When I was about 15 I started to get involved in Politics. At that time, back in the 1960’s, many of us were idealistic crusaders determined to change things for the better, and certain that we could. I fear that most young people nowadays are fairly cynical about politics, as the rest of us are, but back then, as a Christian, I never doubted for a minute that to be politically active in this way was definitely what God wanted me to do, maybe even to be an M.P! And look where I ended up instead! I suppose it was the same feeling as many young people have at the moment in Egypt and Libya, crying “God is great” as they demonstrate for freedom and democracy. The problem, however, as we all know, is how to turn this desire for things to be better into real change, and so many of us, faced with this tend to say “What’s the point?”
When, in 1925, Pope Pius XI moved this Feast of Christ the King to this Sunday, he was actually making a political point. Mussolini had come to power in Italy and was claiming to be “The Leader”. The Pope wanted all Christians to remember, once a year, that for us there can only ever be one Leader, Jesus Christ Our Lord. But this did not mean that he did not want Christians to be involved in politics, only to be aware that whatever political system they supported should always be subject to the values of the Gospel ; and that any political leader who claimed to be above such things was in fact opposing God. This would become even more significant when Hitler took over power in Germany, not least because so many Christians thought of their faith as a private thing unconnected with government and politics. By not voting, they allowed the Nazis to gain power. By not objecting to the persecution of Jews and other minorities, they allowed it to take place.
What then does Jesus say of Christians for whom their faith is just for themselves? It is in today’s Gospel. (Matt 25:31-46) ‘ “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.” And they will go away to eternal punishment.’ Not doing anything about injustice in the world is to commit sin! This is precisely why so many Catholics are involved in some kind of political action. Some involved in political parties, even as national or local politicians, despite the risks and compromises involved, and the endless tedious meetings! Others in Trade Unions, or in protest groups of one kind or another. And even those of us who are not actively involved in such things, still have a duty to support those who do, and to bother ourselves to complain if things are wrong.
Let me give you an example of this kind of political involvement, just to show you that “politics” does not just mean which party you do or do not vote for. Some of you know that a member of my family was in hospital recently. Whilst there she noticed a number of things that were wrong. What did she do? Why write and complain, of course ; and back up that complaint by writing to her M.P, who happens to be David Cameron! And she did so, not just to moan about certain things that upset her, but to do her bit to put them right as much for others as for herself. They might ignore her letter, but it is much more difficult to ignore a letter from the Prime Minister!
We have no right to claim Jesus as the King of the Universe and not to promote his kingship, his kingdom, in every way we can. We commit sin if we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” and then do nothing. For each of us this will mean different things at different points in our life. I thought I was going to be a politician, but ended up a priest, and as a priest I am required not to be involved in party politics. I have to be “political” in other ways. This is because of the dangers of the Catholic Church being too closely identified with any political movement. But this does not mean doing and saying nothing.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was a conservative and prayerful priest and later bishop in El Salvador in the 1970’s. The right wing government there was delighted when he was appointed Archbishop, as they expected him to concentrate on religious things and to control those priests who were campaigning against them. But gradually he realised that in the name of Christ he had to speak out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. Finally, in 1980, he was assassinated as he said Mass at the altar. He has become the unofficial patron saint and martyr of Central America.
This is what, in today’s feast, Jesus calls us to do, even if we may risk dying in the process. Not to do anything or say anything is not an option for a Christian.