For the Feast of Christ the King, 22 Nov. 2020
Today marks the great feast of Christ the King. It is a marvelous feast, but one that I only began to understand and love a few years ago.
Confronted by a Muslim
I’ll never forget when my friend Ahmed looked at me and said: “I don’t understand why you Catholics believe God only cares about your beliefs and not your actions.” I was a little astonished at first, taken aback, and then defensive: “Are you thinking about Protestants? We believe we really must do good works of charity to conform our lives to that of Jesus Christ.”
But he wasn’t confused: he knew the different doctrines of atonement and redemption between Protestants and Catholics, he was merely commenting on how he witnessed it playing out. “In Islam, God gave us a law and a political structure that governs our lives,” he responded, “He actually cares about our public life and the order and common good of our societies—not just our individual moral actions.”
I was stunned. In a way he was right. We often try to keep God in our little “spiritual life” box, where we pray and give alms and go to Mass. But how could God not care about our politics and our economics, how we structure our governments and laws, and order our markets? Of course he wants us to be kind and charitable to those we come in contact with, to spread the message of the Gospel, but what about the institutions and rituals of our societies? Those govern the way we live, so shouldn’t they orient us to God Himself?
A Sacramental Society
So I began to search around and lo and behold I suddenly discovered what I had been missing: Catholic Social Teaching! And it wasn’t even hiding—I was just too new a Catholic to have known about it or else I fell asleep during catechesis one day. Whatever the case may be, I uncovered a marvelous world of Catholic teaching on politics and economics. In fact, I discovered that the magisterium has spoken more about the social doctrine of the Church in the past 150 years than anything else! Today, these teachings are often relegated to theory, but at one point in history, Europe was organized according to these principles.
This historic society, which we now call Christendom, had a sacramental foundation. Baptism, for instance, was not merely a childhood event, it was citizenship; it was to be naturalized, even supernaturalized, into something so much more than a member of one nation. Baptism welcomes people into an international family that extends from heaven to earth and defines who we are—not only as saints and sinners but also as citizens. This was an identity marker that a social security card cannot compare to. Baptism, not legal registration, is a better mechanism for creating a people than anything else, not least because it gives people grace to live virtuous lives in their societies. Confirmation offers us the passage into adulthood, and, again, it gives us grace—the grace to take the lead in our communities. Marriage and the priesthood are our paths to heaven, but also our vocations in which we love our neighbours better than without. Confession leads us toward personal repentance and away from the victim culture that the West suffers from today; it breeds responsibility and the mercy from God we need to keep going. The Holy Eucharist itself binds us together as a people. As Pope Benedict said, “The Blessed Sacrament contains a dynamic, which has the goal of transforming mankind and the world into the New Heaven and New Earth, into the unity of the risen Body… Only the true Body in the Sacrament can build up the true Body of the new City of God.” And Last Rites prepares us to love our neighbours and for them to love us as they pass from the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem.
When we take the sacraments as political building blocks, we begin to recognize that only in the Catholic Church, only with all seven sacraments, do we have the power and potential of the Christian faith to build civilizations—not just in theory but also in practice. Christendom was by no means a perfect society, but it was a uniquely good one. But it did reveal the inner logic of the sacraments, which enabled people to live according to love instead of fear or coercion or chaos. The sacraments have the same potential to restore our society as well.
Distracted from this Vision
Current politics insist that we leave our Catholicism at the door, that it is unfit for the market, for the diversity of the neutral public space. The modern, liberal world does a phenomenal job of distracting us from the truth of the Gospel; we even balk a little bit at the idea of mingling religion and politics. But the truth is, the two belong deeply intertwined.
Today we get to stop and consider one of the most marvelous truths in our Catholic tradition: the social Kingship of Christ.
It is a very biblical feast. The Gospel of Matthew begins by linking Jesus with King David. The Gospel of Mark begins by calling Jesus “The son of God”—a title stolen from Caesar Augustus, who was considered the link between heaven and earth and provided political stability as a result. Luke begins his gospel account by situating Jesus’ birth and, later, his ministry, into the political happenings of the day. And when Jesus enters Jerusalem in John’s Gospel, the people praise him: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
If Christ wants to be King of your heart and King of your families and friendships, then he also hopes to be King of your neighbourhoods and cities. Christ ushering in this new social order—the order of Love—is what today’s feast reminds us of.
How Islam Led Me Back to Christ – Charbel Raish – Parousia (Paperback)
With Foreword by Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers
Charbel Raish was born into a Catholic home. But, in the last 6 years of school, he was influenced and challenged in his faith by Islamic friends. In his final year, he struggled to make a choice. He visited a mosque to give his life to Allah and Muhamed. But God wasn’t done with him yet. Charbel visited a church, begging God for a sign. His life was transformed forever.
This conversion story shares what happened that day in the Mosque and the Church! Learn about his family upbringing, and how his school years influenced him. When he finally turned to God, and took his faith in his own hands, he experienced an encounter with Christ. An encounter that radically transformed a young man to be filled with zeal and passion for the truth. This led him into the seminary, study, marriage, being a father to seven children, and founding Parousia, a lay apostolate. Be moved and inspired by how God worked in his life, and how you can access God’s grace – if you only turn to Him!