The title of the great feast we celebrate today --the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe—is obviously filled with language and imagery that, in the 21st century, convey a clear sense of exclusiveness. A male monarch, who’s in charge of absolutely everything, doesn’t sound like the easiest person in the world to befriend! But at the time of St. Ignatius Loyola, such imagery was considered beautifully compelling, and easy to relate to, especially when considering the power structures of his day. Ignatius was born in 1491, the year before Columbus was commissioned by a king and queen to find a western pathway to the Orient. He was brought up in a culture that honored chivalry, heroism, and courtliness above the more humble virtues of Christianity. And so it is no surprise that Ignatius, as he composed his Spiritual Exercises, would be sure to include at least one meditation focusing on “kingship.”
At the beginning of the Second Week of the Exercises, Ignatius invites the retreatant to engage “The Call of the King.” At first, it all seems quite exciting --the chance to follow a hero, by special invitation, into a life choice of heroism! But as the meditation goes on, something changes. The great temporal king you imagined is replaced by a second king –Jesus Christ himself. The following of the king continues but at a much deeper level, to the point where you not only imitate Christ’s heroic deeds. You also consent to suffer with him, for the sake of the world. If such consent is genuine and unconditional, the retreatant has truly answered the Call of the King.
Greg Boyle, SJ is an amazing Jesuit who has worked in gang ministry in East Los Angeles for over 20 years now. Greg is fond of calling out the desperate need for “kinship” in our time, “to be willing to stand with the lowly in a lowly place” as he puts it. But Greg wants us to do more than stand there. In his words,
“we are called to inch ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, a circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ with former gang members in Los Angeles, CA.
It’s vitally important to know the difference between kingship and kinship on a day like today. But, in the light of the gospel and the Spiritual Exercises, it’s even more important to understand the similarities between them. On this great and solemn feast of our faith, as we end one church year and prepare to begin another, let us not get caught up in the problem of language and antiquated imagery. Let’s focus instead on the Call of the King that leads us closer to Christ and to “a community of kinship, such that God might recognize it.”