By now, I hope that all our readers have read Gary Potter’s latest excellent piece on this site, Christ is King of More Than Our Hearts. Gary’s lesson, implied in the title itself, is that the social reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King is not to be thrown out in favor of a more purely “spiritual” reign over the hearts and minds of believers, as if it is only individual men and not societies of men over whom Christ must reign. In the decades that I have known Gary, he has said this many times. This time, though, it got me thinking more deeply about the dismissive pietism that he takes issue with, namely, that “Christ is king merely over our hearts.”
Supposing we were to stand the point on its head. Supposing we were to ask, “If Jesus Christ were really King over our hearts, then what?” What if each of us saw Him as that and truly acknowledged His rule over us — as individuals? What are the implications of that?
But, before we can answer those questions, a more fundamental one needs to be answered: What does it mean to have Jesus Christ rule as King of one’s heart? I will answer this simply: It means to love Him and to render Him, personally, in the innermost sanctuary of one’s soul, all the homages that are His due: homages of faith, adoration, gratitude, hope, repentance, and charity. We must not dismiss any of this. It is all quite obligatory and exceedingly beneficial to each of us personally.
Now, let us attempt to answer the other questions which can be summarized in one simple interrogatory: Assuming that is the case, then what?
There a few ways to answer that question. I would like to begin by considering the character of the theological virtue of charity. There are not two theological virtues of charity, one by which we love God and the other by which we love our neighbor. No, there is only one, and its embrace extends to both the Creator and our fellow creatures. The Beloved Disciple, who knew a thing or two about the virtue in question, admonishes us precisely on this point, declaring effective love of neighbor to be something of a litmus test for the authenticity of our love of God: “If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother; he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not?” (1 John 4:20). He clinches the argument in the next verse: “And this commandment we have from God, that he, who loveth God, love also his brother.”
So, if we love God we must love our neighbor, our brother. What then? If we love our neighbor, then will we not want what is best for him? We shall, in short, will the good for him. Willing the good is what benevolence means. Saint Thomas argues that authentic charity is a “love of benevolence,” not the self-serving “love of concupiscence” by which “we are said to love wine, or a horse, or the like” (Cf. ST IIae Q. 23, A. 1).
If we will the good for our neighbor, then it follows that we will him to love God and to have all that is necessary for that supernatural love of God: divine and catholic faith, hope, and sanctifying grace, for without those no man can love God, not in the sense of the theological virtue of charity. It follows then, that, if we love him, we will our neighbor to participate in the entire supernatural economy of the Christian revelation, i.e., the Catholic Religion. I will say it here clearly and unequivocally: If we do not will these things for our neighbor, then we do not truly love our neighbor, not with that supernatural charity commanded in the Gospel.
Just as to promise salvation to non-Catholics constitutes a sin against charity, so, too, no Catholic can say that he really loves his neighbor if he does not will to him all the supernatural treasures of the Catholic religion. This is a hill upon which we all must be willing to die. Why? Because it follows necessarily upon the love of God. Jesus Christ, who lovingly imparted to us the faith with all of its rich benefits of grace and glory, commands us to do the same for others: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
All this proves that there are both confessional and a social dimensions to charity. And the idea that these dimensions are restricted only to our fellow Catholics is abhorrent. True, the Apostle admonishes us to do good “especially to those who are of the household of the faith,” but he also commands us to “work good to all men” (Gal. 6:10). What better good can we work for those outside than to bring them into the household of the faith?
What I have taken pains to show as following from the nature of theological Charity is also the subject of a command of Our Lord:
- “And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. (Matt. 28:18-20)
- “And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, the third day: And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)
If Jesus Christ were really king of our hearts, we would love what He loves and desire what He desires, including these and similar expressions of His Sacred Heart.
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Aside from merely wanting to bring our neighbor into the Church, we ought also to wish for him, as for ourselves and our families, that those who rule the larger society to which we belong would foster an environment that is conducive to our salvation and not harmful to it. If the law of Christ be respected by temporal society, then the business of saving one’s soul becomes more readily effected. If, to take but one example, the State protected Christian marriage instead of trampling upon it as she presently does (via no-fault divorce, same-sex “marriage,” etc.), a more Christian atmosphere would result, a less toxic and less hostile environment in which to raise children. What is said here of matrimony could be repeated regarding abortion, pornography, contraception, etc. The official licentiousness currently enshrined in our statutory and case law is not, as some may argue, “value free”; rather, it imparts very depraved values to the denizens of our Republic.
If we really loved our neighbor, would we want his children growing up amid such moral squalor? Would we not rather want both the temporal society of the State and the spiritual society of the Church to subject themselves, each in its own proper domain, to the same gentle and loving rule of Jesus Christ so that our quotidian existence in the one would not jeopardize our present or future status in the other?
A true love of neighbor — that mysterious “doing the truth in charity” Saint Paul writes of (Eph. 4:25) — would insist that these utterances of Our Lord have a direct relevance not only to private but also to social and even political life:
- “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
- “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father’s commandments, and do abide in his love.” (John 15:10)
- “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
The idea that the state can be “good” without any reference to God, His Church, or His moral law is a patent absurdity, one that becomes more absurd as Western liberalism stumbles like a drunken man toward a yawning chasm. However well-intentioned our American experiment in ordered liberty may have been from the start, leaving God out of it has resulted in a decisive failure. (That does not mean we hate our ancestors. It means that we aspire to do something better, something more Christian.)
In short, if we really love Jesus Christ, we will not only strive to bring the blessings of the faith to our neighbors as individuals, but we will also strive to bring its blessings to the temporal society in which we and our neighbors live.
Ultimately, if we really love Jesus Christ, then we would desire that all temporal kings and lords will be subject to His gentle rule. Again, the Beloved Disciple has something to say concerning this: “And he hath on his garment, and on his thigh written: KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Apoc. [Rev.] 19:16)
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Saint Luke relates something very sweet and lovable, but too easily missed in his account of the call of Saint Matthew, a.k.a., Levi the publican (Luke 5:27-30):
And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he said to him: Follow me. And leaving all things, he rose up and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans, and of others, that were at table with them. But the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying to his disciples: Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
Aside from the call of Levi itself, a theme of some amazing artworks (e.g., Carrivaggio’s The Calling of Saint Matthew), most commentators rush to talk about the ill will manifest by the Pharisees and the scribes. They skip over the part of this event related exclusively by Saint Luke (Matthew himself omits it, as does Mark), namely, that the newly converted Matthew put on a banquet for Jesus and His disciples, inviting his friends, fellow sinners, to the feast. He wanted to expose his friends and former “partners in crime” to Jesus so that they might become the partners of his conversion. Cornelius à Lapide is clear on this point:
This was in Matthew’s own house, for he is silent about his virtues, outspoken about his errors, namely that he had been a publican. … To this feast Matthew invited many of his companions, publicans like himself, and sinners, that they might be drawn by the kindness of Christ to follow Him, as he had done. Now the Pharisees would not deign to eat or speak with them, shunning them as sinners; therefore the publicans preferred to follow Christ rather than the Pharisees. It is indeed a sign of true conversion to be anxious that others also should be converted from the same sins or similar ones. For good is self-diffusive, and charity incites men to seek the salvation of other lost sinners, when one has experienced himself its sweetness.
We are all converted sinners of one sort or another and all ought to spread abroad, like Saint Matthew, that self-diffusive good that is charity… if Jesus Christ is really King of our hearts.