Opening the Word: Powerfully powerless

Over the last two years, we in the United States have dealt with a seemingly everlasting presidential campaign. Candidates have promised us that they alone can save us from poverty, warfare, terrorism and the devolution of society into absolute anarchy.

We Catholics know better. We know that no politician, through the exercise of political power, can save us from the kingdom of sin and death.

On the feast of Christ the King, we gaze in prayerful wonder at the crucifix at the front of our churches. We hear about a different kind of kingdom with a different kind of king. We look upon the splendor of the crucified Lord, who is “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

Our luminous King is not one who marshals the power of military or political force to defeat his opponent. He is the one who is mocked upon a seat of death that becomes the throne of life: “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God” (Lk 23:34).

In a world where might makes right, our King reveals his mighty power through love.

Jesus is the king who does not choose violence to get his way. Our crucified Lord is the one who sits upon the mercy seat of the cross and offers to the good thief a final word of mercy: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).

This King of Kings, this Lord of Lords, is still present among us today through his bride, the Church. The Church has her own politics, her own way of transforming creation. She employs not the powers of the world but the powerful powerlessness of our beloved king, Jesus.

The New Jerusalem, the city ordered by a politics of peace, is being built in our midst. It’s not in the halls of power in Washington D.C., the offices of high finance in New York, or in the cult of celebrity in Los Angeles. It’s in your parish, it’s in your diocese, and it’s in every city where we proclaim our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ, as king of the cosmos: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122:1).

It is fitting that the Year of Mercy comes to an end upon the Feast of Christ the King. The Year of Mercy wasn’t about a way of getting lost Catholics back to the Church. It wasn’t about relaxing rules and regulations.

It was a year for the Church to remember her mission in the world. Her mission isn’t about power. It’s not about public celebrity or political success. It’s a mission of mercy.

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The Church mediates the mercy of her King every time she loves those the body politic finds unlovable. Every time she speaks truth into a world that doesn’t always want to hear it. Every time one of her members suffers martyrdom in union with the crucified King.

We U.S. Catholics have a lot of mercy to give to our age. We’re not always going to win in Congress. Our country will continue to elect politicians hostile perhaps to human dignity: to the suffering of the unborn, the immigrant and even the created order itself.

Luckily, we have a King who teaches us a new way to reign.

Not through power. Not through prestige.

But through the wounds of love revealed upon the cross. Written upon the Church’s very heart.

Hail, Christ the King. Hail, the politics of wounded love.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.