If I asked you what it is that you most want right now, I would probably receive a variety of answers. Some would say a new job or better job security, maybe better pay or just the respect of their employers. Others might speak of health issues, concern for their children or the need to get their finances in order. Still others might mention the need for a new car or the desire for the latest computer or television… maybe just a good vacation this summer.
These are examples of the very real day-to-day concerns that we all experience. The Jews of Our Lord’s time had their daily concerns too. Some desired freedom from Roman rule, safety for themselves and their children, adequate shelter, food and clothing.
But for centuries, they had also experienced a deeper longing. Many awaited the coming of the Messiah whom God had promised would deliver them from bondage. They had lived for centuries in a spiritual darkness. As we know today, many of these people misunderstood what God intended for them, but their deep longing for justice was real.
We share that longing, even if we too misunderstand its meaning and importance.
All of the people who lived in the Lord’s time are gone to the after-life. Their ordinary daily concerns, real as they were, are past… and in the blinking of an eye, so too will ours be past. Then, the one thing that matters will remain – the love of God for us and our love for Him.
The Proclamation of the Kingdom
After centuries of preparing his people, the time had come… God entered into history and time as man just over 2,000 years ago. And 30 years later, the God-man Jesus was baptized and had spent his 40 days of trial and preparation in the wilderness. And then, with these words, he returned to Galilee and announced:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
We’ve heard the words many times. Do they excite us?
That they were selected by Mark as the first sermon of the Lord in his gospel speaks to their importance.
Do we grasp their meaning?
The whole of our lives entails a spiritual struggle between good and evil. God allows us to freely choose love and goodness over hatred and evil. Within us, he has placed a deep desire and longing for truth and beauty – a longing for God. Yet, the concerns of this life can distract us from the joy we most want. We become side-tracked through our inclination to sin. We fail to recognize this ever-present invitation from Christ.
We are invited to live in God’s kingdom. Can any other concern of ours be as important as this gift?
Today is the First Sunday of the Lenten Season, a season set apart each year by the Church during which we are to pay particular attention to how we respond to this invitation.
All through the year, but especially during Lent, we should examine our lives and ask:
- Does the proclamation of the Kingdom mean anything to me? Do the Lord’s words reverberate within my very being?
- Does the way in which I live reflect a strengthening of my resolve to turn from sin and back to God? Is my faith in, hope for and love of God stronger and deeper at the start of this Lent than it was a year ago?
- Does the way in which I live testify to my belief? What is it that I believe about the Kingdom? If I were brought before a jury, would it conclude upon the evidence of my life that I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God?
The consequence of mankind’s original sin was to be delivered into the wilderness, a place of danger and peril. Thankfully, our God is not simply a judge or jury, he is Our Father. He did not give up on us, even when we gave up on him. As Noah and his family were saved in the ark through water, so too are we saved through the waters of Baptism. (cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21)
God has come to be with us and save us. The wilderness is now a place of spiritual growth where grace abounds, where angels minister to our needs – just as they ministered to Jesus – where we are enabled by grace to live lives pleasing to God… because now is the time of fulfillment and our God is with us. He invites us to, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
The Kingdom is present both on Earth and in Heaven
Belief is not simply a mental acceptance of a reality; belief is also an act of the will. One of our favorite prayers is the one Jesus taught us. We pray that God’s Kingdom will come into our lives and that His Will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
But what is this Kingdom? What exactly am I praying for to happen? In the practice of almsgiving, one of the three pillars of Lent, we catch an essential glimpse of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is not just a future reality in heaven. It is a present reality on earth. It is not enough just to know of the Kingdom. That knowledge must reside in both our mind and our heart. But even then, it is not enough to think we can desire God in the heart without also caring for others in the world. The peace, justice and mercy that we desire of God for ourselves, we must also desire for our fellow human beings, no matter who they are, where they are, what they are or what they have done. We must desire it because God desires it.
God invites us to be in his Kingdom, but he also requires that we help bring it about… to live in it here and now.
The Prophet Isaiah tells us how God desires of us to act in his Kingdom: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
These are the questions and thoughts we should reflect on during this penitential season. Our God is love and Love will not impose his will on us. He speaks softly to us; he invites us to enter into His Kingdom as his children. He is here with us now. Let us pray that by the nourishment of the Holy Eucharist we may truly live according to his will.
Into the Deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, Editor-in-Chief for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization at his parish and a deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
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Category: Into the Deep