Christ the King of the Universe
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem.
What Our Lord Saw from the Cross
In the ancient world, the ideal image of the king was a shepherd. Whether this was true before him or not, King David served as the standard against which all other kings were measured and fell short—that is, until our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is of Him that Ezekiel was prophesying in the first reading today. He is the King of the Universe, Who is supposed to show His power in being a good—no, THE Good Shepherd.
“I Myself will look after and tend My sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend My sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I Myself will pasture My sheep; I Myself will give them rest, says the Lord God.”1
He promises to take things in hand Himself. And His power is so great that He established in His Church a hierarchy, the Apostles and their successors the pope and bishops, who are supposed to be our shepherds, ruling us through His power, guiding us with His voice. They don’t just act in His place and with His power. He acts in them and though them, often despite them. He said, “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me.”2 And, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”3 And, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”4
That’s what He says, so why does His pastoral touch, His personal attendance to us, especially in this last week, feel like being abandoned on a desert island? Are you enjoying the cold, the wet grass? “The tongue of the suckling cleaves to the roof of its mouth in thirst; the babes cry for food, but there is no one to give it to them.”5
In August 1975 I was saved from thralldom to Satan by the waters of baptism. In May 1983 my body welcomed the Body of the Lord. In May 1989 I was fortified by the seal of the Holy Spirit. From that time to this, it was only this last week when the brief but serious thought hit me to leave it all behind—all of it, this place, this faith, this religion. Obviously I didn’t. “Can’t do that, gotta say Mass here on Sunday.” Besides, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”6 And we still have prayers, and I still sat in there, looking up at Jesus crucified. But the Church I love, the cause to which I dedicated my life, had become exceedingly bitter.
On Good Friday, as the priests follow the veiled crucifix out of the sacristy, they give their voice to the Lord as He reproaches us. “What more should I have done for you and I didn’t do it? I planted you, My vine thick with fruit, and you became to Me exceedingly bitter.”
Exceedingly bitter. We both felt it, God and me. I because of Him, and He because…because of me. We were both pointing fingers at each other. But I had to acknowledge that before He made me so, I made Him exceedingly bitter. I am part and member of that Church which is currently so hard to love.
And then it began to dawn on me that this was deeper than finger pointing. Why would He want us to feel this bitterness? Why would His shepherding style, His personal touch, seem more like being utterly forsaken? Because love unites. He doesn’t just want to be one with us; He wants us to be like Him, in all His mysteries. And at this particular moment we cry out with Him from the cross, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?”7 That cry from Golgotha still echoes around the world. You can hear it right here, today. You can hear it everywhere tyranny oppresses the Church, everywhere the faithful look in vain for defense and consolation. It is the cry of our King, Who is none other than the Crucified.
When all the bravado of leaving the Church dies away, to run now is to deny that we are—that I am—the cause of our King’s bitterness, our King Whose power is so great that His immense repugnance to our sinfulness cannot stop His love and mercy from redeeming us. To leave the Church now is an act of meanness, of cowardice, of a small heart. To refuse to join Him on the cross is to miss the chance to establish with Him a kingdom, as our preface says, “of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.”
1 Ez. 34:11-12.15
2 Luke 10:16
3 Matt. 18:18
4 Matt. 28:18-20
5 Lam. 4:4
6 John 6:69
7 Matt. 27:46
Earth is illumined by the sun more than by a distant star. No matter how dark the night, the sun’s rays are inescapable when daylight returns.
One of the most beautiful things about the mysteries of our faith is that, even though we return to them year after year, they can be as fresh and amazing as the first time we heard of them, if only we turn our hearts to them with humility and love.
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