Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola meditates on an earthly king who asks people to follow him. It is the king’s desire to win great victories and for all who go with him to share in these triumphs. The king says to those he meets “Therefore, whoever would like to come with me is to be content to eat as I, and also to drink and dress, etc., as I: likewise he is to labor like me in the day and watch in the night, etc., that so afterwards he may have part with me in the victory, as he has had it in the labors.” Next, St. Ignatius meditates on what the response to the king ought to be. If we engage this meditation a bit, we might first imagine ourselves encountering a king. He speaks directly to us, sharing his desire to win glory. Imagine your heart inspired by his words and the vision he lays out. More than the vision, are you inspired by being invited to share in everything that the king shares? To not only share in it, but to share those things with the king? A king willing to lead from the front, willing to share everything with his subjects, willing to face everything his followers will face, is surely an inspiring figure. Thus, St. Ignatius says, the proper response to such a leader is one of love and devotion, and to ignore such an invitation would be a great shame to the person who has rejected companionship with the king.
The meditation continues in a second part. In this reflection, St. Ignatius suggests we replace the earthly king with Jesus in our imagination. He writes “how much more worthy of consideration is it to see Christ our Lord, King eternal, and before Him all the entire world, which and each one in particular He calls, and says: “It is My will to conquer all the world and all enemies and so to enter into the glory of My Father; therefore, whoever would like to come with Me is to labor with Me, that following Me in the pain, he may also follow Me in the glory.” Consider how Jesus comes into our human condition, and, taking the form of a slave, enters into the depths of human suffering. His aim is to conquer sin and death, to draw all people to Himself, and thus allow us to experience in fullness his grace, love, and mercy. In Jesus we see the God who accompanies His people, who shares with us in our sufferings. He is also present in our joys and gives consolation to those who seek Him. In just the same way that we would respond to the earthly king, so we ought to respond to Jesus. St. Ignatius writes “[T]hose who will want to be more devoted and signalise themselves in all service of their King Eternal and universal Lord, not only will offer their persons to the labor, but even, acting against their own sensuality and against their carnal and worldly love, will make offerings of greater value and greater importance, saying: “Eternal Lord of all things, I make my oblation with Thy favor and help, in presence of Thy infinite Goodness and in presence of Thy glorious Mother and of all the Saints of the heavenly Court; that I want and desire, and it is my deliberate determination, if only it be Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all injuries and all abuse and all poverty of spirit, and actual poverty, too, if Thy most Holy Majesty wants to choose and receive me to such life and state.”
As we celebrate the great solemnity of Christ the King, our attention is again drawn to this invitation from Jesus who is our king. Next week with the start of the Advent season, we will reflect on how Jesus enters our human condition. Taking our human flesh, born in the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem, obedient to Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, Jesus understands what it is to be human. He has humbly divested Himself of the glory of heaven in order to unite humanity and divinity more perfectly. By His public ministry, His teaching, His miracles of healing, His compassion and kindness to sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the God who desires to restore unity between humanity and the Godhead is revealed. In the crucifixion, our Lord enters the utter darkness of human misery. Rising on the third day, Jesus manifests his ultimate victory over sin and death, over the tomb, over the evil effects of the Fall. Then, by ascending into heaven, Jesus shows us that we will one day share in the glory of heaven, body and soul. On Pentecost, He sends the Holy Spirit to those who have followed faithfully, so that they might both share in His ultimate victory and become instruments of His mercy and message. Jesus has never stopped calling us. He remains united with us in the Eucharist, gives us His mercy in Confession, and lets His voice be heard in the words of Scripture we read. In the sacraments, He shares with us in our joys and triumphs, and in the Church’s liturgy, Jesus identifies with us in every moment and circumstance.
What is our response to such a king? Jesus has invited us to follow, to share everything with Him, to live so closely united with Him that we will share in everything which He experienced. The reward for such following is tremendous, beyond our imagining. For the reward is heaven itself. On this solemn feast of Christ the King, let us respond to our King who calls us, and be confident that no matter what we must face in this life, we face it with His grace and mercy. Entrusting ourselves to this great and loving King, let us fall in His mercy, serving Him here and now, and looking forward always to the gift of eternity in His heavenly kingdom.