“Christ has indeed conquered, and his Kingdom will last forever”

Side view of the Vatican obelisk being lowered, 1590. Engraving in Della trasportatione dell’obelisco… (Rome: Appresso Domenico Basa). The Getty Research Institute, 87-B7401

A Witness to History

In front of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in the middle of the great square, there is a unique witness to four thousand years of human history.

Four huge bronze lions, their tails intertwined, support a large square base, and on the base is an Egyptian obelisk that dates back to 1850 B.C. Originally it was erected as a monument to Pharaoh Mencares and stood sentinel over 2000 years of the Egyptian empire. It was already there when Abraham was called out of the land of Ur. It was there when Joseph was viceroy of Egypt and when Moses led his people to freedom.

During the time of Christ, the Roman Emperor Caligula brought it to Rome as a sign of Rome’s power over Egypt. For another 400 years it served as a symbol of the power of the Roman Empire, one of the largest in all of human history, lasting 1000 years. At one point a golden urn said to contain the ashes of Julius Caesar was placed on top of it. It stood in Caligula’s circus when Saint Peter was crucified and where hundreds of other Christians were martyred in the centuries of the Great Persecution.

Then in A.D. 476, Rome fell to the Goths. The city was sacked and the obelisk was toppled. It lay half buried for centuries while ivy grew around it.

As the Christian empire grew, the barbarians were converted. While rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica, on the site of the ancient circus, the obelisk was found. Pope Sixtus V commissioned an architect to move it to its present location. The monumental effort required nearly 1000 men, 140 horses, 40 cranes, and four months of labor. It was raised in the center of the square fronting the basilica and consecrated and blessed on September 26, 1586.

A Symbol of Eternity

It is no longer a symbol of long vanished empires. It now stands as a symbol of the universal kingdom that has outlasted them all, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, embodied In His Church. It is now topped by a bronze cross which contains a fragment of the true cross of Christ, representing the throne of the eternal King.

On the base of the obelisk are two inscriptions. The side that faces outward to the world reads (in Latin) “Behold the cross of the Lord, let His enemies flee, the lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered.” The inscription that faces the Basilica reads “Christ conquers, Christ rules, Christ reigns.”

Christ has indeed conquered, and his Kingdom will last forever. This is the source of Christian joy. Despite the upheavals in the world, despite the attacks on the Church, even despite the failings of our own sinful nature, the Church founded by Jesus Christ endures.

The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “joy.” In today’s readings we hear the word “joy” in one form or another six times. The dark night in which the world waited helplessly for the Savior, is coming to an end. Christmas is drawing closer. Christ will soon be born, the beginning of the end. The rose colored candle in the advent wreath is a symbol of our joyful anticipation at the impending birth of the Savior.

And we have much to be joyful about. Even though the world is inundated with sin, expressed as violence, oppression, and poverty, we still have cause to rejoice. For we know that Jesus came to open a path from heaven to earth. Christ is the source of our joy and our hope.

And we have evidence to back up our hope. For two thousand years the Catholic Church has continued to grow and spread to every culture and corner of the world. It has gone through periods of great trials and persecution. But through all of this it has kept its faith, sacraments, and structure intact. The mass we celebrate today is, at its core, unchanged from the first mass of the early Church.

By contrast, the United States of America is less than 250 years old, and its founding document, the constitution is already being twisted and interpreted in ways the founding fathers never intended.

The Church is proof that our joy is rooted in the truth of God.

As our celebration of the Nativity draws near, let us fan the flames of our joyful hope through our words and deeds, and share with our lost brothers and sisters the true meaning of Christmas.

Pax vobiscum
3rd Sunday in Advent

crossposted at www.DeaconLawrence.org

© Lawrence Klimecki

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com. For more information on original art, prints and commissions, Please visit www.DeaconLawrence.org