From 29-31 October 2010, 430 pilgrims from throughout Australia and New Zealand braved the elements, walking from St Patrick's Cathedral, Ballarat, to Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo. This year saw the 20th Christus Rex Pilgrimage, held annually on the last weekend of October.
Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the traditional Latin Mass) is celebrated solemnly each day on route. This year, for the second time (the first occasion being 2007) Bishop Peter Elliott celebrated Pontifical Solemn Mass and preached the sermon, after greeting pilgrims at the entrance to Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo.
The following are extracts from Bishop Elliott's sermon. The full text is available on request.
The Kingdom or Reign of God is at the heart of the good news, in the Gospels, in the liberating message of Our Lord. The Church on earth has been called the anteroom of that Kingdom.
But let us take that further. God's Kingdom is always coming, breaking into this world, through the Church, that is, in and through God's People, members of the living working Body of Christ.
The preface of today's Mass helps us understand our mission and the meaning of the eternal Kingdom of Our Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ: "A kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." I will take each of the three phrases and apply them to our society and to ourselves.
In the Gospel for this Mass, the King of the ages crowned with thorns stands in front of Pontius Pilate, symbol of the total control of the Roman Empire. Pilate asks him, "Are you a king then?" His reply could be treason, but without hesitation he responds, "As you say, I am a king. For this I was born, for this I came into the world, that I might give witness to the truth and whoever is of the truth hears my voice".
The King of truth and life uttered those words, and so he speaks directly to Pilate and to us, "Yes, I am a king ...". He tells us that to follow him is to follow truth, to live truth, to witness to the truth.
Therefore we use "a kingdom of truth and life" to measure our society. So often we find that our society is the inversion of "truth and life" - a society of lies and death. A dishonest, inhumane and callous society was rightly described as the "culture of death" by Pope John Paul II.
We are justly angry when we look at this State of Victoria through the lens of "truth and life". Abortion up to birth is now legal. The truth of human life in the womb is denied, rejected, scorned. Abortion is an uncontrolled but well-protected industry of death, killing little human beings, wounding the lives of women.
It is no surprise that euthanasia is being strongly promoted today. Nor should it be a surprise that this is the policy of a political and ideological force that puts more value on wattle and wombats than people. Resurgent aggressive secularism resorts to killing as it strives to engineer, direct and control, not only society, but your life and mine.
To further elucidate the Kingdom as judgement on our society, I bring forward the third phrase in the preface: "A kingdom of justice, love and peace". That was the vision of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, and she put it into action, reaching out with her Sisters of Saint Joseph to the children, to the poor, to Indigenous Australians, to women, to the most vulnerable.
Some question the right of the bishops to speak and guide. We are told that the "separation of Church and State" means "keeping religion out of politics". But does it? We need to reflect on religious freedom, to understand this freedom carefully because it is a condition of God's Kingdom.
Religious freedom as promoted in the Bishops' Statement Your Vote, Your Values is not just private freedom for individuals to worship and practise their personal beliefs according to conscience. It is corporate and communal, the right of faith communities to speak out, to educate and play an active role in the formulation of public policy. This is true of all faith communities, but has particular significance in Catholic Christianity.
The Catholic Church is the only Christian body that is truly universal, in the sense that it has members in every culture, race and nation. This is why we see the Church bringing in a "universal Kingdom". This Kingdom calls also for the freedom of the Church.
The dogma of the absolute "separation of Church and State" does not appear in the Constitution of this nation, no matter what some secularists might pretend. This is why the Victorian Bishops have spoken out on the responsibilities of Catholic citizens facing a State Election.
I conclude by going back to the second phrase in the preface: "a kingdom of holiness and grace".
Australian Catholics are still basking in the glow of the canonisation of Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop. As I have said elsewhere, she was canonised not for what she achieved, wonderful as that was, but because she was holy. Yet we are all called to be holy. The universal call to holiness is the great message to all Christians from Vatican II.
Finally we turn to the Blessed Mother of our King. The title "Queen" that Catholics of East and West give Mary is derived from her Son. Greeted by Saint Elizabeth at the Visitation as "the Mother of my Lord", Mary was addressed with a title reserved in that culture for one person, the Queen Mother, mother of "my Lord the King".
May the gentle Queen of Peace lead us to her Son. May she inspire us to work with her so that his Kingdom may come, on earth as in heaven. She exemplifies what it means to belong to "A kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." She directs our gaze to Christ the King and her words of faith are an echo of Cana: "Whatever he tells you, do it!"