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The King Of Glory, Mighty In Battle

November 25, 2017 Featured Today No Comments


For centuries, in the sacred liturgy, late November has been a time for anticipating the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. In times of great trial for the Church — and our present age is just such a time — this anticipation of Christ’s return in glory is heightened by the Church’s anxious yearning to be rescued and delivered from evil by her Divine Bridegroom.
In the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the Gospel for the final Sunday of the year is Matt. 24:15-35, our Lord’s account of the fearsome events that are to come at the end of the world, and on the following Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, which often enough occurs before the very end of November (although not this year), the Gospel is St. Luke’s relation of the same prophecy of Christ regarding His Second Coming (Luke 21:25-33).
In the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the weekday readings for the last two weeks of the liturgical year point to the same theme, in both the Year I and Year II cycle of readings, with Year I presenting episodes of heroic martyrdom from the First Book and Second Book of Maccabees together with the apocalyptic visions of the Prophet Daniel, and Year II taking us through the Book of Revelation.
And on the final Sunday of the Ordinary Form liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King evokes the image of our Lord as judge of the living and the dead at the end of time. Even the first two days of November, All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, orient the entire month in this direction by turning our gaze to the mystery of death and to those who have already experienced the end time of their own individual lives, the saints and those in Purgatory.
When we think of the Book of Revelation, what usually comes most readily to mind, and understandably so, are its astounding accounts of what is to take place at the end of the world. But what perhaps is not sufficiently appreciated is the utterly majestic image of Christ that emerges from this final book of the Bible.
St. John the Evangelist, our witness and narrator of the Apocalypse, who had known our Lord so intimately during the three years of His public ministry and had reclined at the Master’s side at the Last Supper, is nonetheless so stunned with breathless awe at the sight of Him “who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1), “clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast,” His face “like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:13,16), that he falls “as though dead” at His feet (Rev. 1:17).
This of course is not a “different Christ” from our Lord as He reveals Himself in the Four Gospels. But what the Book of Revelation has to say deepens our perception of the victory that Christ wrought on Golgotha. The centuries’ old vesicle, “Christus vincit,” which became a rallying cry during the Crusades, is a perfect summation of this: “Christ conquers. Christ reigns. Christ commands.”
The pages of the Gospel reveal in rich detail the mercy, patience, and gentleness of our Lord, whom we must approach with total childlike trust. For its part, the Book of Revelation testifies that we must also humbly present ourselves to Christ with reverential fear and awe. This is conveyed by the very expressions by which our Lord identifies Himself to St. John:
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8); “. . . the first and the last, and the living one. . . . I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18); “. . . I am he who searches mind and heart. . . .” (Rev. 2:23); “…I make all things new. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:5-6); “. . . the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).
What the Book of Revelation likewise tells us is that Christ has come to do battle for us, to vanquish Satan and his minions in all-out spiritual warfare:
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. . . . He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses . . . he will rule them [the nations] with a rod of iron. . . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:11,13-16).
In this titanic battle of the ages for the salvation of souls, two other key players emerge in the pages of the Book of Revelation. Chapter Twelve brings before our eyes the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1), and immediately after her confrontation with Satan, we are presented with St. Michael and his rout of the Devil (Rev. 12:7-9). Enraged by our Lady’s escape from his machinations, Satan “went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God. . . .” (Rev. 12:17).
Notice above how Satan seeks to attack those who “keep the commandments of God.” And so it is that more than once in the Book of Revelation, Christ exhorts us to stand fast in adhering to His teachings, the teachings of the Church: “. . . hold fast what you have, until I come” (Rev. 2:25); “I am coming soon; hold fast what you have. . . .” (Rev. 3:11).
With troubling events all about us, we can be tempted to lose courage. Yet despite all of Satan’s monstrous plots and designs to destroy the Church, we must remember, and indeed we are duty-bound to believe as a matter of faith, that in the end he cannot succeed.
This is where our Lord’s manifestation of Himself in the Book of Revelation can steel us for whatever personal battles we must fight for the cause of His Church. For in these concluding pages of the Bible Christ reveals Himself as a King utterly in command of the situation, invincible, unconquerable, omnipotent. This indeed is how we find Him now, with the eyes of faith, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in the Tabernacle.
Recently I discovered a remarkable nineteenth-century book entitled, The Path which led a Protestant Lawyer to the Catholic Church. The author, Peter Hardeman Burnett (1807-1895), a native of Nashville, Tenn., who after playing a major role in the settlement of Oregon later served for a time as the first American governor of California, had been an adherent of a small Protestant sect when on Christmas Eve of 1843 he wound up attending simply as a “spectator” a Catholic midnight High Mass. Of this occasion, he was later vividly to recall,
“. . . The profound solemnity of the services — the intense, yet calm fervor of the worshippers — the great and marked differences between the two forms of worship [i.e., Catholic versus Protestant] — and the instantaneous reflection, that this was the Church claiming to be the only true Church, did make the deepest impression upon my mind for the moment. In all my religious experience, I had never felt an impulse so profound, so touching. I had witnessed very exciting scenes in Protestant worship, and had myself often participated, and was happy.
“But I had never felt any impulse so powerful — an impulse that thrilled my inmost soul. I gazed into the faces of the worshippers, and they appeared as if they were actually looking at the Lord Jesus, and were hushed into perfect stillness, in His awful presence” (Peter Burnett, The Path which led a Protestant Lawyer to the Catholic Church, New York, Benziger Brothers, fourth edition, 1872, pp. v-vi).

The Church Expects Trials

Three years later, Burnett entered the Catholic Church. While the purpose of Burnett’s 1860 book is primarily to make the case for conversion to the Catholic faith, a task he carries out most adroitly, the words in his concluding chapter also offer much needed solace to those already within the Church who may find themselves overwhelmed by the specter of the Church’s trials and the threats of her enemies:
“It is very true that the Old Church, during the long course of her career, has had her enemies and trials, without and within. And these enemies have been numerous and powerful. . . .
“. . . Her entire destruction has often been threatened, but it has not yet been accomplished. . . . Her grave has often been dug, in imagination, and her enemies have as often supposed that she was dead and buried; but still she would rise again. At the very moment when she was thought to be the weakest, she was, in fact, the strongest. . . .
“And these stern and gloomy trials — but glorious triumphs — only increase our faith in the stability of this mighty Old Church. Is there any virtue without temptation? Any fidelity without a trial? Any victory without a struggle? Must not the true Church fight, if she would reign?. . . And if she expects to gain great victories, let her trials be severe. So much the better. . . . She has always done it. Will she not still do it? Is she not able?
“And I confess that I love a Church that has overcome all these trials. Her sufferings have been intense. So they should be. Shall the true Church have a primrose path on earth, and also a golden path in heaven?. . . the Church expects trials, and would not escape them if she did not expect them. It is her vocation, her business, to meet and overcome them. Let her fulfil her duty — the very purpose of her creation” (ibid., pp. 735-737).

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