Having reached the end of the liturgical year, with the feast of Christ the King this last Sunday, we can ask what exactly are we celebrating? A distant and future reality or a presence that shapes our lives on a daily basis? Going through Exodus 90, the Redemption Hymn we prayed from the Book of Revelation really stood out to me in this regard.
O Lord our God, you are worthy
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you have created all things;
by your will they came to be and were made.
Worthy are you, O Lord
to receive the scroll and break open its seals.
For you were slain;
with your blood you purchased for God
those from every tribe and tongue,
of every people and nation.
You made them a kingdom,
and priests to serve our God,
and they shall reign on earth…
Even though the hymn points to the consummation of the Kingdom to come, I wondered if it also tells us that we should begin to reign on earth now. It’s related to another question, about how Christ reigns now. Is He postponing His reign or is He truly ruling the world now even with all its craziness and suffering?
I’ve reflected on this question while praying the rosary. At first, the Ascension seems like the absence of Jesus, leaving us to continue His mission to the best of our ability. He actually said it is better for us that He left, as He gave us His own Spirit to be our Spirit (John 16:7). He is sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven and the more I thought about this reality the more I realized He sits in a position of power. We expect Christ to intervene explicitly in our affairs, but in actuality He is reigning in now through the Spirit He gave us.
Just as Christ did not fulfill the expectation of many Jews, so we may not recognize His reign now. We may fall into the same trap of expecting an earthly kingdom. If Christ reigns over us now, then why do Christians suffer persecution? Why do we fail so much? Why do we have to wait for the full manifestation of the Kingdom? Generally, we don’t like the answer to these questions, but Paul relays the answer he received when asking God why he had to suffer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Corinthians 12:9). God’s Kingdom increases not by physical power, but the spiritual strength that comes from His grace.
Our weakness opens us more to this grace, because we have to depend on God and not ourselves. Self-reliance implicitly rejects Christ’s kingship, by trying to govern our lives on our own. Openness to grace also opens us to reigning with Christ. When God’s life lives in us and guides how we live, we come under His reign. In turn, we extend His reign by ordering our relationships and work to God. The Catechism, in paragraphs 908-913, makes clear that the lay faithful share in Christ’s kingship first by experiencing the interior freedom His reign brings. Only then do they extend this reign by serving the Church and by transforming the world through a virtuous life.
We misunderstand power, expecting domination and control. Christ was proclaimed King on the Cross, when He surrendered His life to save others. He shows us that to reign is to love. Christian kingship does not seek material or temporal advantage, but serves others for their own good. The greatest act of Christian kingship may be bringing someone else to know the love of God, especially when it requires us to make a sacrificial gift of ourselves. A martyr witnesses to Christ’s triumph by betting on His kingship more than any other security, knowing that He will destroy every earthly power and even death itself (1 Cor 15:24-26).
As we try to stand up to the moral collapse of our culture and our great spiritual suffering (manifested in violence to oneself and others), we may wonder how we can respond. Our society has a demon (pride, hatred of God, family, and nature) and we must follow the words of Jesus to rid ourselves of it: “And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting’” (Mark 9:29). It’s not realistic to expect that we will overcome our spiritual enemies by physical force or enact a sudden, great restoration of culture. Rather, God will work through our weakness, which enables His grace to act through us in more hidden ways. The restoration of the world will come through a spiritual triumph in our souls through which we share in Christ’s own suffering and triumph.
Reigning with Christ requires sacrifice, a pouring out of our life to share in the spiritual reign He initiated on the Cross. If we take on the task of prayer, fasting, serving, witnessing, and renewing society from the inside out, we will begin reigning on the earth right now.