Gospel of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
King of the Universe
35 The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let Him save himself if He is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” 36 Even the soldiers jeered at Him. As they approached to offer Him wine 37 they called out, “If You are King of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above Him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this Man has done nothing criminal.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” 43He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk 23:35-43).
I – In Search of Peace
The Encyclical Quas Primas of Pius XI, published in 1925, has enjoyed well-deserved prominence to this day, and the annual celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King perpetuates its beneficial effects. Faced with the secularism threatening to impose itself at that time, the Pontiff valiantly proclaimed the royalty of the Prince of Peace. However, his wise teachings went unheeded, and almost a century later humanity finds itself ever more distant from the divine sceptre of Jesus Christ, denying Him the prerogatives of Sovereign in the temporal and even the religious sphere, with grave consequences for moral, family, social and even economic life.
The ongoing dramatic context
From the year in which the Encyclical appeared until today, humanity has lived through the Second World War, followed by the tension brought on by the Cold War and hundreds of other military conflicts or tragedies, culminating in the fear of an atomic hecatomb, perceived by most peoples as the greatest danger in this sad and sombre 21st century.
In Fatima, Our Lady promised the three shepherd children the end of the Great War and peace. This peace, however, would only be preserved on condition that men would convert. Otherwise, said the Beautiful Lady, a conflict of even more devastating proportions would ensue. And so it did. In the light of this terrible prophecy, which was so clearly fulfilled, the existence of Divine Providence becomes evident, guiding both minor and major events in history, thereby demonstrating the connection between man’s faithfulness or disobedience to God and the episodes that follow.
Christ, the only solution for the evils of humanity
Pius XI, almost as if foreseeing the calamities and deaths that would follow the publication of his famous encyclical, and in order to avoid them, stated that he was convinced “that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.”1 The Pope considered that the accumulation of evils on earth was due to the fact that most men had distanced themselves from Our Lord and His Holy Law. Thus, true peace would never shine among the peoples as long as individuals and nations denied and rejected the Savior’s Empire.
The Pontiff also pointed out the happy consequences of acknowledging this Empire: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. […] Oh, what happiness would be Ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ!”2
Wishing to impress the precious teachings set forth in the Encyclical upon the hearts of the faithful, the Holy Father decided to institute the liturgical feast of Christ the King. He was moved to do so by reasons of great pastoral insight:
“For people are instructed in the truths of the Faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion, far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year – in fact, forever. The Church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.”3
Counter-revolutionary feast par excellence
The Solemnity of Christ the King is perhaps the liturgical feast at greatest variance with the deviations of the modern world, which Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira aptly unites under the term Revolution. He explains that although each revolution considered individually is “a movement aimed at destroying a legitimate power or order and replacing it with an illegitimate power or state of things (we intentionally do not say ‘order of things’),”4 the evil that afflicts the present times is not an unconnected succession of revolutions, but the very Revolution per se.
It is a centuries-old Revolution, Gnostic and egalitarian in character, which seeks to destroy the order of medieval Christendom, which was “the realization, in the circumstances inherent to the times and places, of the only true order among men, namely, Christian Civilization.”5 And today’s solemnity, which closes the Liturgical Year, possesses an incalculable power to promote a healthy, resolute and enthusiastic Catholic reaction to revolutionary sophistry. It is, in short, a counter-revolutionary feast in the full force of the term, for “if the Revolution is disorder, the Counter-Revolution is the restoration of order. And by order we mean the peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ.”6
II – A Supremely Merciful King
The Gospel selected for the Liturgy is the most touching and merciful expression of the Reign of Christ, the Immolated Lamb, who in His mercy stirs up and rewards the faith of a criminal, promising him Paradise when he crosses the threshold of death.
This particular passage from St. Luke is of an ineffable beauty. Nailed to the Cross, Our Lord continues to do good, the greatest good, which consists in leading a sinner to Heaven. None of the miracles He had previously performed, even that of raising the dead, so well manifest His divine power as the conversion and salvation of the good thief – so called not on account of his thefts, but due to his repentance at the decisive moment.
Jesus shines as King through all the wounds and the mockery. King, yes, of that Kingdom which is not of this world. But also King over His tormentors and the Sanhedrin who blaspheme Him, for the most ruthless human malice cannot deprive Him of the freedom to reward a lost sheep who in extremis opens its poor and squalid heart to the Good Shepherd, being welcomed by Him in an embrace of compassion, love and tenderness that will last for eternity.
Hearts of steel
35 The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let Him save himself if He is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
In this scene, the members of the Sanhedrin, the leaders of the people, show themselves to be scandalously “blind guides” (Mt 15:14). After having witnessed a deluge of miracles of the most diverse kinds, such as healings, multiplication of food, exorcisms and even resurrections, they dare to kill the Author of life, to use St. Peter’s expression (cf. Acts 3:15). This shocking degree of wilful blindness was fruit of a satanic hatred against the Messiah. With this conduct, they perfectly embodied the role of the murderous vine-dressers mentioned by Jesus in one of His parables (cf. Mt 21:33-46), who, by killing the heir of the owner of the vineyard, intended to take possession of property that did not belong to them.
To what extent were the Sadducees and Pharisees, who made up this senate of darkness in Jerusalem, aware of the evil they practised? Had the inebriation of hatred completely eclipsed their reason to the point of denying such clear evidence pointing to Jesus’ Messianic mission and divinity? It is difficult to know.
Whatever the case, their fear of the Lord’s Resurrection and the fact that they bribed the guards in order to spread false news among the people to deny the glory of the redeemed Jesus, show how far they were willing to persist in their own obstinacy. It is worth asking whether a man, without the mysterious help of some fallen angel, is capable of going to such extremes. Did they not deserve the Redeemer’s description of them when He said: “You are of your father the devil” (Jn 8:44)?
He took upon himself the hatred of the whole world
36 Even the soldiers jeered at Him. As they approached to offer Him wine 37 they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
These soldiers represent the Gentiles, although some of them may have been from Palestine. They too mock Our Lord, following the bad example set by the Jews, which is why it can be said that Jesus bore the hatred of the whole world on His shoulders. But this sacrifice had its fruits.
For the sin of the Romans was less grave than that of the chosen people, as was the sin of Pilate compared to that of the Sanhedrin in condemning the Just One. Perhaps for this reason, despite their ill-treatment of the Lord, they received the first graces at the foot of the Cross in preparation for a future conversion, as demonstrated by the centurion’s exclamation on seeing the grandeur with which the Redeemer expired: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54). Thus, an opening was made amid the clouds of tragedy so that the light of faith could shine upon the pagans, prefiguring the conversion of the empire of the Caesars.
A similar situation exists today when we see the children of the once-Christian Civilization – who have most benefited from the fruits of the Most Precious Blood shed on the Cross – turning their backs on God with an unprecedented obstinacy and wickedness. Other peoples, however, while following the bad examples of those who preceded them with the sign of faith, seem more susceptible of brilliant conversions, which will certainly give the reign of Christ a renewed splendour.
A crucified King
38 Above Him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
The titulus crucis, which today is venerated in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, in Rome, has a profound meaning. Despite repeated requests from the Sanhedrin to change it, Pilate left it as it had come from his lips: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19). His famous phrase on that occasion – “What I have written I have written” (Jn 19:22) – shows his determination not to cast doubt on what he had ordered to be inscribed on that paradigmatic tablet.
This meant that the highest civil authority in Palestine at that time, considered legitimate by Christ himself, affirmed the kingship of the Son of God. In a certain way, Pilate’s inscription proclaimed the truth, and even today it has prophetic connotations of the utmost symbolic importance.
The good and bad thief
39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this Man has done nothing criminal.”
For the greater humiliation of Our Lord, He was crucified between two criminals. However, this diabolic attempt to disgrace the Redeemer became one of His greatest titles of glory because, by saving the good thief – named Dimas, according to a respectable tradition – He completed in the most splendid way His mission to save sinners!
The contrast between the bad and the good thief calls our attention. The first, besides being a malefactor, had deformed his conscience to the point of feeling no shame for his crimes, becoming a vile and calculating profiteer. That is why he joined his voice to the insults of the Sanhedrin and the soldiers, aiming to incite the pride – as if this vice could exist in one who did not know sin – of the Divine Victim to operate the miracle. His spiritual vision was so obscured that he was incapable of perceiving the innocence, righteousness and integrity that shone in the Immolated Lamb.
Sin and selfishness make man foolish and perverse. In the case of the bad thief, the result was terrible: Jesus remained silent. Yes, the One who could save him ignores him and abandons him to his own wickedness. What would be his eternal fate? The judgement belongs to God alone, but St. Luke’s narrative gives cause to reasonably fear the worst hypothesis.
However, the good thief reacted differently. According to St. John Chrysostom, he “taught those present, meditating on the words with which the other reproached the Savior.”7 The provocation of the bad thief was an occasion for Dimas to express the feelings and reflections that arose in his spirit during that slow agony of the cross. In the silence of Calvary and thanks to the prayers of the good Co-Redemptrix, he came to his senses, sincerely repented and was elevated to an astonishingly high level in the spiritual life.
With great insight, St. Gregory the Great says of him: “He had faith, for he believed that he would reign with God, whom he saw dying at his side; he had hope, for he asked to enter His Kingdom […]; and at the hour of death he had lively charity, because he rebuked his fellow thief, who was suffering for the same crime.”8
One of the most beautiful acts of faith in history
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
How meritorious it is to believe in the light when the darkness of night prevails! In the same way, with what beauty shines the good thief’s faith, when he saw the Divine Victim massacred by sinners, and believed in His Kingdom which crosses the threshold of death into everlasting life. In the face of the humiliation of the Cross, the Apostles themselves had not even a scintilla of that brilliant faith, born of certainty in Christ’s victory at the moment when He seemed to be vanquished by the torrent of the most devastating failure. Only the prayers of the best of mothers could have obtained that the power of her Son’s most Precious Blood would rest upon that repentant heart, imparting to it such a solid conviction of Heaven.
The drama of death, well accepted as a deserved punishment for transgressions committed, was the instrument God used to grant eternal life to a sinful soul. In this detail we clearly see how suffering and pain can contribute to our salvation!
The first canonization
43 He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
The good thief is presented as a sign of the radiant victory obtained by the Lord’s holocaust. We have before our eyes the first sinner to be led into Heaven by the pierced hands of Jesus himself. Hundreds of thousands would follow him – and we will be among them, if we allow ourselves to be enveloped, forgiven and lifted up by divine mercy.
St. Ambrose underlines Christ’s generosity in granting the everlasting reward to one who had simply asked not to be forgotten: “The Lord always gives more than is asked of Him. [The thief] asked the Lord to remember him when He came into His Kingdom, but the Lord replied: ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ For true life consists in being with Christ, for where Christ is, there is the Kingdom.”9
This generosity of the Savior shone forth in all its symbolic scope on Calvary, as St. John Chrysostom explains: “The devil drove Adam out [of Paradise]; Christ introduced the thief there. […]. There is still another greater miracle to consider: He was not content to introduce a thief into Paradise, but He did so before the whole world and the Apostles, so that none of those who came afterwards should despair of entering there, or give up hope of their own salvation, on seeing a man laden with countless sins admitted to the royal palace. […]. By a simple word, a single act of faith, he ascended to Paradise before the Apostles, so that you may learn that it was not so much the nobility of his feelings that obtained it, but the Master’s love for men that did it all. […] See how quickly: from the cross to Heaven, from damnation to salvation.”10
The Cross becomes the throne of the self-giving divine majesty crucified. As He foretold, from this throne Our Lord draws to himself all those who have the courage to hope in a life beyond the short duration of our passing existence on earth, which ends with death and bodily disintegration. In Jesus sacrificed, the human heart finds the answer to its desire for eternal happiness.
III – He Shall Reign!
In the Our Father, Jesus taught us the most excellent prayer. And among the petitions it contains, two acquire particular brilliance in view of today’s solemnity: “Thy Kingdom come” and “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
It is therefore the mission of every baptized person to implore the Father of lights for the establishment of Christ’s reign, so as to transform our world into as perfect an image as possible of the splendours of Heaven.
It is Jesus Christ himself who most desires this Kingdom
How can such a noble mission be accomplished in a secular, technological society estranged from God? It would seem to be a chimerical or quixotic proposal… Is it still possible to establish an order of things similar to that which reigned in the luminous centuries of the High Middle Ages, with the necessary adaptations for the time and place? Does it make sense to dream of grand and sacred cathedrals, imposing, elegant castles, or a society permeated by the Catholic Faith?
The answer is a resounding yes.
First of all, because God presides over the course of history and intervenes in it in a decisive way at moments chosen from all eternity. This we see, among other examples, in Our Lord’s parable of the nobleman who went on a long journey to receive a kingdom (cf. Lk 19:12-27). His detractors did not succeed in stopping him, and he returned invested with royal dignity. Arriving at his dominions, he received an account from the servants to whom he had entrusted the administration of his goods. After having rewarded some and punished others, the king had his enemies executed in his presence.
This prophetic parable was fulfilled to some extent in the destruction of Jerusalem, which the Saviour announced explicitly in other Gospel passages. But will it not be fulfilled whenever, in the course of history, an attempt is made to frustrate or prevent Jesus from reigning?
To answer this question, it is well to recall what the Sacred Heart of Jesus solemnly declared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque: “Fear nothing. I will reign in spite of my enemies and all those who would oppose Me.”11 This promise made such a deep impression in the Saint’s soul that she repeated it in slightly different terms in a letter to her former superior, Mother de Saumaise: “Continue courageously what you have begun for His glory, with a view to the establishment of His reign. The Sacred Heart will reign in spite of Satan and all those whom he stirs up to oppose Him.”12
In what will this victory of Christ the King, promised at Paray-le-Monial, consist? Surely it will be, first of all, the triumph of Jesus in the hearts of the clergy. The world cannot be reformed without a renewal of ecclesiastical discipline. However, the Redeemer’s empire will not stop there.
God’s goals are broader, for He is the Lord of the universe and desires all His creatures to be sweetly subject to Him. Therefore, in the same revelations to St. Margaret Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus sent the following message to King Louis XIV, who at that time reigned in France: “Make known to the first-born of my Sacred Heart […] that I desire to triumph over his people and, through him, over all the great ones of the world. I wish to reign in his palace, to be painted on his standards and engraved on his coat of arms, […] to render him victorious over all the enemies of the Holy Church.”13
It is not known for certain whether the monarch was informed of this message, although it is quite likely that he was. But the fact is that this paternal, affectionate and gentle appeal of the King of kings was not put into practice, with the dramatic consequences that this brought in the course of time, particularly in the tragic and bloody end of the Ancien Régime under the implacable blade of the French Revolution.
Nevertheless, the message to Louis XIV opens our horizons with regard to the intentions of the Heart of Jesus. He wants to extend His Kingdom of goodness, righteousness and purity to civil society, to culture, to art, to ways of being and behaving, so that all spheres of human activity have Him as their Head. Only in this way will God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!
Anticipating the coming of the Reign of Jesus through Mary
As a faithful echo of the Lord of lords, we proclaim full of faith that the world is advancing towards the spiritual triumph of Christ, which will radiate in the hearts of men and will rule over institutions, customs, fashions, tastes, societies and families. Then the other plea of the Our Father will have been fulfilled: “Thy Kingdom come.”
This victory, however, will come about through Mary Most Holy, who is intimately associated with the mystery of salvation as Co-Redemptrix and Mother of the new humanity redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. She also promised at Fatima that her Immaculate Heart would triumph, together with that of Jesus, which forms only one Heart.
The details of how this triumph will come about are unknown to us. We only know that, like the good thief, humanity must be shaken to the point of humbly recognizing its sinfulness and its guilt. Then, amid the hardships of penance, it will be lifted to a splendid height by a new Marian Pentecost, for without grace this conversion will not take place. Indeed, irresistible torrents of grace are needed.
It is up to us to hasten this moment with our confident prayer, untiring struggle and generous spirit of sacrifice. ◊
Taken from the Heralds of the Gospel Magazine, #181.
1 PIUS XI. Quas primas, n.1.
2 Idem, n.19; 20.
3 Idem, n.21.
4 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Revolução e Contra-Revolução. 5.ed. São Paulo: Retornarei, 2002, p.57-58.
5 Idem, p.59.
6 Idem, p.97.
7 ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, apud ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Catena Aurea. In Lucam, c.XXIII, v.38-43.
8 ST. GREGORY THE GREAT. Moralium Libri. L.XVIII, c.40, n.64: PL 76, 74.
9 ST. AMBROSE. Tratado sobre el Evangelio de San Lucas. L.X, n.121. In: Obras. Madrid: BAC, 1966, p.605-606.
10 ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM. Sermons sur la Genèse. Sermon VII, n.4: SC 433, 327-329.
11 HAMON, SJ, Auguste. Sainte Marguerite-Marie. Sa vie intime. 3.ed. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne, 1931, p.198.
12 Idem, p.219.
13 Idem, p.221.