A feast of anniversaries

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ 11 November 2021

This year the Feast of Christ the King coincides with a number of important anniversaries, including World Youth Day.

World Youth Sunday is an annual Catholic celebration. It links the three-yearly International World Youth Day celebrations that have offered Popes the opportunity to mingle with young people and young people the opportunity to celebrate faith in their own idiom. The celebration reminds us that all young persons have their own distinctive gifts. It also invites us to reflect on what those gifts are and how they might share them in their church and world.

The other observances marked on Sunday 21 November this year suggest different aspects of the meaning of World Youth Day. It is also the annual feast of Christ the King (the last Sunday in the liturgical year) which Pope Pius XI instituted almost a century ago in the face of what he saw to be a growing atheism and secularism. The feast emphasised that faith is a personal commitment, and that Jesus is the leader whom we should follow. Though the royal image suggests pomp and ceremony, the feast is actually counter-cultural. When we think of Jesus as king, our image is that of a prisoner mocked by State forces by being dressed in a dirty cloak and bleeding from a crown of thorns hammered into his head.

Jesus as king identifies with the excluded and unjustly treated in our world, a reproach to brutal governments identified with their cruel dictator. Christ the King was the poor-man king whose life judged such powerful rulers as Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and similar dictators of our day. World Youth Day is focused on Jesus, as that kind of king. It appeals to the courage and generosity of young people in accompanying people who are poor and neglected.

November 21 is also the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. This day appeals to the compassion of young people not only for those killed on the roads but also for those whose lives have been forever chained to pain, loss of movement and brain function as a result of accidents, and the many more parents, brothers and sisters, children and friends whose lives have also been deeply affected. This remembrance day reminds us, too, that far too many victims of accidents are themselves young people. Many, too, have been responsible for these accidents by dangerous driving and risk taking.

The readiness to take risks for love and high ideals is one of the most attractive qualities of young people when it is inspired by love and respect and is joined to common sense. It expresses itself in volunteering, and in gathering with friends to begin enterprises that seem impossible. We need to think only of Frederic Ozanam who joined a few other Paris students in founding the Vinnies. Vinnies began out of the same crazy-brave ventures of young people. This kind of risk-taking lies at the heart of Christian faith and so of World Youth Day. And, of course, it echoes Jesus’ life.

November 21, too, is World Television Day, which is such a central part of our culture both in providing entertainment and information and in its development into other digital media. In its derivation television means seeing what lies at a distance. By bringing us close to distant places and by allowing us to communicate face to face at a distance, television has changed our lives. For young people it is central. It is a great gift, but it can be superficial. World Youth Day reminds us of the importance of also seeing what lies deeper. It celebrates the skills and initiatives of young people with technology and invites them to explore the world in depth.

Finally, World Youth Day occurs in Social Inclusion Week, which invites us to build friendships that cross boundaries and bring strangers together. The large gatherings of people from many nations on International World Youth Days do this splendidly. The yearly celebration invites them to reach out beyond their close friends to people from different faiths, racial origins and walks of life. It is a day for listening as well as for speaking, for growing in a love that reaches out to all.