Slight squeamishness settles about the minds of a certain kind of Catholic this Sunday. “Reimagined Catholics,” that is: Catholics more at home with America magazine and the National Catholic Reporter than The Baltimore Catechism and the unredacted Lives of the Saints. You know, those Catholics quite comfortable with Mr. Biden warmly received at our altar rails; or, ones giddy at the prospect of “accompanying” Catholics in their drift from the millennial doctrines of the Catholic Church. This feast is equally unsettling to the vast majority of Catholics in parishes who have received a steady diet of deracinated Catholicism and welcoming Unitarian liturgies. All of them would rather this feast pass as quickly as possible.
The feast of Christ the King trumpets a robust and sanguine Catholicism that brooks no compromise. It presents Christ as triumphant over the world, sin, and death. It proclaims Christ, Who mandates: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and, “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
It is a feast that does not sit well with dialogue, equivocation, and “respecting the process.” Or with those who would like to finesse the Faith with more “nuance.” Even the word “triumph” makes a certain kind of Catholic bristle. After all, Catholics have been solemnly taught for decades to fit in and embrace a carefully massaged Catholicism that makes no demands except to prescribe (in Maritain’s arresting phrase) “kneeling before the world.”
When Pope Pius XI, in 1925, promulgated this feast with his encyclical Quas Primas, he wrote:
The faithful, moreover, by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal. If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God. If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection. It is Our fervent desire, Venerable Brethren, that those who are without the fold may seek after and accept the sweet yoke of Christ, and that we, who by the mercy of God are of the household of the faith, may bear that yoke, not as a burden but with joy, with love, with devotion; that having lived our lives in accordance with the laws of God’s kingdom, we may receive full measure of good fruit, and counted by Christ good and faithful servants, we may be rendered partakers of eternal bliss and glory with him in his heavenly kingdom. (33)
Observe the tone: apodictic, unequivocal, and resoundingly clear. Not a scintilla of ambiguity; not the slightest hint of accommodation to the zeitgeist; not a hint of softening sharp edges. This feast is unafraid to announce that Christ and His Holy Catholic Church alone are the hope of the world. He has won the triumph; we must cast His victory throughout the whole world.
This kind of certitude creates disquiet in a “reimagined church.” These attenuated Catholics are left deeply disturbed by that “one, true Church” talk. Such are sure the Catholic Church does not possess all the answers. She is only a possible answer among a plenitude of answers. This attitude calls to mind the recent interview of a British journalist interviewing an Anglican clergyman. “Sir,” the journalist queried, “does it alarm you that your churches are nearly empty? What about belief in God?” To which the Anglican replied, “Well sir, we are not opposed to that sort of thing, if some find it desirable.”
Many of this species of Catholic have long spurned the supernatural mission of the Church, advancing a political/social agenda more in conformity with a secular model. For these trailblazers, the Church is more akin to an NGO, whose entire charge is seeking “equity” (whatever that may be) for the masses. If this is redolent of another kind of agenda birthed in the mid-nineteenth century, you would not be mistaken. It is understandable that this feast’s dramatic stamp of triumph would lead many Catholics of a certain disposition to embarrassment, if not rage.
There are other aspects of the feast that alarm the “reimagined” Catholic. It is manifestly clear that Christ our King requires that He be sovereign over every part of our lives, private and public. Not a few Catholics would take umbrage at that blunt summons. Over the past century, there has been introduced a softer and gentler Christ. One who ought not be called a “ruler” but a chum; one who does not lead, but accompanies. One who does not ruffle old errors, but affirms them. For such as these, Christ is one who seeks “adjusted” men, not redeemed ones.
Look no further than the manner in which Holy Mass is celebrated in most parishes. It appears more like the annual parish variety show than the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary. Notice how a posture of solemn adoration has been replaced by a casual bonhomie, at best, or a noisy after-hours club, at worst.
Then there is the reception of Holy Communion. Ah, there is the real tale. Typical Communion lines are akin to a stroll with friends, rather than an encounter with the All-holy God, whom the old Catholic Communion hymn proclaimed, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” Where is the “fear and trembling” of which St. Paul writes? It is not hard to imagine the jump from this to the attitude that everyone is welcome to Holy Communion. After all, who dare deny anyone the opportunity for such a stroll?
This paradigm does not see Holy Communion as a sign of union with the will of the Savior and a hunger for greater surrender to His grace. Rather, the “reimagined” model is therapeutic, nonjudgmental, and affirming. The mantras of this distortion have become so familiar as to become comical: the “altar rail (as if there were any still left standing) is not a battlefield,” or, “we don’t want to make the Eucharist political,” and on, and on, and on. In the meantime, the doctrine of the Eucharist fades, and souls wither. Doesn’t this remind you of Belloc’s terrifying lines:
We sit by and watch the barbarian, we tolerate him. In the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence. His comic inversion of our old certitudes and fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces, there is no smile.
No. True Catholics glory in this feast of Christ the King. For us it is a drum beat summoning us to battle. Battle against our sins, our infidelities, our hesitations and rationalizations. It is the bugle cry rousing us to march against the enemies of Christ and His Holy Church.
A story is told in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. As the Athenians were deciding on a course of action against the Spartans, the elders of the city ordered all the citizens to assemble in the great Amphitheatre where matters could be voted upon. Two of Athens’ premier orators were chosen to address the crowd: Asclepius and Demosthenes. After Asclepius delivered his oration, the Athenians all remarked politely, “How well said.” After Demosthenes had spoken with his consummate oratorical skill, the Athenians leapt to their feet and shouted, as in one voice, “Charge!”
This feast is not for us to sit back comfortably and say, “How lovely.” This feast demands that we stand together and bellow, “Charge!”