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Pontifical Preacher on the Greatest Contradiction Facing Man

Must Choose Between "Living 'for Oneself' and Living 'for the Lord'"

ROME, NOV. 21, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a commentary by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, on the Gospel passage in Sunday's liturgy for the solemnity of Christ the King.

* * *

Luke 23:35-43

The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God." Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." Above him there was an inscription that read, "This is the King of the Jews." Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal."

The solemnity of Christ the King, as an institution, is quite recent. It was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the atheist and totalitarian political regimes that denied the rights of God and of the Church. The climate in which the feast was born, for example, is that of the Mexican Revolution, when many Christians walked to their death crying till their last breath: "Hail Christ the King!" However, although the institution of the feast is quite recent, its content is not, nor is its central idea, which is very old and is born, it can be said, with Christianity. The phrase: "Christ reigns" has its equivalent in the profession of faith: "Jesus is the Lord," which has a central place in the preaching of the apostles.

The evangelical passage is that of the death of Christ, because it was at that moment that Christ began to rule over the world. The cross is the throne of this King: "There was an inscription over him: 'This is the King of the Jews.'" What, in the intentions of his enemies should be the justification of his sentence, was, in the eyes of the heavenly Father, the proclamation of his universal sovereignty. To discover how this feast touches us closely, suffice it to think of a very simple distinction.

There are two universes, two worlds or cosmos: the macrocosm, which is the large universe, exterior to us, and the small universe, which is each man. The liturgy itself, in the reform that followed the ecumenical council Vatican II, felt the need to change the emphasis, highlighting the human and spiritual aspect of the feast more than the, so to speak, political. The prayer of the feast no longer requests, as it did before, "grant that all families of nations submit to the gentle authority of Christ," but "have every creature, free from the slavery of sin, serve and praise him forever." At the moment of his death, one reads in the evangelical passage, over Christ's head hung an inscription: "This is the King of the Jews." Those present vied with one another to show his majesty openly and many, also among his friends, were expecting a spectacular demonstration of that royalty. But he chose to manifest it by being concerned with only one man, and a criminal at that: "'Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.' And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'"

From this point of view, the most important question one must ask on the feast of Christ the King is not whether he does or does not reign in the world, but does he or does he not reign in me; not if his royalty is recognized by states and governments, but is it recognized and lived by me. Is Christ King and Lord of my life? Who reigns in me, who sets the objectives and establishes the priorities: Christ or another? According to St. Paul, there are two possible ways of living: "either for oneself or for the Lord" (see Romans 14:7-9). To live "for oneself" means to live as if one has in oneself one's own beginning and one's own end. It indicates an existence shut-in on itself, oriented only to one's own satisfaction and glory, without any prospect of eternity. To live "for the Lord," on the contrary, means to live in view of him, for his glory, for his Kingdom.

It is really about a new existence before which death itself has lost its irreparable character. The greatest contradiction which man has always experienced -- that between life and death -- has been overcome. The most radical contradiction is no longer between "living" and "dying," but between living "for oneself" and living "for the Lord."

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