Friday, November 21, 2014

Poverty, Persecution, and Humility: the Standards of Christ the King

Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou
The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ the King – Year A

November 23, 2014

In 2012, people from all over the world, myself included, had the opportunity to watch or participate in any number of the events surrounding the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary, of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The entire affair was a spectacle to be sure…the charm of the British Monarchy captured the world for a season, delighting our senses with an array of majesty, pomp, and royal finery. The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton celebrated in April of the prior year only helped to prime and wet our appetites for months of popular fascination with all things British and all things royal. After a bit of time, the hype died down, as it always does, and self-identified modern men and women returned to the daily grind of a more “progressive” and “realistic” way of living. Regardless of one’s political opinions and thoughts, what cannot be denied is that a 21st century world…a world with Presidents, and Prime Ministers, and democracies, and elected officials…fell to its knees in wonderment and awe during all of these royal displays. We can surmise that this was true for any number of reasons. Perhaps it was because people love a good spectacle and these events provided an unbeatable feast for the senses. Maybe it’s because we’re nostalgic for our childhood and these events remind us of the fairytales we once read and the magical worlds we once imagined. Or perhaps it is simply our fascination with history and the things that once were. All of these are surely possible explanations and even likely ones. But I’d like to propose, however, that it cuts deeper than this…that deep within our nature, fallen as it is, there is an existential longing for a king. This longing is manifest in the ancient civilizations…the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Emperors of China, the Kings of Babylon and Persia. It was even manifest among the Israelites when, through the Prophet Samuel, they cried out to God for a King. The modern world, driven by powerful political philosophers and the subsequent revolutions of the 18th century, has done a thorough job of training the modern mind to discard as silly or nonsensical any longings for a monarch or for royalty. But maybe we go “gaga” when a Queen opens parliament or when a Prince is married because, deep down, we were ourselves are a people who long for a king. Not a ruler of a particular nation or realm; not an administrator of goods; not an overlord or an oppressive tyrant, but a true king. Mighty and powerful, covered in glory and splendor…righteous, and just, and merciful. One who cares for the lowly and casts down the unvirtuous. An invincible leader who brings peace to His people, bread to His hungry, and hope to His despairing. The royal and dignified personification of beauty, the embodiment of truth, the very image of goodness itself. Maybe, just maybe, all along all we’ve ever truly wanted is God.

The Scripture and the perennial Tradition of Holy Church make it abundantly clear: God is not merely likened to a king…He is a King. Indeed, He is the Kings of kings and the Lord of lords. His right to rule over creation is not bestowed on Him, it is intrinsic to Him; He rules by virtue of His divine nature, not by the concession of His subjects. All that exists is subject to His governance; His realm is boundless and His power infinite. And His Kingdom cannot be conquered and it will have no end. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, is the Eternal King of Glory. In becoming Man and in spilling His Blood, He set up His Kingdom, His Church, on earth, and promised to bring It to a glorious fulfillment at the end of time. And this is the three-fold Mystery of today’s great Feast: this mighty and powerful King truly reigns here and now; He will return in glory to bring His Kingdom into fulfillment; and at the end of time, all that exists will be completely and utterly consumed into Him.

As we consider this great Mystery today, and the rightful claim that Christ the King has on each of our hearts, I would like to propose that there are three characteristics and aspects of His Kingship and of His Kingdom that we must subject ourselves to and imitate. These are the standards against which we will be judged…whether or not we will be considered true subjects of His Kingdom and counted among the sheep rather than the goats.

The first characteristic is poverty. Typically when one thinks of a king, He thinks of vast riches…but Christ the King sets a different standard. By being born into poverty Himself, Christ shows us in the flesh that what is poor by earthly standards is of inestimable value in the eyes of God. The poor, the sick, the blind, the lame, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the diseased, and the sinful form the royal court of the Kingdom of God. They are His beloved…not because there is anything inherently good in their earthly poverty, but because it lends them more able to become poor in spirit. Earthly riches can distract us from God and can focus our attention on ourselves and our own satisfaction. Christ the King demands that the subjects of His kingdom have their focus on each other and on God…our gaze must always be outward and upward. The rich man is tempted to focus on himself, whereas the poor man, because he has nothing for himself, has nowhere else to look but out and up. On the Cross Christ drained Himself of everything, becoming the living embodiment of poverty. Those who inherit His Kingdom must themselves imitate this poverty of spirit.

The second characteristic is persecution. The palaces of kings have always been closely guarded and defended so that the king’s enemies might not breach the gates and threaten him…but Christ the King sets a different standard. By taking on flesh, He has made Himself vulnerable to the persecution of other men…subject to their threats, their insults, and their torments. He bids us in the Scripture to lay down our own defenses and to be willing to suffer whatever persecution comes our way. He commands us, His subjects, to turn the other cheek and to love our enemy. We are to told to cover our swords, as Peter himself was commanded, when facing our enemies…enduring what we must for the sake of the Kingdom. And He promises us that if we are sincere in our desire to follow Him, we will have enemies and we will be persecuted, just as He was. Those who inherit His Kingdom must themselves endure persecution for the sake of our King.

The third characteristic is humility. Earthly kings often evoke images of grandeur and splendor…but Christ the King sets a different standard. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul reminds us that Christ, though being in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, rather He humbled and emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and subjecting Himself to death on a cross. Those who think much of themselves will necessarily think less of others…and less of God. Those who inherit the Kingdom of God must themselves become like little children, as Christ Himself became, and serve others with the heart of a slave.

The Kingship and Kingdom of Christ as manifested in the here and now is marked by the poverty, persecution, and humility lived out by Christ Himself. All His subjects, great and small, are called and commanded to imitate their King. In the fullness of time, He will return in glory, and judge us all by these standards. As we meditate on these Mysteries and as we revel in the majesty of the things of this earth, of the grandeur and splendor of earthly kings and princes, let us remember a phrase that, for centuries, was uttered thrice to the newly elected Pope: sic transit gloria mundi – thus passes the glory of the world. It is Christ alone Who is Victor. It is Christ alone Who is Ruler. It is Christ alone Who is Lord and King, now and forever.


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