Living in the reign
A retreat master, searching for a creative title and wanting something on the kingdom of God, came up with Living in the Reign.
Actually, that title, Living in the Reign, fits the readings for today, the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
The kingdom of God was by far the favourite theme of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. It should also be our main focus as his disciples in the world.
It is interesting that when Jesus taught about the kingdom he had come to inaugurate, he spoke in parables. In fact, most of his parables are about the kingdom of God. It was as if the nature of this kingdom was too precious to reduce it to ordinary, plain speech — it had to be presented in ways that would make people think, catch them off guard, open them up and stretch them to be able to comprehend and take in the nature of that kingdom.
It is St. Paul who in Romans 14:17 provides perhaps the most straightforward description of this kingdom in the Scriptures: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of the peace, joy and justice of the Holy Spirit.”
That description sounds simple, but is packed with meaning. Peace is not just a fleeting emotion — it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we can claim as disciples of Jesus. It is serenity and calmness, the reality of being grounded and centred that has no other source.
In 2014 there was an exhibition of a replica of the Shroud of Turin in a church in Edmonton. The presenter stated that he had talked to a coroner from Los Angeles after a presentation. This man told him that he had done autopsies on hundreds of violent deaths, and that the violence of their deaths was written on every one of their faces. What struck him about the person on the shroud was that he had obviously died a violent death, but his face was totally at peace!
Jesus, on the cross, was completely at peace. He knew he was accomplishing the Father’s will to demonstrate to the world the depth of the Father’s non-violent, unconditional love for, and forgiveness to the world. Baptized into this same Jesus Christ, we can also claim that peace no matter what chaos and disorder may surround us.
Joy is also not just a passing feeling — it too is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we can claim as our own. There is a lack of genuine joy in our world, with so many people chasing after illusory desires and falling constantly for the false gods of possessions, prestige and power. Pope Francis is doing what he can to change this. How appropriate that his first apostolic exhortation would be on the joy of the gospel!
Biblically, justice is a right relationship with God, with all others in our lives, with ourselves, and with all of God’s creation. It is to live in harmony with everything. When we have an intimate relationship with God in prayer; when we have been reconciled with everyone in our lives; when we have accepted ourselves as we are and forgiven ourselves our mistakes, and when we are truly caring for creation to the extent that we can — we are living within the kingdom of God.
Another element about the kingdom that emerges out of the parables especially is that the kingdom of God is all about personal growth and transformation. The seed that dies only to produce the shoot, the head and then the grain, and the tiny mustard seed that becomes a great shrub are images of the Paschal Mystery that we are all called to live; the mysterious experience of letting go, of forgiving, of grieving, of healing, of rising to a new life, that makes up the kingdom of God in our lives.
We have largely lost or overlooked this dimension of the kingdom of God in our western world. As Richard Rohr puts it in Dancing Standing Still, “Religion was not needed in the West for enlightenment and transformation of persons but to create good citizens for emperor and pope.” We need to revive this essential element of the kingdom of God — personal growth and transformation.
A final element of the kingdom that surfaces is the paradox of humility. God humbles the proud and raises the lowly; greens the withered and withers the green. It seems that God can only work that growth and transformation in humble hearts, in hearts that are willing to see the truth about themselves and be open to what it is that God wants to mysteriously perform within them.
As Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche homes for the mentally challenged likes to say, “When we are humble, honest and open enough to share our weakness with our brothers and sisters, then that frees them to be humble, honest and open enough to share their weakness with us, and together we grow.”
The eucharist we celebrate now is a living out of these readings. It is an experience of peace, joy, right relationships, growth and transformation, all within the container of humble worship of our God who is love.
Above all, it empowers us and strengthens us to not live life in a humdrum way, but to be aware that we are called to actually live in the reign!
Sylvain Lavoie, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, is chaplain at the Star of the North Retreat House in St. Albert, Alta. He continues to live out his motto, Regnum Dei Intra Vos (the kingdom of God is among you), which is his overriding focus and passion.