As I am writing this article, I have only recently wiped the ashes off of my forehead reminding me that I am dust and I will one day return to dust. At the Mass commemorating Ash Wednesday, Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians [2 Corinthians 6:2] reminded us that God promised to hear us in an acceptable time and help us on the day of salvation, and that time, that day, is right now. What a profound way to start this season of Lent – on a day of fasting and abstinence we are reminded that today is the day of the salvation of our God.
What I am hoping to reflect on here has to do with this very salvation Paul speaks of in this letter. For many of us, I think, when we hear of salvation we think of the Kingdom of God which we will enter into one day. Often, the Kingdom is a hope of eternity and the knowledge that, even when we return to the dusty fate which awaits us, our existence is not finished. The Kingdom of God is limited in this sense to heaven; it’s the distant place where we can hope to one day find ourselves.
Yes, eternity is a thing to hope for, and the Lord will in fact one day create a new heaven and a new earth where we will spend eternity with Him in His new creation; the Kingdom is not contained there, though. Instead, we must see that the Kingdom of God was brought to earth with the very presence of God here, and in His presence we are able to live in that Kingdom.
To explain this a little bit better, here is Pope Benedict XVI in the first installment of Jesus of Nazareth:
By the way in which he speaks of the Kingdom of God, Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God’s presence. [pg. 49]
When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history, and who is even now so acting. [pg. 55]
What Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us of here is quite simple: the Kingdom of God is for right now. The glory of God was manifested in the God-man Jesus Christ taking flesh of a Virgin named Mary betrothed to a man named Joseph and is not done showing itself to the world. In fact, as Paul reminded us in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the day where that salvation becomes real to us is today.
In our lives, then, we ought to live constantly with this reality in mind. We ought to be mindful of our death, knowing that it is going to happen and we will meet God face to face for judgment, while also being mindful of the presence of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives. We know that Jesus Christ, the very revelation of the Father, wants to manifest His Kingdom right here and now to our very daily existence. Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom of God, and always with the familiar authority and intensity which said that the Kingdom was not far off, but the Kingdom was for us to grasp today.
Consider this passage about the Kingdom in the Gospel:
The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44
This Lent, how can we be like the man in the field?
Each Lent, we spent a period of six weeks fasting, sacrificing, and praying that we might be prepared for Easter. Why do we need to prepare for Easter? We know that on Easter Sunday we celebrate the fulfillment of what Christ promised, where He rose from the dead and conquered death once and for all. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, but rather now we are free to live in the Kingdom of God for eternity, and to begin living there today.
For forty days, then, we ought to be fasting, sacrificing, and praying for God’s Kingdom to come, just as we do every time we go to Mass. Let us allow Lent to be a time where, like the man in Matthew’s Gospel, we realize that the treasure we have found – the treasure of the Kingdom which we can begin to see now “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12) – is a treasure worth giving up everything for. As we go through Lent, let us give things up to allow ourselves to enter more fully into God’s Kingdom right here, right now, for today is a very acceptable time.