Yesterday was the feast of Christ the King- a feast that is closely related in many ways to the Sacred Heart. As this blog has observed before, the icon draws our thoughts and prayers to the significance of Christ as the universal king. And this is what the icon depicts so well. I am reminded of Pope Francis’s words on the Feast day in 2013 which strike me when I look the icon:
the beginning: Jesus Christ, the Lord. God has given him the fullness, the totality, so that in him all things might be reconciled (cf. Col 1:12-20). He is the Lord of creation, he is the Lord of reconciliation. This image enables to see that Jesus is the centre of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ. But when this centre is lost, when it is replaced by something else, only harm can result for everything around us and for ourselves…Besides being the centre of creation and the centre of reconciliation, Christ is the centre of the people of God. Christ is the centre of the history of humanity and also the centre of the history of every individual. ( here)
If Christ is the centre of history, then he is also at the centre of the social, economic and political order as well as the cosmic order! For this reason this icon of The Sacred Heart as Christ Omega and the Universal King, has, over the years, has become more and more a window into that great ‘secret’ of the Church, ‘ Catholic Social Teaching’ - CST. Yesterday it brought me back to think of the themes and principles of CST as telling us about what the of Kingship of Christ involves in a practical sense.
It is not a coincidence that the two popes who laid the foundations of CST, Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI are also closely associated with the Sacred Heart. For both pontiffs the devotion to the Sacred heart and Christ the King were part of their strategy to develop a social Catholicism whose purpose it was to challenge the secularisation taking place in the modern era. Both believed that economic and political orders based on individualism or collectivism were as morally deficient as one another. Both believed that the Church had to illuminate the political, economic and social problems and policies of the day by the light of the Gospel.
Their social teaching was therefore inextricably linked to their promotion of the Sacred Heart and Christ the King. We should listen very carefully to their critique of the modern capitalism – whether of the liberal democratic or state-capitalist varieties. Thank God, no-one really believes in communism any more, but the appeal of statism and collectivism and self-love and greed is still alive and well. Again, it is not a coincidence that the great Pope of the Sacred Heart, St. John Paul, also contributed significantly to CST in 3 major encyclicals. When we seek to promote the social teaching of the Church we should pray to the Sacred Heart.
Christ the King has an urgent relevance to the state of the world today. So on this feast day we would do well to reflect on this relationship between CST and the Sacred Heart and Christ the King. Images of Christ the King frequently show the relationship between the two – as does this icon. The images of the Sacred Heart and Christ the King became popular during the same period (1990- 1930s)when key principles of CST were being developed. And that was for a good reason: both were images which were about challenging secularisation and the marginalisation of Christianity in the public square: as such they should be read (I believe) as images that invite us to reflect upon the richness of CST and the profound relevance of this teaching to our understanding of our political, social and economic problems and policies. Pope Francis has, of course, recently added to this by showing ( in Laudato Si) how the teaching of the church is also relevant to current environmental problems and policies
Leo’s teaching on the Sacred Heart in 1899 ( Annum Sacrum ) which consecrated the whole world to the heart of Christ, and which united the devotion to the Kingship of Christ, followed his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. And in criticising the immoral and individualistic forms of capitalism as well as socialistic collectivism he emphasises that both capitalism and socialism are as bad as one another in blocking the way to living a virtuous life. Of course, the greatest of these virtues which were being destroyed was caritas – love. And he observes of this virtue that : ‘Charity, as a virtue, pertains to the Church; for virtue it is not, unless it be drawn from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ (30).
Pius XI’s establishment of the Feast of Christ the King ( Quas Primas ) (1925) and later his encyclical on the Sacred Heart in 1928 ( Miserentissimus Redemptor) preceded his great social encyclical in 1931 ( Quadresimo Anno) that celebrated forty years since the publication of Rerum Novarum. Following Quadressimo Anno, he emphasised once again the importance of the Sacred Heart to the problems addressed in Quadressimo Anno. In Miserentissimus Redemptor hr teaches that the debotion to the Sacred Heart is ' totius religious summa'. In Caritate Compulsi (1932) Pius said that the devotion to the Sacred Heart was the 'extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'.
To understand the Feast of Christ the King as a statement of Catholic Social Teaching we need to place it in the context of hi encyclical Ubi Arcano (On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ|) written in the aftermath of the first world war, in 1922. In this encyclical published a just few years prior to the Pius XI reflects on the dire consequences of abandoning the Kingdom Of Christ, in favour of the kingdoms of this world.
The inordinate desire for pleasure, concupiscence of the flesh, sows the fatal seeds of division not only among families but likewise among states; the inordinate desire for possessions, concupiscence of the eyes, inevitably turns into class warfare and into social egotism; the inordinate desire to rule or to domineer over others, pride of life, soon becomes mere party or factional rivalries, manifesting itself in constant displays of conflicting ambitions and ending in open rebellion, in the crime of lese majeste, and even in national parricide. These unsuppressed desires, this inordinate love of the things of the world, are precisely the source of all international misunderstandings and rivalries, despite the fact that oftentimes men dare to maintain that acts prompted by such motives are excusable and even justifiable because, forsooth, they were performed for reasons of state or of the public good, or out of love for country. Patriotism - the stimulus of so many virtues and of so many noble acts of heroism when kept within the bounds of the law of Christ - becomes merely an occasion, an added incentive to grave injustice when true love of country is debased to the condition of an extreme nationalism, when we forget that all men are our brothers and members of the same great human family, that other nations have an equal right with us both to life and to prosperity, that it is never lawful nor even wise, to dissociate morality from the affairs of practical life, that, in the last analysis, it is "justice which exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable." (Proverbs xiv, 34) ( Ubi Arcano, )
The process of secularization and the marginalization of Christianity that had been the subject of several Leo’s encyclicals - including that on the Sacred Heart - had continued apace and Pius felt the need to re-state once again the Kingship of Jesus over all creation. A few years later he was to institute the feast of Christ the King in Quas Primas. In this he stresses how the Feast was related to previous responses to the anti- Christian culture of the modern world. It worth citing the Quas Primas at some length to make this point clear.
23. The festivals that have been introduced into the liturgy in more recent years have had a similar origin, and have been attended with similar results. When reverence and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament had grown cold, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted, so that by means of solemn processions and prayer of eight days' duration, men might be brought once more to render public homage to Christ. So, too, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was instituted at a time when men were oppressed by the sad and gloomy severity of Jansenism, which had made their hearts grow cold, and shut them out from the love of God and the hope of salvation.
24. If We ordain that the whole Catholic world shall revere Christ as King, We shall minister to the need of the present day, and at the same time provide an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society. We refer to the plague of anti-clericalism, its errors and impious activities. This evil spirit, as you are well aware, … has not come into being in one day; it has long lurked beneath the surface. The empire of Christ over all nations was rejected. The right which the Church has from Christ himself, to teach mankind, to make laws, to govern peoples in all that pertains to their eternal salvation, that right was denied. Then gradually the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions and to be placed ignominiously on the same level with them. It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers. Some men went even further, and wished to set up in the place of God's religion a natural religion consisting in some instinctive affection of the heart. …We lamented these in the Encyclical Ubi arcano; we lament them today: the seeds of discord sown far and wide; those bitter enmities and rivalries between nations, which still hinder so much the cause of peace; that insatiable greed which is so often hidden under a pretense of public spirit and patriotism, and gives rise to so many private quarrels; a blind and immoderate selfishness, making men seek nothing but their own comfort and advantage, and measure everything by these; no peace in the home, because men have forgotten or neglect their duty; the unity and stability of the family undermined; society in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin. We firmly hope, however, that the feast of the Kingship of Christ, which in future will be yearly observed, may hasten the return of society to our loving Savior. It would be the duty of Catholics to do all they can to bring about this happy result. Many of these, however, have neither the station in society nor the authority which should belong to those who bear the torch of truth. This state of things may perhaps be attributed to a certain slowness and timidity in good people, who are reluctant to engage in conflict or oppose but a weak resistance; thus the enemies of the Church become bolder in their attacks. But if the faithful were generally to understand that it behooves them ever to fight courageously under the banner of Christ their King, then, fired with apostolic zeal, they would strive to win over to their Lord those hearts that are bitter and estranged from him, and would valiantly defend his right.
25. Moreover, the annual and universal celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ will draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them. While nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim his kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm his rights.
26. The way has been happily and providentially prepared for the celebration of this feast ever since the end of the last century. It is well known that this cult has been the subject of learned disquisitions in many books published in every part of the world, written in many different languages. The kingship and empire of Christ have been recognized in the pious custom, practiced by many families, of dedicating themselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; not only families have performed this act of dedication, but nations, too, and kingdoms. In fact, the whole of the human race was at the instance of Pope Leo XIII, in the Holy Year 1900, consecrated to the Divine Heart. It should be remarked also that much has been done for the recognition of Christ's authority over society by the frequent Eucharistic Congresses which are held in our age. These give an opportunity to the people of each diocese, district or nation, and to the whole world of coming together to venerate and adore Christ the King hidden under the Sacramental species.
So the deep and profound relationship between the Sacred Heart and the Kingship of Christ is clear enough for the teaching of these two great Popes. For both the Kingship of Christ will be brought about through the Sacred Heart. A few years after Quas Primas, Pius published his Miserentissimus Remdemptor which focused on the importance of the devotion to the Sacred Heart for bringing about the Kingship of Christ. The message of the encyclical was to underpin the later social encyclical, Quadressimo Anno in 1932. The Sacred Heart was needed to remind humanity that we were living in a disordered world. The world was turning away from the love of God and was becoming more and more centred on the love of the self. The challenge was to restore the relationship between humanity and God: it needed to make reparation and re-order itself. And that is what the devotion to the Sacred Heart involved: humanity had to repair its relationship with God. The Devotion to the Sacred Heart was the great means by which this process of repairing our relationship with God could take place.
In this context we now better understand Pius XI’s contribution to building on the social teaching of Leo XIII. Christ is King of all things – and that includes the realms of politics and economics. Economic ‘laws’ may describe how self-interested, homo economicus behaves, but the laws of Christ show how human beings should behave. The Kingship of Christ is a feast which is about reminding us to get things in the right order. First, we have to set ourselves to seeking to realise God's law and order, and then having put this fist, we will nor be enslaved to material possessions and power. What Jesus came to show was the world was made for us to enjoy - like the wine at the marriage feast at Cana - but ( and here is the big BUT) we must not make the things of this world the centre of our lives. We have to order our lives in a way that always seeks to seek God first. As CST shows, private property is a good not a bad, BUT we must - as individuals and as societies - be possessed by our possessions. Vices are always dis-ordered forms of good. We have to eat, and we ought to enjoy good food. But, we must not be gluttonous and let food consume us.
The laws of God’s kingdom are the laws which tell us how we ought be should behave, the ends we should seek if we are not to fall prey to forces of materialism, individualism, collectivism and nationalism. The Feast was established to mind us who is really in charge of the universe and that we should not presume to think that human beings can exist outside the moral and natural law of His kingdom. The image of Christ the King therefore serves to remind us that human beings have telos – a end to which they should aim. We should not enthrone the powers of this world in our hearts – whether they be greed and envy and the rest of the vices or whether they are Kings and dictators and plutocrats. We should aim to become one with Christ: it He who is King of our hearts, and it is He who is the way, the truth and the life. The theme of the Quas Primas is clear enough. Contrary to those that argue that the Church should keep out of the public square, Pius states, that yes, His Kingdom is a ‘spiritual kingdom concerned with spiritual things’, but:
It would be a grave error…to say that Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs, since, by virtue of the absolute empire over all creatures committed to him by the Father, all things are in his power. (17)
The feast of Christ the King was instituted to make this very clear. The Church has a place in the public square, and must use its voice to remind people of the social, political and economic implications of the gospel. Above all the feast of the Christ the King was instituted to say that human existence had a purpose, and end to which it must strive. It may fail and miss the mark, but there is a mark: the heart of Christ. Politics and economics was about means, but it was also about ends. The feast of Christ the King was there to remind humanity what that end was, and what that end ought to be. Christ is King of all creation: the alpha and the omega. As King he came into the world to show the way to enable humanity to learn from him how to live and to what end. He humbled himself and suffered and died so as to save mankind. And because he did this for all mankind it meant that, as Quas Primas shows, he is King of all creatures, and his gospel is therefore for all humanity – indeed all creation. And that means all public as well as all private life (19) ! It also means that His rule extends to the public consequences of private life. The feast was therefore to ‘draw attention to the evils which anticlericalism has brought upon society in drawing men away from Christ, and will also do much to remedy them’ (25).
In 1931 Pius was to celebrate the publication of Rerum Novarum and add significantly to CST in Quadressimo Anno. In the encyclical he calls Rerum Novarum a ‘magna charta’ upon which should guide social, economic and political life. He endorses Leo’s vigorous attack on the moral defects of both capitalism and socialism, and argues that modern society is being hurled against the twin rocks of individualism and humanity was suffering as a result. The following year, 1932, he returned to the Sacred Heart again in Caritate Christi. Once again he argues that the dis-order in the world can only be repaired through the Sacred Heart. It was he said, 'the extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'. It is Caritate Christi, written in the midst of a great economic depression and political ferment, that we see the relationship between the Sacred Heart, the Kingship of Christ and Catholic Social Teaching most clearly expounded. In Quadressimo Anno he had warned about the dangers of excessive individualism and egotistical and godless capitalism, as well as atheistic communism and nationalism, a year on it had all continued to get worse. . The source of all this misery was evident:
indeed, the root itself from which this most unhappy state of things arises is yet more to be lamented; for if that judgment of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed by the Apostle St. Paul, "the desire of money is the root of all evils," was always in close agreement with the facts, this is more than ever true at the present time. For is not that avidity for perishable goods which was justly and rightly mocked, even by a heathen poet as the execrable hunger of gold, "auri sacra fames"; is not that sordid seeking for each one's own benefit, which is very often the only motive by which bonds between either individuals or societies are instituted; and, lastly, is not this cupidity, by whatsoever name or style it is called, the chief reason why we now see, to our sorrow, that mankind is brought to its present critical condition? For it is from this that come the first shoots of a mutual suspicion which saps the strength of any human commerce; hence come the sparks of an envy which accounts the goods of others a loss to itself; hence comes that sordid and excessive self-love which orders and subordinates all things to its own advantage, and not only neglects but tramples upon the advantage of others; and, lastly, hence come the iniquitous disturbance of affairs and the unequal division of "possessions, as a result of which the wealth of nations is heaped up in the hands of a very few private men, who - as We warned you last year, in Our Encyclical Letter Quadressimo anno - control the trade of the whole world at their will, thereby doing immense harm to the people.
The root of the evils of the day - in its various forms of irreligious capitalism, atheistic communism and aggressive nationalism - was, as always 'excessive love of self' and 'the insatiable greed for earthly goods'.
the enemies of all order, whether they be called Communists or by some other name, exaggerating the very grave straits of the economic crisis, in this great perturbation of morals, with extreme audacity, direct all their efforts to one end, seeking to cast away every bridle from their necks, and breaking the bonds of all law both human and divine, wage an atrocious war against all religion and against God Himself; in this it is their purpose to uproot utterly all knowledge and sense of religion from the minds of men, even from the tenderest age, for they know well that if once the Divine law and knowledge were blotted out from the minds of men there would now be nothing that they could not arrogate to themselves. And thus we now see with our own eyes - what we have not read of as happening anywhere before - impious men, agitated by unspeakable fury, shamelessly liking up a banner against God and against all religion throughout the whole world.
Caritate Christi argues that is only when human beings turn-away from the love of self and the love of material goods and, in prayer and reparation, and begin to understand the deep order in creation revealed in the Kingship of Christ at the Heart of the Saviour that we can repair the damage and destruction being wrought by those who wish to destroy Christianity and especially the Catholic Church.
In Quadressimo Anno Pius hoped that all those who struggled to promote the social teaching of the Church would be ‘enkindled with the fire of the heart of Christ’.
As we recall the work of Pius XI in exposing the defects of individualistic and collectivist systems in the early 20th century we must pray that all who battle against these disordered ideologies in their various forms and seek to proclaim the Kingship of Christ in the 21st century may be ‘enkindled with the fire of the heart of Christ.’ The Sacred Heart is still 'the extraordinary remedy for the extraordinary needs of our time'!
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