Even if we didn’t already know it, from the Gospel this morning we can infer that the major charge preferred to the Roman governor against our Lord by the Sanhedrin, was that He had presented Himself as the King of the Jews. This, of course, was untrue, but it allowed them to portray Jesus as a rebel against the Roman government and a usurper of the Roman Cæsar. They knew very well that Pontius Pilate could simply not afford to pass over such a charge lightly—that as the chief Roman official in the city, he would be duty bound to act decisively against any threat to the power of Rome.
But, paradoxically, it is clear that what infuriated the Jewish leaders was precisely the opposite. Jesus Christ was a man of great influence with the common people, a natural leader of men. His ideas about things were often disarming, and His miracles drew great crowds, eager to see what He might do next. But those most concerned with Israel as a nation (rather than as the people of God) hoped that He would use His uncanny influence to restore the glory of the kingdom by raising the sword and expelling the Romans. Israel, after all had a history that consisted mostly in being a conquered people—they yearned for a Messias who would turn them into a nation of conquerors, or at least a free people.
Abraham, generally considered the Father of the Jewish nation, had been a wanderer who eventually settled in the land of Chanan after a period of war with the surrounding kings. His grandson and great-grandchildren returned to Egypt during the famine, and soon found themselves in slavery that lasted some four-hundred years. After escaping from Egypt under Moses, they wandered forty years in the desert, before fighting their way back to Chanan. For roughly four hundred years they battled the various local peoples that we find mentioned in the biblical books of Judges and Kings. Only with the reign of Solomon (around 1000 BC) was there a peaceful reign over the Promised Land.
But after Solomon’s reign of forty years, the kingdom degenerated into civil war, splitting into two weaker kingdoms that found themselves at war with each other and exposed to the ambitions of the surrounding nations, paying tribute for their survival. The northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed around 700 BC by the Assyrians; the southern kingdom of Juda was destroyed about a hundred years later by the Babylonians. Both nations spent years in captivity, until being conquered again by the Persians and the Medes. They were allowed to return to Chanan and to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, but remained under Persian control until the Persians were conquered by the Macedonians under Alexander the Great (about 330 BC). With Alexander’s untimely death, his empire was divided amongst his generals, and control over the Jews shifted between his Syrian successors and those in Egypt. Around 150 BC they achieved a degree of independence under the leadership of the Machabees, but knew no peace until their conquest by the Romans about sixty years before the birth of Christ.
The great disappointment, then, among many of His admirers, was the Jesus Christ did not take up the sword as King of Israel. Indeed, even His own close followers, during His last few moments on earth, wanted to know: “Lord, shalt Thou at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” But, as He told Pilate, His kingdom was “not of this world.”
Early Christianity was persecuted, and wielded no political power whatsoever—the Church urged obedience to the legitimate pagan civil authority in all things that were not sinful. Christianity became legal in the Empire, but the Empire soon fell to the barbarian tribes of the north. But, surprisingly, the conquerors were conquered by the Catholic religion of the conquered. For many years thereafter, one could speak of Christendom – of the peoples of the various nations of Europe, who were united by the Faith of Christ.
Characteristic of Christendom was the rule of Christ as King. He did not rule by force, but, as Cyril of Alexandria tells us, “He had dominion over all creatures by virtue of His essence; by virtue of His very nature.” Society as a whole understood that Jesus Christ was indeed, “the Way and the Truth and the Life.”
He was the perfect “Way,” for even imperfect men could follow His teachings and live a life as peaceful and productive as any that could be lived in difficult times. His “Way” brought order to a chaotic world wherever that “Way” was allowed to be established. Order, fidelity, honesty, justice, prosperity, and peace flowed from the “the Way” wherever it was followed.
He was the perfect “Truth,” for even imperfect men could learn from Him those things that are useful for men, which are known in the mind of God for all eternity—and from such divine Truth, men might, by analogy, know truth here on earth.
Most of all, He was the perfect “Life,” for the imperfect men of Christendom understood that eternal life came only through knowing the Father through the Son, and that eternal life began right here on earth with the divine graces which we receive through His Mystical Body, the Church. Eternal life, after all, begins not with death, but with Baptism, and is nourished and grows with all of the other Sacraments and sacramentals of the Catholic Faith.
This Christendom—this rule of Christ the King—flourished as long as Popes and princes and priests and peasants and nobles and kings managed to be (at least on the average) a bit more holy than worldly. On this earth, men and women always were, and always will be, imperfect (only Jesus and Mary are exceptions), but God is always ready to meet us half way. History has amply demonstrated that Christendom is strong when its people and especially its leaders are faithful to “the Way and the Truth and the Life,” and conversely that Christendom is weak when those same people see the Church and civil society as things to be used for their mere worldly advancement and gratification.
This feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by the very great Pope Pius XI, who in the interim between two world wars, recognized that “the Peace of Christ” could be had only “in the Reign of Christ.” That was, if fact the motto of his entire pontificate. It is altogether an illusion to think that civil society can enjoy peace and prosperity while ignoring or even being antagonistic to the reign of Christ.
Look how far society has fallen since the high days of Christendom when civil rulers were anointed by the Church with Holy Chrism, and men and women of both high and low degree professed the same Catholic Faith of the Gospels. Maybe it would be better to speak of a “slide” rather than a “fall.” Western civilization did not, all of a sudden, become anti-Christian, but rather it drifted that way, or slid that way over many many years and centuries.
A century ago—a hundred years ago—and even during Pope Pius’ time, most people in the West thought of themselves, at least, as Christians if not Catholics. Anti‑Christianity was more of an intellectual curiosity native to secular universities and secret societies. The average individual identified himself as a Christian, and he lived in a civil society governed largely by Christian principles; where men and women knew right from wrong, and were ashamed of their wrongdoing.
But, today, people seem to glory in their infamy. Evil behavior is the stuff of popular song and entertainment, the thing that makes movie stars and athletes and politicians truly famous. Mainstream politicians campaign by promising to violate the moral law—they are differentiated only by virtue of promising to violate different Commandments, or by promising to violate the same Commandment in different ways.
It should not come as any sort of a surprise that those same hundred years contain the bloodiest history of the human race. Wars are no longer measured in terms of a few thousand battlefield deaths. The estimates for the twentieth century vary, but seem to range around 200,000,000 deaths. That doesn’t count the wounded, or speak to things like property damage, or malnutrition, or the disruption of families, or the spiritual and psychological damage. Nor does this number reflect the 46,000,000 babies killed in the womb each year, worldwide.
Technology, no doubt, has contributed to those huge numbers, but let us not forget that we have not yet seen the full impact of how horrible a modern war could be—there have been no nuclear wars (apart from the dropping of two very small bombs during World War II), and no “state-of-the-art” biological wars. And shouldn’t we be asking why we are clever enough to improve our ability to make war, when we cannot improve our ability to make peace?
The answer to that question is quite simple: We have strayed farther and farther from “the Way and the Life and the Truth.” The remedy, of course, is the return to the rule of Christ the King.
It is for us as a society to recall with Pope Pius XI that “rulers and princes are bound to give public honor to Christ ... for His kingly dignity demands that the State should take account the commandments of God and of Christian principles in making laws, in administering justice, and in providing for the sound moral education of youth.”
It is for us, as individuals, to return or rededicate ourselves to Christ with our minds and our wills and our hearts—being formed in His truth and in His morality and in His love. It is for us to live constantly in the sanctifying grace of His Sacraments, clothed with the robe of faith and good works. The kingdom of Christ depends upon us as individuals.
Long live Christ the King!
 Acts i: 6.
 Cf. Cyril of Alexandria as cited in Pius XI, Quas primas http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html.
 John xiv: 6
 Quas primas, para 31(32).
 Cf. Quas primas, para 32(33).