HOLY MASS FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING
Homily of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller,
Sunday, 25 November 2012
The consecration of a new Bishop for the Church is always an occasion of great joy, most especially for those to whom he is sent to minister, the faithful of his Diocese. And so I am delighted to have been present with you, the Catholic faithful of Malta, yesterday at the Episcopal consecration of your new Bishop. And I am deeply honoured to have been invited by him to preach to you at this, his first Pontifical Mass as a Bishop.
I have known Bishop Charles for many years and have also had the privilege of working with him both from a distance (as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and more recently (at close hand) since my appointment there as Prefect. During these years I have come to be ever more deeply impressed by Bishop Charles, not only because of his obvious intelligence and immense competence, but much more so by his humility, his self-less dedication to the Church and his deep and genuine spirituality. These are primarily the qualities that impressed the Holy Father and that motivated him to appoint Charles Scicluna as a Bishop, and these are the qualities which will stand him in good stead as he takes up the role of Shepherd and Pastor here in Malta. For the vocation of the Bishop, here as elsewhere, is not primarily to be an administrator of an organisation or the promoter of an ideology, but to be a ‘herald of faith’, an authentic witness to the mystery of God which has been revealed to us in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These are difficult times for the Church, and difficult times to be a Bishop, and so we must pray earnestly for Bishop Charles that he will be a courageous and faithful minister of Christ.
The Church, of course, is no stranger to difficult times. The beautiful feast that we are celebrating today, in fact, emerged from one such period of great difficulty. For this Solemnity of Jesus Christ, Universal King, is not an ancient feast. It was instituted only in 1925 against the backdrop of the rise to power of the European Fascist Dictators. And the specific impetus for Pope Pius XI to make it a solemn feast was the martyrdom of a Catholic priest, Fr. Miguel Pro, during the revolution in Mexico.
As Fr. Pro was being taken out to be shot – his only crime being that he was a Catholic priest – in one last act of defiance he stretched out his arms in the shape of a cross and shouted “Viva Cristo Rey”. His cry rang out throughout the whole Church and the Pope declared that a feast of Christ the King should be included in the general liturgical calendar. The institution of this feast was, therefore, almost an act of defiance from the Church against all those who at that time were seeking to absolutize their own political ideologies, insisting boldly that no earthly power, no particular political system or military dictatorship is ever absolute. Rather, only God is eternal and only the Kingdom of God is an absolute value, which never fails. And this because all political or military kingdoms are ultimately based on and maintained by force or coercive power.
It is only the Kingdom of God which is not, and cannot be, imposed by force, for the Kingdom God is an internal Kingdom, a Kingdom of the heart and the power of God is not coercive – rather it is the power of creative love which gives life. This is why throughout his life Jesus refused to be made into a king or a political leader. He did not want to rule a political kingdom by force. Rather, only at the very end of his life, stripped of all earthly influence and authority, standing in chains before a corrupt earthly judge, does Jesus declare his kingship. There in poverty and humility, devoid of all that human beings normally associate with regal power, Jesus admits himself to be a king.
And herein, lies the real revolution of Christ and of Christianity. Standing before Pilate in the Pretorium – the very heart of earthly political power – Jesus bears witness to the truth that real power is not the ability to coerce others, but the strength to love; that true control is about self-sacrifice; that real life is found only through death to self. In doing so Jesus turns our human values upside down and proclaims a new and radical form of kingship. He does not coerce, but rather invites a response.
In this encounter with Pilate, therefore, Christ offers an example for all Christians – who like Christ are called to bear witness to the truth through their lives. But especially he offers a role model for every Catholic Bishop. For the Bishop, above all, is called to enter into the public sphere, not as a politician, or a governor, or a ruler - but as a humble witness to the truth. In doing so the Bishop must never coerce, but must insistently try - through his teaching and through his example - to provoke a response, not just from those who belong to his flock, but from all who are open to his voice.
This is the Kingdom which Christ the King brings. The Bishop is merely a Herald of that Kingdom who invites people to acknowledge freely God’s love and encourages them to entrust themselves to their Creator. This is being ‘on the side of truth’ and listening ‘to the voice of Christ’. In so doing we become citizens of the Kingdom, moral – not political - subjects of Christ the Universal King.
The feast of Christ the King is a good day for a new bishop to celebrate his first Pontifical Mass. As one who is consecrated in order to make Christ the Head sacramentally present to his Body the Church, the lessons of this feast can be inscribed, Bishop Charles, on your heart. The Truth of Christ is to be preached in all times and seasons, in all places and circumstances. It is to be preached in humility and powerlessness, as an invitation for all to enter into that Kingdom where the King of Love reigns over hearts and minds. It is a Kingdom that comes when the will of the individual is conformed to the will of God; it begins here on earth and finds its fulfilment in heaven.
Fr Pro, in his own time and place, made the sign of the cross with his body and preached Christ the King by giving his life for the sake His Truth. In this way he entered into that Kingdom for which he prayed daily in the Lord’s Prayer. All Christians are called to make their lives into a sign of the cross and preach Christ the King by living in His Truth. We are blessed when we have exemplary Bishops to lead us by word and example into that Kingdom. As we pray for the coming of the Kingdom, we pray for Bishop Charles Scicluna, that he will be such a Bishop for the diocese of Malta.