O Rex Gentium: Questions of Authority

I think it’s safe to say that we as a culture have a problem with authority right now. Trust in our institutions — from government, through education, down to media and corporations — is at an all-time low. Perhaps this is why the theme of authority stood out to me when I was reflecting on today’s ‘O Antiphon’, which is addressed to Christ as King of the Nations:

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

I see four kinds of authority in this short prayer: The authority of political power, the authority of our desires, the authority of a cornerstone, and the authority of a potter over the clay. Each of these has something to offer us in this season as we seek to orient ourselves and prepare for the coming of Christ.

The first asks: Who or what is in charge of my life? Who gives me my marching orders? Who or what determines my sense of right and wrong? Is Caesar (by whatever name he goes today) the lord of my life? Is my favorite source of newsmedia? Is my boss? Am I? Is God? As Christians, there is an obvious ‘right’ answer and most of us would be quick to circle it. But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s always more complicated than that. There’s always a mix of loyalties, with different authorities within us and outside us fighting for our attention and allegiance.

The second asks: What do I want? This may seem strange as a kind of authority, but really, in a consumerist culture obsessed with immediate gratification, this may be very well be the most powerful authority of all for many of us. What do I want? Really? What am I working towards? What is my ultimate aim? I am increasingly convinced that this is the most important question we can ask ourselves. For, as Jesus himself said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be too.”

The third asks us: What is my life built upon? What is its foundation? What is grounding it? To put it a bit more fluidly, in an ever-changing and shifting world, where do I find stability and security?

And lastly, what or who is it that I am willing to change for? The image in the prayer, based on prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah, is that of a potter working the clay. Am I malleable enough to be changed? And if so, by whom and to what end?

In an increasingly complicated and interconnected world, this prayer is a reminder that our ultimate authority is God, and for us Christians, specifically, God as revealed in the man Jesus. He is our King, the one who gives us our orders. He is our true desire, that to which our hearts should be oriented and aligned. He is our cornerstone — the solid rock on which we build our lives, the thick vine of which we are the branches. And he is the potter always at work fashioning us, longing for us to be transformed ever more into the likeness of God.

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

Amen.

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