Christ's Reign

Douglas P. McManaman
Homily for the Solemnity of Christ,
King of the Universe.
November 21, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

Consider the following from the beginning of the first book of Maccabees:

After Alexander the Macedonian, ...had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and Medes, he became king in his place, having first ruled in Greece. He fought many campaigns, captured fortresses, and put kings to death. He advanced to the ends of the earth, gathering plunder from many nations; the earth fell silent before him, and his heart became proud and arrogant. He collected a very strong army and conquered provinces, nations, and rulers, and they became his tributaries. But after all this he took to his bed, realizing that he was going to die. He therefore summoned his officers, the nobles, who had been brought up with him from his youth, to divide his kingdom among them while he was still alive. Alexander had reigned twelve years when he died.

This is a paradigm instance of an earthly king. These kings reign as a result of their power to conquer. But their dominion is an external one, not an interior one--they don't have dominion over the wills or hearts of their subjects, just their bodies--, and it is a temporary reign; Alexander reigned for only twelve years before he was conquered by death.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe. He is not the king of a particular nation, for a limited period of time. He is the king of the entire universe, and his kingdom will have no end. His reign is an eternal and universal reign. But how is that so? A king rules over his subjects. Does Christ rule over the entire world, let alone the entire universe? Many would say it does not appear to be the case. But he does. Christ rules universally because he holds the keys of death: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and of Hades" (Rev 1, 18). Alexander died, as did all kings before and after him. They did not rule over death but were subject to it. But Christ came to destroy death and restore life. He came to defeat the one enemy that no king could defeat, namely, death. The kingdom he came to defeat was the kingdom of darkness, a kingdom in which sin reigns, and of course death entered into the world through sin (Rom 5, 12). It is sin and death that have dominion over everyone, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

But the Second Person of the Trinity joined a human nature to himself in order to die and thereby sanctify death and destroy its permanency. He came to offer himself to the Father as a sacrifice of reparation for the sin of man, an offering that alone is acceptable to the Father because the sacrifice of the cross was a perfect act of religion, a perfect act of worship and adoration. His resurrection is the sign that his sacrifice has been accepted by God the Father. Christ conquered death, and if we live our lives in him and die in him, we too will rise to everlasting life in him.

For an individual person to enter Christ's kingdom, he must enter into Christ, and that implies a complete change of heart. As I mentioned above, the rule or dominion of the kings of the earth was an external dominion; they did not reign over the hearts of their subjects, rather, their subjects were governed by fear, namely, the fear of death. But Christ's reign is over the heart. It is first and foremost an interior reign. But we all know that he does not reign over the hearts of everyone. Christ the king will not force himself on anyone. He established his kingdom over and against the kingdom of darkness, and the parable of the mustard seed makes abundantly clear that this kingdom began as a tiny seed but continues to expand through history. However, it grows only to the degree that individual persons allow Christ to reign within them, to reign in the deepest recesses of the heart.

Why is this important? One day I was in the parish office and the pastor said something rather interesting. We were discussing a person who had expressed outrage over the fact that the Church had anything to do with the Residential Schools and wondered how anyone would want to be a Catholic after hearing about that. The pastor remarked that what this person fails to realize is that she too is complicit in the Residential schools, as are all of us. I found that to be a very interesting idea and thought about it for a while. It reminded me of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov , specifically the principle that everyone is responsible for everyone's sins. Let me quote from the novel itself: "There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men's sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things."

I've had an oscillating relationship with this principle over the years; at one point I had rejected it as nonsense, another time I'd catch a glimpse of the truth of it, only to hold it once again at a distance, with skepticism. The principle is nicely illustrated by a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Nectarios, Dean of the Athens seminary in 1894. At the time, two seminarians got into an argument which turned into a fistfight. When the two were brought before the saint, they continued accusing one another. Profoundly saddened by this turn of events, Nectarios sent the two of them to the kitchen to tell the cook not to prepare any meal for him for three days--he was going to fast and make reparation for the two boys. In other words, he saw himself as responsible for their sins. That, of course, troubled the boys, moved them to mutual forgiveness, and they went on to become great clerics.

When we consider this idea of shared responsibility in view of Christ the king, there is certainly something to it. If this world is not heaven on earth, it means the kingdom that Christ established is still developing and expanding throughout history. That in turn means that Christ does not reign completely over the hearts of everyone. And if Christ does not reign over my heart completely, but only partially, then I am responsible for the effects that this incomplete dominion brings about in the world, the atmosphere and conditions that it helps to generate, one that makes sin much easier for others and thus perpetuates injustices. I have no idea how my sins have affected the history of this world and how different this world would be had I allowed Christ a greater dominion over my life.

And so our fundamental responsibility is to grow in personal holiness, that is, in faith, hope and charity, which means allowing Christ to reign more completely over my own life. Christ came to me through the influence of others; for I only encountered Christ through them, and others will only meet Christ through me. Those in my past who had an influence on me certainly have appropriated Christ incompletely, nevertheless they appropriated him really and truly. I did catch a glimpse of Christ through them, however imperfect they were. Their light moved this world forward, even though their darkness slowed that movement. It is up to me to personally continue that growth and expansion of the kingdom through a spiritual life in which Christ's light steadily increases and the darkness of imperfection and sin steadily decreases. To the degree that we do so, we share in responsibility for the good achieved, and to the degree that we fall short, we share in responsibility for the evil that still exists.