A King ... Crucified?

Last year, at the celebration of the Eucharist on the feast day of Christ the King, Archbishop Christian Lépine in his homily issued a challenge to the members of the congregation: “Do you have a crucifix at home?  Do you take the time to ponder its meaning?”  Our Archbishop led the faithful into the profound significance of the feast day, through these provocative questions about a king who brings the promise of a reign and a kingdom that are not of this world.

On that important feast, in Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, a symbolic crown of thorns was placed before the main altar as a reminder that in his Passion, Jesus the Christ is Christ The King, and the cross is his royal throne.  It was a simple but beautiful evocation of the mysterious fact that as Christians, we belong to Christ, and are heirs to his divine kingdom.

“Jesus Christ is King, but not the king we would expect,” said Archbishop Lépine. He pointed out that, at times, and for some people, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to recognize the kingship of God in the naked and bloody body of Jesus, and in his terribly-disfigured face. How can an apparently-failed prophet who let himself be tortured and beaten in the passion, and then be crucified and ultimately die on the cross, be the Son of God, and the Divine King?

But as the Archbishop reminded the faithful, Jesus on the Cross “transforms our understanding of what a king should be.” Jesus Christ is indeed not a human king, but a divine king who helps us understand what it means to be human beings. As his subjects, we are all called to become “kings and queens”: “Jesus Christ is King, and as kings and queens, we are to serve and offer our lives,” the archbishop said, and continued:  “Through Baptism, we have royal blood. It dignifies us as children of God.”

Gazing at the Crucifix is a critical gesture, indeed a prayer, for the Christian.  “We often forget God’s existence, we often forget Jesus’ existence.”  Many of us, both women and men and even children, wear gold and silver crosses and crucifixes on chains around our necks, countless people have crosses tattooed on their bodies, and Mount Royal is majestically crowned by a majestic cross.  But, if fact, we rarely take time to stop and gaze at the Jesus on the Cross.  “Gazing at the Cross, it’s like saying a prayer, it’s a simple gesture, but a very powerful one at the same time.”

Calling on some fundamental theological concepts, our Archbishop explained the important differences between “cross” and “crucifix.”  It all resides in the “corpus,” a carving, a representation of the dying or dead Christ – sometimes realistic, sometimes symbolic – and fixed onto a cross.  The corpus transforms the cross into a crucifix.  The homily concluded with a prayer in which the Archbishop invoked the Holy Spirit to give us the grace “to gaze […] and to worship the crucified Jesus Christ.”

“When in tears and in joy:” Archbishop Lépine reminded the assembly that the crucifix has been given to us so that we can stand firm when we are suffering and are tears, knowing that Christ also suffers with us.  He underlined that it is important to keep gazing at the crucifix even when in joy, so as never to forget so many of our sisters and brothers who are suffering. The crucifix, he said, is a “symbol grounded in a reality.”

Archbishop Christian Lépine and Lloyd Baugh SJ