Chaplain's Comments

Pope Pius XI only established the feast of Christ the King in the Holy Year of 1925. Although rooted in an ancient devotion, this particular feast appears to have its roots in the 1880's when many European bishops were worried about what they then saw a rise of secularisation. These bishops were concerned at how governments were increasingly asserting more power over and against the church. Especially in France and Italy, bishops started to venerate Jesus as the Universal King. This devotion took off. By 1922, at the Eucharistic Congress in Rome, sixty-nine cardinals petitioned to establish this feast and within three years the Vatican established this solemnity of Christ the King.

It is clear from today's Gospel and the New Testament in general, that while Jesus frequently spoke of his kingdom, is hailed like a king on Palm Sunday, and is facetiously given the title by Pilate, his kingship is vastly different from that of Caesar, Herod and even David and the other kings of Israel.

The earliest Christians seem to have understood this very well. We find very little writing or artistic representation of Jesus as a king before AD 324. In that year Emperor Constantine becomes a catechumen and Christianity becomes the religion of the Roman Empire. After this time Jesus starts to appear wearing a crown and holding an orb. Mary is styled as the Queen of Heaven and begins to be pictured as such. This is all understandable as the previously persecuted Christians now emerge to become the most powerful unifying force in the Roman Empire. It was a sweet victory, but it meant that whatever was said of the Roman emperor, even more must be true of Christ the Universal King and Lord.

As centuries passed and the Roman Empire passed away, the church maintained many of its now long-standing royal prerogatives and language. Just as an example, to this day the pope and some bishops live in places called palaces. They wear jewels and rings and have feudal coats of arms. Worse still by far, however, is the mentality and behaviour of a very few bishops, who seem to think that the church is above the scrutiny of the faithful and the law of the land.

When Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of bread and the fish, the crowd wanted to make him king, but he fled from them. Jesus did not come to exercise a temporal and social power. He came to reveal the truth of the God of love and the love of God. It is only when he is bound in ropes that he accepts the title of king. He is an imprisoned king, a vulnerable king, a king with no earthly power. This is the truth he proclaims, the service of people, the compassion that heals, liberates and gives life, the life that calls people to live in love with him.

How do we live a deep friendship with this vulnerable king? Today we want to be on the side of a triumphant king and triumphant church, with global influence. Like Peter we can be ashamed of our humiliated king. And like him we can learn from our humiliation. Perhaps it is in those who are humiliated and excluded who see in the humiliated king, their friend and saviour.

Today we see it clearly in Australia's attitude towards refugees taking desperate measures to flee persecution from people who are exercising power over their land and resources.

Fr Aloysius Mowe SJ, Director of Jesuit refugee services, cited a letter written recently to the Minister for Immigration by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr António Guterres, in which he made it clear that "there is no 'average' time for resettlement", and that resettlement cases are prioritised according to vulnerability and need.

"Australia is not walking away from its responsibilities under the UN Refugees Convention: it is sprinting away at great speed." said Fr Mowe. "Asylum seekers should not be punished because they come here by boat. The Convention says that refugees may not be penalised for their mode of entry into a country.

"Neither should they be punished to act as an example or a deterrent to others. Australia is no longer treating these asylum seekers as human beings with inherent rights and dignity, but as passive instruments of a policy of deterrence.

"As one of the few signatories to the Refugees Convention in this region, Australia should be acting as a beacon of protection for asylum seekers and refugees. Instead, it is providing an example to other countries as to how to deter desperate people from seeking asylum, and how to punish those who do. The 'no-advantage' test is a blot on Australia's reputation: it is cruel, inhumane, and immoral.'

The problem with all the historical accretions of Jesus is that they directly contradict the way in which Jesus spoke about himself as a king. Almost all references to Jesus' kinship occur within the passion narratives. Today's extract form John's Gospel is among the most famous of them all. "You say that I am king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

There are not too many kings or queens today who would love their people so much that they would be prepared to die for them. We know from history that when the going gets tough many monarchs get going. But what we get in Jesus as king is one who did not compromise his humanity, who would not yield from his preaching and does not abandon us in our isolation and desolation. Jesus' kinship is revealed in his utter fidelity to us-even to the end.

So let's not be seduced by the power, pride, riches and greed that worldly rulers so crave. Let's keep our own eyes on Christ our King who loved people more than things, who spoke the truth with love, and who died that we might live. And let's not shrink from challenging the entire church and our country, to do the same.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain