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Christ the King stained glassI would like to nominate the Solemnity of Christ the King as the world day of recognition for the social doctrine of the Church. Currently, I believe, it is generally considered that the World Day of Peace, the day on which the Holy Father gives an address to the world, is the… shall we say… social-justicey day of the year. But to that I just have to ask how there can possibly be any peace without Christ reigning in our hearts.

The solemnity was erected by Pope Pius XI in Quas primas. This was the same pontiff who gave us the phrase “social justice” and the principle of subsidiarity. Indeed, in Quas primas the Holy Father wrote,

that as long as individuals and states refused to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations. Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ

And it turns out that Cardinal Turkson, the current Prefect of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, agrees with us. In this interview from a year ago, when his Eminence was appointed to his position, the interviewer asked the following:

In this regard, would a rediscovery of the now-forgotten idea of the social kingship of Christ — his lordship over all things, including the political and economic order — be helpful?

Cardinal Turkson: This is perfectly in order.

Now I know many in social justice circles won’t like my idea, what with its overtones of hierarchical monarchy and its reference to a gender-specific title, but then I don’t exist to please them… and, thank the Lord, neither does the Church.

Now I will grant that for nations where associations with kings and queens can bring back sorry remembrances, this emphasis of Christ as King might be difficult…but then should we abandon reference to God the Father because of people’s bad experiences with their own father? Well, I suppose some of the same people would argue in favor of that too, but then that only proves that they’re consistent in their silliness.

Pope Leo XIII, who started this whole modern social teaching business, wrote Rerum novarum in 1891. That document gets all the glory because it was so finely focused on the question of labor, but the year before that, Pope Leo promulgated a document titled Sapientiae Christianae or “On Christians as Citizens.” In it he lays the groundwork for the importance of our keeping in mind the social kingship of Christ.

After laying out the distinction between the earthly powers and the heavenly, Pope Leo asks the question about what happens when patriotism for my country runs counter to my fidelity to my faith. He answers in unequivocal terms:

7. As to which should be preferred no one ought to balance for an instant. It is a high crime indeed to withdraw allegiance from God in order to please men, an act of consummate wickedness to break the laws of Jesus Christ, in order to yield obedience to earthly rulers, or, under pretext of keeping the civil law, to ignore the rights of the Church; “we ought to obey God rather than men.”(Acts 5:29)

You see, by keeping Christ the King at the center of the social teaching of the Church we may be constantly reminded that the social policies we pursue are not so as to create a utopian wonderland here on earth. Rather, we pursue the love of the poor and the transformation of society for the sake of bringing the laws of this earth in line with the laws of the Kingdom of God, who is a person; and that person is Christ Jesus, with whom we shall live only fully in the next life.

I have been thinking a lot about our republic, our American republic, lately. I think this Solemnity of Christ the King being a day for the rediscovery – or just plain discovery – of the social doctrine has implications for us as citizens and not just a Catholics.

The U.S. bishops recognize that our religious liberties are so tenuously held at the present time that greater emphasis must be placed on them. And it is not just a matter of religious liberty for Catholics. Other Christians suffer too under the increasing pressure of the secular state. So I ask you, what are we to do? Shall we sit by and watch as self-satisfied prigs on high continue to delimit how we might live as Catholics – not to mention how they fight to protect their own sacrament, the scourge of abortion?

Christ the King b&w

Pope Leo XIII suggests that at the very least we ought to learn our own faith. He wrote that in the face of the secular attempts to drive the spirit of religion from the public square, average Catholics must:

…make a deep study of Christian doctrine, and imbue [our] minds with as perfect a knowledge as may be of those matters that are interwoven with religion and lie within range of reason.

What does that mean? I would say that it means that Catholics must study and attain an intimate understanding of the social doctrine of the Church. None of this allowing ourselves to be wooed into submission by talking heads on the light-box. Whether it’s the self-admittedly biased reporting of Fox News or the stultifyingly acrid drivel that comes from MSNBC, none of it is fully Catholic. We need to know our faith and how the Church has been trying so desperately to provide us tools to apply that faith into our political and economic behavior.

This age is the age of the social teaching. We must interweave it into our lives and “make a deep study.”

And OH how our republic needs it! I was watching a video of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon just a few days ago in which a correspondent for The Daily Show asked one of the protesters whether he would share his iPad with the rest of the protesting community. He would not; and he actually said (I had to stop and watch it several times over to make sure I heard right) he actually said that he would not do so because he was not against personal property…only… (wait for it)…. private property. Ahhh.

Then of course there is this example on the international stage. Apparently, and this is not made up… honest, the bureaucrats in Brussels have determined for the European Union that retailers of water are banned from making the wild claim that – get this – that water can hydrate you. Yes, no longer must the Europeans suffer under the tyranny of those water-mongers who, with every bit of malice for basic human decency, claim that water can actually put, um, water back into your system, like, hydrate you. Nope, no more. Free at last. It seems the movie Idiocracy was more prescient than I gave it credit.

So the need is there my friends. I say that on the Solemnity of Christ the King every year, we get together with friends and family, roast something meaty and grand, and read what the Church has to say about the common good, the universal destination of goods, subsidiarity, participation and solidarity. We might even drink some water. If you were so inclined today to read about the social doctrine, I invite you to read a brief summation of it here on my website or listen to extended conversations about the social teaching with my good friend Kris McGregor. Whether or not you do, however, please do learn more about the social teaching.

Have a blessed Solemnity everybody and… Long Live Christ the King!