Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Christ the King

Father John J. Lombardi

"My Kingdom is not of this world" (St jn. 18:36)

"The Kingdom of God has come near to you" (StLk. 10:9)

Hey--do you believe: The Church is a Sacred Hierarchy? Have you ever thought of a baseball team as a form of benign hierarchy? How about the family? Interested? Confused?-read the following…

This Solemnity of Christ the King we celebrate this weekend to close the liturgical year reminds us that He is coming back to judge all the living and the dead.

Is He King of your heart? Your family? Your parish church?

The other night this chaplain went out with some friends (I have some!) and over dinner our conversation centered around, believe it or not, Kingdoms and hierarchies. A couple folks suggested: that hierarchy and kingdom are "dirty words" today, in our egalitarian-influenced society. In other words, we are taught, knee-jerked, to react against kingdoms and hierarchies since they are seemingly un-democratic or outworn Most of us have been taught this way. And yet we celebrate Christ-the-King, which was influenced by Franciscans in the 1200's and promulgated by Pope Pius in 1925-showing the then-royalty that Jesus Christ is really the Supreme King and Ruler of the World-or at least should be. Now, today, we don't have many kingdoms or royalty, and so have lost the connection to the Solemnity's origination and purpose. If Christ is King today, where is His rule? The tendency today is to lose the connection of Christ's visible Rule while accentuating His Reign in human hearts. Is His Kingdom visible, invisible, and disguised? Is it connected to any State or nation? Just because we have lost royalty and kingdoms doesn't mean we're off the hook-of allowing God to be the ruler of our visible world.

At our dinner we also discussed how, in the past, the Church has tried, however imperfectly, to incarnate on a humans scale, Christ's Kingdom and Dominion. The apex of this was, arguably, Christendom, perhaps in the Middle Ages, perhaps even with King Saint Louis of France (he attended daily Mass and infused his earthly kingdom with Christ's principles). Everything was there, ripe, for a fusion of Christ and an earthly Kingdom: culture, the spiritual mindset of earthly governments, the acknowledgement of God and His authority, and also social-economic realms emanating from the Gospel and Church. Just as the Jews in the Old Testament had kings, so Christendom had kings, queens and a sacred hierarchy of Christic principles. It was far from perfect, sure, but it was an attempt to make a culture of Christ. Obviously we are far from that today.

Let's now look at some the key elements of this Solemnity, Kingdoms and Hierarchies, which include: The Essence of the Kingdom: Extremes and Solutions: The Essence of the Kingdom is Christ as Ruler, of both individual and world affairs. Christ exercises a Dominion, in other words, His Will affects what we do in everyday life, our choices and lifestyles. Also, this implies a hierarchy (ouch!)-with Christ-the-King at top channeling down Truth and principles thru popes, bishops, priests and laypersons (Vatican Council II-1962-1965-- echoed this in the document "Lumen Gentium"-Light of the Nations: The Church as hierarchical). This is not anti-democratic but neither is it purely democratic. Mind you, as good as democracy is, it is of pagan origin (Greece, 500 BC, Plato, Aristotle, Pericles, etc), and the Church or Bible never baptize this form of governance as good as it (now may) be.. Christ's Kingdom is first and foremost a Kingdom in individual souls, in the hierarchical Church and in bringing persons into conformity of the Divine Will and, hopefully, second, others, perhaps states and other rulers. The Kingdom therefore affects individual souls within and then radiates outwardly. We Catholics today, forgetting the original purpose of this Solemnity usually neglect or reject the radiation of His Kingdom outwardly, even unto our government. However, the exact model of governance this takes is never prescribed by the Catholic Church officially. Incidentally (or not) the theological word Kingdom is the most frequent word in the Gospels: ergo/therefore, isn't it important that we establish Christ's Kingdom somehow, just as seriously as did the medievalists? But, unfortunately we have become "Kingdom-shy"-relegating His Kingdom exclusively to inner worlds while forgetting the outer worlds of nations and governments-to all peoples, as I Cor. 15, the Second Reading, implies-- thus divorcing ourselves into a two-kingdom approach (which Martin Luther promoted)--one of God and one of mammon. How unfortunate! Once again, the essence of the Kingdom includes Christ-the-King, His Dominion-Rule radiating thru a sacred hierarchy permeating souls and all life.

Extremes of Church-State and manifestations of the Kingdom: some say communism (via forms of liberation theology) is a possible government to enable the Kingdom-but this denies hierarchy, eternal principles and the individual and private property, which is anathema to the Bible and Catholic teachings. Some say democracy and egalitarianism (ie. everyone is the same, no unique roles or gifts for particular people) are forms of Kingdom building, but even this has drawbacks. Pope John Paul II warned that when, in some democracies a minority or even majority of unchecked rule begins-against the Gospels or human life, say thru abortion-this can become a "thinly veiled form of totalitarianism" whereby sacred hierarchy is denied and even dignity of individuals. The Catholic Church rejects both extremes of false communism and democratism and, as always, reminds us of the Essence of the Kingdom-it is of Eternal Origination-- Christ's rule within our hearts radiating outwards to transform the world and governments, informed by the hierarchical principle-that God chooses certain people and leaders to teach and preach and "bring down Truth from above". But, since many have rejected any form of hierarchy--.because all "verticality of rule or reign" is now suspect, corrupted or seen as un-democratic. True, though: We cannot put all our "Kingdom-eggs in one basket," i.e. in one form of government which would claim to exhaust or incarnate Christ's Kingdom.

UltraTraditonalsits make the mistake of identifying the Kingdom with a past or present Christendom, where the Church and state are totally suffused together. Modernists, meanwhile mistakenly reject any possibility of cross-pollination or dialogue between Church and State, as in the slogan of some politicians who say they're "personally opposed (to, say, abortion) but politically for" it because the people's wish. Both these dangers must be avoided. Vatican II teaches: "The political community and the church are autonomous and independent of each other in their fields. Nevertheless both are devoted to the personal vocation of man, though under different titles…For man's horizons are not bounded only by the temporal order; living on the level of human history he preserves the integrity of his eternal destiny. The Church, for its part, being founded in the love of the Redeemer, contributes toward the spread of justice and charity among nations and within borders of the nations themselves" (The Church in the Modern World: (Gaudium et Spes- #76). Voila!: The Church should both affect and respect the State, and not be totally separate from it. Over-identifying with the state compromises the Church's otherworldly, eternal character and its prophetic mission; while completely separating from the State makes Catholics and the Church kinda' like "ostrich-heads-in-the-sand drop outs". There is a middle ground, and the Church as well as each individual should seek this out.

Solutions to the relationship between Christ's Kingdom and the World are ongoing and worked out in a creative tension. In other words, laypersons especially, as Vatican II noted, should affect the political, social and cultural order so as to bring Christ's Reign-explicitly or implicitly-into reality. While we Catholics don't promote a theocracy we should neither shy away from spiritualizing and influencing the public realm.

Another way to view this is distinguishing between essence and form. The essence of the Kingdom as we have described is: Christ, King and Ruler exercising His Dominion (His effective rule and Righteousness), thru a sacred hierarchy, and the individual believer aligning with this, and thereby affecting all around him--incl. the state. The form of the Kingdom, and Church-State relationship, though, is not finally defined or graspable. One element is negotiable-the form-while the other is not-the essence: Christ's Reign. Today, dare we say, we are losing both the essence and form of the Kingdom because of our loss of spirituality, our depletion of the sense of sacred hierarchy, our lack of social-cultural-religious-political courage and desire for Christ to be truly King of all parts of our lives-including the State and governing forms. We have also been steamrolled by secularism, agnosticism, materialism, semi-socialism, and also because of fear: namely, because of "our dirty little secret"-- there must be a strict divorce between Church and state. This mantra and false reality is killing us-- the fulfillment of the Kingdom. Would a general in an army say he is to be separate from his troops for fear of a hierarchical "chain of command"? Does a business manager separate from his office workers just because there need be a boss and workers? Even in the natural world there is, you know, a "food chain" and an "animal kingdom". Kingdoms and hierarchies are all around us and yet we reject the very notions because of fear, misunderstanding and lack of spiritual history and insight.

Back to Baseball. The team is a form of hierarchy: the manger, "front office," assistant coaches and then players all form a cohesive team of benign rule. If you had pure antinomianism (no rule whatsoever, which is what some propose today) then you have chaos and a sure-losing season. If you had purist "athletic democracy" then everyone would be in charge and the result: atrophy. Instead, there's a leader-a "chief Indian"-and the rest followers all doing their unique part. Why not so in our Church and Church-state relations?

A family is a form of Sacred Hierarchy at our dinner one soul suggested this. He said The Trinity Itself is a Holy Hierarchy-the Father-as-Source and "Ground" of the Godhead, begetting the Son and these spiriting the Spirit: thus we say there is a First Person, Second Person and Third Person-All individual and yet equal in majesty, All un-created and co-glorious. Similarly, the human family images and should imitate the Divine Family of the Holy Trinity-however imperfectly, When the family denies the hierarchy-aspect it implodes (as we see today too voluminously). Rather, the family's members are all, or should be, unique, equal and unified-just like the Trinity! A Grotto friend, John Fletcher just gave a talk to a Catholic school here and said that the family should be a "Mini-Kingdom"-the Father-husband like a benign King, the Mother-wife like an elegant Queen, and the sons and daughters like princes and princesses. There is rule (rules), hierarchy (chain of command), dominion (expressed will) and justice (right ordering of parts). When the children falsely try to rule and dominate this subverts the familial dominion; and when mom and dad forfeit their proper roles as leaders, they shortchange the children of guidance. Just as there was a "Mutiny on the Bounty" when a dictator-like captain ruled, so also there was the reactive antinomianism of the sailors rebelling. When leader-parents-priests rule too strong they can become tyrants; when they fail to lead they provide pandemonium.

The Parish: Within our churches the pastor is the public, spiritual, Church-appointed head of the community. He should neither rule too loosely -allowing an "anything-goes mentality") nor too strongly-dictatorially. He relies on help (a parish council, volunteers, etc.) and yet knows there is a benign hierarchy he must tune in to-the Bishop, Church and Sacred tradition, of which he has been trained for.

So, you see, thru these obvious secular and spiritual examples we all believe in and actually rely upon hierarchy and mini-Kingdoms, and we should not knee-jerkedly reject God's Wisdom and Church Tradition: Christ's Kingdom within and outward.

Evidences of the Loss of Christ's Kingship today include: those who neglect or reject the Ten Commandments; loss of family hierarchy (see Eph 5:20ff); a California judge ruling that parents do not have exclusive rights over their children's sexual education; same-sex marriage proposals; the Sixties' rebellion against all forms of authority; the hijacking of the cultural institutions which once radiated Truth, Goodness Beauty and Unity. Liturgically, in the Mass, for instance, the priest has sometimes become "just another minister," losing his alter-Christus status ("another Christ") and symbolic-metaphysical role. Rather, as mystical theologian Pseudo-Dionysius relates in his writings ("Heavenly Hierarchy" etc., fifth cent..) the ordering and emanating "down-flow" from the Trinity, thru angels, priests and sacred rites the soul is trained, enlightened and illumined into freedom, union with God and His Will, oneness with Christ's Sacrifice and His Kingdom. Every Mass, then, in this view, teaches us the sacramental hierarchy is needed and is divinely mandated. So: go to Mass and learn about benign hierarchy and God's way and Kingdom-consciousness.

How to Respond:

Is Christ King of your Personal, Familial Social and Cultural life?

Personal: do you allow Him to be King and center of your heart, thru prayer, sacraments, and a deliberate personal relationship with Him?

Familial: do you have proper rule and servant-leadership in your family? Is there a "king," a "queen," "prince" and "princesses" in your home? Social: do you divorce yourself form the state, from legislation and affecting the social order? Is your spiritual head stuck in the sand? Cultural: Do you try to bring Christ and is Beauty and Radiance into the living traditions of your community?

Hierarchy and Kingdom are not bad words, nor dark realties. They are, rather, found in God Himself (the Trinity), essential to His Kingdom and our lives. So, build up the Kingdom by extending His Divine Will in every way you can: until "God be All in all" (I Cor. 15:28). Don't be Kingdom shy!

"Jesus: remember me in Your Kingdom" (Lk. 23:42)

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi