Listen to the King

Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J
Feast of Christ the King
University Church of Christ the King
22 November 2009

Today we come together with great joy on the Feast of Christ the King. As you all know, this university church has been consecrated in honor of Christ the King. That happened seven years ago this day. Today, we give thanks for the engineers, laborers, craftsmen, artists and benefactors – many of whom are here! - who combined competence, skill, sweat and treasure to complete this church on time; we recall its sacred consecration by His Grace, Archbishop Leonardo Legazpi, and the happiness which then filled our hearts as holy water, fragrant incense, and joyful prayers of praise, sanctified this special space – ad majorem Dei gloriam, unto the greater glory of God.

Yet, on this Feast of Christ the King, we do not just celebrate a building. The Church is not a building. It is a community of believers. At the Ateneo de Naga, the consecration of this Church to Christ the King is in the context of two realities which hopefully impact on our lives. First is the longstanding motto of the Ateneo de Naga: Primum Regnum Dei – First the Kingdom of God. Since the foundation of this school 70 years ago, the motto has been a mantra of students who have studied here towards basic, humanistic and professional education, and walked through its pillars. First – of uncontested importance! – is not the amount of money one makes, nor the level of society in which one lives, nor the success one achieves in the world. First, is the Kingdom of God.

Second, for those who have made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and strive to live by its challenges, the church dedicated to Christ the King reminds us of the key meditation where we experience God’s call to labor with him in establishing his Kingdom on earth. We recall the face of the Lord, himself laboring to establish this Kingdom, now turned towards us in appeal. We recall the response of the reasonable man, his inevitable yes as a reasonable man. But we also recall the response of the man who wishes to distinguish himself in the following of the Lord, that he must ever more deeply accept union with the suffering Lord on the Cross as the only way to distinction. Perhaps in the images of this Church, something of that is reflected.

There are many popular images of Christ the King. These depict Jesus sitting on a majestic throne, clad in precious velvet robes, wearing a multi-tiered bejeweled crown, holding in one hand an orb of the world, and in the other hand a golden scepter of power. We must understand: these images of wealth and power depict the end of history, when Christ the King again reigns over a redeemed world. Perhaps their scriptural inspiration is from passages as in our responsorial psalm today: “The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.…girt about in strength.…Your throne stands firm from of old…” (cf. Ps. 93: 1-5). The eschatological image is complemented by the passage we heard from Daniel in our first reading, which is itself based on the enthronement rites of worldly kings: “I saw
 one like a Son of Man coming,
 on the clouds of heaven;
 when he reached the Ancient One
 and was presented before him,
 the one like a Son of Man received dominion, glory, and kingship;
 all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. 
His dominion is an everlasting dominion 
that shall not be taken away,
 his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). Daniel saw the Son of Man, a title exclusively used in the Gospels for Jesus, taking everlasting kingship.

To illustrate this, the artists have presented Christ the King wearing the insignia of western medieval kings. But to non-western peoples who do not share a history of European royalty, these images may mean little, and may even mislead people that this King has a penchant for expensive clothes and fine jewelry, and that his followers should have the same.

In this humble church of Christ the King, we do not have any of these royal images. Possibly, because Jesus himself may have been taken aback by them. In our Gospel, Jesus emphasizes, “My kingdom does not belong to this world…” When, earlier, he had multiplied loaves for hungry pilgrims, and his followers pressed to make him a king, he rejected this and slipped away from them (cf. Jn. 6:15). It would have been a fundamental misunderstanding of his urgent mission. Pressured now, however, he admitted he was a king, but he stressed: his was a kingship not of this world; his was a kingship intimately related to truth: “You say that I am king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth… Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

My brothers and sisters, on the Feast of Christ the King, listen to his testimony. Listen to his truth.

In this Church the central image of Christ the King is the image of the Crucified Lord. It is an image you see. But it is also an image you listen to.

I have always been drawn to the image where the Crucified Lord is sarcastically proclaimed, "Jesus the Christ, King of the Jews" - or, "Jesus Christ, King...". There is a divine irony there: in his greatest powerlessness, his ultimate redemptive power; in suffering humankind’s greatest hatred, he manifests his greatest human love; in becoming like a worm, not man, he showed himself most ideally man; in becoming most like unto sin, he liberates us from sin; in helplessly embracing suffering and death with arms outstretched, he embraces humankind’s sin and forgives it. He calls humankind back to himself and to his Father – in this his free act of love. He redeemed man and woman in love, and so as King calls us to his Kingdom not of this world, but a Kingdom very much in this world – a Kingdom of truth, of love and of peace.

Looking at the image of Christ the King in this church (or wherever you may pray to him), listen to what he has to say to you. You may be thinking that your world is falling apart, but the King may be telling you to stand fast and trust in his power. You may be thinking that your sins are so small they do not mean anything, but the King may be telling you to look at him on the cross, and see the horror of sin. You may be smugly thinking that you are quite a good Christian and so may be rather content with yourself, but the King may be whispering to you about doing a bit more, even if it costs you to leave your comfort zones. You may be thinking that the world needs you at the center of history, but King may be telling you that this is really not so. You may be thinking that you don’t need to get involved in making a difference, but the King may be telling you otherwise. You may be thinking that with your many organizations and grand projects you do enough for the poor, but the King may yet be sending you to care personally for a malnourished baby, not a statistic, or personally help an old person find shelter, because there is no one else to care for that person. You may be thinking that you’re pretty well-educated, but the King may be asking you to learn from the simplicity of a child. You may be overworked in your impossibly hectic schedule, but the King may be commanding you to take time off – to talk to your children, to make love to your spouse, to enjoy your friends, and notice the myriad colors and shapes of the blossoms about you. You may think that your career path is all fixed and set, but the King may actually be telling you: “You, go sell what you have, give to the poor, and come, follow me. Help me establish my Kingdom – not tomorrow, but today.”

The Kingdom of God is there where God reigns. It is there where all are concerned about their own career paths, their own advantage, their own good, and the will of God breaks through. It is there where all decisions seem to be based on approved budgets and available money and the limits of material resources, and suddenly a decision is made out of genuine concern for persons. It is there where people jockey passionately for positions of power and advantage, and suddenly you decide to serve. It is there when you are down, isolated, wrapped in loneliness and despair, then suddenly you feel – in the breeze – his overpowering presence raising you up.

As a King committed to truth, even there on the cross, his most urgent concern is to talk to you. About your truth.

Listen to him. Listen to him in the sacred silence of this church, bathed in the multi-chrome hues of the Windows of the King. Listen to his word of love, his word of challenge…

And because He is King, surrender! Say, yes!

It is in your surrender that the Kingdom of God is at hand. And that the old Ateneo de Naga mantra is true: Primum Regnum Dei – First the Kingdom of God!