Dying on the Battlefield

Douglas P. McManaman
Homily: Solemnity of Christ the King
Nov. 18, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Christ is king. But what does that mean exactly? To shed some light on this, let me just say that each one of us who has been baptized has been anointed priest, prophet and king - that anointing is a part of the rite of baptism. Each one of us here is priest - I refer of course to the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful. As priest, we offer our lives in sacrifice; we no longer belong to ourselves, but to Christ, the high priest who offers himself to his Father. Each one of us shares in Christ's prophetic office; we have a serious obligation to proclaim the truth of the gospel, the good news of his death and resurrection - not to mention the truths that follow from it - , and we do that by our lives and our words. And finally, each one of us shares in the kingship of Christ.

A king is one who reigns over a kingdom. Christ the king defeated the kingdom of darkness in his life, death and resurrection, and so He is Lord over all creation and all humanity (Col 1, 15-16). If he is our king, he governs us; he is Lord over our lives. The fundamental duty of a Christian is to allow Christ to rule over him, to allow Christ, not the world, to govern his choices. Unfortunately, a good number of Christians allow their thinking to be molded by the world, that is, they allow their views to be shaped by the popular media; the result is that many Christians think like everyone else. Lacking the shrewdness that characterizes the children of darkness, they trust too readily in media narratives, spun by those who are of the world, not of Christ. That is why such Christians don't stand out from the world; for they are not set apart. But we are called to be a people set apart. The very word 'sacred' means set apart; we are called to be a holy people, a people that radiates a radical difference, and that happens when Christ becomes our king, when we allow him to reign over our lives, or in other words, when we become living members of his Mystical Body.

At this moment in history, Christ does not reign in the world. Not yet. He is Lord of all, Lord of creation; he is king of the universe. Although he reigns in the Church, he does not yet reign over the entire world; for the world has not allowed him to. There is still rebellion. The world is at war, and Christ is at the center of that war. He is the reason for it. In the book of Revelation, we read: "the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus" (Rev 12, 17).

There is no getting around it: there is a war against the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. To be sure of this, consider the Second Reading: "For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. When everything is subject to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all." In other words, he still has enemies that he is in the process of defeating, and death is the final enemy. His purpose is to bring everything into subjection to him; then he will hand everything over to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.

But how does our king fight this war? The weapon by which he defeated the kingdom of darkness is the cross that he carried on Good Friday. He came among us as servant; at the end of time, however, he will come in glory, with power. The choice each one of us has before us at this time is whether or not to join him in that battle. Just because we have been baptized, confirmed, or even ordained does not necessarily mean we have chosen to join him in battle. We can still reject that identity as king that we received in baptism even though we come to Mass or even preside at Mass as a bishop or priest. One must actively choose to fight alongside Christ the king. And this is a difficult battle, so difficult that Paul said: "With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit...that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must" (Eph 6, 19). Many today have lost that courage and do not open their mouths to say anything that remotely requires a bold spirit.

And how is it that we in particular are to fight this war? Paul says in Second Corinthians that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Co 10, 4). The reason is that "Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, and the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6, 12). Hence, he exhorts us to "put on the armor of God that we may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold our ground" (Eph 6, 10). Our weapons are rootedness in truth, which is Christ and all he proclaims. If a person is not rooted in truth, he will be unable to spot a lie and will thus be vulnerable to the underhanded schemes of the evil one.

Paul employs the expression "clothed in righteousness", and righteousness or justification comes from supernatural faith in Christ, which some members of the Church, including some priests and Church leaders, may have lost - for their message has been reduced to little more than a humanism. And Paul tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. In other words, we need to be rooted in the Scriptures. We need to read and pray the Scriptures every day and allow our thinking to be molded by them. For the ordained in particular, that means keeping the promise they made to their bishop on the day of their ordination to faithfully pray the divine office.

The sacrament of Confession is a powerful weapon against the evil in this world, but a particularly powerful weapon is the rosary, that is, devotion to Our Lady. A priest whose devotion to Our Lady has grown cold is in serious danger of going down a path that leads to a profound loss of zeal and a weakened ability to move hearts to conversion. They are in danger of becoming one of those mentioned in the gospel today who neglect to feed the hungry, the thirsty, visit the sick and the abandoned. Hunger and thirst are not necessarily to be taken literally; for the greatest hunger is not for bread or a bowl of rice, but rather for truth, for a bold proclamation of the gospel that includes pointing out evil and condemning it, and for hope. The word 'hunger' in this gospel includes the hunger to belong to Christ and his Mystical Body, the hunger to be noticed by Christ's faithful, to be regarded as important, the hunger to be paid attention to by Christ, whose hands, feet, and eyes we are to become.

A king has zeal for his kingdom and for those who dwell in it. If we choose to go to war with Christ our King, we will share in his zeal for souls. But there is no doubt that many have lost that zeal and are just going through the motions, waiting to retire on a pension. Such clerics are asleep, like the King of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings . That once great king is under a spell of some sort, and as a result, he is indifferent to the welfare of his people; he is half asleep, thanks to the influence of Wormtongue, a diabolical figure who was supposed to be the king's advisor, but became an agent and spy for Saruman. The king is not alive enough to fight out of a genuine concern for his people, and so unless something changes, he will not die on the battlefield, but he will die hiding under his bed. But the spell is soon broken and he is awakened to battle. Eventually he is struck down on the battlefield, but as he lay dying, his last words are: "My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed."

Think of the company that we are destined to keep in heaven: not only our relatives, our grandparents and great grandparents and theirs, but all who have gone before us, the great saints, the great popes, the great martyrs who fought valiantly and who underwent tremendous suffering for Christ and whose lives were far more difficult than ours are today, and who faced far more ominous threats. We have to live our lives in such a way that in their mighty company, and in the company of Christ the King, we shall not be ashamed.