May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Sunday, as I mentioned already, is the Feast of Christ the King. It is a recent addition to the Church calendar, having been added by Pope Pius XI in 1925. The pope did so to remind the world, in the face of growing secularism, who its true king was – Christ. It seems like such an obvious thing to do; after all, Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord of Lords, the eternal Word through all things were made, the King of Kings before who every knee must bend and every tongue confess that he is indeed Lord of all. The wonder is not that the Church should instigate a day in honour of his kingship, but rather that the Church waited so long. Perhaps this is why it wasn't long before other Christian denominations, such as Anglicans and Lutherans, also began marking the day.
As I said, Pope Pius did so as a way of fighting the dangers that secularism posed for the world – because the world needs the Church and secularism tries at the very least to silence it and drive it out if it can. Sadly, the dangers posed by the forces of secularism were even greater than Pius had feared. The very next year a rebellion began in Mexico, where the people rose up against the men leading their country who had a vision of a world without God. It was soon after followed by the Spanish Civil War, a war where one side wished to see all religion trodden underfoot. The secularist 'visionaries' in both countries rounded up many of those who were faithful to Christ. And they gave them a choice: renounce Christ or die. And many – men, woman, and children – refused to deny their faith. They died with these words on their lips: Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King.
One such martyr during the Spanish Civil War was 25 year old Fr. Martin Martinez Pascual. When the persecutions began in his home district he went into hiding. But when the government forces arrested his father, questioning him about the priest's whereabouts, he turned himself in, hoping they would release his father. Not long after he was taken with a group of other priests to the local graveyard where they were all shot. Moments before his death they had him pose for a photograph with one of his executioners. In it, Fr Pascual was smiling. And his last words were 'Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King.'
Another martyr, this time in Mexico was José Luis Sánchez del Río. He was just 14 when he joined the anti-secularist forces. Because of his youth they made him the flag-bearer for his troop. During a battle his general's horse was shot from under him. José gave him his own horse instead. On foot, he was easily captured by the enemy and imprisoned in the sacristy of the local church. In an attempt to get him to deny Christ, first they hung another prisoner in front of him, but José stood fast. Then they tortured him. What he suffered was so gruesome that I will not write it here. But one can only wonder at the mentality of the men who would inflict such torments on a boy. Just before they executed him, they told him that if he said 'death to Christ the King' they would spare his life. Instead he cried out 'Viva Cristo Rey – long live Christ the King'; and so they killed him.
Christ was the king of José, Fr Pascual, and martyrs like them. And what loyal subjects of their king they were. Christ is also our king. But I think those martyrs would be shocked and shamed by the way some of us use his name. To them it was sacred; many of us act as if it were some kind of four-letter word. We may contrast that with the way Muslims treat the name of Muhammad. They regard him as a prophet, not God; yet to treat his name or his image with disrespect is looked upon with horror by his followers. In a Muslim country such behaviours would be punishable by law; and even elsewhere a follower of Islam would regard it as a grave insult to both them and their faith if anyone were to dishonour the name of their prophet in their presence. But when the name of the one we know to be God himself is treated irreverently most of us hardly seem to notice; often, I suspect, because many of us treat it no better ourselves.
Such behaviour should sadden and worry us. Sadden us because we should be dismayed if we treat our King no better than that – the one, whom our Gospel this morning reminds us, who died on the Cross to save us from our sins. And it should worry us because such behaviour not only shows us to be not very loyal subjects of our King, it is also a serious sin – you all remember, I hope, the words of the Commandment, where we are told 'thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' And Christ is our God. God literally commands us in the most fundamental laws that he has given us that treat his name as holy – yet we do not always do so.
But as we draw to a close, we might also wish to remind ourselves of what joy awaits those who are loyal subjects, subjects who use the name of their king reverently, and live their lives as his faithful followers. They are like the good thief who hung on the cross near him. He, you will remember, rebuked the other thief for the way he spoke to the Messiah; and then he humbly turned to our Saviour and said to him: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And the one who was a king even though he hung on the cross said to him: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Words that we surely all long to hear; and words that all will hear whose every breath and action proclaim these words: long live Christ the King. Amen.