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Christ the King deserves our praise, obedience, and adoration

On the Readings for Sunday, November 21, 2021, The Solemnity of Christ the King

Stained glass window at the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Roslindale
Stained glass window at the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Roslindale, Massachusetts, depicting Christ the King in the regalia of a Byzantine emperor (John Stephen Dwyer/Wikipedia)

Readings:
• Dan 7:13-14
• Ps 93:1, 1-2, 5
• Rev 1:5-8
• Jn 18:33b-37

“Would Jesus feel at home among the opulence of The Vatican?” The question was put to me after I’d written defending the Church’s ownership of cathedrals, churches, and artwork.

My article, in turn, was in response to remarks made by a professional baseball player—a fallen away Catholic, it turns out—who had visited the Sistine Chapel and later remarked to a reporter: “They could sell all those things, auction them off and probably feed half that world’s starving population. There is that much wealth stored in the Sistine Chapel. For it just to be sitting there I think is a crime.”

There are numerous flaws with such myopic thinking, including the athlete failing to recognize that no other Christian group in the world operates as many charitable organizations, orphanages, schools, hospitals, hospices, and shelters as does the Catholic Church. And what about his multi-million dollar contract, paid for by fans coming to watch grown men throw and hit baseballs in huge, expensive stadiums?

Yet, if the stadiums and the teams were sold, what then? Are sporting events evil? Is it wrong to make a good living being an athlete? Of course not.

Which brings up a point directly related to this great feast day: cathedrals, churches, and works of art were created over the course of many centuries as essential features of the Church’s worship of Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings. Today’s reading from the opening chapter of The Apocalypse describes Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth.” If Jesus really is God, he deserves our praise; if he is King of all, he deserves our obedience; if he is the Alpha and Omega, he deserves our adoration.

Sacrosanctum concilium, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, observed that “the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man’s genius … These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God’s praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God.” (par 122). Man was created out of God’s overflowing love, and man returns that love by expressing his love for the Lord, who is king and “robed in majesty,” through prayers, words, songs, art, and architecture.

Ultimately, the cathedrals and statues and artwork belong to the King. This is all the more meaningful when considering that the Eucharist—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ—is kept in the houses of God. Sure, the Eucharist could be kept in a closet or a gymnasium, but is that any way to show respect and love for the King?

Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Some Christians have mistakenly thought this means they should have no part of churches, vestments and artwork. But it should be understood in light of the Incarnation, which Jesus referred to a moment later, saying, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

The Son was not of this world, yet he came into the world. He had no beginning, but was born a babe in a manger. He was all-powerful, yet suffered and died. And when he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, he did not shed his humanity. He is standing in heaven—the Lamb, human and divine, “as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6)—surrounded by cherubim and elders singing ceaseless praise.

In other words, Christ’s Kingdom does not belong to the world, but his Church—the “seed and beginning of this kingdom” (CCC 567)—is in the world. And it is growing, mysteriously, not through bloodshed, tyranny, or coercion but through the body and blood of the King, through truth, and through conversion.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the November 22, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)


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About Carl E. Olson 1165 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.

19 Comments

  1. Why didn’t Jesus simply create a supernatural source of food for mankind? If HE is LOVE then the answer is obvious. Generally speaking, the need for human endeavor in the production and distribution of essentials normally TRUMPS the actual needs themselves. Though there have been exceptions…manna for instance..this is a foundational premise that existed before the fall. IT WAS A GARDEN after all. The true problem isn’t some collective redistribution scheme. NOT AT ALL. The problem is described in Romans 3 and is much more fundamental…it is me, and you, and every human on the planet. Until we understand that and admit that the natural state of the human heart IS THE PROBLEM we will always be subject to ignorant or cynical accusers. They only preach propagandized utopian nonsense at first. It is always followed by the collective enforcement of the demonic wisdom it emanates from. Many countries have fallen under their spell. Ask the Russians, the Chinese, the Cubans, or the Venezuelans what misery these false prophets and their promises brought them. Can’t we see the handwriting on the wall from our current trajectory? Unless we commit ourselves to the truth INDIVIDUALLY our demise is as sure as theirs was.

    • All the Sacred Holy Sacraments are the supernatural signs of the reality of the supernatural nourishment for the believers in the Lord’s earthly family.

  2. When I hear that criticism against opulence, how monies collected for their value would feed countless poor Judas’ admonishment of Mary anointing Christ’ feet with expensive nard flashes. “The poor you’ll always have I you wont!”. Christ’s counter admonishment a self recognition of his kingly eminence. The poor Christ? Mass in thatched mud huts Malawi, Tanzania, Christ’s presence in ragged Africans singing with enormous gusto, passion deeply moving [would that we fattened Westerners had a sliver]. Leviticus reveals God’s command to enrichen our sense of the divinity with gold rubies silver diamonds sapphire fragrant cedar Magnificent golden angels wings folded peering down in awe at His presence. Mass St Peter’s art created by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, magnificent in real life, brought the two together. Expression of deep religious roots of the West the crescent African faith its far reaching effect. Why don’t the critics understand? Maybe it’s that they don’t recognize his voice. Christ admonished Pharisees when they challenged him to admit he was the Christ. “If I did you would not believe me”. Faith isn’t narrowed to our understanding. We recognize his voice recognition from accepting hearts flooded with prevenient grace. Oscar Wilde put it this way, The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  3. The “opulence of the Vatican”!! This so-called opulence is the cultural heritage of civilization, protected from cannibal investors and amnesiac pointy-headed “scholars” of the moment, over the centuries. At least the part not destroyed or confiscated by Thomas Cranmer & Co.

    Alright, let’s crunch the numbers…In 2019 the Vatican museum was estimated/appraised at $10-15 Billion. This is a wealth retained for all of posterity. It is the memory of humanity—much discounted in our enlightened, uprooted, digital world. Bigots, rigid, fixistic, pre-Vatican II !!!

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal budget for 2021 alone is $6.8 TRILLION (thousands of billions). All this in one year, and with over half this as a deficit ($3.8 Trillion).

    Translation #1: the permanent and opulent wealth of the Vatican museum multiplied by 7,000 or so, equals roughly one year of federal government spending. Spend all of the Vatican museum on poverty eradication and we are 0.016 percent of the way to matching the federal budget for one year. Then what?

    Translation #2: We are awash in a sea of colossal stupidity beyond measure. The new math. The new normal! And, in the spiritual realm of incommensurate (non-quantifiable!) values, we are even surrounded by clerics, for example, a certain percent of whom cannot even define celibacy the same way on two consecutive days. Eucharistic coherence is the tip of the iceberg…

    Oh, for the good ol’ days when the math applied simply to how many coins it took in the tin cup to bail a relative our of Purgatory. Purgatory, what’s that? Grace, what’s that? Sin, what’s that? Apostolic Succession, what’s that? Veritatis Splendor, what’s that?

    • @ Peter Beaulieu

      “lright, let’s crunch the numbers…In 2019 the Vatican museum was estimated/appraised at $10-15 Billion. This is a wealth retained for all of posterity.”

      You mean until the next London deal gone wrong or the next payouts to homoeseuxal lovers, or the next largese to their cronies?

      • Santos:
        I suspect you have a good point to make, but have yet to work it out…The London deal did not go wrong, it was already wrong from the beginning; the payouts are not made to “homoeseuxal” (homosexual?) lovers, but to the unwilling victims of sexual abuse; and “largese” (perhaps you mean largesse?), but be a bit more specific.

        Our post-culture world traces its radical leveling and corruption back to mythological Procrustean Bed. And, more recently to the radical equality imposed by Reign of Terror, which shortened the king by a head. Robespierre wanted to do the same thing to church steeples (today the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica?) because loftiness violates the radical equality of a flat-earth skyline. The New World Order. The decapitation of church crosses is well underway across Communist China today (not unrelated to the Vatican’s “provisional” China Agreement). And, everywhere natural fatherhood is replaced by the Provider State. Even the Synod on Synodality is unwittingly silent on “families.”

        On the big screen, the huge “opulence” preserved by the Church is more like a tiny relic hidden away on a back shelf, to preserve hope for bludgeoned pilgrims on planet earth—that worth is still valued and that the icy darkness of modernity might yet be followed by something better.

        • Thank you for your words of wisdom, understanding and truth- so rarely found these days. Our hope is in Jesus, but it is nice to know that there are some people left in this world that will not allow themselves to be of this world.

    • Your point is spot on, but let’s crunch some more. There are about 7.9 billion people on planet earth as of October 2021. If we assume that about 2 billion of those people suffer from food insecurity (probably a conservative number), then selling everything in the Vatican museum would give each of those people $5 to $7.50, enough to feed them for a few days, at best. Then what? I don’t pretend to know how to solve poverty and hunger, but selling all the beauty created for God’s glory and worship isn’t the way. Far better for those of us who God has blessed to give generously in an ongoing way to organizations/charities who will use the money wisely to help those who truly in need.

      • Like water, mankind will find a way. “Rebecca White, iWi’s VP of Operations: IWi is betting their strain, nannochloropsis, will be the next big food trend. The company already sells algae as omega-3 and EPA supplements at the The Vitamin Shoppe and on Amazon. It’s now developing algae-based snacks and protein powders. The protein we’re producing is not going to be green, said CEO Miguel Calatayud, adding its protein powders will be virtually imperceptible when added to other foods. It is not going to change the flavor. [It will be] in every single food that you take on an everyday basis, he added. Algae is going to be part of a regular food chain for us. It’s going to be a great thing for all of us and for our planet” (Rachel Crane CNN Tech).

  4. I have heard comments like this before. Most recently about a week ago from an acquaintance. Its my opinion that this comes from two sources. First from a place of not understanding the nature of art and the role the Catholic church has played in protecting it and advancing it.Second, from people, often non-catholic, who harbor a general dislike for the church.

    The early Popes were patrons of the famous ( often Italian) artists. Michaelangelo is one that leaps to mind. His Sistine Chapel ceiling is one that millions flock to see each year. Other art resides elsewhere but the fact that the church paid for these works of art allowed the artist to continue his craft and thus further enrich the world. If many of these items were in private hands, would the population of the world get to see them? Certainly in many cases the answer would be “no”. Should the Pieta be sold? Should the stained glass windows in churches be sold when plain glass would do? Surely there would be willing buyers. The church used these works of art and their themes to advance the faith to those in particular who were not literate but could certainly feel the emotions and religious story being presented by painters and sculptors. Art continues to inspire the highly educated today.

    I agree with the question, if the works were sold and the funds given away, what then?? The church is left without resources, and without the beauty it has so carefully protected for the public, especially the faithful.

    There is not much one can say about those who harbor mistaken impressions if not hate toward the church. They like to view the church as filled with corrupt misers, sitting on barrels of gold coins. When in fact the church has long expended funds on MANY outreaches to the poor, whether by orphanages, schools, hospitals, etc, depending upon the time and the country. Such facilities dont run on air. Neither should they be run by selling off the church’s artistic heritage. The “Why dont they sell of their art?” question is a clever way to mask anti-catholic bigotry in my opinion. It ignores all the good the church has done and continues to do.

    And finally we come back to the idea that the places where Mass is held should be as beautiful as possible. This is to do honor to the Lord we worship and also as in days of old, to inspire spiritual feelings in our congregants.The human heart changes little over the centuries. This reality may be why so many stripped-down post Vatican two churches fail so miserably to inspire the faithful, and bear an unfortunate resemblance to a modern office building lobby.

  5. God gave Moses detailed instructions as to the construction of the Tabernacle, and the priestly vestments. The Temple in Jerusalem was richly appointed. IIRC the cathedrals and churches have been said to be the only palaces that the poor had regular access to. Where the poor could experience beauty and grandeur.

  6. A rebuke to all who create doubt by promoting and spreading lies today: 2020 election fraud, climate emergency denialism, covid 19 hoax, vaccine scepticism, among many others. The last verse of today’s gospel is telling. Jesus declares: “I am king. I was born and came into the world to be a witness to the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me” (Jn 18:37).

    • or the lie that abortion is a right and not sinful, that there are more than two genders, that homosexual acts are not sinful, that having government perform our personal works of charity absolves us of doing anything, etc….

  7. The Church holds great works of art as a type of patrimony for humankind. What would Mr. Baseball Player suggest -some billionaire purchasing the David for his living room? The source of art is beauty. Art is meant to lift us to the spiritual realm through the beauty of the work. The Church holds these items for everyone to be lifted into an awareness of the presence of God in the creative work of the artist. It does not surprise me that the critic is a former Catholic.

  8. Thank you for this perfect article! As noted, the baseball players, actors, lawyers, doctors, and other sports figures have tons of money to donate to the One True Church of Jesus Christ, who helps more people than any other organization EVER. +JMJ+

  9. Let’s talk about the Smithsonian in Washington. Why doesn’t the U.S. Government sell all of the works of art and historic import and use that money to lower our taxes? At least the Church donations are voluntary while our tax money is not.

  10. Going back to the beginning of the article, I find it both amusing and consistent that the complaint is made by someone who, according to the story, cannot manage to show up each Sunday for Mass, and is making enough money to be in the top 1% of wage earners (the 2017 minimum of the bracket was $515,371 adjusted gross). The consistency resides in those who have a bone to pick with the Church over the “wealth” it has – most often those who have left the faith, or those who were Protestants from the start.

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