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November 19, 2008
One’s eternity is chosen by fidelity or infidelity to Christ the King
This coming Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. Following closely on a rancorous presidential election and many months of political campaigning, the solemnity of Christ the King reminds us, in a special way, of life’s proper dimensions. Only God is God. Caesar is not God. As beautiful and precious as this world can be, it will one day end—and it will be judged by its King, who has promised to return.
Christ’s Second Coming is not a metaphor or fairy story. It is real. It will happen. And when it does, each of us will see in the flesh what we know now only by faith: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is the center and meaning of human history. And the central thing that matters, at the end of every human life, is our relationship with him.
It’s easy to fall into the habit, as we get older, of treating our Catholic faith as a useful moral code; or a collection of warm and nostalgic sentiments: or a helpful vocabulary for making sense of life’s ambiguities; or a shrewd set of clothes for our politics. But real Christian belief is different from all of these things.
Christianity is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ. He died to redeem us, and we live now by the grace of his love—and also in the light of his judgment. If we do not actively seek him, know him and love him, then calling ourselves and our efforts for justice “Christian” is a sham. There is no such thing as “Christian” charity or “Christian” work for justice without first believing in Jesus Christ as our true and only king.
We need to live by our actions what we claim to believe with our words. The Catholic faith is more than a system of ideas or a set of rules. It demands much more than showing up for Mass every weekend, though obviously worshiping God and believing what the Church teaches are vitally important things. Being “Catholic” means accepting Jesus Christ as Lord, and following him as disciples through the community he created—the Church.
American Catholics, because we have so much freedom and so many material advantages, can have a hard time separating the assumptions of our political culture from the real nature of creation. We’re blessed to live in a constitutional democracy governed by law. We enrich it by bringing our faith to bear on our personal and family relationships, and our nation’s economic and political policies. But God is not an elected official. And while He loves us so zealously that He sacrificed his only son to deliver us from death, He does not serve at our pleasure. We are accountable to Him, not the other way around. That includes all of us and each of us.
The solemnity of Christ the King reminds us that all things of this world are finite. They all pass, even great nations, and our time here is very limited, and therefore precious. Just as the year draws to its conclusion, so too does the world. And we choose our eternity by our fidelity or infidelity to Christ the true King in our daily lives.
These are sobering thoughts. They’re meant to be. It’s good to think hard and clearly about who we really are and where our loyalties really lie. The more honest we are with ourselves, the more truly we can enter into Advent. And the more humbly we live Advent, the greater our joy—God’s liberating joy—in the birth of Jesus at Christmas.
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