Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: The Franciscan Connection

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: The Franciscan Connection

This Sunday (November 21), Catholics, along with many other Christians, conclude the 2021 liturgical year with the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Christ the King church in Cincinnati 700pxlsThe first Catholic Church in the world dedicated to the new title for our Lord was Christ the King Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1926 (photo by Amber Dawson). 

Goal of all creation

This celebration was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to the rise of modern totalitarian states and growing secularism in society. Instead, he called Christians to keep our eyes focused on the goal of all creation: the Reign of God come to full completion in and through Christ, as Paul writes the Colossians: “God has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son. . . He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible—all things have been created through him and for him.”

The primacy of Christ

Many Franciscans were enthused about the new feast as it seemed to confirm the theological conclusions of John Duns Scotus on the absolute primacy of Christ.

The Franciscan Message to the World

As Agostino Gemelli, OFM (1878–1959), Italian friar scientist and university founder expressed at the time in his classic study, “The Franciscan Message to the World” (English translation, 1934):

Duns Scotus placed as the reason for the Incarnation the glorification of the Son of God prior to the (need for) Redemption. He thus laid the central stone of the edifice of Franciscan piety: to draw all souls to Christ, for whom “all things were made”. The love of the Crucified led Scotus to consider Christ to be the centre and King of the whole universe. This marvelous conception gave to Franciscan life its dominant note. For it placed in a sacred light nature, history, and human events, viewing them all as creatures called to play their part in contributing to the triumph of Christ. It made of every person a worker and a soldier in His Divine Kingdom.

Christ the King Agostino Gemelli 700pxls Agostino Gemelli, OFM (1878–1959) founded the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. Its medical school and research hospital in Rome are named after him.

The late Jack Wintz, OFM, developed a contemporary reflection on this theme.  

Extending Christ’s reign in society

This vision led Gemelli to encourage a faithful colleague, Armida Barelli (1882–1952), to found a new form of consecrated life, the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ. Armida and her 11 compassions committed themselves on November 19, 1919, to extend Christ’s reign in the midst of secular society. This year we rejoice at Pope Francis’s decision to recognize Armida’s holy, trail-blazing life by declaring her Blessed. This ceremony will take place on April 30, 2022 in Milan.

Christ the King Armida Barelli 700pxlsVenerable Armida Barelli (1882–1952) collaborated closely with Fr. Gemelli in establishing the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and was a pioneering advocate for the active role of laywomen in the Church. She will be beatified in April 2022.

Rekindling the vision of the Reign of God in the world

Pope Francis has rekindled the vision of working for the Reign of God in the world with his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” Written in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis singles out the unprecedented challenges we face on a global scale: acts of discrimination and violence against others, dramatic rises in economic inequality, the existential threat of climate change. These challenge people of all faiths to work together as sisters and brothers.

Dedicating ourselves to a life of service

Today, Pope Francis reminds us that dedicating ourselves to the Reign of Christ calls to a life of service: 

Lord, Father of our human family,

you created all human beings equal in dignity:

pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit

and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,

dialogue, justice and peace.

Move us to create healthier societies

and a more dignified world,

a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.

May our hearts be open

to all the peoples and nations of the earth.

May we recognize the goodness and beauty

that you have sown in each of us,

and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,

and shared dreams. Amen. (Fratelli Tutti, 287)

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Main image: This mosaic of Christ, “Pantokrator” (Ruler of All Things), is in the Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily.

Dominic Monti

Written by : Dominic Monti

Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. A native of nearby Bradford, PA, he was educated at St. Bonaventure (BA); after joining the Order, he attended the Catholic University of America (STB), Union Theological Seminary, NY (STM), and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (PhD). He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor. He is spiritual assistant to a federation of Poor Clares and the Franciscan Secular Institute, the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ.