By Msgr. Joseph Calise
In 1992, at the Parish of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians in Woodside, I had the enjoyable privilege of starring as King Mongkut of Siam in the parish production of the musical, “The King and I”. Luckily a good singing voice was not required for the job! The basic storyline is that a British woman, Anna, and her son travel to Siam to teach English to the King’s many children.
The plot revolves around the growing respect and understanding she and the king develop as they work through many cultural differences. At one point she questions the way everyone does exactly what the king wants and asks him why they do that. His answer is simple: “I am king.” There is no question in his mind and no room for discussion. His kingship demands obedience. In the Gospel, Pilate challenges Jesus, “Then you are a king?”. Today we celebrate that kingship but must also heed carefully Jesus’ response.
In response to Pilate, Jesus simply says, “You say I am a king. For this, I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Jesus speaks the simple truth that His kingdom is not of this world or He would not have been standing before Pilate. It is the confusion of the people, the authorities who feared Him as well as the people who sought only the miracles, as to what His kingship is about that has Him there. If they knew He testified to the truth, the greater truth, they would have been listening to Him.
They would have heard Him speak nothing against Caesar while calling them to a higher authority; they would have heard Him affirming the basic law of loving God with heart, mind, body, and soul while adding the love of neighbor as also sacred; they would have seen not just the miracles but the love and power of God they revealed. So, to Pilate, He says, “You say I am a king,” and in that challenges his tragic indecision. At that moment, Pilate had some authority but his authority was temporary. If he called Christ “king”, then he needed to learn the lesson from Mongkut of Siam and be an obedient servant. So too with us.
Pope Pius XI, in his 1925 encyclical, “Quas Primas”, established today’s Feast of Christ the King and its celebration on the last Sunday in October, the Sunday immediately preceding the Feast of All Saints. In 1969, it was raised to the status of Solemnity and the date was changed to the last Sunday of the year, the Sunday preceding the beginning of a new liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent. Pope Paul VI made this declaration in his motu proprio, “Mysterii Paschalis”. He felt that this change in date would emphasize the eschatological importance of this celebration of Christ as King not only of this world but transcending time and place.
Our acclamation of Christ as King today demands its implicit awareness that we are, by that very proclamation, servants, called to obedience. Although the full Kingship of Christ will be evident at the second coming, our obedience must be evidenced now. To call Christ our King but not be loyal to what He taught not only offends His authority but also diminishes our status as loyal members of His kingdom.
So, we pray for His grace to assist us in our desire to be loyal servants so that our celebration of Christ the King will also be a celebration of the citizenship we hope to share in heaven.
Readings for The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.