Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
In this installment we continue to reflect on what it means as a follower of Christ to participate in the office of priest, prophet and king. Specifically, we will look at what it means for penitents to share in the kingly office of Christ, and how we may best live out this call.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” The words of Christ give us a broad hint that the mundane definition of kingship does not apply. He came dressed, not in rich robes, but in homespun cloth. His table was laden, not with plenty, but with the simple fare a day’s wage could provide. He was born, not in a glittering palace, but in a cave for sheltering livestock. This prompts a question: If the King of Kings did not place value on the richest food, clothing and shelter found on earth, then what? The answer may be found in the above Scripture passage. “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” What does the King of Kings value above all else? The simple answer is obedience.
The Catechism tells us in section 908:
“By his obedience unto death, Christ communicated to his disciples the gift of royal freedom, so that they might ‘by the self-abnegation of a holy life, overcome the reign of sin in themselves’:
“That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject and, by governing himself with suitable rigor, refuses to let his passions breed rebellion in his soul, for he exercises a kind of royal power over himself. And because he knows how to rule his own person as king, so too does he sit as its judge. He will not let himself be imprisoned by sin, or thrown headlong into wickedness.”
This passage reveals a very clear link between the penitential lifestyle and the kingly office of the laity. In following the discipline of the Rule we gradually overcome the reign of sin in ourselves. The penitent trains his or her body to become an obedient subject to the soul, for the right order of things is that the lower nature be subject to the higher. It follows that the more we progress in the way of discipline, the more we share in the kingly office of Christ. As we read in 1 Corinthians 9: 25: “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
And this is what it looks like to participate on earth in the kingly office of Christ:
“But Jesus summoned them and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:25-28)
The King comes, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life. Therefore, so must we. There is no crown without the cross. Jesus lived that truth as an example for us. The cross, our cross is not to be merely endured, but kissed, embraced. It is a way and a sign of perfect obedience, perfect kingship.
St. Francis must have had a very clear understanding of this when he wrote the Rule for his orders. He too turned had his back on the glitz and glitter of the world in favor of the true treasures found in poverty, obedience and service. He embraced the cross and won the crown of everlasting life. May we go and do likewise.