Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Kingdom of God: It’s Wherever Jesus Rules!

(Christ the King (B): This homily was given on November 22, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Daniel 7: 13-14; Revelation 1: 5-8; John 18: 33-37.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christ the King 2009]

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus Christ explicitly says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” And yet in Mark 1: 15 this very same Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

So which is it, Lord Jesus? Is the kingdom of God somewhere else, or is it already here on this earth?

In the Lord’s Prayer (which Jesus taught us) we say, “Thy kingdom come”—as if the kingdom is something we will experience only in the future. However in Luke 17: 21 Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of God is among you.” (In some translations the text reads, “The kingdom of God is within you.”)

And then we have this line from today’s second reading from Revelation 1, which makes it sound like WE ourselves are the kingdom: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”

What exactly is the kingdom of God?—and, just as importantly, where is it located?

These are questions that saints and theologians and biblical scholars have pondered for centuries.

One of the best explanations of the kingdom of God that I’ve come across was given by our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his recently published book, “Jesus of Nazareth.” There he basically says that the kingdom of God is present WHEREVER GOD RULES. And since Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, we would say as Catholics that the kingdom of God is present WHEREVER JESUS RULES, WHEREVER JESUS CHRIST IS TRULY LORD!

This clears up a lot of the confusion regarding the biblical passages I just mentioned. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is at hand in Mark 1 because he is alive and active in today’s world. He’s alive and active in the sacraments. But beyond that—people perform acts of love and kindness in the name of Jesus every day. In those instances, Jesus is “ruling” their actions. Some of you, for example, have brought Thanksgiving gift cards for the needy to this Mass and will put them in the collection basket in a few minutes. That’s an act of love done in the name of Jesus, therefore it’s a manifestation of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of such things in that way before, but you should from now on. Acts of charity, done out of love for Christ, manifest his kingdom!

The kingdom of God is here on earth to the extent that God rules our actions; the kingdom of God is within us to the extent that Jesus rules our thoughts and words and attitudes.

But Jesus doesn’t rule us and our world completely, as we are all painfully aware—because of sin. He rules here on earth, yes; but imperfectly. It’s only in heaven that his rule is perfect and total, which is what he was referring to in today’s gospel when he said to Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

The fullness of my kingdom, in other words, is not here.

And yet our desire as Catholics is supposed to be that Jesus will rule more completely in our world in the future. That’s part of what we are praying for in the Our Father when we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God expects us to pray that his kingdom will be more fully manifest in this world, and then God expects us to do whatever we can to make it happen!

That includes performing acts of charity, as I indicated a few moments ago. But it also involves proclaiming and standing up for the principles of the gospel in our families, in our schools, and in our places of work and recreation (in other words, wherever we happen to be).

This is something, unfortunately, that Congressman Patrick Kennedy does not seem to understand, as we have seen in his recent public exchange with Bishop Tobin. Or perhaps, like many other Catholic politicians, this is something he doesn’t want to understand.

Mr. Kennedy would do well to read Quas Primas, the 1925 encyclical of Pope Pius XI which put the feast we celebrate today—the Feast of Christ the King—on the Church’s liturgical calendar. There Pius wrote that the kingly dignity of Jesus “demands that the state should take account of the commandments of God and of Christian principles, both in making laws and in administering justice, and also in providing for the young a sound moral education.”

Now the Pope knew that most non-Christian politicians would probably disagree with that statement. What he did not expect was to get the same type of negative reaction from politicians who profess to be faithful Catholics (which is what happens so often today!).

The Pope expected Catholic political figures to agree with what he said, and then to do their best by democratic means to enshrine Christian principles in the civil laws of their nations.

He definitely did not expect them to actively promote laws based on anti-Christian, immoral principles—as Mr. Kennedy does on a regular basis.

When he dies, the Lord will say to him, “Patrick, what have you done to further my kingdom? You said, ‘thy kingdom come’ so often in the Lord’s Prayer; what did you do to make it a reality? What did you do, first of all, to further my kingdom within you? Did you examine your conscience and say an Act of Contrition every day? Did you go to confession regularly? And then what did you do to further my kingdom in the wider culture? Did you embrace the principles of your Catholic faith—and allow those principles to guide your conduct everywhere, including where you worked? Or did you leave your faith in church on Sundays?”

That’s what the Lord will ask him. Of course, that’s also what the Lord will ask each of us, when our time on earth is over.

May Patrick’s answers—and ours—cause Jesus to say to him, and to each of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now the kingdom—the perfect, eternal kingdom—prepared for you from the foundation of the world!”