Are We Living With Christ as Our King?

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

Hubert van Eyck (1366-1426), “Christ the King” from the Ghent Altarpiece
Hubert van Eyck (1366-1426), “Christ the King” from the Ghent Altarpiece (photo: Public Domain)

How often do we pray about the kingship of Christ and ask him to reign in the world, in the Church and in our hearts?

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would notice that we often prefer our will to that of our King. If we look at the Church, we could point out many flaws among the members and the leaders that do not further the kingdom of heaven on earth. If we look at the world, we cannot help but notice the lack of Christian nations and leaders. Yet, our King still reigns over the whole earth. “Behold, he comes, on a donkey, on a colt, on a cloud” (Daniel 7:13), and we honor him particularly as King every year on the feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the last Sunday of the liturgical year in the Ordinary Form calendar and on the Sunday before the feast of All Saints in the Extraordinary Form calendar.

The history of the feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ goes back to 1925 with Pope Pius XI’s Quas Primas to refocus the Church on the reality that Christ is the king of all creation, whether humans acknowledge him or not. Pius XI was concerned that the “majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives” and that “states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior,” and he said that there would be “no really hopeful prospect of lasting peace among nations.”

Looking back at this institution of the feast, we might wonder at the good it did as it came just a few short years after World War I and preceded World War II by 14 years.

Among other reasons for instituting the feast, Pius XI wanted to mark the 16th centenary of the Council of Nicaea, which “defined and proposed for Catholic belief the dogma of the Consubstantiality of the Only begotten with the Father, and added to the Creed the words ‘of whose kingdom there shall be no end,’ thereby affirming the kingly dignity of Christ.”

“His kingdom shall have no end” — these words should bring us comfort as society continues its downward turn. But where does his kingdom actually reign? Do we see any evidence of it in our lives?

In the spiritual tradition we talk about Christ, as the King of our hearts, the one whom we follow, and Scripture points to the ideal of Christ as the King and ruler of all peoples. Yet, Pius XI explained that this “kingdom is spiritual and concerned with spiritual things,” and Christ in Scripture tells us that it is “not of this world” (John 18:36). It is clear in Scripture that Jesus did not intend to reign on a physical throne on earth and assert his divine authority in a political manner. Instead, he suffered and died for us with the words “King of the Jews” inscribed above him. He modeled a life of servitude and suffering so that we could share in his divine life. His death and resurrection made it possible for his grace to transform each and every one of us to be like him. It is only when we are open to his grace and live our lives in imitation of him that his kingdom of peace and love becomes visible on earth.

What would it look like to have all of the world in our private and public lives truly recognize Christ as King? Could we truly have a time in this world or peace, justice and harmony among all nations and peoples?

It would be possible if all humanity were to turn to the Lord with all of their hearts and acknowledge the threefold power of Christ’s lordship. First, he is the lawgiver to whom we owe obedience and show him our love in doing so. Second, he is the judge of our actions with the power to reward and punish, but also the right to show mercy. Third, he is the executive whom all must obey, for he rules over all creation. The Church’s social teaching gives us a vision of how this would be lived out in society and in government.  

Now is the time to examine our individual lives and pray about how we are called to further the kingdom of God. Pius XI wrote:

He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.

We must allow Christ to reign in our own lives, but we must also strive for his reign over all humans to be acknowledged by the whole world. First, we must pray for a radical conversion of all peoples. And second, we must live out our belief in his reign in our public lives.

Wherever we are in life, we all live in community with others and live under a government. We need to bring the ideals of the kingdom of heaven into all that we do, beginning with our family, extending to our immediate neighbors, our cities, states, nation and the world.

This will look different for each of us. And as we consider how to extend his kingdom, we should keep in mind Christ’s words about how the nations will be judged by how they show the works of mercy — “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). If we desire to serve and honor our King, we promote his kingdom best through living out his commandments, especially in living the works of mercy, just as our King did.