This Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, the climax and end of the church year. In my province of Christ the King, we used to celebrate this day in grand style, complete with the majestic song “Christus Vincit” in four-part harmony. In those days the feast occurred in October when the surrounding countryside was ablaze with autumn leaves. To decide on our religious name, we submitted three choices, usually in honor of a saint. The general superior selected one, and you celebrated your name day on the saint’s feast day. Because I had my heart set on the Feast of Christ the King as my name day, I came up with thirty-two names that stood for him. Some were unique, such as Inri (the sign on the crucifix, the acronym for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). Rana, which is “king” in modern Indian, made my list, until I discovered it meant “frog” in Latin!
In the end, I became Kirene, a name I derived from the Chi-rho, the Greek symbol for Christ created from the first three letters of Christ. When most Sisters returned to their baptismal names because our vows are rooted in that sacrament, I retained the Feast of Christ the King as my name day. My favorite antiphon was “My heart sings with joy when I tell the good new. My life belongs to the king. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Today, kings have gone out of style and mainly exist only in history books and fairy tales. Mostly we use the term king for a man who excels at something, for example, King James (LaBron) is a great basketball player and a prom king is the most popular boy in high school. Kings administered their realm, enacted laws, and protected and judged their people. Christ is the supreme ruler. In the book of Revelation, he is “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords.” Christ is king of the entire universe. Not only did he create it, but he wrested it from Satan by dying and rising. Jesus was crucified because he claimed to be King of the Jews.
Some kings were ruthless, power-hungry, arrogant, and domineering. Jesus is the exact opposite. He is the Prince of Peace and the Good Shepherd. He could instruct us: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Those who belong to his kingdom promote his values: peace, justice, mercy, and love.
Subjects owed their king loyalty, obedience, and taxes. Christ the King desires nothing less than our lives and our love. According to a parable he told, when our King comes as judge at the end of time, he will separate people into two groups. Those who performed acts of mercy, such as feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, will be welcomed into his kingdom of heaven. As St. John of the Cross said, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
Our community meal prayers include this one: “King and center of all hearts, rule thou supreme in our community and in every heart. Thine we are, O Lord, and thine we will be.” You might adopt an adapted version.
Christ is an unusual king. People gave their lives for their king, but our King died for us. Kings live in luxury, but when Jesus walked the earth, he opted to be a poor, itinerant preacher. Kings lord it over their people, but Jesus served others and taught his followers to humbly do so too. Kings wear crowns, but Jesus had only a crown of thorns. Kings have queens at their side, and while Jesus has no female divine partner, his mother Mary is granted the title Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Like other kings, though, Jesus expects loyalty. Members of his kingdom abide by his law of love. They work to spread his kingdom by attracting others to him. By our baptism we share in the kingly, priestly, and prophetic roles of Christ. That means we are royalty too!
Jesus is king because he truly is the best and the greatest. No wonder people live and die for him.
What is your favorite name or title for Jesus?
I actually found one copy of our “Christus Vincit” on YouTube!