by Fr. George W. Rutler
Looking toward Thanksgiving Day, there are countless causes for thanks, not the least of which is that our nation got off to a good start with so many honest people trying to establish a society respectful of God and his blessings. George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day in 1789. He had not planned on being president, though he knew that many wanted him. In 1783 after resigning his command of the army at a farewell in Annapolis, he mounted his horse and rode back to Mount Vernon. When the American-born painter, Benjamin West, told King George III that Washington had given up his power, the general’s old foe said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Earthly governance is part of the natural order for the establishment of the “tranquility of order,” as St. Augustine taught. While bad rulers have been countless, there have also been saints who ruled with crown and scepter: Canute of the Danes, Charles of Flanders, David of Scotland, Edmund of East Anglia, Edward of England, Stephen of Hungary, Wenceslaus of Bohemia, Eric of Sweden, Louis of France, Ludwig of Thuringia, and most recently, Karl of Austria, to name but a few.
But as “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” so too can the king lay heavy burdens on the people. The prophet Samuel warned the Jews against taking on a king, for he would “take your sons and appoint them to his chariots. . . . He will take the tenth of your grain. . . He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves” (1 Samuel: 10-17).
The excesses of bad rulers have been lurid in our own time. Probably the worst right now is the Communist imperium of North Korea, where the ruling Kim family has made itself a cult, punishing anyone who worships God instead of its hereditary leader. In that bizarre society, all international communications are banned, and anyone possessing a Bible is subject to execution. In the latest of many atrocities, on November 3, eighty Christians and other dissidents were shot before a crowd of ten thousand, including children forced to watch. Then their families were sent to almost certain death in prison camps.
The Holy Church appoints the last Sunday of the liturgical year as the Feast of Christ the King, dedicating all human order to his rule. A venerable prayer begins: “O Lord our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth. . .” God’s throne is the power of grace that holds all physical creatures in an ordered unity and inspires moral life toward eternal happiness. Without him nothing holds together, and chaos reigns because, as one liturgical preface says, “Before him, all earthly rule is a shadow and a passing breath.”
– Father George W. Rutler