I love the Solemnity of Christ the King. Celebrated on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, I imagine the feast as sort of New Year’s Eve celebration – the current year’s way of “going out with a bang” before the next year takes its place. I envision it like an exclamation mark on the end of an impassioned sentence (a writing device that I cannot correct myself from over-using!).
For me, the Solemnity also invokes the memory of my conversion, which still simmers warm in my heart. For it was in the Parish of Christ the King in Little Rock, Arkansas, now almost 13 years ago, that my husband and I were received into the Catholic Church. The Solemnity of Christ the King reminds me of our then-parish community, which was loving, fervent, dynamic, and instrumental in our conversion process.
This Solemnity is a fairly recent addition to the liturgical calendar – at least by Catholic standards. Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast in 1925 to remind the faithful that Christ reigns as king over all things and for all time. “If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire” (Pope Pius XI; Quas Primas, 33).
In overly-simplistic terms, the Solemnity of Christ the King invites us to encounter “Big Jesus” — in full-scale power, strength, and beauty. It is like a liturgical Transfiguration – a mountain-top moment punctuating the year. Like Dorothy over the rainbow, technicolor permeates the sepia of daily life, and we are invited to encounter Christ in glory.
Spiritual seasons of intensely-felt glory, of Christ the King revealed, are very important in the telling and understanding of our stories. In my own story, Christ the King first revealed himself to me in my late teen years, when I was captivated by a sense of Jesus calling. Years later, when I first met my husband, Jesus drew his plans for us boldly, with the thick, quick strokes of love-at-first-sight that have never looked back or second guessed. Not long after that, Christ the King welcomed us into His Church (in the aforementioned, appropriately named parish!), despite all odds against our conversion. Still years later, God formed our family out of the dust of my infertility, through the miracle of twins – grown not in my womb, but in my heart. These are a few of the treasures of my love story, the high notes in the melody of Christ reigning in my life.
In some ways, I find myself drawn to the Solemnity of Christ the King in the same way that I gravitate toward these spiritual mountain tops – the palpable “God moments,” when the Divine cracks through the ordinary façade. But, at times I notice a particular tendency within myself. I crave or try to contrive spiritual consolation over aridity; I prefer the miraculous over the mundane; I seek to live in Oz rather than Kansas. Like St. Peter I want to linger in glory. I want to build monuments at the site of each Transfiguration (Lk 9:33), at the place of each encounter with Christ the King.
The Church in her soft, maternal way, reaches out and folds me back into myself. Through the gently rocking rhythm of feasting and fasting, through the carefully placed celebrations and preparations that comprise our liturgical year, she reminds me that the spiritual life is not “either-or,” but “both-and.”
The Feast of Christ the King, the final Sunday on the liturgical calendar, is wisely juxtaposed against the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the New Year. If the Solemnity of Christ the King is all about celebrating “Big Jesus,” then the season of Advent is all about adoring “Little Jesus.”
During Advent we are invited to encounter Jesus in utter humility – not as a man, or even as an infant, but as the tiniest form of human life, gestating in his mother’s womb. Unlike the booming tone of exclamation marks, he is as quiet as a whisper, so small he could easily be missed
Jesus in Advent is not like the catchy melody of a love song, but more like the quietly repeating chords beneath the surface. He is perfect love, giving without forcing. He calls me quietly in the reprises, hiding himself in the Eucharist, in my family, and in my daily life. He does not make himself obvious; encountering him takes patience, repetition, and silence.
Advent-Jesus calls me in the seemingly mundane chores of my daily life – in the ordinary tasks and labored-love that my vocation requires. In nightly homework help, packed lunches, and folded laundry; he is present, although I often do not notice.
At times I experience his fluttering kicks, and I receive confirmation that he is gestating within my own heart. But more often I experience his presence though fatigue and morning sickness — the necessary death-to-self that accompanies new life. I trust he is growing within me, even though I do not always feel him in the way I desire.
The mountain-top moments of the spiritual life are glorious to recall. Christ the King writes my story with sweeping plot twists and technicolor miracles. His feast day reminds me that he has power and command over all things at all times. But the reality is, the majority of my spiritual life is not penned in bold letters. More often Jesus encounters me in simplicity, in daily routines and ordinary occurrences. He is hidden and quiet, small but growing, making his Advent within me.
Christ the King fills my heart with songs of praise and celebration; Christ-gestating invites me to quiet contemplation and wonder. Truly, Jesus is not big or small, but both – all at all times. I am invited to love him in every expression and every season – to sing the bold melody of his grandeur and hum the quiet intimacy of his friendship. I am invited to let my experience in Oz color the hidden beauties of daily life – over the rainbow with feet firmly planted in Kansas. Christ the King is reigning while Advent-Christ is gestating, quietly hidden within my heart.
Jesus, make me both big and small enough to love you. Stretch my heart and my mind so that I do not limit you, so that I might know and venerate you as King. Shrink my pride and self, so that in humility I might share your friendship. Draw me to yourself in the grandeur of your kingship and in the quietness of your Advent.
By Sarah Streitwieser