Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
[2Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43]
I returned recently from vacation in Ireland. As I drove around the country, I continually noticed a wide variety of flags everywhere I went. They were flying from the top of buildings, draped over balconies, and jutting out from car windows. They differed from town to town. I soon came to learn that these were flags associated with local sports teams. Even though there was no major competition happening at the moment, the flags were flying. Clearly, the allegiance of the Irish people to their local sporting clubs is very strong.
Just how strong became clear in a conversation with an Irish priest. He was explaining some of the challenges he was facing as he cared for two or more parishes, each in towns close to one another. One of those challenges was the strong resistance from the people in the respective communities to collaboration among themselves. There would be no acceptance of joint pastoral councils or finance committees; in no way would they consider travelling to the other community for mass. The reason? They supported the opposing team!
This poses an obvious question, which leads us into the heart of our celebration today: what is my first allegiance? It seems I was hearing about team loyalty in Ireland taking precedence over life in the Church. Yet we all need to ask ourselves that question, which, in the light of the Gospel, takes shape this way: is my first allegiance to Jesus Christ or is it to something else?
The Church today celebrates the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. As King of our lives, as Sovereign Ruler, Jesus lays claim to our first allegiance. All else is secondary, and must be discerned in its light. When St. Paul teaches that the Father has transferred us from the power of darkness to the kingdom of His Son, he means that, by the gift of our Baptism, we have been taken out of that dark kingdom of sin engendered by allegiance to the self, into the reign of Jesus, in which we hand over everything to him and live not by self-reference but by trusting reliance upon his love and mercy.
So, what is my first allegiance? What flag do I raise above my life as symbol of my primary loyalty? I was reminded in Ireland that sporting clubs have their identifying flags. So, too, of course, do nations, provinces, associations, movements, and so on. As we turn to the Gospel, we recognize that there is but one “flag” to be raised high in the life of the Christian: the Cross.
From St. Luke we have the account of our King dying on a Cross. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who rules over his flock by laying down his life for their sake. He welcomes us into his kingdom by the gift of forgiveness, as he did to the repentant thief hanged on a nearby cross. He summons those who would be his disciples to follow him by taking up their cross daily. We who have answered that call live every day under the sign of the cross, something we demonstrate each time we pray. Our first and sole allegiance is to Jesus Christ Crucified. This means that all other possible loyalties in life must be discerned and judged in the light of the Cross.
This question of first allegiance has repercussions beyond our individual lives. When fidelity to Jesus Christ comes before all else, unity among peoples follows. This was foreshadowed by the anointing of King David in Hebron. At the time of this event, recounted in the first reading, there was but one of the twelve tribes of Israel who had pledged their allegiance to David. The others had placed their loyalty elsewhere, resulting in a divided kingdom, indeed, a divided family. Common allegiance to David united the kingdom. Unity of allegiance produces unity among the people. Divided loyalties create a divided people.
In our day we struggle with division far more serious than that created by divided loyalties among sports fans. We have division in our society and world, within the Church and in our homes, all of which spring ultimately from the divided loyalties of the human heart. We need to get right the question of our primary allegiance. The message of this Solemnity is clear: our first allegiance must be to Jesus Christ our King, and to him alone. Only by common allegiance to our Crucified and Risen Lord, with all that implies for our personal and communal lives, can the many layers of division plaguing us be overcome.
That same Jesus Christ is with us here in this celebration of the Eucharist. His self-sacrifice, offered once for all on the Cross at Calvary, is sacramentally present here on our altar. As we approach the sacrament, let us, like the repentant thief, ask Jesus to be merciful, heal our every disloyalty, and welcome us anew into his kingdom, where he alone is our first allegiance, and we in consequence are a united people.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Charles Parish – Mass with Young Adults
November 20th, 2022