Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

Including Sacred Heart Church, Eccleshall
 

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Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King

Just a Thought.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the liturgical year has concluded with the Feast of Christ the King, celebrated on the thirty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. One minor peculiarity marks the end of ‘Year B’ — the Gospel reading of the feast is not taken from Saint Mark, which has been our guide throughout most of the Sunday celebrations of the last year — but today we read from the text from Saint John’s Gospel. John is also our guide in the second reading in his Book of the Apocalypse. In our first reading though, we once again hear from the Book of Daniel and his ‘Visions of the night’ — ‘On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away nor will his empire be destroyed.’ Christians hear this proclamation and spontaneously understand it is a reminder of the royal enthronement of the Risen Christ, welcomed in heaven by the Father. This perception corresponds exactly to the intention of the liturgy that employs this text from Daniel for this Feast of Christ the King.

The sacred author relates to us what appears to him in the course of his ‘Visions during the night,’ perhaps his dreams. for God often used dreams for his revelations. He lives in an especially hard time, because the country is under the domination of Antiochus Epiphanes, who persecutes Jews and is bent on forcing them to abandon their religion, but in the end, he too, will fall like all the other persecutors. But this assurance does not come from an analysis of the political or military situation, which would allow an astute observer to foresee that tables will be turned. No! The conviction of the ‘Book of Daniel rests on his faith in God, to whom alone belongs the power and dominion over the earth, as over heaven. God does not have a Saviour in reserve; he has already enthroned him at his side and has conferred on him ‘dominion, glory and kingship’ that he might reign over all peoples and nations. A familiar message seems to emerge: whatever the present trials may be, we must not be disheartened. In spite of appearances to the contrary, the order willed by God is going to be established. The ‘Visions during the night’ cannot lie.

But who is this mysterious Son of Man enthroned in solemnity at the side of God? Originally, the phrase son of man simply meant a human being. Owing to various influences that are difficult, if not impossible to trace with certainty, the ‘Book of Daniel’ thus designates a person who, while remaining human, belongs to the heavenly world, the leader and representative of the holy ones of the Almighty. This term came to designate a specific person, a transition representing a remarkable advance in thinking. Salvation cannot come from just any human being, however prestigious, but only from the ‘Son of Man’ — a human being, yes, but one who has an absolutely unique relationship with God, who is entrusted with an incomparable mission and unequalled power. Because the meaning of this title is at once mysterious and open, Jesus applied it to himself. This title described him as a man who was more than a human being, and whose true identity could be discovered only through faith. Therefore, when we read this title in the Gospels, we must remember the ‘Visions of the night’ recorded in the Book of Daniel. From there, one ascends to the idea of a Son of Man who would be completely apart — one does not yet know how, — nearer to God than anyone else, without, however, ceasing to belong to the human race. A dream? No. Rather he whom God prepared and who came: Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Incarnate Son of God. Perhaps it was always the case that the title Son of Man was intended and applied to God become human! The Book of Daniel shows this piercing look ‘during the night’ which is called hope based on faith. A hope explained to those disciples on the ‘Road to Emmaus:’ ‘Beginning with Moses and all the prophets [Jesus] interpreted to them what had referred to him in all the scriptures.’ This hope, this salvation, longed for throughout the ages. The Book of Daniel opens to us the understanding of the mystery of Christ, King of the Universe, and in whom we proclaim our faith.

In the last of the New Testament writings, The Book of Revelation; John presents it from the opening verses on, as an unveiling of ‘What must happen soon’ the return of Jesus, the ‘Parousia’, the object of the ardent hope and fervent prayer of the Church: ‘Come Lord Jesus.’ The excerpt we read today from the prologue of the Book expresses the authors intentions and gives us a first glimpse of the spiritual and doctrinal density of his work. ‘Grace to you and peace…. From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the Kings of the earth.’ What a fullness in this salutation, so well balanced that it seems borrowed from this liturgy!  ‘Grace and peace’ are perfect gifts that contain all others, those to which Christians aspire with all their strength which they ask of God, and which they never cease to wish one another. They are given by God and received with profound thankfulness. They come to us ‘from Jesus Christ…Faithful witness’ of the thoughts and intentions, and the will of the Father, he has made these known, as he had been instructed to do. Thus, he can testify to the good news that we have received. God gives us ‘Grace and Peace’ because in his Son, Jesus Christ ‘the first born from the dead,’ He sees the new humanity, of which He has become the head, risen with him from the tomb. His exultation at the right hand of God makes him the ‘ruler of the Kings of the earth’ — ‘King of Kings’ for in him the universe has been redeemed. ‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.’

So you are a King then?” We see in today’s Gospel, that John narrates the arraignment of Jesus before Pilate, the Roman Procurator. This is the first and only time that Jesus finds himself face to face with a representative of political power. In trying a case of a man brought before him, Pilate as is natural, seeks to learn what subversive activity this man is guilty of, that should deserve death. In fact, it is the Roman functionary who inquires, before all else, about a possible claim of Jesus to kingship. If this accusation is proved true It will suffice to bring the death penalty without any need for debate, since every proved rebellion against Caesar’s authority is punishable by death ‘ipso facto’. Now we hear the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus on the subject of Jesus’ pretension to kingship. This Gospel passage decisively illuminates the meaning and scope of the title of King given to Christ. “Are you the King of the Jews?” This is a clever question, put by Pilate who immediately perceives that the situation is delicate and full of traps. What do these men who have sent Jesus before his tribunal want? Are they conspiring to hear him take sides in some dark quarrel among themselves concerning the authority of one of their own? Does he have to deal with one of these rabble-rousers who appear at regular intervals in this country? Why have they delivered Him into his hands to have Him condemned to death? In hindsight we know the answers to these questions. However, Pilate senses that there are hidden elements that escape him and that risks putting him in a dangerous position. Jesus’ answer might give him a clue or at least allow him to proceed in his questioning. But Jesus does not answer — he himself asks a question: “Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?” Jesus is not hedging; he wants Pilate to specify in what sense he is speaking of kingship. Pilate’s reply betrays irritation and a contempt for rabbinical subtleties — there is no place for quibbling about the meaning of the word ‘King.’ Let Jesus answer the question put to him! Jesus does so, and the pertinence of his response endures to this day. It, indeed, clarifies questions that continue to be asked and that the celebration of today’s feast reactivates. Are all the ways of understanding his Kingship and speaking about it correct? What does the title King of the Universe mean? “My Kingdom does not belong to this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my Kingdom is not of this kind.” Jesus declares: “Yes, I am a King. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus has not been vested with power by humans; He comes from above. Already in this sense, His Kingdom does not belong to this world. Moreover, He came ‘to testify to the truth.’ But ‘What is truth?’ In Biblical language, truth is a road one can follow with complete trust in order to have life. It is contained in God’s law because truth is something ‘to be done;’ one must ‘be and walk in truth,’ by conforming one’s actions and one’s whole life to the will — to the word of God. ‘A lamp to our feet… a light to our path.’ (Ps119) Jesus was sent by the Father and invested by Him with the mission of testifying to that kind of truth. He taught it by words, by actions, and lastly by his death. He even is, personally ‘The way and the truth and the life.’ Saint Augustine interprets Jesus’ Kingdom in a most exact way as he puts these words into Jesus’ mouth: “Listen, therefore, Jews and Gentiles, listen all you kingdoms of the earth! I am not competing with your dominion in this world. My Kingdom does not belong to this world. Let go of this vain fear that caused Herod the Great to tremble when he learned of the birth of Christ, this fear pushed him into killing so many children in the hope of reaching Jesus, this fear that, more than his anger, made him cruel. My Kingdom is not of this world! What more do you want? Come to this Kingdom that does not belong to this world, come to it in faith….” To proclaim and celebrate Christ, Universal King, is to recognise with thanksgiving to God ‘To him be glory and power forever’. That Jesus enthroned at the right hand of the Father, is the ‘Alpha’ and ‘Omega’, the beginning and the end of all things, the unique Saviour of all human beings to whom he brings grace and peace, salvation and redemption through giving his life as a ransom for many. In such few words everything is recalled, everything is said:

God is love” — “The Lord is King, with majesty enrobed.”

 

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