Pius XI was pope from 1922. He had inherited the vestiges of the problems that had led to World War I and he could already see new problems that would eventually plunge the world into World War II. Against the background of this looming tragedy, he wrote his 1925 encyclical “Quas Primas,” setting up the feast of Christ the King, which we celebrated Sunday.
His ambitious goal was for the world to find lasting peace. He opened his encyclical by saying “that these manifold evils in the world were due to the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and His holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics; and that, as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.”
Further he said: “Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and We promised to do as far as lay in Our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord.”
Thus it was that Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King.
Those of you who attended Sunday’s Mass must have noticed the contrasting images of Christ the King found in the readings. In the first reading, taken from the book of Daniel, Christ is presented as triumphant. Daniel envisions Christ as the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, receiving everlasting dominion, glory and kingship.” This is the kind of king envisioned by men, glorious and majestic like Queen Elizabeth of England, the best specimen of royalty today.
But in our Gospel reading we see a vastly different king. Jesus is on trial before Pilate. His hands are tied, He has a crown of thrones, and He is bloodied all over. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He responds, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The answer of Jesus suggests a sharp division between two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness, where the ruler is Satan, and the kingdom of Jesus. Immediately therefore we are confronted with a challenge: Where do you want to belong? Where do you stand? With the flesh or the spirit? With darkness or light? With the ruler of this world or with the King of God’s world?
This is the way the gospel of John presents the paradox. But we have to understand the language of John correctly. It does not mean that by aligning yourself with the kingdom of Jesus you will have nothing to do with the kingdom of Satan. It does not mean that Jesus has surrendered a kingdom to Satan and He will have nothing to do with it.
Here we see why Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King. When Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King through his encyclical “Quas Primas,” he wanted to emphasize that God is the King of all. As Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds,” and as the evangelist John says, “God so loved the word that He gave His only Son” (Jn 3.16). Thus through the institution of the feast of Christ the King, Pius XI historically wanted to address a world suffering under such false values as consumerism, free-market exploitation, secularism, nationalism, despotism and mass injustice.
World leaders today are still desperately looking for ways of establishing peace, justice and prosperity. They craft agreements, protocols and treaties. Our own government is desperately trying to put an end to conflict and division in Mindanao and with the remaining communist forces.
Learn a lesson from “Quas Primas”: “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony. Our Lord’s regal office invests the human authority of princes and rulers with a religious significance; it ennobles the citizen’s duty of obedience….If princes and magistrates duly elected are filled with the persuasion that they rule, not by their own right, but by the mandate and in the place of the Divine King, they will exercise their authority piously and wisely, and they will make laws and administer them, having in view the common good and also the human dignity of their subjects. The result will be a stable peace and tranquility, for there will be no longer any cause of discontent. Men will see in their king or in their rulers men like themselves, perhaps unworthy or open to criticism, but they will not on that account refuse obedience if they see reflected in them the authority of Christ God and Man. Peace and harmony, too, will result; for with the spread and the universal extent of the kingdom of Christ men will become more and more conscious of the link that binds them together, and thus many conflicts will be either prevented entirely or at least their bitterness will be diminished.”
Would that these ideals will have a place in the platform of parties and candidates in coming elections!