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Breath of the Spirit: The Feast of the Christ; but the King? … Not So Much

The last Sunday of the liturgical year has been celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King since Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 as a response to what he felt was a growing secularism in the world. Today’s reflection problematizes the parallel between our Christ and human royalty, inviting us to think beyond such patriarchal political structures and bear witness to a universal Love.

 

November 20, 2022: Feast of Christ the King

2 Samuel 5:1-3

Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5

Colossians 1:12-20

Luke 23:35-43

The Feast of the Christ; but the King? … Not So Much

A reflection by Richard Young

Once upon a time, a beautiful princess happened upon a frog in a pond. The frog said to the princess, “I was once a handsome king, until an evil witch put a spell on me. One kiss from you and I will turn back into a king, and then we can marry, move into the castle with my mom where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children, and forever feel lucky for doing so.” That night, the princess had frog legs for dinner.

Kings, it seems, are either feared or laughed at. To many of us, royal persons are often thought of as quaint or silly. They are seen as figureheads that exist for ceremony or show and are devoid of political power. And where monarchs really do have power, the perception is that they are practically the same as dictators. Among kings (and other political figures) there are many who are not mature, well-adjusted leaders. Instead, we see men acting out of what Jung called their shadow: their potential to unleash cruelty and corruption. They are not “good” kings; they are instruments of the Empire, cronies of crass capitalism. They lack balance. Kings can be seen as either weaklings or tyrants – but Christ, “the King,” is neither. 

Traditionally, this last Sunday of Ordinary Time is called Christ the King, but as I see it, comparing the Christ to a king is hardly flattering. So I am dumping the baggage of this final Sunday before Advent. I’m doing this, largely because our stories tell us that Jesus himself did not want to be called a king. He rejected the title when he went before Pilate. He warned about those in authority who lord it over others, and he told his followers, “It can’t be that way with you.” The gospel of John says he ran from a crowd that “wanted to make him a king.” Unfortunately, the church caught him and crowned him against his will. And in today’s gospel, the title is toxic. Jesus is mocked by the inscription above his bleeding head: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” The Christ of our faith deserves a more honorable title than king.

Another problem with “King” is that it only applies to men. The title “Christ,” properly understood, transcends gender, so gender specific words, such as “king,” are inappropriate. Still, royal male imagery has invaded our language about the Christ for centuries. Our Colossians reading refers to “thrones or dominations, principalities or powers,” traditionally the business of men. This continued grandiose language has rendered Christ less than irrelevant for many among us. People in biblical times could certainly relate to king and kingdom metaphors, but that was then; this is now. 

However, the king analogy is not entirely bad. As an archetype, it has enormous value. King energy is an essential part of the male psyche. In 1990, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, two Jungian psychotherapists, published their acclaimed book, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine. They said about the fullness of the king archetype that it possesses the qualities of order, of reasonable and rational patterning, of integration and integrity in the masculine psyche. It stabilizes chaotic emotion and out-of-control behaviors. It gives stability and centeredness. It brings calm. And in its… centeredness, it mediates vitality, life force, and joy… It looks upon the world with a firm, but kindly eye. It sees others in all their weakness and in all their talent and worth. It honors them and promotes them. It guides them and nurtures them toward their own fullness of being… It rewards and encourages creativity in us and in others.

When I read that passage, I thought of the old expression: “a good man is hard to find.” Oh, the stories that could be told about immature men – those obsessed with football, racecars, and sex. What Moore and Gillette have described, however, is a very good man – one whose king energy finds truly mature expression – and, very importantly, respects the parallel archetype in women. Jesus, no doubt, could be called a king in that sense, and who would have a problem with that?

But this feast is not called “Jesus, the king.” It’s not “Jesus, the self-actualized” or “Jesus the psychologically healthy one” or even “Jesus the feminist.” It’s not “Jesus” in the title; it’s “Christ.” The whole focus of today is not Jesus-ology; it’s Christology, the branch of theology that reflects on the meaning of this title: the Christ. We have, this Sunday, a feast in search of a name that tells us something, not about a historical human being, but about that which he manifests: Christ-ness, if you will. Jesus, to me, is not a king. He is a manifestation of the Christ, the universal Christ – and so is everyone else. 

“Christ” literally means “anointed one.” I was anointed at baptism and confirmation and ordination and in the anointing of the sick. We have a sacramental system that anoints. To be immersed in Catholic culture is to be all oiled up, like a salad. We get smeared with blessed oil to mark us as special and honored. It continues the Old Testament practice of pouring oil on prophets and others called to service by God. Getting oily makes us christened or Christ-ed. But the history of Divine anointing goes back WAY before biblical times – about 13.7 billion years to an explosion of holy energy, a cosmic outpouring of our most central value: love. When all of creation was pronounced “very good” in the Genesis creation story, it became clear that every particle, every sub-atomic particle, every wave of energy was smeared with the oil of love and became a manifestation of the cosmic Christ. An amazing cosmic anointing, a Big Bang of love, spilled out of God, and Jesus revealed it for us. “Christ,” said Teilhard de Chardin, “has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.” 

This Christ, this anointed one, existed before all time. The prologue to John’s gospel confirms this.

In the beginning there was the Word.

The Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God.

The Word was present to God from the beginning.

Through the Word all things came into being…

In the Word was life…

Jesus, in John’s gospel says, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.”  “I AM” – the name for the Divine that was revealed to Moses. The Christ is the pre-existent one, God’s “I AM,” and Jesus makes Christ-ness real. As his body, we do the same.

Imperial images can’t express all that. Royal images are sexist and patriarchal and elitist.  They just do not capture the mysticism in the meaning of this title: the Christ. They fail to inspire us. In fact, I’m bored by them. So, if it’s not Christ the King that we celebrate this Sunday, what is it? Is it Christ the Word? Christ the Cosmic energy? Christ the presence of the Divine? Christ the “I AM” of God? Christ the power of universal love?

Perhaps that last one is our best title for this final Sunday before Advent. To be Christ-ed, to be anointed, to be empowered for loving service, is to be a strong revealer of the universal power of love. Today’s gospel demonstrates that. It tells of how Jesus, the anointed one, out of love, continued his ministry from the cross. He offered paradise to a fellow dying criminal. The Christ in us is supposed to be made evident in the same compassionate way. I offer paradise, as Jesus did, when I let the Christ in me be expressed universally, when I let it be seen everywhere. I show the power of divine love, when I am one with the Christ in Jesus and the Christ in the poor and the Christ in victims of discrimination and the Christ in dying criminals – in all who suffer right along with Jesus. To be truly an image of the Cosmic Christ is to let that universal energy of God, who is love, find full expression. 

To me, this is not Christ the King; it is Christ, the powerful anointing that is poured out to you and me and all of creation. May we welcome this outpouring with joy.

 

Rev. Richard P. Young is a retired Catholic priest and mental health counselor. He chairs the Liturgy Committee of Dignity/Dayton’s Living Beatitudes Community and has worked with several Dignity Chapters since the late 70s. He once served for a term on the national board of DignityUSA and has attended all the national conventions/conferences since 1981.

He is married to former DignityUSA’s national secretary, Bob Butts. Richard was honored with a President’s Award at the 2022 Dignity National Conference in San Diego.

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