HomeCommentaryBALIK-TANAW: Shepherding, Hope, and Pilgrim Church

BALIK-TANAW: Shepherding, Hope, and Pilgrim Church

In 1925, Pope Pius XI first instituted this feast of Christ the King with his encyclical “Quas Primas” (‘In the first’).

His primary objective was to bring a certain understanding among nations divided particularly by the influences of militantly secularistic regimes that threatened not only the Catholic Church and the faithful, but the whole of life itself.  

The gift of hope was the highlight of this feast.  The people suffering from these regimes were assured that while governments may be cruel and imperious, Christ who is King of the whole of the Universe shall forever reign in the fullness of life. (USCCB, About Christ The King, www.usccb.org)  



While indeed, throughout the world’s history, fascist and tyrannical regimes have crumbled, wicked and brutal governments are all the more today, clinging to power through the support of arms deals, power brokering, private armies, drug-human trafficking, and maintaining shell companies. 

In the Philippines, it is a known fact, that the present government is an unholy alliance with dubious powers and personalities that have been quite successful in its efforts to resurrect a once crumbled dictatorship. Everyday life is witness to the people’s suffering.

In its paper released on November 16, 2023, IBON (an independent institution that provides research, education, and information on socioeconomic issues) writes… 

Low incomes make it difficult for households to meet their basic needs. The average nominal wage of Php 421 nationwide is just one-third (35.5%) of the Php1,187 nationwide FLW (Family LivingWage).  Meanwhile, the monthly minimum wage across all regions averaged Php9,158 which is far below the average poverty threshold of Php12,030 and way short of the Php25,816 monthly FLW for October 2023.  The Marcos Jr. administration claims to protect the vulnerable from the impact of high prices.  But its anti-inflation measures are tokenistic and only cover a small portion of so many Filipinos in need. (Read more, www.ibon.org

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Truly, Christ the King, over all these powers wielding its atrocities over the weak and vulnerable, is a powerful sacrament for people suffering in subjugation from authorities.  

Faith in a higher power or in ‘higher forces’ has always been the shield of those living on the edge (Phil Stutz, MD).  Hence the encyclical of Pope Pius XI is indeed a message of hope to those suffering the indignities of tyrannical rule. 

But there is another way of seeing Christ as King… 

As the Rev. Jericho Natividad (ECP) shared with me in one of our many conversations via FB Messenger (I maintained the rawness of the quote, I feel it touches the message at its core…)

“Ang isang magandang pagninilay sa pagka-Hari ni Hesus ay yaong nakabayubay siya sa Krus at kinausap yung isang kinondenang kasama niya, na pinangakuan nyang isasama niya sa Paraiso.  Napansin mo,Weena,  may inversion sa paghahari ng Diyos,‘di ba?  Yung vunerable at mahina, yung “trono” nya  ay ang krus, at yung paghahandog niya ang nagbigay ng buhay sa tao.  Sa bokabularyo ng tao sa daigdig na ito, ang hari, o ang makapangyarihan, ay may pribilehiyo, ang number one.  Ang isa pang bagay riyan, ay yung paggamit mismo ng terminong “Hari” ay dapat iqualify at ipaliwanag ayon sa sense ng Gospel at ng Reign of God, at hindi yung kinasanayang pagunawa. Kailangan ang pagbasag sa takbo ng ating isip.”

(One of the beautiful reflections on Christ the King is at the crucifixion, Jesus hanging on the cross, seemingly helpless and powerless, promises Paradise to one of the two crucified with Him. Did you notice an inversion in the notion of the Kingship of God?  The vulnerable and weak, His “throne” is the cross, and His life-giving offering to humanity, eternal life. The way people in this world would understand it is that the “king” or those in the corridors of power are the privileged ones, taking first priority.  Another important aspect here is the use of the term “king”, the need to qualify and shed light according to the sense of the Gospel, and the Reign of God. And not the common understanding.  We need to “shatter the glass ceiling of our minds here.”).  

Coming to terms with the Gospel sense of the Reign of God, in the Filipino theological understanding, the reign of God, is God-become-man in Jesus, living among us, “nakipamuhay”, becoming one like us. “Reign” here means more of to “live with/live among” than “to rule or preside”.  

Hence, the Reign of God, ang Pamamayani ng Kagandahang-Loob ng Diyos, ang pamamayani ni Hesus sa ating buhay, si Hesus na nakiisa, nakipamuhay kasama natin (the Reign of God, Jesus living among us, Jesus who has become like one of us, who lived with us.), and finally, set upon his “throne” on the cross.  

There! is the One, the King who promises Paradise to the “proto-saint”. What an inversion indeed. His life is a paradox. To the end. This King humbled himself so much as to accept death.  And what when on the third day he rises, still among us, walking with us, talking with us, eating with us?  For this “kingdom” will have no end.  

And so what is it for us who follow Jesus who is Christ the King?  How are we reminded of this call as a community?  How are we to live as a Church to become a part of this Reign of God?  

Fr. Joe Dizon, priest activist, champion of workers, and beloved of the masses, once said, “The church will never go astray as long as it continues to be with the poor in their work for struggle and resurrection from the many forms of ‘deaths’ imposed upon them by the evils of injustice.”  

The Church is a church of, for, and with the poor and marginalized. Jesus himself has underscored that in his life.  He identified with the poor, those least, last, and lost. He lived poor (contrary to gospel prosperity!) and died poor.  

Pushed to the margins. Unto death on the cross. And we? Are called to do the same. To live in solidarity with, to live among the widows and orphans of state-sanctioned senseless killings, the farm workers and fisherfolk, the families in abject poverty struggling to put food on the table, the LGBTQ pushed to the fringes of society, the laborer whose daily wage cannot make ends meet, the women and children suffering abuse and domestic violence, and all suffering people, we serve to the end of our lives as a Pilgrim Church. 

Today’s readings bring to light a new way of seeing the Reign of God as we walk our pilgrim way as a Church.  From the first reading of the Gospel, the keywords are gather, care, protect, and shepherd.  

In the olden times, particularly in the time of Jesus, people did not look up to shepherds.  Some are said to be thieves and robbers, hence the specific adjective of the writers of the Gospel, the “good” shepherd.

But for the shepherd to be successful in his work, his main focus is to gather, care for, and protect his sheep. And that is not an easy kind of job.  Even with a herd of one hundred, the shepherd has the extraordinary ability to know his sheep.  

His dedication is stellar, and his commitment is absolute. In this light, we are led to understand that to reign is not to lord over and abuse the lowly, but on the contrary, to reign is to live among, to lift up the lowly, to gather, to care for, to protect the fold, the pilgrim people.

The leader is one who gives the best example, and the servant is the one who lays down his life. The king is one who offers his life in service and unconditional love. 

Jesus in the Gospels has repeatedly taught that the only way to topple the tower of tyranny is to love. To die for love. To embrace the gospel values that Jesus once lived as a human being, “to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoners, heal the wounded…because whenever you did these to my little ones, who are my brothers and sisters,  you did to me.”  

As we prepare ourselves for the Sundays of Advent, in preparation for the Season of Christmas, may we cling to the heart of the Good Shepherd, and encourage one another to shepherd and be shepherded, to continue to serve God in serving the people with love and unwavering dedication.  

By this, all will know that we are a Church alive, and moving and walking about our pilgrim path where our God reigns!  By this, we will never go astray. For the poor shall always lead us into a new Hope, a new Way in the wilderness and into the Light!

Gospel reflection of Ms. Weena Salvador Meily of AWIT for the observance of Christ the King Sunday. 34:11-12, 15-17, Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6, 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28, Mt 25:31-46

Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action.

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