Over 80 years ago, a great Catholic man looked out upon the Western world and lamented how the forces of secularism, communism and fascism were rapidly spreading while the rights of the Church were increasingly suppressed. The Church's role of teaching mankind -- especially about matters pertaining to ''their eternal salvation'' -- was being denied. ''Then, gradually,'' he noted, ''the religion of Christ came to be likened to false religions.... It was then put under the power of the state and tolerated more or less at the whim of princes and rulers.''
In a striking observation, he wrote: ''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. There were even some nations who thought they could dispense with God, and that their religion should consist in impiety and the neglect of God.''
The man was Pope Pius XI and the document was his encyclical Quas Primas, given on Dec. 11, 1925, which established the feast of Christ the King, celebrated today. Pope Pius XI was living in a Europe torn asunder by The Great War and beset by the rise of political and philosophical systems overtly denying the truth of Christianity and seeking to destroy the moral authority of the Catholic Church.
Eight decades later, we see many of the results of these systems, having witnessed, for example, the rise and collapse of the Soviet Union, which left tens of millions of innocent men and women dead. Still with us are the varied forces of secularism that attempt to dispense with God.
Tensions between spiritual and political realms have a long and complex history. They are evident in the Gospels, as today's reading from the Passion account in Luke's Gospel indicates. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had proclaimed repeatedly that the kingdom of God was at hand. Asked earlier by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he said, ''The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you'' (Lk 17:20-21).
Some of those who heard Jesus' teachings were either puzzled or threatened by them. Many believed he was seeking to establish a political kingdom that would overthrow Roman rule. Some of the religious leaders believed that Jesus' remarks were a threat to their authority (which they were), as well as blasphemous (which they weren't).
As Jesus hung on the cross, some of the rulers mocked him, and this inscription was placed over his head: ''This is the King of the Jews.'' However, one of the criminals being executed alongside Jesus recognized that Jesus was indeed a king.
As Pope Pius XI explained in his encyclical, Jesus' kingship over all things is not because of military might or political savvy, butof who he is: true God and true man, the Incarnate Word. His kingdom ''is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things,'' and it is ''opposed to none other than that of Satan and to the power of darkness.''
Today's epistle reading from St. Paul's letter to the Colossians states this same truth with great conviction: ''He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.'' The unnerving scandal of the Cross was not that an innocent man was executed, but that that innocent man ''is the image of the invisible God'' who created all things, including every throne and kingdom and power.
Two thousand years ago man killed his Creator -- and still tries today to crucify, deny and mock him. But it is only when man accepts the King and his saving throne -- the bloody cross -- that true peace is found and human harmony is established.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com