Viva Cristo Rey! - Feast of Christ the King (B)

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This feast in honour of Christ the King is not as many of our major feast are ancient in origin. It was in 1925, 90 years ago, that Pope Pius XI instituted it. It was instituted at a time when the powers of secularism were rising in different parts of the world and the Church was under serious threat in a number of countries – from France to Mexico. In a number of countries dictators were suppressing the Church and persecuting Christians. The circumstances that caused the Pope to institute this feast are not dissimilar to what we are experiencing today as secular powers seek to silence and weaken the Church.
This feast continues to have relevance for us.

The feast declares the universal kingship of Christ. Of course, this kingship is not a political reality, nor should be see it as simply a spiritual reality. The kingship of Christ is meant to be a reality that does touch and shape nations and their leaders. The Pope, firstly, wanted nations to recognise that the Church has the right to freedom of religious expression. (see Quas Primas, 32) The feast also encourages leaders to recognise that Christianity has a real contribution to make to the wellbeing of a society.

In France in 1905 a hostile French government enacted a law of separation of Church and State. The law claimed that the state was neutral in relation to religion. This Law, subsequent to prior expulsion of many religious orders from France, declared Catholic Church buildings now the property of the State or local communes and it led to the closing of most Church schools. The use of Catholic buildings was to be regulated by the Associations Cultuelles. Without any reference to the Holy See it was decided by the government that these associations for religious worship should be formed in each diocese and parish to administer church property. Other articles of the law included prohibiting affixing religious signs on public buildings.

In Mexico there was another situation of grave challenge for the Church. There, in the 1920’s the secularist government, under the leadership of President Calles, decided to enforce the strict anti-clerical laws embedded in the Mexican constitution of 1917. All religious ceremonies – Masses, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, etc. – were banned, bishops were forced to leave the country, and priests were forbidden to wear clerical garb in public. Priests who resisted were imprisoned, tortured, and in some cases, killed outright.

It ultimately led to a war from 1926 to 1929 in which thousands of Mexicans fought and died in an attempt to overthrow the government of their country. They were the Cristeros, so called because of their battle cry, “Viva Cristo Rey!—Long Live Christ the King!” The Cristero rebellion took up the theme of the feast declared by Pope Pius XI. It climaxed a century of animosity between the Catholic Church and the Mexican state.

For the people of Poland suffering under firstly Nazism and then under Communism this feast has special resonance. As totalitarian regimes sought to suppress the Church, the people held fast to Christ. And in time these earthly powers declined. Christ remained. Christ’s victory is the true victory. This feast is a declaration that the final victory will be Christ’s.

This feast which has this particular historical background was moved from the last Sunday in October to now be celebrated at the conclusion of our liturgical year. It proclaims the universal kingship of Christ.
In the Gospel reading today Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"... Jesus affirmed that he was a king but added, "Mine is not a kingdom of this world”. It is a ultimately a spiritual kingdom which will be revealed in all its glory and splendour at the end of time. However, it is a kingdom that has already come among us. The Kingdom of God announced by Christ in his public ministry is already active among us. As Christians we place ourselves under Christ and participate in the life of the Kingdom of God.

We are now entering a time when the Church here in Australia is coming under pressure to conform to the prevailing secular culture. Anti-Discrimination laws are being used to intimidate and silence the Church. The Church will come under increasing pressure to conform to a secularist agenda, particular in matters of sexuality and marriage. We are now entering an era of persecution.

When Jesus answered Pilate he said that he was a king and that he came into the world “to bear witness to the truth”. The Church in the name of Christ is in the world to bear witness to the truth. Thus the Church must declare the truth, for example, of the meaning of marriage. The Church must proclaim that it believes marriage is to be between a man and a woman.

As in the past the Church may have to suffer times of persecution by the civil powers. But it cannot abandon its Lord and the truth he came to reveal to us.

At every Mass we proclaim that Christ will come again. He will come again in glory. He will come again to establish his Kingdom over all peoples. This is a kingdom of love, of mercy and of peace. It is the Kingdom of his Father.  As Catholics we may sense that the powers of this world are too great to resist. However, we know that the Kingdom of God will eventually triumph.

As Polish Catholics you know this so well. For all the suffering the Polish nation endured during the twentieth century, the faith was not lost. It was in fact purified and strengthened. And the great fruit of this faith was the gift of Pope St John Paul to the Church and to the world. Faith eventually triumphed over Marxism.

Like the Mexican Cristeros we too cry out on this day: “Viva Cristo Rey!—Long Live Christ the King!”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 21 November 2015