A homily on the Feast of Christ the King–

About a month ago, I read Flannery O’Connor’s short 1952 novel, Wise Blood. If you have read Flannery O’Connor before, you know that most of her stories are bizarre, ironic, and sometimes grotesque. This one admits of no exception.

The protagonist in the story is named Hazel Motes. Hazel is a young man, the grandson of an itinerant Protestant preacher, who has been deeply scarred by life, both emotionally and spiritually.

Brad Dourif as Haze Motes in the film "Wise Blood" (1972) directed by John Huston.

Brad Dourif as Haze Motes in the film “Wise Blood” (1979) directed by John Huston.

Soon after the reader meets Hazel, the former soldier begins his own preaching career. Curiously, his soapbox kerygma announces the inception of the Church without Christ. The message is clear: Hazel still wants a Church but not one under the authority of Jesus Christ.

In Wise Blood, we hear the announcement of “A Church without Christ,” and as Catholics we may scoff. “A Church without Christ? That doesn’t make any sense.” And we would be correct. (Click here for the scene from the film of Wise Blood where Haze Motes makes this announcement).

But perhaps we should not be so quick to judge. Rather, the irony should lead us to ask ourselves, “Does it make sense to preach anything without Christ?” That is, “Is there anything that is immune from the authority of Jesus Christ?”

The answer: no. And for this reason, on this final Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor, 1924-64, at the time she published Wise Blood.

Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, 1924-64, at the time she published Wise Blood.

Now, I know that it can be difficult for us Americans to understand why we need to call Christ the King. I mean, let’s be honest, Americans have historically not exactly had a great love for monarchs.

Some contend that this antiquated title should be updated. They propose that this feast could be better understood contemporarily by considering Christ not as a king, but as a president of a country or even a general manager of a football team.

But this nominal modernization just would not work. It would fail because a president could be voted out of office and a GM could be fired. But Jesus’ authority is eternal. It also wouldn’t work because a President only has command in a single country and a GM manages only one football team. Jesus’ authority reigns over the entire universe.

Ergo, the best way to designate the absolute authority of Jesus is precisely to call him a King.

But even this is a little unsettling. “Jesus really has authority over everything? Is there not something that we can claim as our own and regulate as we want apart from his control?”

Detail from Literary Characters Reimagined #2: Hazel Motes by Nevada McPherson.

Detail from Literary Characters Reimagined #2: Hazel Motes by Nevada McPherson.

Like Hazel Motes, we often want to manage things apart from Jesus Christ. We are all a bit reluctant to hand over the reigns to the true reign of Jesus.

Why is this so? Perhaps our hesitations stem from a failure to grasp what sort of King he is.

When we think of “kingship,” our minds are flooded with stories of selfish ambition, hunger for power, and unjust violence.

Without a doubt, this is what Pontius Pilate had in mind when he questioned Jesus, “Are you a king?” As the dialogue progresses, Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Now, Jesus is not proposing that his Kingdom has nothing to do with this world. Rather, with his telling response, our Lord intends to reframe the argument, thereby revealing that he and Pilate are speaking of two very different kingdoms.

Pilate is considering Jesus as the earthly king of the Jewish people, a king who he assumes, like most kings he knows, will rule with deception, evil, and violence. But when Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he shows clearly that his reign is diametrically opposed to Pilate’s assumption. For Jesus rules with truth, goodness, and sacrificial love.

The Beloved Disciple, who with the Blessed Mother witnessed Christ’s bloody exultation at the foot of the bloodstained cross, understood this new Messianic reign quite well. Thus, in the Book of Revelation he predicates the credibility of Christ’s Kingship upon the novelty of his peaceful, non-violent reign. “Jesus Christ is…ruler of the kings of the earth” for “he loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”

Detail from DVD cover of Wise Blood (1979) Criterion Collection.

Detail from DVD cover of Wise Blood (1979) Criterion Collection.

Jesus Christ, as King, seeks to rule—everything—but not with deception, evil, and violence. Rather, with truth, goodness, and love.

Today’s Solemnity reminds us that Jesus must be king of every part of our lives. As Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote 40 years ago, “the Gospel [of Christ] must impregnate the culture and the whole way of life of every person.”

We all would do well to take note of our secular activities and ask ourselves if we have really submitted them to the sacred kingship of Christ.

Do I spend money as I want, or as Christ wants me to? Do I case my vote according to what I think is best, or what Christ Himself would say is best? Do I manage my time as I want to, or Christ would have me do?

Do the truth, goodness, and love of Jesus Christ, the true King, govern all that I do?

This week we pray for the grace to permit Christ to reign more fully in our hearts and in our lives, so that by our holy witness, His reign would extend over all the earth.