This Sunday we honor Jesus Christ as the king of the universe, yet, we listen to a gospel passage in which he is mocked on the cross. (Lk. 23:35-43) We worship a crucified king.
In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer we will pray: “Lord, holy Father . . . you anointed your Only Begotten Son, as eternal Priest and King of all creation, so that by offering himself on the altar of the Cross, he might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption.” Jesus is the Eternal Priest who sacrificed himself on the cross. He is the King of all Creation, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20) This is the Catholic way of honoring the Lord Jesus – to view his kingship by staring at the crucified Christ on the Cross.
What does it mean to worship a Crucified King who is the Eternal Priest? How well do we live that mystery? In what practical way does this affect our daily lives? For example, many people are struggling with illness. Others are suffering because of natural disasters, poverty, violence, or abuse. Faith in the crucified King affects our experience. It changes the way we pray through suffering. It transforms our understanding of death.
People who suffer in faith illustrate this mystery. They show us the beauty and transforming power of the crucified king. Several years ago, I met young man named Brent, who had muscular dystrophy. Brent was 16 years old when I first met him. He was confined to a wheelchair, but he had an amazing attitude. He was always upbeat.
Brent enjoyed building model airplanes. It was a way for him to keep active, to occupy his mind and his muscles. But he could not stop the progression of muscular dystrophy. He died a slow death as his muscles continued to deteriorate. He finally suffocated and died at age 27. His parents were amazing. They cared for their son with constant love and patience.
What does the feast of Christ the King have to say about Brent’s illness and death? What does it tell us about people like Brent who suffer with great patience, or his parents who carried him on that journey? One thing we know for certain is that Jesus accompanied Brent in his suffering. As a crucified Messiah, he chose to enter into human suffering. Jesus didn’t save himself. He conquered suffering and death by entering into it, not by escaping it.
Three times Jesus was challenged and taunted to “save himself” from suffering. The leaders jeered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.” The soldiers mocked him too: “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Even one of the criminals ridiculed him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” (Lk. 23:35-39) Precisely because Jesus did not save himself from suffering and death, he conquered it. As one spiritual writer said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with his presence.” ~ Paul Claudel
Jesus suffered together with Brent. The suffering Christ empowered him with his presence. Jesus filled him with his own patience, strength and peace. The crucified and Risen Lord enters into the darkest moments of human life and fills us with his presence.
That is what it means to worship Christ as King of the universe. It means to believe that nothing is beyond his reach, even the darkest moments of existence. It means to believe that in our darkness, he abides in us and uses us so that others might contemplate his merciful suffering and victorious love. I learned about Christ the King by contemplating his presence in Brent and in his parents.
Now, the Crucified King is also the Risen Lord in glory. As the head of the Body of the Church, he is forever infusing his mystical Body with his love. At Baptism, we were grafted onto the vine of Christ so that we might be nourished with his Spirit. In the Eucharist, the Blood of Christ is a transfusion that reinvigorates our hearts.
The ongoing infusion of Christ’s Love will inevitably bring us into the Resurrection. As St. Paul said, “He is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead.” (Col. 1:18) Jesus’ ultimate victory came through the cross and flowered in the resurrection. What does that say about being a success in life?
It means to see the sacrifice of Brent’s parents as success. They were successful because they imitated Christ on the cross. Jesus challenged his disciples to live their lives for others when he said, “Anyone who saves his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
It’s a strange formula for success. We usually equate success with making lots of money, having a high-paying job, driving a fancy car, wearing nice clothes or being popular. We have a list of the wealthiest people in the world. We keep track of the highest paid athletes. In our world, success is defined by what you have, not by what you give.
But the crucified Jesus defined success by how much you give, by the way that you lose yourself. Losing your life is the way to success. Brent’s parents lost their lives for the sake of Christ, as they cared for their son. “Anyone who saves his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”
We are called to pour out our lives for others. You might say that this is our DNA from being created in the likeness of Christ. Since all things were created in his likeness, we are true to our DNA inherited from Jesus when we lose our lives for others, when we are other-centered. Those who live like are being true to their DNA inherited from Christ. They are on a certain journey to the Resurrection. They will share in the final victory of Christ the King.
Ultimately, this is pure gift. So in the Letter to the Colossians St. Paul says, “Let us give thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He rescued us from power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:12-14)
How do you see this mystery of Christ the King at work in you? Surely, you often have selflessly given of yourself, or have been patient in suffering, or have shown immense generosity for others who are down and out. Give thanks for the grace of living in the DNA of Christ.
How do you need to grow in generosity by losing your life for the sake of Christ? Certainly, each of us needs to grow in generosity or selflessness, patience in suffering, and the mercy of the crucified Lord. Ask for that grace in prayer and as you receive the Eucharist. We can only live such love by humbly receiving it from the Lord.