Bottom line: We desire to be good citizens, but ultimately we do not belong to the government. We belong to Jesus - the King over all kings.
Today's Feast - Christ the King - has an interesting history. Even though the Bible clearly presents Jesus as King, it wasn't until 1925 that the Church established a feast day with that title. Pope Pius XI inaugurated this celebration as a response to the totalitarian regimes that emerged in the early twentieth century. Those regimes claimed absolute power over their citizens and they scoffed at the role of God in guiding people's lives. Against this grab for absolute control, the Church said, "No, the state does not have the highest authority. That belongs to God." And as Christians, we know that Jesus is God. He is the King over all kings. In our second reading, St. Paul states that all things were created through Jesus and for him. "He is before all things...preeminent."
We belong to Jesus. He is our king. If a government overreaches itself, if it demands a submission that we cannot give, we have a simple, direct response: Jesus is our king. He is the King over all kings. We see an example of this from the nineteen-twenties. At that time a totalitarian regime gained control of Mexico and it tried to suppress the Church. To resist the regime, many Christians took up the cry, "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!" They called themselves "Cristeros." The most famous Cristero was a young Jesuit priest named Padre Miguel Pro. Using various disguises, Padre Pro ministered to the people of Mexico City. Finally the government arrested him and sentenced him to public execution. The president of Mexico (Plutarco Calles) thought that Padre Pro would beg for mercy, so he invited the press to the execution. Padre Pro did not plead for his life, but instead knelt holding a crucifix. When he finished his prayer, he kissed the crucifix and stood up. Holding the crucifix in his right hand, he extended his arms and shouted, "Viva Cristo Rey." At that moment the soldiers fired. The journalists took pictures; if you look up "Padre Pro" or "Saint Miguel Pro" on the Internet, you can see that picture.
Like the man in the Gospel today, Padre Pro died acknowledging Jesus as King. Hopefully you and I will die with the name of Jesus on our lips and in our heart. But, more important, we will live today acknowledging Christ as our King.
Now, we do not live in a totalitarian country. Unlike Mexico in the twenties (or the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany) we enjoy religious freedom. At the same time we must be vigilant. Government can infringe on what ultimately belongs to God. Let me give three examples.** They are common examples, but I hope to give you a little different way of looking at them.
About forty years ago, our Supreme Court gave the state a huge power. In 1973 (by a six to three vote) the Supreme Court decreed that government could license doctors to take the lives of unborn babies - right up to time of birth. (No doctor can legally work in our country without a license from the government; prior to January 22, 1973, that license was only granted for positive purposes such as performing surgeries or prescribing medicines.) Many welcomed the Supreme Court decision as an extension of freedom, but when people started thinking more deeply, it became evident that something else had happened: The government had assumed a power to itself - the power to remove the right to life from a whole class of humans.** Once the government crossed that line, it felt pressure to take other steps: to use taxpayers' money to pay for the procedure, to require doctors to know how to do it and to use legal tactics to silence opposition.
A second example of government overreach happened in our state. A few years ago we followed Oregon in putting a new power in government hands. In this case, the power applied to the other end of the life spectrum. Doctors received the license to give people a drug to commit suicide. Government became involved in something that any Christian must resist. Our lives belong to God and no one has the right to take their own life or another person's (except in cases of legitimate defense).
Lastly, I want to mention a third example of government incursion into what belongs to God - the definition of marriage: a lifetime union of one man with one woman. We see that definition in the Bible and in nature. People can accuse us of bigotry and hatred, but that misses the point. If someone eats pork chops and French fries next Thursday, that is fine. But if he takes a picture of his dinner and says, "Look at my wonderful turkey dinner," I will keep my mouth shut. If he insists that I acknowledge his "turkey dinner," I will say, "OK, but that looks more pork chops to me." Do you see where I am going? I will do everything possible not to hurt someone else's feelings, but I will not deny reality - and (with God's grace) I will not deny Christ. Marriage comes from God and Jesus presented himself as the bridegroom. If a government attempts to change the definition of marriage, I will respond, "No you do not legitimately have that power. It belongs to God. Jesus is King."
The Church established the feast of Christ the King as a response to overreaching, totalitarian governments. Thanks be to God, you and I do not live under such a regime. Still, as the three examples show, we have to be vigilant. Life, before birth and in its final stages, belongs to God. To him also belongs the definition of marriage. When a government illegitimately intrudes in those areas, we have to say this: Yes, we desire to be good citizens, but ultimately we do not belong to the government. We belong to God. And, we know, Christ is God. Jesus is the King over all kings. Amen.
*In our Pledge of Allegiance we state that we are a nation "under God." That phrase indicates that the government does not have ultimate authority over people's lives. God does.
**The death penalty and torture are other examples. Capital punishment differs sharply from abortion becuase it is directed toward a person who is guilty. The state certainly has a right and duty to protect citizens from murderers, but the question is whether the death penalty is necessary to do that. (see Catechism 2266 & 2267)
Regarding torture the Catechism states:
Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.
In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.
***Fr. Frank Pavone expresses it this way: "Pro-abortion politician say, 'The government should not be involved in a personal decision like abortion.' But the government got 'too involved' in abortion when it claimed to have authority to authorize it." (Pro-Life Reflections For Every Day)
From Archives (Homilies for Christ the King, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Bishop Bob Barron's Homilies
Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
(Pilgrimage to Molokai - November 2013)
Parish Picture Album
my bulletin column (Nov 14, 2010)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
Review of Roe