Today trust in Church leadership is falling. Confidence in government and politicians is sinking. We long for trustworthy leadership but, in our times, can we ever hope to find it?
So where does our longing for trustworthy leadership lead us? To today’s feast – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
It was given to us by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It falls on the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday opens the new Church year with the First Sunday of Advent.
Pope Pius XI was looking at the world and he saw dictatorships arising. Mussolini [1883-1945] was parading around Italy with arrogance. Hitler [1889-1945] was just released from jail and his scary Nazi party was gaining strength.
Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the world of its Divine Lord and Master. And so he established the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
In America, presidents are voted in one day and out on another. But a king is in office for life. In today’s First Reading, from the Second Book of Samuel, David is anointed the King of Israel, and the people pledge their ongoing loyalty to him.
In Jewish thought, if you were loyal to God’s anointed one, the king, you were also being loyal to God. But you and I know that King David, who he did a lot of good, also committed some very serious sins. And we know that with human leadership there will always be flaws and failures.
So who is the trustworthy leader for us to follow? It is none other than the Son of God and the Son of Mary. And what does Jesus our King teach us about leadership?
Jesus describes Himself in the Gospels by saying, “I have come not to be served by others but to serve” [Matthew 20: 28, Mark 10: 45]. He is our Servant King. That is the kind of leadership that He exercises and that He teaches us to follow.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, our Servant King, is reigning from the Cross and suffering out of love to redeem us poor sinners. And two thieves are crucified either side of Him.
One, in a very cocky way, says, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”
The other one, very humbly, says, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly… but this man has done nothing criminal.” And then he – the one we call the “good thief” or Saint Dismas – says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus hears his confession on that cross. And Jesus says to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Someone entitled this Gospel scene, “The Thief Who Stole Heaven.” At the last minute, the good thief opened his heart to Jesus, and Jesus’ heart was already wide-open to him. That is the kind of leadership that Jesus teaches us to follow: being servant leaders with loving hearts.
Several years ago [December 1997] a young man in West Paducah, Kentucky took a gun to school and killed seven of his classmates. Parents were frantically praying, “Not my child, Lord. Please don’t let anything happen to my child.”
One mother’s prayer was not answered as she had wished. Her son died in the shooting. In spite of her shock and grief, that mother didn’t hesitate when doctors asked if she would donate her son’s organs to others in critical need.
Many months passed, and the mother discovered that her son’s heart had gone to a Methodist pastor. She contacted him and asked to meet him.
The day of their meeting, the grieving mother and the grateful pastor talked and prayed and celebrated the life of her precious son who had died so suddenly and tragically.
And then the mother surprised the pastor by asking him, “May I put my ear next to your heart? May I hear my son’s heart beating one more time inside of you?”
We are each called to be a person who has received a transplanted heart, the heart of Jesus within us. There are so many people today who are discouraged with scandals in the Church, with corruption in government and politicians, with violence and terrorism, with overwhelming greed and the outright rejection of God-given morals.
They desperately need to hear the blessed reassurance of His beating heart. They need to be able to put their ears to our hearts and know that Jesus Christ our King still reigns.
And so we pray: “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours.”