Tag Archives: kingdom of God

In Thanksgiving for Diabetes

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.”
— Luke 6: 20-26

When I was first diagnosed with type one diabetes this passage really resonated with me. The three months I lived with diabetes and didn’t know it were the most difficult times of my life, or so I thought. Upon reflection on those times, I felt blessed and honored that the Lord knew that I could handle such hardship. My body, soul and spirit were abused and battered. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than the turmoil I went through… until now.

Getting diagnosed with diabetes was only the tip of the iceberg; enduring the reality of living with a chronic illness was nothing compared to what I have gone through in New York. Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of living in New York. It is hard to believe I made it to a year, it does not feel like a year but at the same time it feels like a lifetime. I am not the person I was when I boarded that plane to New York a year ago. The person I was a year ago was truly a hollow shell, surviving life without any idea of who she was, with no purpose and no passion for anything and most of all no hope.

Throughout this year I became poor, hungry, and I wept almost every day but through these pains the Lord blessed me and restored my life. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Luke 6: 20-26). I have found new meaning in the Beatitudes. When I read them while struggling with diabetes, I read them without hope or joy and believed in them as a promise of happiness after death in Heaven. Today, I read them with new eyes and I can see that the Lord has blessed me with His Kingdom already. I was stripped of everything, all the comforts of home and what did I have left? I had Jesus Christ. All I have and all I want is Him. I can see the Kingdom of Heaven through the sorrows of this world. With a renewed spirit, I praise God for giving me diabetes, because that pain prepared me for the pure agony I would have to go through in New York. I can see the mastery of the Lord’s divine plan for without, lessons I learned managing diabetes I would never have survived in New York.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

The First Commandment

Mark 12:28-34

In this Gospel, Jesus reveals the first commandment,

“The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:29-31)

This command demands of Catholics to ‘Latria‘, which means ‘Supreme worship to God alone’. How do we do this? Simply put, by following the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. These three virtues in their totality is the epitome of what becoming a Christian means. I will be sharing and reflecting on each of these virtues through bite-sized points:

We are first obliged by Faith given through Grace. This involves three steps: 1) Making efforts to find out what God has revealed, 2) To believe and obey God’s revelation, 3) To profess God’s Revelation openly whenever necessary. (c.f. Mt 10:32).

We are next obliged through Hope. Hope is to trust with confident assurance that God will grant us eternal life and the means to obtain it. (c.f. Titus 1:1-2).

Lastly, Charity. Charity obliges us to love God above all things because He is infinitely good, and to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. (c.f. Mt 22:35-40).

If we can adhere to Faith, Hope and Charity with all our souls, hearts and strength, we can be sure that we ‘will not be far off from the Kingdom’.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45

The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).

Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that

“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)

Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco (1577–87)

This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.

Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.

If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.

Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.

Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.

Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”

— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

The Parable of the Talents

Parable of the TalentsThe Parable of the Talents is a Kingdom Parable couched in terms of reward and punishment,1 outlining the consequences awaiting those who have been entrusted with God’s word and given the freedom and ability to make it bear fruit. God seeks the active cooperation of the faithful in the establishment of His kingdom,2 and failure to act is a dereliction of duty and sin of omission. The parable is a sober warning that the People of God are expected to use the gifts they have been given, or suffer the pain of banishment on top of the loss of what they had received; at the same time, it is a promise of abundant increase for those who fulfill the will of the Lord.3

The Parable of the Talents immediately follows the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, which is explicitly introduced by Jesus as referring to the Kingdom of Heaven.4 The two parables are told following Christ’s foretelling of His Second Coming, the Parousia heralding the end of this world.5 At this point in the Gospel, Jesus has just departed the Temple, where He roundly chastised the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the teachings of the Law, namely judgment, mercy and faith.6 He predicted their certain doom for ignoring the Word of God and being hypocrites, seeking only their personal comfort and reputation,7 at the expense of the fulfillment of God’s will.

The parables are told while Jesus speaks privately to His disciples of the signs that will accompany the consummation of the world, in response to their queries on the subject.8 They are related to the disciples as the Messiah approaches Jerusalem and they directly precede a description of the Last Judgement as well as Jesus’ declaration of His impending crucifixion.9

Thus, the Parable of the Talents can be seen as a direct commentary on the behavior of the religious leaders of the Jewish nation, the scribes and the Pharisees.10 Like the lazy servant, they have failed to invest what they had been entrusted with: namely, the holy teachings which are the key to the Kingdom of God.11 Instead, they have perverted God’s teachings, burying them beneath their convoluted religious restrictions and regulations,12 oppressing the faithful with heavy tithes.13

Moreover, the parable has eschatological import, being an illustration of the reckoning that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. It demonstrates the necessity of being ready for His impending advent. This is paralleled in the preceding parable where the foolish virgins, lacking oil for their lamps, pay the penalty for their unpreparedness and are left out of the wedding celebration.14 Throughout Holy Scripture, the wedding feast is a symbol of Heaven,15 the Lamb’s Supper which is the union of Christ and His Bride the Holy Church.16 At the same time, Jesus instructs his listeners that the Kingdom of God is not commencing at once upon His entry into Jerusalem, as those who anticipated a worldly Messiah expected.17 The master, representing Himself, departs for an extended, unspecified period of time.18

Jesus follows the Parable of the Talents with an account of the Last Judgement, where He will judge everyone according to their deeds, separating the just from the wicked, sending the latter to eternal punishment while bestowing eternal life upon the former.19 Likewise, in the parable, the master rewards or penalizes the servants according to what they have done with his property in his absence. The talents are thus clearly symbols of the ability to perform the works of charity which fulfill the Law.

The line introducing the Parable of the Talents is a segueing into that parable from the one of the Virgins, stating: “Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.”20 Matthew emphasizes that Christ’s return will be unexpected, with judgment falling suddenly upon the wicked and unfaithful.21 Before the Parables of the Virgins and the Talents, Jesus is recorded as referring to His second coming as being like the Great Flood which took mankind unawares, then drumming in the point with the parable of the thief coming unforeseen in the night, as well as the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants whose master returns at an unanticipated moment and deals with them accordingly.22 The Parable of the Talents can be seen as an extension of the point made in the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants.

The Parable of the Talents begins with a man preparing for his departure to a distant land by bestowing his property upon his three servants,23 dividing his assets between each of them “according to his proper ability”;24 this implies that they are expected to manage those assets.25 In Judaism, as can be seen throughout the Old Testament, the relationship between God and Israel was often referred to in terms of Lord and servant;26 more particularly, the leaders of God’s people were called His servants.27 Therefore, Jesus’ disciples would have instantly recognized this parable as reflecting upon the behavior of the Jews,28 as well as all who purported to be faithful followers of Christ.

The immensity of the trust which the master has placed in each of his servants is comprehended when one realizes the value of a talent. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii and constituted the equivalent of about two decades’ labor.29 Considering the shorter life expectancy at the time of Christ, a talent represented just about the entire sum earned in an average man’s life.30 Thus, a talent could be figurative of the graces received for a lifetime, with the varying amounts signifying different graces received by members of the faithful.31 It was a massive sum which a mere servant would have been unable to repay.32

The two servants who have been entrusted with much more, in line with their abilities, trade their master’s property and earn even more, doubling the amounts in their keeping.33 The third servant, in contrast, does less than the bare minimum of depositing the money in the bank;34 in fact, he buries it in the ground,35 where it remains utterly unproductive until the master’s return.

In Jewish numerology, the number ten symbolized absolute completeness, and the number five indicated semi-completeness.36 One may interpret the first servant as having the best ability to employ what he receives, since he is allotted the maximum of five talents and gains five more with them, reaching the symbolic level of perfection. In addition, the number two was one short of the number of holiness, while the number four referred to the quarternity of the universe, encompassing Heaven and Earth and testifying to the glory of God.37 Thus, although the second servant receives less than the first, he is still able to serve his master and symbolically glorify God through his actions: in Judaism, the wealthy were regarded as blessed by God.38 Both the servants are praised equally by the master for their efforts and acumen, for they have both done just as well in producing full returns of the amounts entrusted to them.39 They “are received with equal favor by the Master of the household, who looks not to the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will.”40

Moreover, “the greater the gifts, the greater the reckoning for them”41 – the master commends the second servant for earning two more talents, thus presenting four in total; but if the first servant had come back with just four, that would have been a grievous loss.42 Religious leaders like the scribes and Pharisees, who were learned and blessed with a deeper understanding of the scriptures than the average person, would reasonably have been expected to render more to God;43 similarly, faithful disciples of Christ who have been enlightened by His teachings are more culpable than those who do not know Him that well.

The third servant is given a lesser, though still considerable amount, because the master knows he is not ready to handle more than that.44 Yet, he is inhibited by fear at taking the risk of investing the money,45 and in burying it seeks to divest himself of the responsibility for any loss.46 However, in doing so, he breaches his trust.47 As a servant, he is duty-bound to seek his master’s interests, but he acts self-interestedly, with cowardice.

His self-protective mindset is revealed in the speech he makes when he is brought to account by the master.48 He blatantly accuses his master of being a hard man, because he reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has not strewed.49 He has misconceived the character of his master, who was generous with his faithful servants.50 The servant tries to excuse his own behavior by claiming that his fear of the master motivated him to bury the talent,51 a common way of preserving money in Christ’s day.52 He returns the single talent, declaring, “Behold here thou hast that which is thine.”53 He did not fritter the money away for his own ends, and he hopes he might be recognized for his frankness and cautiousness in remitting the exact sum he was given.54 His delusion is soon exposed.

The servant’s clumsy attempt to excuse himself is turned against him;55 the master uses the servant’s own words to condemn him: “Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed.”56 Instead of truthfully admitting his guilt or even expressing some gratitude for the great trust placed in him, the servant tried to shift the blame and maligned his master in the process.57 This of course enrages his master, who adds the epithet “wicked” on top of decrying the servant for his sloth, chastising him for his intolerable pride.58

The servant’s protest, “I was afraid of thee,” brings to mind Adam and Eve after their transgression, hiding for fear of the Lord.59 They too tried to pin the blame on someone else, with Adam pointing out to God that it was the woman He gave him for company who enticed him to sin.60 God punished them for their disobedience, removing His gifts from them and banishing them from paradise.61 The unprofitable servant is condemned to the same fate, with his talent given to the most productive servant,62 and he himself thrown out into the dark to lament his sorry end.63

In contrast, the good servants are entrusted with even more, since they have proved their faithfulness, and they are invited to enter into the joy of their lord.64 This is a direct allusion to Heaven, where those who are judged worthy are allowed to enjoy the bliss of the Beatific Vision and complete union with God.65 In the end, the first servant is rewarded even more greatly than the second, as he receives the unfaithful servant’s talent.66 This is fitting because he has had to work harder than the second in order to reap five more talents.67

Furthermore, in Christian tradition, the talents have been taken to signify particular gifts from God, with the five talents corresponding to the five senses, which are the means to knowledge; the two talents standing for understanding and action, and the single talent representing understanding alone.68 Thus, the servant with the five talents was appropriately awarded the additional virtue of understanding.69

The master, representing God, reaps where he has not sown – this indicates His decision to save the Gentiles, who were not originally endowed with the seeds of salvation inherent in the Law and the Prophets, but in the end come to constitute part of the Kingdom of God, His property.70

The parable, just like Jesus’ other parables, is set in an ordinary situation, teaching the lesson that “the eschatological occurs within the everyday.”71 Christian faith and the spiritual life are at one with human earthly existence.72 One encounters God – represented by the master – in commonplace events and is held liable for one’s freely-chosen actions or lack thereof in response to the privileges and accompanying responsibilities accorded by Him.73 The servant deliberately chose not to do any good with the talent, and for that exercise of his free will, he must pay for his decision to neglect his master’s affairs. The master was a long time away,74 allowing ample time for the servants to carry out their duties, so practically speaking the capital must have surely depreciated with rising inflation in the meantime. This is analogous to the spiritual life, where God gives sufficient time for the salvation of souls,75 and if virtue is not willingly exercised, it is lost.76 The lazy servant acted as one obstinate in sin, unwilling to invest in the spiritual life, instead dedicating his God-given abilities to earthly things.77 The master is merciful, for he does not even require the servant to perform the more onerous task of reclaiming the money if he had banked it; the master would have done it himself.78 Similarly, as long as we commit ourselves to God’s work, He will attend to its fulfillment.

The Parable of the Talents is related at a particularly crucial moment in Jesus’ mission, shortly before His descent into Jerusalem to undergo His Passion and Death. It is His indictment of the scribes and Pharisees for willfully neglecting the will of God in the interests of self-preservation. Ironically, in seeking to preserve his life, the faithless servant loses it.79 The parable is also an answer to Christ’s disciples’ question regarding the eschaton, instructing them on the behavior expected of them as servants of the Lord.80 As they await His Second Coming, they cannot remain idle, but must prepare for the coming of the Kingdom, using all that God has given them for their task.

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1 J.C. Fenton, Saint Matthew. Penguin Books (London, 1971), p. 398.

2 Ibid.; Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D, “Parable of the Talents” The Crossroads Initiative [http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/800/Parable_of_the_Talents.html] (accessed 10th October 2013).

3 Dan Otto Via, Jr., The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimensions. Fortress Press (Philadelphia, 1967), p. 18.

4 Matthew 25:1.

5 Matthew 24:3.

6 Matthew 24:23.

7 Matthew 24:33, 24:27-28.

8 Matthew 24:3.

9 Matthew 25:31-46, 26:1.

10 Joachim Jeremias, Rediscovering the Parables. SCM Paperbacks (UK, 1966), p. 131.

11 Ibid.

12 Fenton, op. cit.; Via, op. cit., p. 39.

13 Matthew 23:23.

14 Matthew 25:10.

15 C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom. Charles Scribner’s Sons (New York, 1961), p. 93.

16 Revelation 19:7, 9.

17 Fr Francis L. Filas, SJ, Understanding the Parables. Burns & Oates (London, 1959), pp. 124-125.

18 Ibid.

19 Matthew 25:31-46.

20 Matthew 25:13.

21 Dodd, op. cit., p. 115.

22 Ibid.

23 Matthew 25:14.

24 Matthew 25:15.

25 Daniel Patte, The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith. Fortress Press (Philadelphia, 1987), p. 345.

26 Dodd, op. cit., p. 119; Psalms 135:22, Isaiah 49:3, Isaiah 44:21, Luke 1:54.

27 David: 1 Kings 8:66; Solomon: 1 Kings 8:30, 52, 59; Isaac: Daniel 3:35; Jacob: Psalms 77:71, Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 45:4, Baruch 3:37.

28 Dodd, op. cit., p. 119.

29 William Ridgeway, “Measures and Weights” in Leonard Whibley, (ed). A Companion to Greek Studies. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1905), p. 444.

30 Fr Robert J. Carr, “Homily: How Not to Be a Useless, Wicked, Worthless, Lout.” Catholicism Anew [http://blog.cancaonova.com/catholicismanew/2011/11/13/homily-how-not-to-be-a-useless-wicked-worthless-lout/] (accessed 10th October 2013).

31 St Jerome, St John Chrysostom & Origen, in St Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea. [http://dhspriory.org/thomas/CAMatthew.htm#25] (accessed 9th October 2013).

32 Ibid.

33 Matthew 25:16-17.

34 Matthew 25:27.

35 Matthew 25:18.

36 “Symbols”. 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14155-symbol] (accessed 10th October 2013).

37 Ibid.

38 John Martignoni, “The Parable of the Talents (Pt. 3)”. The Men of St. Joseph [http://www.menofstjoseph.com/blog/?p=15] (accessed 10th October 2013).

39 D’Ambrosio, op. cit.

40 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

41 St Gregory, ibid.

42 Joe Heschmeyer, “Reflecting on the Parable of the Talents: You Are Not St. Francis”. Shameless Popery [http:// catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2011/11/reflecting-on-parable-of-talents-you.html/] (accessed 10th October 2013).

43 Jeremias, op. cit., pp. 131-132.

44 Origen, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

45 D’Ambrosio, op. cit.; Matthew 25:25.

46 Fr Robert J. Carr, op. cit.

47 Dodd, op. cit., p. 118.

48 Via, op. cit., p. 101.

49 Matthew 25:24.

50 Patte, op. cit., p. 346.

51 Matthew 25:25.

52 Fenton, op. cit., p. 399.

53 Matthew 25:25.

54 Dodd, op. cit., p. 118.

55 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

56 Matthew 25:26.

57 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

58 Ibid.

59 Genesis 3:10.

60 Genesis 3:12-13.

61 Genesis 3:16-24.

62 Matthew 25:28.

63 Matthew 25:30.

64 Matthew 25:21, 23.

65 John Martignoni, “The Parable of the Talents (Pt. 2)”. The Men of St. Joseph [http://www.menofstjoseph.com/blog/?p=16] (accessed 10th October 2013).

66 St Jerome, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

67 Ibid.

68 St Gregory, ibid.

69 Ibid.

70 St Jerome, ibid.

71 Via, op. cit., p. 106.

72 Ibid., p. 107.

73 Ibid., pp. 101, 104.

74 Matthew 25:20.

75 Origen, in Catena Aurea, op. cit.

76 Sts John Chrysostom & Jerome, op. cit.

77 St Gregory, op. cit.

78 Matthew 25:27; St John Chrysostom, “Homily 78 on Matthew”. New Advent [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200178.htm] (accessed 9th October 2013).

79 Cf. Luke 17:33.

80 Patte, op. cit., p. 347.

Order

Most of the liturgical year is comprised of “Ordinary Time”, when the Gospels follow the earthly ministry of Christ. This does not mean that the time is humdrum or nondescript; rather, it refers to ordinal numbers – first, second, third, and so on.

Humans have a compulsion to order things, and Catholics are no exception – we have ordered time according to the Gregorian calendar, constructed by Aloysius Lilius and Christopher Clavius SJ, and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII so that we could celebrate Easter in accordance with the seasons. Monks invented our system of timekeeping in order to pray the Divine Office. Catholics have formed healthcare, charity, school and art patronage systems throughout the ages, ordering human society according to Christian conceptions of what is good, true and beautiful.

Why do we do this? Watching the news is often depressing, because we are constantly reminded of the terrible suffering and disorder throughout the world. A friend asked me, “Can there be a world which is completely good?” We are used to living with contrasts: good and bad, better and worse.

Even just looking at ourselves and our loved ones can be a sobering process. We are so full of faults! Fr. Edmund Campion wrote in A Place in the City: “All attempts to live a religious life are partial, for to be human is to be a failure.1

Why, then, do we strive so hard for excellence or even perfection?

The word primordial comes from primus ordiri, “first” and “to begin”. In the beginning, God created a perfectly good, orderly world; Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God, each other, and creation, in a state of grace. The Greek word kósmos literally means “order”. With sin, humankind’s friendship with God was broken; suffering and chaos entered the world. Sin occurs when we act against our human nature, bringing harm to ourselves or to others.

Most ancient creation myths have the gods creating order out of chaos. The Judeo-Christian tradition is unique in positing creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. It is from this tradition that the Belgian priest and astronomer Msgr. Georges Lemaître formulated the “Big Bang Theory”, or hypothesis of the primeval atom.

Thus, in the Christian tradition, we do not subscribe to dualism. In the beginning, everything was good. Evil is a corruption or absence of goodness; it is not an equal force, but a parasite that distorts the goodness of creation.

Amsterdam

Our entire lives are strivings toward things we perceive to be good. The drug addict or chain smoker did not start off the habit of substance abuse simply by deciding to harm themselves thereby – even in a decision to self-harm, there is a perceived good of relief from emotional pain, or destroying what one thinks is irrevocably bad.

People who form cults generally seek some good, based on an ideal. The historian Ian Breward wrote in his book Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?:

“The desire to experience new kinds of community led a number of thoughtful and idealistic people to reject the patterns of vocation, family life and religion with which they had grown up. Their attempt to establish new patterns of social bonding in uncontaminated rural retreats can be seen as a secular monasticism, but they often discovered that to abolish the boundaries of authority, family and property created a whole series of problems which they did not have the spiritual and personal resources to solve. At their best, such groups have opened up new horizons of discipleship, but they have often learned some hard lessons about the intractable sinfulness and selfishness of partly-redeemed human nature.”2

We are tasked with proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand; at the same time, we are faced with the reality of living out the Gospel in a world wracked by sin, and have to accept the limitations and sufferings which come with it. It is out of these very sufferings that God recreates the world, restoring it according to His divine plan. We were made in the image and likeness of God, but we are marred by concupiscence and sin; we are wonky compasses which need to be realigned with the magnet of the Gospel, so that we may point accurately to Christ, and lead others to Him.

Discord would not offend our ears if there were not a standard of perfect harmony against which to judge all sounds. In the same way the existence of evil is an argument for the existence of God. We should not recognize imperfections as such unless there were a Perfect which they opposed. The world cannot be rationally explained without God; its very complexity forces the mind to believe that there must be something beyond all this, to have put it together. When we see a painting inside a frame, we know that someone has joined the two together. When we see a watch, we know that some intelligence has assembled it. Matter does not form itself into patterns without intelligence to guide it. The whole material universe is an argument for God.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Crisis in History

Image: Amsterdam (via Joy-Sorrow).

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1 A Place in the City, p. 107. [Penguin Books Australia (Sydney, 1994)].

2 Australia: The Most Godless Place Under Heaven?, pp. 79-80 [Beacon Hill Books (Melbourne, 1988)].

Tired of the Fight

Once again, it seems that the most appropriate and timely thing to write about concerning the Church is Pope Francis. This time, it’s an apparent fight between him and Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is in apparent direct opposition to the Pope. Cardinal Burke, the narrative goes, is far too conservative to like Pope Francis, obviously believing that the Pope is leading the Church away from Christ simply because the Cardinal expressed a desire to steer the Church towards the truths of Christ (a desire we can be certain the Pope himself shares).

To be honest, I’m just done with this battle. It’s one thing to have an open and honest discussion, it’s another to pit leaders of the Church against each other at all costs. When we start talking (specifically in America, because we love our drama) about a “Civil War” brewing in the Church, we have taken things to a level that is not only incorrect, but extremely problematic. No matter how well-intentioned these conversations might start out, the moment they turn against the Pope they turn against Christ and His Church, and that’s a problem.

What is the most frustrating about this conversation, I argue, is that it is removing our minds and hearts from the place where they should be, from living in expectant hope of the coming of our Savior. Allow me to expand.

In the Gospels, one of the most prominent things we hear talked about is the Kingdom of God. According to a really handy little article on the “Kingdom of God”, this phrase is used fifty-two times between the four Gospels, and the phrase Kingdom of Heaven is used in its place at least 20 times (and this is just one site’s estimation). The Kingdom of God, we can be assured, is a central theme in the Gospels, one of the most common and almost certainly most important themes in the entirety of the Gospels. Taking up this topic, Pope Benedict XVI devoted an extraordinary amount of time to talk about this theme and exactly what it was that the Gospel writers meant when they spoke of the Kingdom. In the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI spent a great deal of time explaining that the Kingdom of God was in fact a central theme in the Gospels. For Pope Benedict XVI, the central idea was simple: the Kingdom of God is at hand right now in the person of Christ, and this is something we ought never to look over.

Here, again, are the words of Pope Benedict on the Kingdom of God:

“God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; His Kingdom is present wherever He is loved and wherever His love reaches us.” -Spe Salvi “Saved in Hope” Paragraph 31

The point of this quote and much of what Pope Benedict XVI said is this: Jesus didn’t simply come to point us to a future place, but to allow us access to the Kingdom in each moment through His very presence. This is not to discount an eternal Kingdom, for that is certainly something for which we hope; this eternal kingdom is, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “the ultimate goal of history” (Homily on the Feast of Christ the King, 2012). Rather, Jesus announcing the coming of the Kingdom with His presence was to tell us that His presence is something entirely new and unique, something for us both to long for in the future and to grasp onto right now. Jesus did not simply come to announce eternity, but to pull us from our daily experience to something eternal, something which brings us hope in each and every moment.

Back to the present situation, though. Our current focus on the so-called “Civil War” of the Church is doing no good, but rather it is pulling our hearts and minds away from that which we ought to focus on, namely the Kingdom of God. While we are busy fighting a fight between Cardinals and the Pope which is literally not a real fight, our Savior is calling us to live in the reality of His Kingdom, a reality which He ushered us into when He entered into our existence some 2,000 years ago.

I’m not saying that there aren’t real things happening in our Church that need to be discussed, both by the laity and the successors to the apostles, for the issues are real and the discussions are important. Rather, I am pleading with each of us – myself included – to stop creating unnecessary drama, and instead point everything we do at the person of Christ and Kingdom of God to which He has given us access.

Lent and the Kingdom of God

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.