The Kingdom of Heaven

It is often difficult to remember what we are truly meant to do on earth. We were not created for this earth; we were created for the kingdom of Heaven. From that perspective, our earthly lives are spent in a waiting “room” until we are called to return to the home of our heavenly Father. However, we were not made to simply sit idly by until our time to go to Heaven arrives. God is always calling us to a higher purpose, and if we seek the kingdom of Heaven on earth, the riches of Heaven will appear far greater than we can ever imagine. What we do in this life prepares us for the next, but more importantly, it is who we are that can transform us into the people we are meant to be as we enter into the kingdom of Heaven.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God.”
—Romans 8:18–19

As we wait upon the Lord, we are filled with great hope. Living the life of a child of God means to live life in anticipation, always living in the hope of the grace to come, knowing that by living this life devoted to Christ, we will inherit His kingdom.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a perfect example of living in constant hope. Mother Teresa adopted a spirit of gratitude. She endured all the deprivations of grave poverty, yet she never lost her smile and always radiated joy. She could do this because she recognized every good thing, no matter how small, that the Lord placed in her life and she gave thanks for it. Through this act of thanksgiving, she lived each day in anticipation of the kingdom of Heaven.

For the kingdom of Heaven 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” (Luke 13: 18–19).

Through each action of kindness and love, we can contribute to the kingdom of Heaven. With every expression of gratitude, we strengthen our hope in the promises the Lord has given to us of what is to come.

Home.

“Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” -Ephesians 2:19-22

It was Saturday night during the Steubenville NYC Conference this summer, and I was sitting with my 30 teens in the grass at St. John’s University, reflecting on what they had just experienced in a powerful night of Eucharistic Adoration. Each teen poured his or her heart out, telling of how God’s incredible love had touched them that night. As one of the boys was sharing, he stopped for a second, grinned, and then said: “Jesus is home.”

Jesus. Is. Home.

Those three little words from that wise 14-year-old boy pierced the depths of my soul that night.

Jesus is HOME.

We are no longer strangers and sojourners, as today’s first reading proclaims. A sojourner is someone who stays in a place temporarily. We can stay permanently with Him, because He is home. We can get cozy, settle in, and make His Sacred Heart our home, abiding and remaining in Him as He invited us to do at the Last Supper.

When we feel we don’t belong in our job, or in a city, in a crowded NYC apartment, or even in our own families, we always belong with Jesus. When we feel like we’re in constant change, He is our mainstay. In Him all things hold together, like a sturdy house (see Eph. 2:21 and Col. 1:17). We are known by God, loved to the deepest parts of who we are that we don’t even know ourselves.

We can dare to trust in God’s goodness enough to stay with Him, to hold on, to hang in. We can trust Him enough to set up permanent residence in His Heart. He is home, brothers and sisters; He is home. Rest in Him.

Do What Is Righteous Now

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without shape and God formed it and gave it life. He created light, land, vegetation, animals. He separated the waters and created the moon and the stars. God created mankind and gave us dominion over all the earth: to fend for it, take care of it, and use it according to our needs. Over the many years of mankind’s existence we have learned many things about the earth: how to cultivate food, that it’s warm when the sun is out and cool at night, that different animals migrate throughout seasons, that clouds bring rain. All this and more we have learned, and we’ve used it to grow and prosper in our societies. All thanks to God.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is saddened by the crowds because they do not know what time they are in; they don’t know who He is or why He is amongst them. Jesus reminds the crowds that they can easily tell when the earth is changing, when a cloud rises in the west and it brings rain or when the wind blows from the south and it’s hot. God created the earth; the signs that they interpret are God’s signs which He created so long ago. How come it’s so difficult to see God standing before them now and acknowledge Jesus’ miracles which are happening among them in the present time?

It is easy to only see what we want to see.

It is easy to only hear what we want to hear.

I read and think about the crowd in today’s Gospel and I think, how could they not realize the Son of God is among them?! But then I look at myself—how many times did I ignore the signs God gave me? Too many. I have walked down busy streets, I’ve gotten on the subway, and I have sat at my own dining table ignorant of all the signs God gives me of His presence. Signs to remember His commandments, signs to be kind and loving to my neighbors, signs that He loves me. I’ve chosen to be blind and deaf.

The crowds from the Gospel had missed the sign that God was giving them: it’s time to ask for forgiveness. Jesus is urging the crowds to choose what is right—following God—and asks them to repent. It’s important to ask for forgiveness not only from God but also from anyone to whom we might have done wrong. Jesus tells us that if we are in opposition with someone, we should work to resolve the matter on our own in good faith. If we still bicker and cannot soften our hearts to resolve the matter, a court (a higher power) would rule a decision over us, and the judge may throw us in prison. How much worse is this than if we were to settle things on our own? Friends, this is a clear depiction of Judgment Day. If we die in a state of unrepented sin, we risk our souls going to hell. What a terrible outcome this is! My heart breaks at the possibility that anyone’s soul would forever be separated from God the Father, who loves us so much.

Jesus will come again at the second coming, Judgment Day. But as we wait for Him, there are many signs we should be aware of in the 21st century. We live in a broken world where we will be tempted. People will try to deceive us. Our love for God will be tested. In the first reading, Saint Paul is telling the Romans that the law of man is not equal to the Law of God. By following the law of man alone, we are hurting our relationship with God and giving in to sin. Only God’s grace through Jesus Christ can help us repair that relationship.

As you go about your day and encounter different procedures, policies, regulations, rules—think for a moment: are these things of the world bringing me closer to God, or are they keeping me away from His saving grace? We must be able to see and hear the Word of God in order to do what is righteous now, in the present time.

Image credit: The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo. [Public Domain]

Idol Speculations

Earlier this week two activists made something of a splash when they removed controversial carved images from a church in Rome and tossed them into the Tiber River. Subsequently, Catholic social media has been flooded with commentary about the controversy. Who or what were these images depicting? Was it the Blessed Virgin (an early theory later rejected by a Vatican spokesperson); was it a “simple representation of life” in Amazonian art, or was it a “pagan idol,” specifically Pachamama? And the men who did this tossing—were they thieves, stuntmen, or heroes? An anonymous video showing the Tiber toss was uploaded to You-tube and has since been watched by thousands; some with concern and dismay, some with wild cheering.

The action comes during the Synod on the Amazon being held in Rome, which itself is stirring significant controversy, particularly from many who fear that it will be used as an occasion to change church teaching. Cries of racism have also arisen from both right and left. The left is accusing the right of rejecting Amazonian symbols and culture because they “aren’t white enough”; the right is claiming that the left is patronizing the Amazonian people by “watering down” church practices.

It is not the first controversy for our church. The centuries have been filled with contention and crises and wars against the church from within and without.

In times of discord, of scandal, of challenged faith, what is a faithful Catholic to do?

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples “Do you think I have come to spread peace? No, I tell you, but rather division.” One might think His word is being fulfilled!

But looking closer at today’s Gospel, we see both the real desire of Jesus, and the response He desires from us in the wake of scandal. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

In these times, more than ever, we must pray.

It is not enough to be a chorus of curses against the darkness. We must BE light. A lightbulb on its own is useless—it gives light only when it is plugged into a source greater than itself. We too must receive from a genuine and literal Higher Power.

Prayer is not merely petition, not merely giving voice to our anger or anxieties. Rather it is to sit in the presence of God, to become one with Him, to learn His mind and His heart and receive His Spirit so that we might bring Him to others.

Our mission is to be conduits of grace to the world. If a stone statue of an idol can bring harm, how much more can a living vessel of the Holy Spirit bring good?

To offer anything less than Jesus is a tragedy. Certainly if apparent idols are presented in the church as alternatives to God, that is a grave scandal. But who do people encounter when they meet us? What are we offering through our lives? In my experience both “outsiders” and we ourselves are much more scandalized by the selfishness, hypocrisy, apathy of any individual professed Christians. We must ask ourselves, when people meet us, who or what do they encounter?

The first work of the Christian is to pray, to become and do the good that God asks of us as individuals.

I do not say this as an excuse to avoid the struggle against evil, to avoid taking sides. Rather, I say that we must not limit that fight to the evil in others.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

That something other than Jesus might be worshipped, that something other than His Mother be honored as ours, is indeed disturbing. But what idols need to be exorcised from our own hearts?

Who do people encounter when they meet us?

Every conversion I have ever heard or read about has been born of encounter and attraction. Sometimes a direct encounter with God, often, first, an encounter and attraction through the life of a Christian. Always it is a movement toward some good, toward joy, toward peace, toward love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Round

“If you want me to go another round I will; but, if I’m being honest I don’t want to.” As I silently prayed, the stubborn resistance softened as tired tears rolled silently down my cheeks. I saw the bloodwork. I knew before she called. It would be another protocol, another experiment that hopefully is not mere trial and error. Obviously, there is enough reason to hope. But when you’ve ridden the roller coaster of almost and maybes, it’s natural for there to be a hesitation. The cloud of disappointment can shadows one’s willingness to try again.  

What areas of your life are darkened by previous disappointments? Where are you challenged to see the reality that the Lord works all things out for the good of those who love Him? How can we bravely begin again? On the feast of JPII, may we imitate the Holy Father who persevered in trial emphatically reminding us “we are not the sum of our weaknesses but rather of the Father’s love for us”. 

Verso l’alto, 

I wanna see you be brave

Even in suffering, I have to believe it

Promise-keeper

“Brothers and sisters:
Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief;
rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God
and was fully convinced that what God had promised
he was also able to do.” -Romans 4:20-21

Sometimes life can seem so discouraging, right? Sometimes we feel ourselves looking around at everything around us and saying, “What is going on?” Other times we wait and wait for so long that we feel forgotten and ignored by God, as if He doesn’t care about the very desires He has placed on our hearts. Sometimes, it seems like there can’t possibly be a way out of what we’re struggling with, and we’re left wondering if things will ever get better.

God is too good to leave us there, dear friends. He is simply too, too good.

Through it all, He is on the throne. He has got this. He is on the move: working, loving, present, and focused on you, handcrafting a story of glory. We can never get too far off course for Him to not provide and to not come through on a promise. We aren’t powerful enough to lose ourselves beyond the repair of God’s providence. Praise God that He uses His almighty power to bring us back over and over again.

Today’s first reading challenges us to press in, to cling to God as our source of hope, and to know that He keeps His promises. Abraham was promised children when it seemed impossible, and yet he was “fully convinced” that God would keep His promise. It made zero sense given his circumstances surrounding him, but he knew that the impossible is possible for God.

God is our promise-keeper.

God is always, always, always good. In fact, He is too good for us to give into despair. In the light of His wild love, we can trust that at each moment we are held secure, and that He will deliver on His promises to us.

Through it all, God is our constant. When the storms of life swirl around us and toss us about, He is our anchor. God is our steady source of love and hope. And when we keep our hearts laser-focused on His, we can rest secure in His perfect peace. Surely the Lord will keep His promises. He is too good not to.

Is anything too impossible for the Lord? Absolutely not. Take heart.

Holy Spirit, help us to rise up with a new intensity of Your fire today to say a firm “no” to the temptation to despair and to doubt God’s promises. Help us to press into You and rely on You more, knowing that in each moment, You are with us, giving us our very breath. We renew our trust in Your promises today, Lord. We trust that You always come through, that You always make a way. We trust that any impossibility is always possible for You. Thank You for being infinitely good to us, no matter what. Amen.

This song that declares God’s constant goodness was on my heart as I was writing this.

Called to Belong

“Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” –Romans 1:5-7

Our restless hearts wrestle with the deepest questions: Do I matter? What’s my purpose? Where is my place in this world? Who is God calling me to be?

We desire to belong, to be wanted, to be noticed and seen. We want to be loved as we are. We search for that feeling of home among pockets of family, friends, church communities, and nostalgic places. We tuck into our hearts conversations and moments that remind us of who we are and why we’re here.

Sometimes the striving takes over and the search for belonging becomes a competition of comparison, envy, insecurity, and pride.

Our anxious, searching hearts can find rest in the God of the universe who calls us His own, who enfolds us into His arms and says, “You’re Mine.”

Each human heart is etched with the longing for God. We always belong with God, and not only that, but He calls us to belong. He wants us.

And so we can rest in Him, never having to doubt who we are and if we fit. Never having to feel the impostor syndrome, the lies, the endless questions. In His gaze, all of that fades away because we are His own, and we always belong.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” -Catechism of the Catholic Church 27