Today’s reflection is by Michaelangelo Allocca, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.
Today’s liturgical readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King can be found by clicking here.
I propose that the Solemnity of Christ the King be made the official sacred holiday of the Catholic LGBTQ community. Before I am tied to the stake and a fire lit beneath my feet, please allow me a minute to explain.
I am well aware that many (myself included) who swim in the more progressive, justice-oriented end of the Catholic pool are uncomfortable with today’s feast. Even with the theological fine tuning applied to explain it, such a triumphalist, monarchical image of the Savior is highly problematic.
But this problematic aspect is key to my proposal that our community should take as its patron Christ the King … of Irony. Celebrating Christ as “king” is the epitome of irony, and so, I would argue, is the position of LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church: utterly central and essential, yet abominably disrespected and marginalized.
Today’s liturgical readings highlight the irony of the “King” title. Like some other feasts (the Assumption; the Immaculate Conception), the readings don’t speak explicitly about the day’s theme, since there are no scriptures that speak directly about it. Today we hear a royal psalm describing God as a king “robed in majesty,” and the messianic title “Son of Man” in Daniel’s prophecy. We hear the vision of Revelation describing Jesus Christ as ruling after his death, which only calls to attention that during his life, Jesus never accepted the title of king.
Yes, he called himself “Son of Man,” which had messianic associations. But this is the closest he ever came to calling himself a king, and it’s not really all that close. Messiah did suggest “king” to many Jews at the time. The word literally means “anointed,” as kings were; but priests, and even occasionally prophets, were also anointed. More to the point, Jesus himself made it clear that ‘king’ was not how He understood his role as messiah.
Plutarch and Shakespeare said many were impressed by the humility shown by Julius Caesar in refusing a crown three times. But this is strictly amateur stuff compared to the persistence of Jesus in rebuffing efforts to crown Him. In today’s gospel, Pilate asks Him point-blank whether he is “a king,” and specifically, “king of the Jews.” Jesus side-steps or redirects the question; readers of John’s gospel are left wondering whether Jesus’s “you say so,” is a tacit “yes,” or just an exasperated, “you have no idea what I actually am, and that word probably comes closest in your vocabulary, so sure, fine.”
In several spots in the gospels, Jesus repeatedly evades and rejects efforts to make him a king; and yet, it is precisely the charge of claiming to be a king which is used to have him convicted of a capital offense. It is one of the greatest ironies in the Church’s history that the title Jesus strenuously avoided while alive, and which became the instrument of his death, was fixed upon Him posthumously and perpetuated in this feast.
And so I propose that we, as LGBTQ Catholics, identify with this counter-intuitive epitome of irony, due to the irony of our status within the church. I doubt I need to convince anyone that, despite Pope Francis making progress in the right direction, much of the Church still barely tolerates (if that) our presence. Almost every week brings a new story of a teacher at a Catholic school, or a parish organist, being fired due to their publicly gay status, since it ‘does not conform to Church teaching.’ But as has long been pointed out, remove all the gay employees and you would have no Catholic schools; remove all the gay musicians, and the churches would be silent. And, of course how many priests would be left if all the gay ones were dismissed?
Earlier this month, the pastor of a Chicago parish wrote a column in the National Catholic Reporter stating flatly that his parish might well have collapsed under the pandemic, were it not for the heroic efforts of its LGBTQ members. This pastor is stating the ironic truth that possibly the most belittled and under-appreciated community in the Church is perhaps its greatest strength and its lifeblood.
The Savior who always sided with the poor and oppressed, who nearly was killed in infancy by a king, who was executed by an empire, is celebrated every year as “the King.” When I imagine Jesus chuckling at this divine irony, I have no doubt He would be thrilled if we were to make this our own special religious holiday.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, November 21, 2021