Just before we celebrated Christ the King, I heard a long time parishioner of the parish I was visiting, share with another parishioner, that she was not comfortable with the title of Christ the King. It seemed too political.
I felt I could understand her objection. If you want to ruin the family Thanksgiving dinner later this week, one sure way to do that is to bring up politics! One of the blessings of being a Franciscan, is to hear our brothers preach. I did not know the reason for this feast, until I listed to Fr. Anthony’s homily, that day, at our Parish in San Pablo. The Feast of Christ the King, was established in 1925 by Pope Leo XI, for exactly the reason this parishioner felt uncomfortable; to be political! In order to counter the growing secularism and nationalism of his day, Pope Leo XI established this feast to remind us all, that although we live in political systems, and are taught to be loyal to our country, there is a Higher Power, and that Christ is our True King; the Highest Authority on Earth.
In our schools, each day, we lead our children in the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the Flag of the United States of America. We also hold up as the highest example of heroism, those who have died for our Country. I recognize that many in our families and communities have given their lives for this country and I give honor and thanks to them for their sacrifice. This feast however, was established to remind us that the only one we should give our lives to, and our Highest Allegiance, is to God. As humans, we live in political systems that have a legitimate authority which comes from God. However, they do not have absolute authority, only Christ does. We should never give blind allegiance to our countries, nor should we die for them, unless the principles we die for are those of God, in addition to our country.
I offer two examples of how we relate to our political leaders; one acknowledges Christ, and the Truth He came to testify to, as the King. The second is an example of when we fail to keep Christ as the highest standard in our politics. Somewhere in my seminary training, I recall having been taught (but forgive me I cannot find the source, maybe the reader can help?) that early on in the fight for civil rights legislation to be passed, a delegation of civil rights leaders went to the president asking for justice legislation, and initially got a cold response. The response effectively said, you cannot count on political leaders to pass legislation for your cause, you must ‘make them’ do it. I cannot find the exact quotes to justify this example, but certainly the principle is true. Our system of politics works best when the collective conscience, and organization of the people, direct to our leaders to pass just laws. The Civil Rights movement, with its many demonstrations (and regretfully even martyrs) and the organization of the people, are ultimately what passed the laws written by our political leaders. (The picture in this post, shows Religious, including Franciscan Brothers and Sisters, with interfaith leaders and lay people, working with faith based community organizers for immigration reform. Community organizing, in this case with San Francisco Organizing Project, and Peninsula Interfaith Action SFOP/PIA an affiliate of PICO, is an example of people working together politically for the Kingdom of God.) When we the people, are united in Truth and Justice, our leaders must respond to the higher standard of Christ and His Kingdom. However, too often our politicians tell us what to do, and manipulate us so we will vote for them. The recent suggestion that we should not accept Syrian Refugees into this country because some might be terrorists, is my second example. Instead of following the higher standard, giving shelter to those desperately fleeing inhuman conditions, some leaders prey on our fear to get our votes. They tell us that some of these persons might be dangerous, and you need to vote for me to protect you and your family. I will keep them out. I will build a wall. I will lock them up, etc. When we follow the thinking of these “leaders” we are not following Christ as our King, but instead make our safety, our comfort, our privilege, and ultimately ourselves, our king. (This example, of how politicians use our fear to get our vote, is not limited to only the Syrian Refugee crisis, but is throughout our politics including how we treat our poor, immigrants, and race.)
Ultimately, the real problem is not with these supposed leaders who try to manipulate us, but rather it is because Christ is really not OUR King. The real problem is that our Baptism has not yet had effect in our life! In Baptism, we DIE! We die to self, and live for Christ our King. To die to self, means that we have already died, spiritually, and already share in the divine life of the Resurrected Christ! If we truly have already spiritually died to self, politicians would not be able prey on our fear to get our votes. If we have died to self, and are alive in Christ, we would stand for Christ’s Kingdom, even in the face of great sacrifice, including our security and our comfort. We would be willing, if necessary, to die rather than betray the truth. If Christ were truly our King, we would say, ‘I am willing to share what I have with my suffering Brothers and Sisters, because that is what Christ commands me to do. If it costs me and my family our comfort, or even our lives here on earth, so be it, I will not forfeit life eternal.’
I know this is difficult, VERY DIFFICULT! This is truly heroic. This is to be willing to be a martyr! None of us want to be a martyr. But Baptism requires us to become a martyr. It gives us the Grace, to not betray Christ our King, no matter what the circumstances of this world. The early church was known as the time of the martyrs, because there were so few Christians as the church was just beginning to grow. When many are willing to be martyred, and stand together for truth, that truth can be realized, and quite possibly without martyrs! That is why we are called to be united as Christ’s subjects into a His Kingdom, the church. That is why we Franciscans live together, to support one another, as a worldwide community. This message is why we celebrate today’s Feast.
In Conclusion, on this Feast of Christ the King. I am reminded of Jesus’ quote “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt 22:21). We live in political entities, but Christ is the Highest Authority. We may be called to die for our country, but only if it is for Christ and his Truth. We pray, ‘God Bless America’ and that is a noble prayer. But let us also be willing to share our Blessing with all nations, and be a Blessing to others. God desires all nations, all peoples, to receive his Blessing! On this Feast day of “Christ the King”, let us “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, and we pray that God give us the Wisdom, to know the difference between the two.