Solemnity of Christ the King
Sunday, November 20, 2022
“Today you will be with me in Paradise” are the unforgettable words of the crucified Jesus to one we call the Good Thief. They are words of acceptance, promise, and hope. The feast that we celebrate today, the Solemnity of Christ the King is a celebration of that hope, a making tangible of that promise, and an entry into that acceptance. The Bread receive at the table of the Word and the table of Christ’s Body (Dei Verbum §21) is not only enduring food for life’s journey, but the assurance of his promise – that which we can touch, that which we can receive, the Bread of the Kingdom that becomes the bread of our lives. It assures us that Christ comes to rule over our lives and over the world in which we live—but not as Caesar, with whip and lash, with threat or terror. No, Christ comes not to lord it over people, but shows his greatness by being last of all and servant of all. In and through Jesus, God inaugurates his “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” These are the marks of the Kingdom of God, God’s way for us, God’s life for us and in us.
These marks of the Kingdom are in stark contrast to the marks left on the hearts and lives of so many children and young people by men and women who were called to the service of that same Kingdom of God. The anger and revulsion experienced by many in response to the recent revelations regarding the horrendous sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy or religious communities and the whitewashing of those crimes is understandable; it is entirely justified. Furthermore, these revelations reawaken once again for survivors the horror of childhood abuse. No matter what words we use to describe our revulsion at hearing about these heinous crimes, they can never capture the reality of suffering endured by victims and survivors of sexual abuse, suffering compounded by the pathetic responses of those who failed to protect the people they were ordained to shepherd. Because trust was breached in a most egregious manner survivors have suffered years of irreparable damage. For that, no word of apology will ever be sufficient.
Too often those in leadership in dioceses and religious orders have failed to safeguard those entrusted to their care – whether through ignorance, misplaced loyalty or a sense of self-preservation. Despite the many reports and serious findings on this subject here in Ireland, these most recent reports and revelations of predatory behaviour, appalling abuse and neglect inflicted on so many children are nonetheless truly shocking. The evil that was perpetrated upon so many people, in the first instance, upon survivors and their families, but also upon the community of faithful who rightly feel betrayed. It is right that the truth of these crimes comes to light so that the abuse itself can be named, the pain, injustice, and offence to the integrity and dignity of the person accepted, and the long journey of healing undertaken and supported. This can only happen when the response of the human heart that is willing to go even deeper than the childhood terror inflicted on far too many children in schools. It is at the level of the heart that we pay attention to the motives for our actions. The courage of abuse survivors who first brought the horrific truth of sexual abuse to light must continue to be matched by our unflinching commitment to listen to the survivors and, to respond in truth and in justice to all of them.
The questions that have been raised in recent days not only bring the community to focus on the seriousness of abuse, they are also a reminder to us all of the imperative of the call to the responsibility of safeguarding, and the mission of prevention, so that the future will be different from our history.
This morning’s Second Reading called the Christian community at Colossae “to give thanks to God for what God had done.” What had God done? According to the reading, “God has taken us out of the power of darkness…” (Col 1:12) and God is still taking us out of the power of darkness. If the abuse of the vulnerable and the innocent is not a manifestation of the power of darkness, then what is? We can produce poignant romantic and nostalgic images of our Lord, we can proclaim his Kingship and power in our homilies and in what we write, but until we see Christ in the least of our sisters and brothers – until we recognise, meet, and serve our crucified King in the broken, abused and suffering people in our family, our Church, and our world – we proclaim a mirage, and remain a long way from his kingdom. Until we take on board that turning to Christ, and following him is not a one-off event, but means turning towards him day-in-day-out, and following him every day, very little – if anything at all – will change. At the heart of being Catholic is the active recognition of all as our sisters and brothers, because we are all children of the one Father. To live that mystery, that demanding mystery, is to have Christ as our king. This is the journey of our lives, our lives as individuals, our lives as communities, this is the call and journey of the Church. We cannot do this on our own: we cannot save ourselves. That is the foolishness of those who mock Jesus on the cross (see Luke 23:35–39): nobody can save themselves—not even Christ can save himself. We need each other and we need God. “Seek ye first the kingdom and its justice” said Jesus (see Matt 6:33). Seek ye first that “kingdom of truth and life, [the] kingdom of holiness and grace, [the] kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love, and peace. These are the marks of God’s Kingdom, of God’s presence… these are the signs of Christ the King. There will be no change for the wounded, the abused, or for the Church as a whole, without radically prioritising our seeking of the kingdom and its justice. To commit to this is not only to have Christ as our king, but it is to discover his healing and saving presence at the heart of our own [lives]. Every person who is serious about their faith knows that structural change in the Church is necessary. The Church must change if we are to follow Christ on journey to life. This is where God is calling us. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” “Today is the day of salvation.” (see Luke 19:8–9, 2Cor 6:2, Psalm 94:7–8) “Today he comes to our house.” (see Luke 19:5) Today we must act. Today we must live, and today we must continue to address the wrongs done in Christ’s name.
Archbishop of Dublin