Where is the Kingdom?
Solemnity of Christ the King. Fr Aelred Connelly reflects on the hopes for the coming of the Kingdom for the post war generation.
We celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, sixty years on the throne. I have never been much of a monarchist and tend to think that we should let the monarch die a natural death with the present incumbent being the last.
We are told that Christ’s kingship is not of this world and is eternal. Today’s feast grew out of a period when Catholic Christianity faced opposition and even persecutions from a wide range of anti-clerical or revolutionary forces worldwide in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Amid all the political and social ferment of that period there also grew an awareness of the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable on the part of some of the more prophetic members of the church. One such was Frederic Ozanam, one of the founders of the St Vincent de Paul Society
It was with the local SVP that I cut my teeth pastorally as a teenager in my home parish in Fife. The inner life of the parish consisted in being an altar server, then there were the more social activities such as the scouts.
However, the outer life of the parish was contact with the SVP, discrete visits especially among the poor and the less practising. Great care was taken to respect people’s dignity, the weekly SVP meeting laid great stress especially in the spiritual reading and prayers on the ‘collaborative’ nature of working with the poor and disadvantaged. It was not all one way traffic by any means. Somehow, if somewhat mysteriously to the teenage mind, Christ was found in such encounters: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
There were three of us teenagers who would visit two old first war veterans, in one of local old folks homes. One could not see very well and the other was deaf. They were very much in the mould of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army.
I knew a far darker side to the great war. My grandfather was a medical orderly in the Dardanelles campaign. He never spoke much about it.
My generation has been very fortunate. Those of us getting on for sixty years of age missed out on the two world wars and were very lucky to avoid a third in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We grew up in the post war welfare state with developing secondary and tertiary education that was free. Most of us were able to make use of the opportunities then available.
It was in one sense, as my old parish priest used to say, looking back, a golden age, full schools, full churches, full employment. We had a new parish church open in 1958. I have preached at both fortieth and fiftieth anniversary of its opening. The second was the last public outing of both my mother and father together.
Had we seen a growing of Christ’s Kingdom over these years? We have seen governments come and go and much change in our societies, but very little movement to a just and equal sharing of resources. The advance of abortion, the onset of euthanasia, has brought controlled death to our world. In the face of all this, there seem little sign of hope. I think particularly of the generation almost just before mine, in particular those who supported a Christian socialist vision like those of my father’s generation. Was this always a lost cause?
We come back to today’s gospel, Jesus before Pilate as a king, one who stands for the truth. He tells things as they are, that is why he is rejected. Only on the third day will he be vindicated. That day of the resurrection is the fulcrum of all our hopes. As St Paul reminds us in the fifteenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians: “If Christ is not risen our faith is in vain.” Here is our hope against all those experiences of death, worldwide and ages long. Trying to live that faith by the grace of God is surely the building of the kingdom here and now, illuminated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is, after all, at the very heart of the prayer; he himself taught us to pray to the Father: “Your Kingdom come.”