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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Return of the King
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 25, 2012
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The third volume of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is entitled The Return of the King. The heir to the long-lost line of kings from the city of Gondor has been living rough as a ranger in the north country, guarding the borders of Middle Earth. The city is being ruled by a line of stewards, servants of the king now charged with the day-to-day decisions of the kingdom.

It’s not difficult to see in this a metaphor for our own life in the kingdom of God, that kingdom that theologians describe as “already but not yet.” It is a reign inaugurated by Christ in the incarnation but interrupted for a time by his death, resurrection, and ascension. We do our best to make the decisions we think God wants us to make, but we’re not always sure we’re headed in the right direction. Tragically, we sometimes find ourselves obstinately headed in the wrong direction.

In Tolkein’s Middle Earth, the last of the stewards, Lord Denethor, is broken by grief at the death of his favored elder son and twisted by the manipulations of the dark lord. He refuses to acknowledge Aragorn, heir to Elendil, seeing only the humble and despised ranger from the north. Denethor’s own ambition has blinded him to his true role. The wizard Gandalf finally tells him, “It is not in your power to deny the return of the king.”

In our Gospel today, Pilate questions Jesus about the claim that he is “king of the Jews.” There’s no way to be sure in John’s Gospel whether Pilate is being sincere, cynical, or something in between. He tries to fit Jesus into his narrow frame of reference, seeing him as a would-be king, perhaps a pretender to the throne of Herod. But Jesus reminds him that the kingdom of heaven will always and everywhere be something eternal rather than temporal. It’s not governed by the same rules or susceptible to the same weaknesses that so many worldly kingdoms are.

Today’s feast can be difficult for us to grasp. We live in a democracy, a nation in which people select their leaders based on a mixed bag of impressions, beliefs, facts, and opinions. Our experience of leadership has been tarnished— even broken. It can be hard for us to imagine Eternal Truth in the guise of a temporal leader.

There’s no little irony to be found in the fact that when Jesus walked this earth, he let go of any such trappings of power. That might be our first clue that the image of Christ the King exists on an entirely metaphorical plane, a concession to our need for human images.

Lovers of great literature know the truth of the saying, “All stories are true. Some of them actually happened.” Perhaps we need to take today’s feast out of the world of history and politics and into the world of myth and fairy tale, a world where kings and queens, knights and wizards, are symbols of great good or great evil. It allows us to see the great truth of life through a different lens, unburdened by what we think we know too well. It helps us, in fact, return to a childhood world of intuitive understanding.

As we listen once again to the great stories of our faith, we are left with this truth. Christ must be always and everywhere the most important thing in our lives, the only thing we worship, the only one to whom we give unswerving allegiance.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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