The Way of BeautyLord, to whom shall we go?

The feast of Christ the King not only ends the current liturgical year but also anticipates the new year of grace, which begins next week, the First Sunday in Advent. Today the Church professes that Jesus Christ is the world’s salvation, the shepherd-king who lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:1-30). He is the Father’s gift to humankind, and our minimal response is gratitude for his coming among us to assume our human condition in all things but sin.  St. Peter captures the meaning of the feast when Jesus asks if he wants to leave his friendship. “Lord, to whom shall we go,” replies Peter, “you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). 

Why has the Church’s celebration of Christ the King assumed a new urgency?  In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed this feast to overcome the prevailing errors of the time—materialism, secularism, and relativism.  Today, unbelief, religious indifference, and a neo-paganism have been added to the list.  Taken all together, they pose a direct assault on a moral and a Christian way of living.  Millions of disaffected, non-practicing, and angry Catholics have exited the Church only to ally themselves with at least one of these tendencies.  

There is more.  Ours is a Christophobic culture.  Except perhaps for purposes of swearing, the name of Jesus Christ has been banished from polite company and from the public square.  Mention the name Jesus Christ more than once, and you are branded a “Christ-er.” Whether in science, dialogue among religious groups in pursuit of peace and mutual respect, most conversations barely tolerate the name of God, let alone the name of Jesus Christ. 

The Norwegian Expressionist painter, Edvard Munch, captures the pulse of contemporary man in his famous work, “The Scream, painted in different versions between1883-1910.  It shows an agonized figure in front of a bloody red sky and painfully expresses man’s futility, alienation, and fear of death.  Musical texts from the pop culture mesmerize our young people and echo a similar morbidity. Man screams for meaning, for hope.  On his own, what is left to him is nothing—a nihilism of dread.   

Jesus Christ Calls Each and All to Discipleship 

Jesus is described as an exceedingly attractive, human, and charismatic person, “as handsome as a man can be,” an apt commentary on Ps 45:2, “you are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured out upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you for ever.”  Jesus calls his disciples to share in his life and mission (Mt 4:18-22); the Galilean women followed him with no need of being called (Lk 8:1).  Out of their own resources, they looked after Jesus and the Twelve without counting the cost. The call to follow him continues to goes out to all and to each, personally and in particular. In the Broadway musical Godspell, the song asks of Jesus:  Lord, “day by day (may we) “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, to follow thee more nearly, day by day.” True discipleship means living in the attitude of “the more.” 

Ambassadors for Christ  

Against the attack on Christianity, the feast of Christ the King boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe.  In particular, the feast affirms the messianic kingship of Christ won through his self-emptying death on the cross.  Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than Jesus Christ who saved the world. The feast bids all men and women, and particularly Catholics, to find meaning and hope in him who is the power of God. 

Each of us is an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). While it is unacceptable to impose Catholicism on others of different faith-traditions, the Church proposes the faith to others by word and example.  In 1975, Pope Paul VI anticipated this concern in an apostolic exhortation on evangelization, "Evangelii Nuntiandi" in which he acknowledged that “the question undoubtedly is a delicate one” (#63, 79).

It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents, . . . far from being an attack on religious liberty, is fully to respect that liberty which is offered the choice of a way that even non-believers consider noble and uplifting.

To Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation, Benedict XVI has added that “all baptized Catholics have the duty to pursue the church's missionary and evangelical activities; they must not develop a superficial concept of mission” (Benedict XVI, “Evangelization Is Not a Competition with Other Religions,” (Oct 8, 2010).   The response to this call is nothing less than the witness of one’s life lived in Christ—a far more persuasive way to build his kingdom than direct proselytizing.

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