To Reign is to Serve

by Fr. Roger Landry


This year has passed. The Solemnity of Christ the King marks the last Sunday of the liturgical year and, in many ways, the culmination of everything we have marked up until now — the goal of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, Pentecost and Corpus Christi and of all the Sundays and feasts throughout the year.

They have all pointed toward this reality, that Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe, the Lord of all, the judge of the living and the dead. All of time, all of history, is heading toward this climax when Christ will be revealed as the universal King of Kings.

Yes, the Lord is king and He shall reign forever and ever! The angels in heaven, as we see in the book of Revelation, now stand around His glorious throne and say, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” We might think that this type of jubilant praise is precisely what the Lord now wants on earth from us to mark this reality. But He wants something more.

For to Christ, “to reign is to serve” (Lumen Gentium 36). He left His heavenly majesty, and, as St. Paul tells us, “even though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Christ’s whole kingship is caught up in this service. As He Himself said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for the many” (Mt 20:28).

It is Christ the King, who turns to each of us and says, “Come, follow Me!” The best way we can give Him homage, the best way we can enter into His kingdom, is to put into practice His example and reign with Him by serving with Him. He said this during the Last Supper, when He got down to wash all of the filth off of our feet and told us He was doing this as an example, so that we might do the same for others (cf. Jn 13:15). When He comes as King to judge the living and the dead, we will be judged on the basis of our actions of loving service. For us to “inherit the kingdom prepared for [us] since the beginning of time” — His kingdom — we need to spend our time here on earth reigning with Him in service.

The great question — the single most important question of our life — is whether we have been serving or ignoring Christ in our brothers and sisters. The last thing the King wants to do is to judge us. In St. John’s Gospel, He tells us that He came to save us, but that we will essentially judge ourselves by our actions, by whether or not we conform our actions to His word. He says, “I do not judge anyone who hears My words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects Me and does not receive My word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge” (Jn 12:47-48). The judgment will be nothing more than a revelation of how we have used our freedom to live by Jesus’ words, how we have chosen to love Jesus or to reject Jesus directly or in disguise. Jesus tells us all of this now so that we might use that freedom to learn to reign with Him by serving, by loving others as He has loved us.

Probably most of us can recall those times when we really have lived up to our call as Christians to serve the “least” of our brothers and sisters with Christ-like love. But we can also recall some explicit occasions when we stiffed a homeless person, or were cheap to a missionary, or refused to open our heart to a family member or colleague who really needed our assistance. If we’ve committed sins in the past, He wants us to make a good examination of conscience and a good confession, full of sorrow, so that we can receive the mercy that flows from His shepherdly heart. Then He wants us to get practical, to develop those means, so that we can learn how to love as He loves and come one day to His eternal gloriously scarred right side.

Blessed Mother Teresa, perhaps the greatest saint of our lifetime, dedicated her entire life, and the mission of her community, to “quenching Jesus’ infinite thirst,” to serving Him in the “distressing disguise” of the poorest of the poor. She began with those abandoned to die in the sewers of Calcutta, and spread that mission to all the abandoned and neglected throughout the world. The only way, she said, she could recognize Christ in the disfigured and distended faces of the ill and the dying was if she “zeroed in” on His face in prayer. At the beginning, she had her community do a holy hour every day. The more she looked at Jesus in the Eucharist, the easier it was to see Him in others.

But she soon started to see that one hour was not enough, because by the end of the day, she was failing to sense the Lord’s appearance in the gruesome sights and foul odors enveloping the ones brought to her Home for the Dying. So she and her sisters determined to do three hours of prayer each day, which is what they still do today, even here in New Bedford. The only way that they could see Christ in others was to contemplate Him in the Mass, in Eucharistic adoration, in prayer. If we focus on Christ’s presence under the appearance of bread and wine, and give Him the homage and the love that He is due, then it becomes so much easier to recognize Him under the human disguise of a brother and a sister. And the more they allowed Christ to give them His body to quench their hunger and His blood to quench their thirst, the more capable they became of giving their body, blood and lives to quench His in the person of their brothers and sisters.

To join the angels and the saints in heaven, to enter into the heavenly court of the King of Kings, begins with coming to Christ the King in the Eucharist, and like Mother Teresa, learning from this King of Love how to reign by serving. This is the path to His eternal, glorious right. This is the path to heaven. That is the way to hear those words for which Jesus formed our ears in the wombs of our moms years ago, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world!”


Father Roger J. Landry was ordained a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts by Bishop Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap. in 1999. After receiving a biology degree from Harvard College, Fr. Landry studied for the priesthood in Maryland, Toronto, and for several years in Rome. After his priestly ordination, Father returned to Rome to complete graduate work in Moral Theology and Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome. Fr. Landry is a popular speaker on the thoughts of Saint John Paul II and on apologetics. This article is made available courtesy of the Catholic Exchange web site.