Pilate’s Fear, Our Freedom

The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, November 19, 2021, article written by L. Martin Nussbaum 

The liturgical year has not always ended with the Solemnity of Christ the King. This observance is a relatively new innovation. The American bishops, through their Committee for Religious Liberty, urge Catholics to consider the history of this celebration so they might better understand that Christ’s kingdom consists of the faithful exercising their freedom to welcome Christ’s reign in their lives.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI published his “Quas Primas” encyclical that placed this solemnity on the liturgical calendar. He wanted it as an antidote to the age, “an excellent remedy for the plague which now infects society.” “Quas Primas” was issued in the wake of the cultural and political cataclysm of the First World War. That war not only resulted in 20 million civilian and military deaths, mass starvation, and a flu pandemic, it birthed types of intentionally godless regimes never seen before. Gone were the ancient royal dynasties — the Hohenzollerns of Germany and Prussia, the Habsburgs who held the Holy Roman Empire’s throne since 1440, and the Romanovs who ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. While not always virtuous in their rule, these families at least acknowledged there was a higher Authority.

In their place, there arose political systems antithetical to the Christian faith:  Mussolini’s Fascism in Italy; Hitler’s Nazism in Germany, and Stalin’s Marxism in the newly constituted Soviet Union. Each sought to expand its reach. Pius XI understood this, writing, “we saw men and nations cut off from God, stirring up strife and discord and hurrying along the road to ruin and death.”  The bloody twentieth century proved his observation prophetic.

The Holy Father noted that 1925 was the sixteenth centenary of the creed adopted at Nicaea, a creed that reminded the faithful Sunday after Sunday that “of [Christ’s] kingdom there shall be no end.” The reading from the Prophet Daniel at the Mass celebrating Christ the King echoes this statement noting that the “one like a Son of man” will have “an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

The Gospel reading, from St. John’s account of the Passion, begins with Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus: “Are you King of the Jews?” St. Cryil, Patriarch of Alexandria, taught that Pilate, in asking this question, “was full of anxiety and thought Caesar’s rule was endangered.” The mob, calling for Jesus’ death had told Pilate “that Jesus had sinned against Caesar in assuming the dominion that Caesar had acquired over the Jews.”  Pilate, the powerful Roman governor of the province of Judea, was afraid of this carpenter’s son. Governments too often fear conduct  informed by faith.

But Jesus, acknowledging his kingship, explained to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world . . . my kingdom is not here.” “What in fact is Christ’s kingdom?” St. Augustine asked. “It is simply those who believe in him,” he answered. That belief calls for conduct ordered by faith.  Such conduct requires freedom.

(Click here to read more about the article) 

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