The Kingdom Within
Homily – June 14, 2015
The Kingdom of God is Christ’s favorite topic.
After all, he is the eternal King, and he came to earth in order to establish his Kingdom, the Church. And at the end of history, after the Last Judgment, those of us who lived and died in friendship with the King by striving to obey the laws of his Kingdom will enjoy the everlasting peace and prosperity that comes from his rule.
This Kingdom is such a high priority for Jesus that he put it right in the middle of the one prayer that he taught his disciples, the core prayer for every Christian: “Thy Kingdom come!” But since we are fallen human beings, it is easy for us to misunderstand what this Kingdom really consists of. That’s why Jesus used so many parables – images and analogies to help our minds get in tune with his mind, so that we have the right expectations about what following this King really involves.
The growing parables in today’s Gospel passage reveal two essential characteristics about life in the Kingdom of God, two things we need always to keep in mind so that we can live deeply our friendship with the King.
First, the life of our relationship with God comes not from ourselves, but from God.
Where does the power of growth in the seeds come from?
Not from the farmer. It comes from the Creator. Likewise, if God were not constantly breathing his grace into our lives, no matter how hard we might try, we would never be able to grow in intimacy with him – just as the farmer could never make a rock grow into an ear of corn.
Our life of union with God depends primarily on God. We cannot achieve Christian success based solely on our own efforts. But the good news is that we don’t have to, since God is always at work, even while we’re asleep.
As Psalm 127:2 puts it: “It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, to eat bread earned by hard toil — all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.”
God is the source of our Christian lives, and no matter how hard we may try to make our lives worthwhile, without his help, we can do nothing.
Second, growth in holiness (life in communion with God) is a gradual process; it takes time. We Christians are unlike Hollywood heroes, who go from wimp to world champion in the course of a mere ninety minutes. Rather, Christians develop their wisdom, joy, courage, and self-mastery through a patient and consistent effort to cooperate with God over the long haul. This is hard for us to accept, and it is even hard for us to understand, because our culture has developed such an immediate gratification and fast-results mentality.
But developing a beautiful soul isn’t like making a cup of instant coffee.
Instead, it’s like building a beautiful cathedral.
The magnificent Gothic cathedrals that still decorate the European countryside and still leave even the most modern visitor speechless and awestruck were not the work of a few days or even a few years. They took decades to construct, sometimes even more than a century. There are cases where three or even four generations of stone-masons worked on the same cathedral.
Think about that for a moment. That means that your grandfather, your father, you, and your son would have all worked on the same building, each one of you for your whole working-life. But only your son would have had the satisfaction of seeing the finished product.
This is an almost perfect analogy for the growth of God’s Kingdom in our soul.
It’s not something we can work hard at, put in some extra hours on the weekend, pull a couple of all-nighters, and then cross off our to-do list.
No, it’s the adventure of a lifetime, it’s our life-project, the only project, in fact, that really matters. The growth of God’s Kingdom in our hearts and in the world depends primarily on God and secondarily on us, and it is a gradual process that takes time.
These are the pearls of wisdom that Christ wants to communicate to us through his parables. And if we reflect on them and pray over them, we will begin to discover their many consequences and implications.
One of these is especially relevant in today’s stress-flooded culture: It’s the real reason behind our frustration and discouragement. Frustration and discouragement can never come from God. God is not up in heaven tapping his watch and raising his eyebrows because we haven’t become perfect saints already. God designed human nature, and so he understands that our growth in holiness takes time .He is the wise farmer that tends his crops patiently and carefully, knowing that the harvest will come, with time.
So, if discouragement and frustration don’t come from God, where do they come from?
From our own diabolical pride, our own spiritual immaturity, egged on by the devil. If our prayer life doesn’t produce spiritual fireworks right away, if our bad habits don’t go away with a snap of our fingers, if we don’t understand perfectly all of Catholic doctrine after a weekend seminar, we tend to slacken off in our efforts, or even give up entirely, like spoiled children Humble children who trust their parents are much less likely to have anger management problems. Wise Christians who truly trust in God’s action and God’s pace are much less likely to give in to the temptations of discouragement and frustration. Here’s how Jeremiah puts it (17:7-8):
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. “He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
But today’s Psalm adds even another dimension to that image. If it is true that our spiritual growth, the growth of God’s Kingdom in the world and in our hearts, is truly a supernatural reality, than it doesn’t follow completely the natural rhythms of growth. In nature, life comes and goes; we grow and flourish, then we wither and die. But not in super-nature, not when God’s grace is the principle and source of our life. And so the Psalm tells us that the faithful followers of the Lord “shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy.”
As we make our way into this new liturgical season of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, a season full of opportunities for spiritual and moral growth, let’s keep these images in mind. They will help us navigate through the dangerous temptations of discouragement and frustration. And they will help motivate us to stay close to God through prayer and the sacraments, even when prayer and the sacraments may be inconvenient. And in the end, staying as close as possible to God is what really matters.
- Posted in: Reflections