This coming Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, a relatively new feast in the two century-long history of the Catholic church. It was instituted in 1925 through the encyclical Quas Primas by Pope Pius XI, who believed that respect for Christ and Christ’s Church was waning due to the rise of secularism. While the pope hoped to influence leaders and nations to a greater reverence for Christ, he also aimed to strengthen believers and to remind them that Christ must reign in our hearts and minds.
In 1969, the feast got a new date from Pope Paul VI, who moved the feast to the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last Sunday in the church year before a new church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. In so doing, Pope Paul VI endeavored to highlight the eschatological significance of this feast, that is, how the notion of Christ the King is connected to the final events of history or the end times. While Christ’s kingship began in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it will not be complete until the end of time.
Admittedly, I am bit ambivalent about celebrating the feast of Christ the King. On the one hand, the metaphor of Christ the King leaves me cold. I recognize that when we call Christ the King we are turning the concept of kingship on its head, radically shifting its meaning from that of a supreme ruler who holds himself above his people to someone who gives his life for all people and who invites his followers to do the same. (This is one of the reasons why the gospel reading for this feast shows Jesus on the cross, not triumphantly leading his people.) But I also know that we sinful human beings call Christ the King in the real world where the metaphors we use for Jesus often come to prescribe social relationships, without people remembering the way in which Christ has overturned their secular-world meanings. We have all heard it: just as Christ is King of the church, men should be the head of women, not in the self-sacrificing, Jesus on the cross way, but rather in the oppressive ruler way. (And the examples could be multiplied! Where there is a “dominant” group trying to oppress another group they see as less than themselves, there is usually a hierarchical metaphor for God somewhere in their reasoning.) I’m just not sure the good of the metaphor of Christ the King can outweigh the evil that has been done in its name. (Perhaps this is why some theologians have taken to calling Christ our kin, rather than our king, and referring to God’s kindom rather than God’s kingdom.)
Yet on the other hand, the growing secularization that influenced the birth of this feast has only become more pronounced in the past decades. When I think about my own life, I recognize that I need to be continually converted to following Christ and to live out Christ’s mercy, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and justice reign in my actions. All too often I make decisions based on the values of our individualistic and consumer-driven society, and I am especially aware of this as my e-mail and snail mail boxes have been filled to overflowing these past few weeks with enticements to get a jump on my Christmas shopping by enjoying Black Friday deals today. “What great deal can I find for myself? What is the cool new toy my children just have to have? How can I treat my family and myself this holiday season with the gifts I will purchase?” It is easy to get swept up in the drive to buy and the need to snag a deal. In this regard, Pope Paul VI was a visionary to move this feast directly before Advent, as it serves as a reminder that Advent is about waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, not the most important shopping season of the year. Most of us can likely use a strong dose of Christ the King as an antidote to how easy it is to let the logic of our culture rule our lives.
What do you think? In what ways does the Feast of Christ the King leave you cold? In what ways can it challenge you to live a more Christ-centered life as the church year draws to a close?