jesus is Lord. As we conclude this Jubilee Year of Mercy, perhaps the greatest service we Christians can offer our country today — wracked by distrust, political unrest and intolerance — is to bear patient witness to the kingdom which transcends all earthly kingdoms.
Pope Pius XI instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King in 1925 with his encyclical “Quas Primas” (“In the first”) to respond to growing nationalism and secularism. The Holy Father recognized that these related societal ills would breed increasing hostility against the church. His encyclical reminds the faithful that while governments and philosophies come and go, Christ reigns as king forever.
“Quas Primas” continues to ring true. In recent years, aggressive secularist campaigns have sought to marginalize the church and other religious institutions. In response to alienation and loss of solidarity — which tend to accompany these secularist assaults — nationalistic movements have sprung up across the Western world. Now, as always, we must turn to Christ, our merciful Lord.
Pope Francis has called the faithful to develop an ever-deeper engagement with the Christ who calls women and men to seek to enter the kingdom of God.
In Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the Holy Father tells us that Christ’s “kingdom, already present and growing in our midst, engages us at every level of our being and reminds us of the principle of discernment which Pope Paul VI applied to true development: It must be directed to ‘all men and the whole man.'”
Secularism divides our public selves from our private selves. When governments limit the rights of religious ministries, secularists claim that religious freedom is not harmed because we still have freedom of worship — we are free in private but not in public. But the kingdom of God calls us to a whole life of worship and service in the public square. We cannot worship on Sunday and then deny Christ’s teaching in the way we run our ministries throughout the week.
Nationalism, on the other hand, divides our loyalties. It is good to love one’s country, but ultimate loyalty is due only to Christ and his kingdom. Ideologies that ask us to put our nation above Christ and his church are incompatible with service to the kingdom.
Pope Francis tells us that “Jesus is the center of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works.”
We must work every day, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to draw closer to Jesus. In our own, increasingly “post-Christian” society, we cannot be complacent in our spiritual lives. To acknowledge the kingship of Christ means that we should dedicate ourselves to prayer, to build up families and our parish communities, and to bring healing to a broken world.
Pope Francis explains that “(t)he kingdoms of this world sometimes build themselves on arrogance, rivalry, oppression; the kingdom of Christ is ‘a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ … (T)o reign as he does means to serve God and the brethren — a service that flows from love: to serve for love’s sake is to reign.”
Jesus inaugurates a kingdom that grows through humble acts of service. Even as her freedom to carry out her ministries is threatened, the church must patiently continue to serve the poor, educate the young, welcome the migrant, visit the prisoner, heal the sick, bury the dead and love others.
Pope Francis tells us that “Jesus’ mission is to inaugurate the kingdom of his Father; he commands his disciples to proclaim the good news that ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Mt 10:7).”
On this solemnity, we celebrate the reign of Jesus, who invites all to enter into his kingdom of love and justice. Let us fix our gaze on Christ the King.