Monday, December 5, 2011

A Late Reflection on the Solemnity of Christ the King

Over the past few years, the feast of Christ the King (November 20) has become one of my favorites. It’s so beautiful and full of light and eschatological. This year, on the evening before the feast, I finished reading the biography of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old resistance fighter against the Nazis. Sophie’s story speaks to me because she was about my age, a college student who lived the ideals of the philosophy and theology books that she loved to read. Anyway, the story ended with her execution by guillotine in February 1943. I must have cried for an hour after reading how she was arrested, put through a show trial and condemned to death all in a matter of days, with barely time to say goodbye to her family. The only way I could stop crying that night and finally go to sleep without having to get up for a Kleenex every five minutes was by thinking of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he calls Christ the first-fruits of the dead, i.e. the first of us to rise from the dead, without even realizing that this was one of the readings for the next day’s Mass.
Here in Munich, a city once quite in the grip of the Nazi regime, many resistance heroes were remembered on the feast of Christ the King. Among them were Bl. Fr. Rupert Maier, a local priest who spoke out against the regime, and Bl. Clemens August Cardinal Graf von Galen, a bishop known as the “Lion of Münster” for his sermons against the Nazis, especially their program of euthanasia. Both of these men only survived the regime because their deaths would have made them martyrs in the eyes of the people. The solemnity of Christ the King also became the day for the German Catholic youth to profess their faith; this day of profession had previously been the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity until the regime chose that day for the national sport festival.
Professing Christ as King is, however, goes beyond setting up the Kingdom of God over and against an oppressive political system. Proclaiming Christ as your King involves setting yourself against the values of the world—‘world’ here referring to the aspects of our world which are not of God. Thinking about this made me think of having dual nationality. The US government does not encourage this because a person who is a citizen of two countries must obey both countries’ laws, which may conflict with each other. This is similar to being both a citizen of the world and of the Kingdom of God, two realms whose laws quite often contradict each other.
Shortly before Christ the King I also read an article by Dr. Marcelino D’Ambrosio of Crossroads Ministries about how this solemnity reminds of the second coming of Christ, when Christ will come back to earth in glory to judge the living and the dead. This judgment will be based on one thing: “whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto me.” We are citizens of a Kingdom in which the laws are: love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. This includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned. (See Matthew 25: 31-46.) These are the commandments of the King, and if we do not carry them out to the best of our ability, how can we expect eternal life with him?
Back to Sophie Scholl and her fellow students who formed the resistance group “The White Rose”. In the spring of 1942, she became convinced that mankind would not allow Hitler to win in the end. She wrote, “[i]ch will versuchen, mich auf der Seite der Sieger zu schlagen”—“I want to try to set myself on the side of the winners“ (Beuys 375). This is perhaps partly due to the fact that she expected the war to be over soon, based on how badly things were going in Russia, but it also shows great confidence in God and humanity. Christ really has already won the battle with evil, has already conquered death. All that remains for us to do is to testify to this victory in acts of love and justice, empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit and Christ in the Eucharist.

Beuys, Barbara. Sophie Scholl. Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2010.
D'Ambrosio, Marcelino. Feast of Christ the King: Last Judgement and Sins of Omission.

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