15 November 2012

The Church prepares the Kingdom

St. Albert the Great
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What is the Kingdom of God? Are we talking about an actual kingdom with a real king and political ministers and knights and subjects and all that? Or are we talking about some sort of earthly utopia where we're all living in glorious harmony like angels? Or is the Kingdom of God just another name for the Church, the Body of Christ? No, it's none of these. When asked about the coming of the kingdom, Jesus says, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.'” So, the coming of the kingdom cannot be seen, but once it's here can we see it? Yes. Sort of. Jesus adds, “For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.” Look around. Do you see any kings, thrones, knights, or other kingdom-like accoutrements? What does Jesus mean by “the Kingdom of God is among you” and what does this tell us about the nature of the kingdom? Simply put: Jesus is referring to his own presence among God's people. God's kingdom is eternal—it was; it is; and it will be. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, Christ is among us, and with him, God's Kingdom. 

Jesus warns his disciples that after he has suffered, died, and rose again, they will long to see him. Their desire to live just one more day with the Son of Man will be a temptation for them, “There will be those who will say to you, 'Look, there he is,' or 'Look, here he is.'” This temptation will be exploited by the Enemy to raise up one false Messiah after another, one false kingdom-utopia after another. And many of God's people will be duped into throwing their lot in with these frauds and their schemes. “Do not go off, do not run in pursuit,” he warns. Unfortunately, many of his followers did just that when news of his arrest and execution spread. Even his closest friends denied knowing him and fled in fear for their lives. Only with the coming of the Holy Spirit did they find the strength to do the hard work of living in the kingdom. Jesus' warning about not running after false Messiahs and fraudulent kingdom-utopias should ring loudly and clearly in our ears. Thanks be to God, we have the Holy Spirit permeating the Church; the authority of the magisterium; and the grace of the sacraments grounding us in the Rock of Salvation. 

If the Church is grounded in Christ by the strength of the Holy Spirit, then why do we say that the Church is not the kingdom? Christ came among us as one of us to announce the arrival of the kingdom. The Catechism puts it this way: “It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time. . .'The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God. . .' Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church 'is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery'” (763). In other words, the Church (that's us) is the seed of the kingdom on earth, not yet fully grown but germinated and growing. And we are charged—even with all our ugly warts and wounds—with preparing this world for the Reign of God, the rule of divine love through justice and peace. This is what it means to live right now, this second, as if we were already living in the heavenly presence of God. We aren't just trying to get to heaven. We are also trying to show the world what the Reign of God will look like when His kingdom is fully manifest. Kingdom-utopias built on human ideologies show us nothing more than the many and banal evils of man. Only Christ wields the wisdom and love necessary to bring the Father's eternal peace. He alone secures justice; gives food to the hungry; sets captives free. The Lord alone—not gov't's or politicians or utopias—the Lord alone gives sight to the blind; raises up those who are bowed down; loves the just; and protects strangers. And while we wait for his return to us, the Church—his true family—serves his will. 

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  1. I found the first paragraph too busy with questions. I wanted more in the second paragraph - especially related to the final two sentences. Final paragraph was the best of the three - you finally got down to business and gave us some good "stuff", though I thought the ending needed something more or different. You really started building at "He alone secures justice...." and the final sentence just didn't complete the build-up, but was more like an "I've got to end this somehow" sentence.


    1. Geez, woman! You're hard to please! ;-) However, you're right. More later.

  2. Anonymous11:47 PM

    You have pleased me with this,Father. One of the pervasive ideas of the Church Effervescent is that their role is "to build the Kingdom." This phrase, as you know, appears nowhere in Scripture. It is a deeply skewed metaphor. It is a Christian overlay on secular utopian visions, which are an UrHeresy. So thanks for this.

  3. Anonymous5:32 AM

    Dear Father, it may be good for your soul to face Shelly's barrage regularly but I wonder if it helps her grow in humility.

    1. That's for her to answer. . .but I can tell you: I truly appreciate her regular critiques. The friars here never get to hear each other preach, so there's no real interaction there.

      I'm also happy to hear/read any critiques from anyone out there. . .as long as they are constructive. . .and constructive doesn't mean only positive. Some of the best critiques point out patterns of problems or significant flaws. For example, I eased up on my more literary style from a few years ago when people started telling me that my homilies were "well-written" but largely "incomprehensible." Ouch. But I listened and learned!

    2. Fr., your "Catholic Celebrity" status must have been raised for you to get your own Anonymous Combox Bodyguard. It may be good for your safety but I wonder whether it helps the anonymous grow in humility...(hey, perhaps I should worry about my own humility first and foremost, huh...?) ;)

    3. Who doesn't need a bodyguard these days, uh? Seriously, my humility ALWAYS needs tweaking. Eight yrs of secular grad school taught me that Pride, Arrogance, and Belligerence are the supreme virtue of winners. And I still. . .even after 13 yrs a religious. . .fall for that lie.