Living in the Kingdom Begins by Living in the Heart of the Church
The selection from the Gospel of the Mass of the day was taken from the account of St. Luke. (Luke 17:20-25) It presents one of the several teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the Kingdom of God.
The word Greek word rendered kingdom in the English translation can also be translated “reign” of God. In Jesus Christ the Reign of God has already come, is spreading in our midst and is coming.
The first two verses are where I want to draw our attention:
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.
The question asked by the Pharisees echoes throughout time as men and women experience the travail unleashed by man’s separation from God. The effects are within us and all around us.
That separation is the result of sin.
It can only be healed through a Savior. The Good News, which is what the word Gospel actually means, is that the Father has sent the Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom. It is among us right now.
Yet, what we witness around us – and experience within us – often does not reflect the fullness of God’s loving plan. We know that and we long for more. We long for the fullness of His Kingdom.
With His response to the Pharisees the Lord opens up for us a deeper understanding of the Kingdom as a present reality. He also instructs us concerning our vocation as disciples to continue its spread – its increase – its realization – within us, among us, and in the whole world.
We do this by living in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.
There we continue His ongoing, redemptive mission. He is the Head and we are members of His Body. (See, 1 Cor. 12:27) Our membership in the Church is a participation in the life of God; what the Apostle Peter referred to as a participation in the Divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
It is thus a participation in the kingdom of which the Church is both a seed and sign. In one of its numerous and rich expositions of the mystery of the kingdom, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
“It was the Son’s task to accomplish the Father’s plan of salvation in the fullness of time. Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent. “The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures.” To fulfill the Father’s will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church “is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery. (CCC #763)
In a beautiful passage in its teaching on the Church, the leaders of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church summarized many of the teachings and images offered by the Lord Jesus concerning the Church as a seed of the Kingdom in these rich and beautiful paragraphs:
The mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation. The Lord Jesus set it on its course by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Kingdom of God, which, for centuries, had been promised in the Scriptures: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand”. In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men.
The Word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear the Word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ, have received the Kingdom itself. Then, by its own power the seed sprouts and grows until harvest time. The Miracles of Jesus also confirm that the Kingdom has already arrived on earth: “If I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you”. Before all things, however, the Kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, who came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many:
When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, He appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and He poured out on His disciples the Spirit promised by the Father. From this source the Church, equipped with the gifts of its Founder and faithfully guarding His precepts of charity, humility and self-sacrifice, receives the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God and to be, on earth, the initial budding forth of that kingdom. While it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.
You can read this beautiful instruction and plumb the multiple references to the sources found in the Sacred scriptures here.
In an earlier chapter of his Gospel, St. Luke records one of many parables which teach us of the kingdom:
Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.” (Luke 13: 18 – 21)
We are both the soil and the seed. The Living Word has been sown within us. We must cultivate the ground of our hearts so that we can be transformed in the Lord and more fully and completely reflect His Image and Likeness, allowing the Kingdom of God to grow within us.(See, LK 17:21)
We are called to grow in holiness and progressively reflect the Risen life of Jesus Christ for others. This occurs as we cooperate with grace, His free gift to us. This work of grace within us enables and empowers us to become the seed of the kingdom for others.
There is a missionary meaning to all of this, of special importance as we consider our own calling to participate in the one mission of the Church, to make present, proclaim and help prepare for the coming Kingdom.
We are kingdom seed, held in His Blood stained Hands, being spread into the world He still loves. That world which was created through Him is now being re-created through Him. We are living seeds of the Kingdom of God in the garden of the world and we are called to bear the fruits of the Kingdom.
St. Jose Maria Escriva once wrote:
May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world – and at the same time placed in God – we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don’t forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
Through our Baptism the Church becomes our home, our mother, the place in which we now live our lives in Christ. We are sons and daughters of the Church. In living our lives in her we carry forward in time the continuing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ who is the Head of His Body and thereby make the Kingdom present now. In its treatment of this mystery of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood. (CCC #845)
We are called to live, right now, in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. We are on a mission to bring the whole world, through Christ, into the New World of His Church, the seed and sign of the coming kingdom. Again, the Catechism expresses it wonderfully in passages such as these:
To carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth. Now the Father’s will is to raise up men to share in his own divine life. He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church, on earth the seed and beginning of that kingdom.
Christ stands at the heart of this gathering of men into the family of God. By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. But above all in the great Paschal mystery – his death on the cross and his Resurrection – he would accomplish the coming of his kingdom. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. Into this union with Christ all men are called. (CCC #541b,542)
The kingdom of heaven was inaugurated on earth by Christ. This kingdom shone out before men in the word, in the works and in the presence of Christ (LG 5). The Church is the seed and beginning of this kingdom. Its keys are entrusted to Peter. (CCC #567)
Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus’ word: The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest. (CCC #543)
In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom has been inaugurated. Upon his return it will be made complete and fully manifested in a new heaven and a new earth. We are members of the Body of Christ which makes it present here and now – as seed and sign for a world which is in labor. (See, Romans 8:22) We are a people sent on mission into that world waiting to be fully liberated from the bondage of sin.
Our mission now is to bring men and women into the Body of the Savior, the Church, which is the seed of His Kingdom. As with all seeds, it has the entire genetic composition of what it will be within it. The Kingdom will be manifested in its fullness when Jesus returns as King to “make all things new”. (Rev. 21:5) Yet, it begins now – as we live our lives as its seed and sign in the Church on mission.
I conclude with this last passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is “sent out” into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. “The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.” Indeed, we call an apostolate “every activity of the Mystical Body” that aims “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth. (CCC#863)
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