What is the Kingdom of God? How do We Live in it Now?
In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom has been inaugurated. We are members of the Body of Christ which makes it present as seed and sign in a world which is in labor, awaiting a new birth. We are a people on mission in that world, waiting to be fully liberated from the bondage of sin through redemption in Jesus Christ. Our mission is to bring all men and women into the Body of the Savior, the Church, which is the seed and sign 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 he returns as King to make all things new. (Rev. 21:5) Yet, it begins right now as we live our lives as seed and sign of that Kingdom
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - For the last two weeks, most of our Gospel readings at Holy Mass have been taken from the parables of the Kingdom of God as they are found in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Jesus uses image after image to communicate to the disciples the meaning of that poignant and powerful phrase.
The phrase Kingdom of God can also be translated Reign of God in English. I have always found that translation very helpful.
In Jesus Christ the Reign of God has already come and is coming. It will come in its fullness only upon His glorious Return. In the interim, we are invited to live in, anticipate and spread that kingdom. We do so most fruitfully when we live in the heart of the Church, which is a seed of the kingdom, for the sake of the world.
In the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church there is a Glossary with a helpful summary of the phrase Kingdom of God (Kingdom of Heaven). It contains citations to the sections in the Catechism which break open the deep meaning of the phrase:
KINGDOM OF GOD (OF HEAVEN): The reign or rule of God: "the kingdom of God is . . . righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). The Kingdom of God draws near in the coming of the Incarnate Word; it is announced in the Gospel; it is the messianic Kingdom, present in the person of Jesus, the Messiah; it remains in our midst in the Eucharist.
Christ gave to his Apostles the work of proclaiming the Kingdom, and through the Holy Spirit forms his people into a priestly kingdom, the Church, in which the Kingdom of God is mysteriously present, for she is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom on earth. In the Lord's Prayer ("Thy Kingdom come") we pray for its final glorious appearance, when Christ will hand over the Kingdom to his Father (CCC# 541-554, 709, 763, 2816, 2819).
So this kingdom, this reign of God, has already come, it is coming and, when the King returns, it will be finally and fully revealed.
So, where is it now in our daily lives?
In the Gospel of Luke we read about an encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees which gets right to the point: 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. (Luke 17:20,21)
The question echoes through time as men and women experience the travail unleashed by man's separation from God and long for more. That separation is the result of sin. The effects are within us and around us. It can only be healed through a Savior. The Good News is that the Father has sent just such a Savior, Jesus Christ, and He has inaugurated the Kingdom, in Himself. When we learn to live in Him, we learn to live in the Kingdom.
We know that what we witness around us, and experience within us, often does not reflect Gods loving plan. We long for the fullness of His Kingdom. With His response to the Pharisees the Lord opens a deeper understanding of the Kingdom as a present reality. He also instructs us concerning our vocation as disciples to continue its spread - within us, among us, and in the world.
We do this by learning to live our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. There we participate in the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ the King. He has been raised from the Dead and continues His life now in and through the Church which is His Body. We are members of that Body.
Our membership in the Church is a participation in the very 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)
St. Luke records another 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, thereby allowing the Kingdom of God to grow within us.We are also called to grow in holiness and, by cooperating with grace, progressively begin to reflect the Risen life of Jesus Christ for others.
There is also a missionary meaning. We are the seed, held in the Savior's Blood stained Hands, being spread into the world which He still loves. That world which was created through Him is now being re-created through Him. We are living seeds of the Kingdom in the garden of the world and we are called to bear the fruits of the Kingdom, beginning right where we are.
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 has become our home, our mother, the place in which we can live our lives in Jesus 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. We help to 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)
This is what I mean when I say that we are called to live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world. We are on a mission to bring the world, through Christ, into the New World of His Church, which is the seed and sign of the coming kingdom. Again, the Catechism expresses this mystery and mission:
"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. We are members of the Body of Christ which makes it present as seed and sign in a world which is in labor, awaiting a new birth. We are a people on mission in that world, waiting to be fully liberated from the bondage of sin through redemption in Jesus Christ. Our mission is to bring all men and women into the Body of the Savior, the Church, which is the seed and sign 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 he returns as King to make all things new. (Rev. 21:5) Yet, it begins right now as we live our lives as seed and sign of that Kingdom.
I conclude with a final passage from the Catechism for our reflection:
"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)
Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate.
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