If you’ve been to Starbucks recently you will have noticed that they have brought out their typical holiday themed cups, since Christmas is just around the corner, except something is different this year. This year Starbucks opted for a simple red design with no symbols on the cup whatsoever. This move has caused a bit of controversy throughout America with some people claiming that Starbucks is waging a war against Christmas by not including anything explicitly relating to Christmas on their holiday-themed cups. Now, regardless of what’s going on under the surface at Starbucks, these cups bring out an interesting point. They are a way of acknowledging the Christmas Season implicitly without doing it explicitly (the Christmas Season, by the way, does not actually start until Christmas itself, but the Advent Season is fast approaching and is only one week away!). These red cups are a symbol that winter is approaching and the Christmas season is near but they say it in a way that is silent, as if they would offend people by being loud about the fact that Christmas is near. And this very fact has actually offended many people so much that they are boycotting Starbucks. And so, looking beyond the way we may or may not feel about the red Starbucks cups to a bigger picture, these cups provide us something to really pray with and meditate on today, as we celebrate the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Christ is the king of the universe, but is Christ the king of my universe? Am I a Catholic in name only; am I a Catholic only implicitly out of fear of offending other people like the Starbucks red cups? Or is Christ really the King of my universe and I am living out my faith explicitly and loudly as a member of His kingdom?
Today we rejoice and celebrate the reality that Christ is King of the Universe. The readings that we heard today reflect that truth and invite us to reflect deeper on the nature of Christ’s Kingship. In the Gospel, we hear the well-known dialogue between Pilate and Jesus shortly before Jesus is crucified and Jesus tells us a little about the kingdom of God and makes a distinction between the kingdom of this world and His kingdom. This is important for us to notice. In waiting for the Messiah, the Jews were expecting an earthly ruler that would come and free them from the Romans and reign on the earth as King in a worldly sense, like King Saul, David, and Solomon did 1,000 years earlier. Jesus is quite clear that this is not what His kingdom is about. He tells Pilate that if His kingdom was of this world his attendants would be fighting for him, as it is they are not because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. The kingdom of God is, in a certain sense, present in the world, but not in the way the earthly kingdoms are and that is the point Jesus is making. Earthly kingdoms have risen and fallen throughout history and often are filled with corruption and greed and earthly power. These kingdoms are of the world and are subject to the evil one and human sinfulness. A famous example from roughly 500 years ago is King Henry VIII in England. He tried to change the nature of marriage to fit his own desires rather than submit to Christ as His King and giver of all truth. St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher were both martyred for the truth given by Christ because they opposed King Henry VIII and stood for the truth of marriage being indissoluble, which Henry VIII wanted to deny. Henry VIII didn’t belong to the truth because he quit listening to Jesus and was acting selfishly. Ultimately he chose to cease being a member of the kingdom of God within the Catholic Church and created what is now today the Anglican Church. All kingdoms on earth throughout history are similar, they are naturally subjected to the world and are ruled by man and not by Christ. The kingdom of God, on the other hand, is something that is guided by the Holy Spirit and is not ultimately subject to corruption and it has Christ, who is true God and true man, as King. The Kingdom of God is not something abstract, but is a reality that came to be through Jesus’ own Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and through the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost. The Kingdom of God is found in the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, here and throughout the world that will be wholly perfected in glory one day in heaven. And we are part of the Kingdom of God by virtue of our baptisms! We are part of this wonderful Kingdom of God here and now because we were baptized into Christ.
The reality of the Kingdom of God tells us a few things about the nature of our king and also the nature of his subjects, us. First of all, Jesus as King is not someone to be feared, Jesus is not a harsh dictator, but Jesus as King is someone who is both incredibly merciful and just. This fact is what we are rejoicing in and celebrating today. True Kingship is revealed by the love of Jesus and is an open invitation to participate in that same love, a love that is not forced nor demanded, but a love is freely given and we are called to love God in a response of gratitude. Jesus shows us what true kingship looks like and the book of Revelation lays it out for us. The author or Revelation praises Jesus as ruler of the kings on earth and importantly, he notes first that Jesus “loves us” and then goes on to say how he loved us: He “…has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (He did that when He died on the cross for us and our salvation!) and then Jesus invites us to participate in that love by making us into his kingdom, his priests for God the Father, beginning with the Apostles in the upper room and continuing in and through our individual baptisms. This is the fundamental reality of our baptism; because we were baptized, each one of us can participate in the kingdom of God by offering the sacrifices in our own lives to God, by being prophets to our world in spreading the Gospel, and by ruling over our own bodies and families in the name of Christ and His love. We do all of this in supreme gratitude because of Jesus as King who freely laid down His life for us and for our redemption. This causes in us the desire to submit to Him who is King over all of us because we know and believe in His love for us. This submission to Christ the King is a joyful act and one in which we share our joy of living in the truth of Christ with others. This doesn’t mean we compromise on the truth, which many in our world throughout history and especially today want to do, but that we proclaim the complete truth in love to all of those we meet from our own family members, particularly as we gather together for Thanksgiving this week, but also to those whom we randomly meet at the grocery store as we are purchasing food for Thanksgiving. As subjects of the Kingdom of God as baptized Catholics, we are called to belong to the truth by listening to the voice of Jesus as we heard at the end of the Gospel and to share that truth with the whole world.
One practical way for us to live out this joy in the kingdom of God is though service to others. St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest and saint from the early 20th century summed it up beautifully when he said, “If we [Christians] are trying to have Christ as our king we must be consistent. We must start by giving him our heart. Not to do that and still talk about the kingdom of Christ would be completely hollow. There would be no real Christian substance in our behaviour. We would be making an outward show of a faith which simply did not exist. We would be misusing God’s name to human advantage. […] If we let Christ reign in our souls, we will not become authoritarian. Rather we will serve everyone. How I like that word: service! To serve my king, and through him, all those who have been redeemed by his blood. I really wish we Christians knew how to serve, for only by serving can we know and love Christ and make him known and loved” (St J. Escrivá, Christ Is Passing By, 181–182). By virtue of our baptism as subjects of the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ as our Lord and King, we must rejoice in the truth that He loves us and he has saved us from death by dying for us on the Cross. We are then called to share that truth with everyone we encounter by serving those in need, especially the sick and the poor. And we must do this explicitly and loudly! The St. Vincent de Paul Society here at our parish a great way to do this. Also the Sandwich Program that happens twice a month on Sundays after Mass here at St. Vincent’s that feeds many of the homeless is another great way to live our life in service to Christ the King. Let us not be like the Starbucks cups which silently say that it’s Christmas without saying it out loud. Let us proclaim that we are members of the Kingdom of God loudly by our words and also by our acts of love and service to each other, especially in the season of Advent which is fast approaching. Each and every day let us listen to Jesus, who is Truth, and not to the world and live our lives for Him and not for the world. Because Christ is truly the King of the Universe, let’s make Him the King of the universe of our personal lives too by serving Him in everyone we meet.