In the liturgical calendar of 1962 the Feast of Christ the King was assigned to the final Sunday of October. The feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI as a response to the rising tide of secularism. The inhuman pall of atheistic ideologies that would see the murder of hundreds of millions over the next century—all in the name of “progress”—was spreading like aggressive cancer in the wake of the Great War. Pius XI wished to remind the faithful, through an annual feast, that Jesus Christ is Lord and King over all time, all hearts, all truth; no earthly government could usurp his dominion over all human hearts.
Here in Steubenville, the main chapel at Franciscan University is named and dedicated in honor of Christ the King. Today’s 4 p.m. Mass will be celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, making it the patronal feast of our chapel. Accordingly, we will mark the occasion with a Solemn High Mass.
Fitting, I think, that the second-to-last Sunday before our election day should invite us to recall that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Alpha and the Omega, through Whom all things were made and without Whom nothing was made; who came unto His own, who received Him not, but to as many as received Him, to them He gave eternal life. He who, as scion of David, proclaimed the kingdom of God not as an earthly kingdom of armies and borders, but as a spiritual kingdom of truth and love that holds dominion over every human heart. He who reigned from His throne, winning his people to Himself by being nailed to the cross, a crown of thorns on His head, the derision of the mobs before Him, offering His life, His flesh, His precious blood, His everything as an offering of love and peace.
“Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every head shall bow, every knee shall bend, and every tongue profess, to the glory of God the Father, that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”
But there is more to it than merely saying “Lord, lord,” for even the demons recognize that He is Lord, and they shudder. If you profess with your tongue but do not submit with your heart, do not live your life accordingly, what good is it?
And consider the nature of Christ’s kingship. When questioned directly about his kingship by Pontius Pilate Jesus responded, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18:37) He did not directly respond, “Yes, I am a king.” Perhaps because the kingship Pilate meant—that of a political ruler of a geographic territory—is not the kingship that Christ possesses. His response was meant to prevent confusion.
If I may be so bold, I propose this restating of Christ’s response: “You say I am a ‘king,’ but my dominion is not what you are thinking of. My dominion is one of timeless Truth that binds all persons together, regardless of their location in time and space, if only they listen to the words I speak to them.”
Pilate’s response lends credence to this interpretation: “What is truth?” Or, “Truth? Who cares about ‘truth.’ I have the power, regardless of what is ‘true,’ to have you released or crucified.”
There, however, is the cross-over into our own times and activities. Christ is the king of all time and space by being the Lord of truth, but what good is truth if it is not observed in activity. We are talking here about the kingship of Christ and not merely his directives on living a good life, so we must consider the import of Christ’s kingship of Truth on our political activity.
We have an obligation to bring truth to bear in our votes, voting to advance the cause of truth and goodness in society. Voting for candidates who, both, will move our civil laws in the direction of truth and goodness and who have a real shot at winning their election. We do no good for the advancement of good and moral laws if we vote for someone with no chance of winning, regardless of their positions. If a candidate is available who both has a chance to win and also will move us in a better direction, especially if all other candidates with a chance to win are morally reprehensible, then it behooves us to vote for that candidate.
In 2005, Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on this same theme—his speech was stirring then, with the events of the last few years it is downright alarming now.
He spoke on the statement in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” His text is so tight but simple that summary and commentary is useless; I’ll simply post it here:
I grew up in Concordia, Kansas. It’s a typical small farming community of less than 7,000 people. But in those days Concordia was also the hometown of Senator Frank Carlson, who was a major player in Congress. So it wasn’t unusual for people in Concordia to think they had something important to say about government affairs and life in Washington, DC.
That’s the way it should be. That’s what the Founders of our country intended. All of us, no matter how little we are, have a voice in our nation’s public life and a major part to play.
Additionally, Catholics see politics as part of the history of salvation. For us, no one is a minor actor in that drama. Each person is important. And one of the most important duties we have is to use our gifts in every way possible for the glory of God and for the common good. That’s why Catholics and other Christians have always taken an active role in public life. What we believe about God shapes how we think about men and women. It also shapes what we do about promoting human dignity.
Today’s national discussion about religion and politics is sometimes so very strange. If God is the cen- ter of our lives, then of course that fact will influence our behavior, including our political decisions. That’s natural and healthy. What’s unnatural and unhealthy is the kind of public square where religious faith is seen as unwelcome and dangerous. But that seems to be exactly what some people want: a public square stripped of God and stripped of religious faith.
Our duty, if we’re serious about being Catholics, is to not let that happen. But our work as citizens does- n’t end there. Our bigger task is to help renew American public life by committing ourselves ever more deeply to our Catholic faith — and acting like we really mean it.
Catholics spent the first 200 years of our nation’s life trying to fit in and be accepted. Well, congratu- lations, we did it. We made it. We’ve arrived. But we should remember St. Paul’s words: “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17).
Have we really examined the cost of our fitting in? Since the 1960s, many American Catholics have been acting like we’re lucky just to be tolerated in the public square. In other words, we’d better not be too Catholic or somebody will be offended. That’s a mistake. It’s a recipe for losing our faith and throwing away any hope for a national political discourse based on conviction. It’s also important to notice that most of today’s anti-Catholic prejudice in the public square is different from the past. It doesn’t come from other religious believers. It comes from people who don’t want any religious influ- ence in public debates.That’s not pluralism. It’s not democracy. Democracy and pluralism depend on people of conviction fight- ing for what they believe through public debate – peacefully, legally, charitably and justly; but also vig- orously and without excuses. Divorcing our personal convictions from our public choices and actions is not “good manners.” On the contrary, it can be a very serious kind of theft from the moral treasury of the nation, because the most precious thing anyone can bring to any political conversation is an hon- est witness to what he or she really believes.
This applies to elected officials. It applies to voters. It applies to you and me. Belief in God has pro- foundly shaped what Americans believe about human dignity; the law; the common good; and justice. To cut God out of the public square is to cut the head and heart from our public life.
What we really believe, we conform our lives to. And if we don’t conform our lives to what we claim to believe, then we’re living a lie. When public officials claim to be “Catholic” but then say they can’t offer their beliefs about the sanctity of the human person as the basis of law, it always means one of two things. They’re either very confused, or they’re very evasive. All law is the imposition of somebody’s beliefs on somebody else. That’s exactly the reason we have debates, and elections, and Congress – to turn the struggle of ideas and moral convictions into laws that guide our common life.
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, which is the birthday of the Church. In Catholic churches around the world, lectors read the following passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
Now, that may sound like the right way to read it, but it’s wrong. That passage should really be read this way: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord!’ except by the Holy Spirit.” It’s the fire of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that enables us to make this profession of faith; that gives us the kind of energy and zeal to live our lives based on our faith in Jesus Christ.
We need to understand that in the early Church, those words – “Jesus is Lord” – were a political state- ment. The emperor claimed to be Lord both in the private and public lives of the citizens of the empire. When Christians proclaimed Jesus as Lord, they were proclaiming the centrality of Jesus not only in their personal lives, but in their public lives and their decision-making as well. That took real courage. And it had huge consequences for their lives. Jesus was hung upon the cross because of his claim of Lordship. Christianity was illegal for the first 250 years of the Church’s life because Christians pro- claimed, “Jesus is Lord.”
Americans re-elected President Bush because most voters saw him, and see him, as a man of dedica- tion and a leader deserving of our respect — but he is not “Lord.” Our political parties – whether Democratic or Republican — are not “Lord.” Congress is not “Lord.” The Supreme Court is not “Lord.” And neither are we “Lord”; nor our spouse or friends or possessions or talents. None of these people or things is Lord. Only God is God, and only Jesus Christ is Lord. And Christ’s relationship with each of us as individuals, and all of us as the believing Catholic community, should be the driving force of our personal lives and for all of our public witness – including our political witness.
“God” need not be on our lips every minute of every day. But He should be in our hearts from the moment we wake, to the moment we sleep. Only Jesus is Lord. The Church belongs to Him; not to us, but to Him. And there’s no way — no way – that we should ever allow ourselves to be driven from the public square by those who want someone else, or something else, to be Lord.
St Augustine, who had such a deep influence on the mind of our new Holy Father, once wrote that, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Are we angry enough about what’s wrong with the world — the killing of millions of unborn children through abortion; the neglect of the poor and the elderly; the mistreatment of immigrants in our midst; the abuse of science in embryonic stem cell research? Do we really have the courage of our convictions to change those things?
The opposite of hope is cynicism, and cynicism also has two daughters. Their names are indifference and cowardice. In renewing ourselves in our faith, what Catholics need to change most urgently is the habit and rhetoric of cowardice we find in our own personal lives, in our national political life, and some- times even within the Church herself.
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost. This coming Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. Every year during this week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, I reflect on what the Church means when she talks about the season of “ordinary time.” There’s a spot just west of Denver as you descend out of the Rocky Mountains where the mountains suddenly stop, and the horizon opens up, and you gaze out on the beginning of the Great Plains – a thousand miles of flatland between Denver and the Mississippi River.
It reminds me of where we spend most of our lives. Not in the mountains, but on the plains – raising families, doing our jobs, making the daily choices that shape the world around us. Ordinary time is the space God gives to each of us to make a difference — between the past and the future, between Pentecost and Jesus’ Second Coming.
What we do with that ordinary time – in our personal choices and in our public actions — matters eter- nally. Solzhenitsyn once said that “the line separating good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor even between political parties, but right through the center of each human heart, and every human heart.”
Renewing our hearts — that’s where we begin. Renewing the world – that’s our goal. Reclaiming the fire and courage of Pentecost – that’s how we’ll get there. Say it, and mean it, and live it: Only God is God, and only Jesus is Lord. When our actions finally follow our words, then so will our nation, and so will the world.
Note, he did not extol President Bush as the perfect candidate or as the Lord’s representative on earth. He said Bush was reelected because he is “a man of dedication deserving our respect.” I believe that this time around the choice is even more stark, and clear, than it was in 2004. The stakes are higher. The problems and fissures, deeper. Neither candidate is the candidate “of God,” but one clearly desires to lead in a direction of respect for life and liberty while the other supports abortion-on-demand.
So then the question each of us must ask, then, is, “how do you say ‘Jesus is Lord’”? Do you mutter it into your sleeve lest someone hear? Do you follow it up with “, but…”? With a roll of the eyes? “Personally opposed, but…”?
Or does it have an exclamation point? With a heart afire with love for your fellow man? With a determined and unflinching firmness? With a compassion for others and a desire to share the glory of the kingship of Christ with them?
And how will it affect your vote?