In the Kingdom by Faith


The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe. (Mark 1:15)

Faith. Faith in the divine Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not blind faith, or against reason–believing in the Kingdom of God actually makes more sense than anything else, all things considered. But nonetheless we must believe in what we cannot see, in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Faith is the only entrance. [Spanish.]

xt-kingWhat we see is: signs. We see love at work in this world. We see kindness and mercy. We see new beginnings and peaceful harmony, in quiet little corners. We see brothers and sisters who hunger and thirst for justice, willing to sacrifice themselves for others. We see how faith in what we can’t see makes the people we can see admirable and beautiful.

So we see signs of the heavenly life of God’s kingdom. But we don’t see it, the thing itself. Doesn’t mean it ain’t real. Nothing could be more real than the love that unites the Father and the Son–the same love that unites us, when we repent and believe. Nothing could be more real than heaven. But for us, for now, this wonderfully real thing is something in which we believe, rather than something we see. And by believing, we come to know and understand everything else that is worth knowing and understanding in life.

We believe that this kingdom–the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Christ–we believe that it involves the triumph of truth and justice. Parents have to teach their children that life isn’t fair. But in the Kingdom of God, it is. The One Who sees all, knows all, and balances everything equitably: He is the One Who assigns everyone his or her place and apportions all the goods in the Kingdom of God.

elgrecochristcrossIn the Kingdom of God, cheaters never prosper; liars never get away with it; evil deeds never get swept under the rug; the proud never crush the weak. In God’s kingdom, humble honesty always wins the reward it deserves.

Maybe you’re thinking: Father, what kind of other world is this? You say it’s real, but what you’re talking about sounds like a fantasy. The kingdom where compassion unites everyone of pure heart–that seems like a mere dream world, compared to the planet we actually know about.

Here on planet Earth, generations pass, and we don’t seem to learn any lessons about justice. Babies continue to get killed in the womb, racists continue to send orphans back to war zones, and husbands and wives still don’t know how to communicate with each other. What could possibly unite this fallen world with the supposed divine kingdom of Jesus Christ?

Ok. Reasonable question. Here’s the answer. Two things can and do unite planet Earth with the Kingdom of God.

1. The Cross. Jesus conquered the cosmos and became her king using one weapon. The most powerful weapon ever wielded. A weapon that makes both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump look like little rocket men by comparison. The Cross.

By stretching out His arms on the cross, Jesus overcame all the evil of this generation, and every human generation, with one, single, definitive divine act. The world as we know it, with all its sins that cry to heaven for justice–this world, and the Kingdom of Heaven governed by the Prince of Peace: these two realms have a bridge between them. An open bridge, free of all tariffs and border control. The Holy Cross of Jesus’ sacrifice. Which brings us to…

2. Prayer. “Thy Kingdom come.” It might seem like the Kingdom of God only exists in some kind of fantasy realm of pure imagination. But, in fact, the Kingdom of God actually lies just one prayer away from right here.

Jesus always dwelt under the protection of His heavenly Father; He always lived in the Kingdom of God. Even as He hung on the cross, gasping for breath, in the bitterest agony. He cried out, “Abba, Father!” And Jesus knew that the Father heard Him.

Same goes for us. The Kingdom comes when we pray. We live in the Kingdom of God–when we pray. We might think our faith is faltering; we might think our hearts have become impure, when we cry out in desperation or confusion. But, actually, that is precisely when our prayer to the Father is the most intimate and holy–when we are the most desperate, and the most confused.

Lord, Your kingdom come! We can’t do it alone. We don’t know what we’re doing. Lord Jesus, we need a king, and we need it to be You.

Dr. King, Nonviolence, Love, and Christ

Dr. Martin Luther KingThe leper, trusting in Christ, begged Him for help. The Lord was “moved with pity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., outlined six principles of universal, nonviolent love:

  1. Love eschews violence, but remains spiritually active. The truly strong individual resists evil by non-violent persuasion.
  2. Love never seeks to defeat or humiliate. Love always resists evil, but only for the sake of winning the brother over to the good. Moral shame leads to reconciliation and harmony.
  3. Love resists, even attacks, the forces of evil. But not another person. Here’s a direct quote from Dr. King’s sermon ‘An Experiment in Love:’ “The nonviolent resister of racial injustice has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice.”
  4. Love accepts suffering without resistance and embraces it “as a bridegroom enters the bride’s chamber.” Because suffering has “tremendous transforming possibilities.”
  5. Love not only avoids external violence. It avoids internal violence of the spirit, refusing to hate the neighbor who is an enemy. “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.” Love involves good will toward every human being, and does not discriminate between those worthy of love and those unworthy of it. Love willingly forgives “not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
  6. Love involves faith in the goodness, justice, and love of the Almighty One, the One Who makes creation a unified whole.

In his time Dr. King had many followers who do not know the Sacred Scriptures very well, who missed many direct references to the Bible in the great man’s doctrine. Around the time of Dr. King’s death fifty years ago this April, a lot of the captains of culture thought that Dr. King taught something that “underlies” all the great religions, but does not require the practice of Christianity. I think he partially held that idea himself. But I would say that close scrutiny of Dr. King’s work, and the test of time, have proven that idea untenable.

From my relatively ill-informed point-of-view, Dr. King’s life and doctrine make no sense without Jesus Christ Himself at the center of the whole picture. Jesus Christ not simply as a teacher, although certainly Dr. King’s doctrine and witness rely on Jesus’ gospel. But the Lord Jesus is not just the pre-eminent teacher of Dr. King’s ideas. Underlying the ideas about nonviolence is the revelation of divine love, and the triumph of that love over evil, which occurred  with Christ’s incarnation and redemptive death and resurrection. That fact of history—the coming of the Christ–is what makes Dr. King’s teaching and life understandable, I would say. Maybe we can meditate on that, on MLK Day this year.

Capernaum History

Capernaum synagogue
A certain goofball with a name tag, listening to an expert, with a good priest and two lovely ladies, in the Capernaum Synagogue

Guess what? We will read today’s Holy-Mass gospel passage again, soon. On Super Bowl Sunday. I guess what I say that day about people being ill will depend on whether or not the NE Patriots make it into the Super Bowl yet again.

Seriously, though. At the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel we get a little insight into the closest thing to a “home life” that the Lord Jesus had during his ministry as a rabbi and healer. The city of Capernaum sat right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Far enough away from Nazareth that the Lord did not count as a “local.” Here He got to know Sts. Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. And they began to believe in Him as the Christ.

This year we will keep many notable 50th anniversaries, since 1968 was such an eventful year. One notable event was: the archaeological excavations of Capernaum. In 1968 they discovered by digging that Christians had gathered and worshiped at one ancient house beginning in the first part of the first century AD.

In other words, the gospels and the science of archaeology came together in 1968 to unite us with the enchanting facts of history: here the Son of God lived and made a kind of home during his three year ministry. In the house where He healed St. Peter’s mother-in-law, and then she exercised her duties as a hostess towards Him. The house where people crowded to see Him, hear Him, touch Him.

We know the site; I’ve been there twice myself. It’s walking distance to the peaceful shore of the sea. Actually, Galilee is more like what we would call a lake. It is exactly double the size of Smith Mountain Lake. Lake Michigan could hold 350 Seas of Galilee.

excavation of house in Capernaum
The excavated Peter’s House site in Capernaum

The Galilean shore is just the kind of peaceful place where we could easily imagine the Lord Jesus strolling of the evening, rapt in prayer to the Father.

The point here, I think, is: The connection between Jesus Christ and us is real and verifiable on the most basic historical level. We don’t have to get all mystical and transcendent about it, to establish that we have a bond with Him.

That said, of course there is a mystical and transcendent connection, through Christ’s triumph over death and His Ascension into heaven; through the grace He gives us through the sacraments, especially His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

But these two kinds of connection go hand-in-hand for us Christians. We’re connected to Jesus of Nazareth by the normal handing down of human memories, through the writing of books and the building of memorials in important spots. And we’re connected with Him by heavenly graces that transcend all the human workings of history. For us, these two kinds of connection both pertain to the one, fundamental bond we have with Him, namely, the love of His Heart for us.

Migration and God

He is not ashamed to call us brothers. (see Hebrews 2:11)

Lord Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He lived there about 30 years. Then He migrated to Capernaum, which lies about 40 miles northeast of His hometown.

At first, He was a stranger in Capernaum. When He rose to teach in the synagogue for the first time, most people there would not have recognized His face. One person declared, however, “I know who you are, Jesus of Nazareth!”

earthsunWho I am has a lot to do with where I am from. Often you can tell what part of the U.S. someone comes from by his or her accent. Like, “Where are you from?” “Heeyyy…I’m from Brucklin!” Or: “Padner, I’m from Amarilla, Texas!” And some of us have migrated from places where people speak languages other than English.

But Jesus, the High Priest, the Holy One of God: He is not ashamed to call all of us brothers. He came to teach us a very important truth about where we all come from. Whether I come from Vietnam or Panama, Wisconsin or L.A., I come from God. We all, fundamentally, come from God. Every human being does. God knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs, using His consummate artistry in doing so.

Let me give you one proof that we ultimately come from God, not just Iowa or Canada or France. Yes, it is true that people from the same place have a lot in common, especially their manner of speaking.  So people from the same place generally understand each other better than people from other places. Koreans generally understand Korean better than Austrians do, and Austrians understand German better than Tanzanians do.

But the proof that God is our true origin is this: Not all Austrians are the same. Not all Germans are the same. Or Japanese, or Mexicans, or New Yorkers, or Roanokers. God made each of us truly unique; no two human beings are exactly alike, and every human being has his own unique life to live. So sometimes a Roanoker might have a best friend who comes from Guadalajara. Sometimes Virginian women fall in love with Asian men, and they have Amerasian children.

Jesus calls us all brothers. Jesus loves and understands us all. He died for us all, because we are all sinners. Homegrown Americans and migrants alike—all sinners, all redeemed by the blood of Jesus of Nazareth. And He gives us all a share in the only life truly worth living—the life of His divine brotherly love.

Living by Faith


“Is not a man’s life on earth a drudgery?” So asked holy Job, in the deepest throes of his agony and despair. “Is not a man’s life on earth a drudgery?”

Exactly three years ago, when we read the same readings at Sunday Mass, we reflected a bit about what the word “life” means.

Is ‘life’ something that amoebas, cornstalks, jelly fish, chickens, and we human beings all have in common? Is life simply a certain arbitrary confluence of atoms, set in motion randomly by the Big Bang? These particular atoms could have wound up constituting my flabby body, like they do—or they could have wound up somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s all just a matter of chance.

That’s one interpretation of the word ‘life.’ Which could make it feel like a drudgery, to be sure.

Then there’s the interpretation of the word ‘life’ which our Lord Jesus came to the earth to give us. As we read from the first chapter of St. Mark’s gospel, Christ lovingly healed the bodies of many sick and suffering people. But His first priority was to preach the truth that heals the soul.

Continue reading “Living by Faith”

“Kingdom of God:” Two Interpretations of the Phrase

“The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15)

Let me quote Blessed Pope Paul VI, interpreting this verse:

Christ first of all proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes ‘the rest.’ The Kingdom of God is absolute; everything else is relative. (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

Pope Paul continues: “The Lord Jesus gives the Magna Carta [the Constitution] of the Kingdom of God,” namely…The Sermon on the Mount.

xt-kingBlessed are the poor in spirit, the meek and gentle, those who mourn the sin of the world.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Blessed are the merciful, the peaceful, the pure of heart. Blessed are those who suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom.

“Blessed” because: In the kingdom of God, we will receive consolation, comfort, and true satisfaction. There will be mercy. We will see God.

Pope Paul continues: “Jesus gave us the heralds of the Kingdom,” namely…the Apostles and their successors in the work of evangelization. And: “Jesus described the vigilance and fidelity demanded by whoever awaits the definitive coming of the kingdom of God.”

Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison? To those who inherit the Kingdom, the Lord will say, “You did for Me whatever you did for…”

The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Now, I think we need to sort out the two ways in which this declaration of Christ’s can be understood. The two ways the phrase “Kingdom of God” can be understood.

Way #1: The vague, shallow way.

According to the vague, shallow interpretation of the idea of the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what you believe, so long as you are nice. It doesn’t matter whether your good deeds actually help anyone in particular, or if you even ever do any real good deeds at all.

The vague, shallow interpretation holds that God is very nice and very imprecise himself. God does not really concern himself with what I do, or fail to do, exactly—according to the vague, shallow interpretation. But I can count on the vague, nice God to give me good feelings whenever I show up in a church or temple for a wedding or a funeral.

Actually, according to the shallow interpretation, I get to judge the vague, nice God, applying my own criteria. If God doesn’t meet my expectations, I am allowed to pout and stew. I might forgive him, provided he conform to my ideas and plans.

Book of the Holy Gospels
Book of the Holy Gospels
The second way of interpreting the phrase “kingdom of God” involves actually reading the Holy Bible.

When we read the Bible, we discover that one particular character never appears, not even on a single page—from Genesis, all the way through to Revelation, he’s not there. Namely, the vague, nice God.

In the Sacred Scriptures, we read about God, Whose kingdom flows with a kind of milk and honey so wonderful that we can’t even imagine it. All the dreams about heaven that we could concoct would never touch the sublime beauty of what God has revealed through His prophets and apostles.

We read, and we meet a God so powerful and wise that even the strongest and smartest human beings either have to tremble at the very thought of Him, or He humbles them to nothing by crushing all their delusions of grandeur into the dust.

We read, and we encounter a divine King Who insists that the most annoying and demanding of His subjects–who smell bad and often sit near us–are precisely the ones that we have to find a way to love as much as we love ourselves.

We read the Bible, and we see that God relentlessly concerns Himself with a lot of things that the vague, shallow interpretation regards as petty details. Like how to do holy ceremonies properly. And how to avoid lying, and lusting, and gluttony, and all kinds of hidden sins. He concerns Himself painstakingly with how we live in a marriage and as a family. And with what we ought to do when someone asks for help.

In other words, the actual King of the kingdom of heaven is demanding as hell. You have to belong to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And not only do you have to belong, you have to do all the required things. And you have to do them with a loving and cheerful heart.

You also have to give up anything and everything that stands in the way of reaching the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that exists on its own, no matter what I think or don’t think about it. There’s a real King ruling over it, Who was born of Mary in Bethlehem and was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

The vague, shallow interpretation of the Kingdom of God insists on being especially vague and shallow when it comes to two things in particular. We will have to cover those next week.

The Purpose: Our Relationship

“For this purpose have I come,” said the Lord, referring to His mission to preach.

To preach what? The good news that God loves each and all of us with infinite intensity. That our sins can be forgiven and washed away forever. That the heavenly Father cares about us and has a plan to get us to heaven.

Why does the Church exist? Here is how Vatican II answers that question, in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:

For this the Church was founded: that, by spreading the Kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father, She might lead all men to share in Christ’s saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might in actual fact be brought into relationship with Him. (paragraph 2)

To spread the Kingdom of Christ everywhere. Which is what glorifies God, Who receives glory when people acknowledge His only begotten Son. Which is how we come to be redeemed, since He is our only Redeemer. Redeemed, so that we—and the world in its entirety—might have a bona fide relationship with our Maker and Final Goal.

Church roofs stands over our heads; church furnaces churn; parking lots got paved; the coffee brews in our church pots—all for one reason: so that we—and everyone—can have a relationship with the One Who was sent to preach good news to the poor.

samsung m400 flip phoneSince our God came to the earth on a mission of mercy and redemption, having a relationship with Him is completely different from having a relationship with anyone else. Unlike everyone else, Christ our God relentlessly loves us with an intensity that has no limit and with a patience that never runs out.

There may be other people who know us even better than we know ourselves, but Christ knows us infinitely better even than they do.

So this all-important relationship with Him differs completely from all our other relationships. And yet it’s actually not that different at all. In that it takes work, steadiness, humility, and rigorous honesty. As long as we walk this earth, we are not done working on it.

No work, no honesty: no relationship. Christ loves us infinitely and has infinite patience. But no other relationship requires such searching honesty on our parts.

He came to reveal the Divine Mercy, to declare the forgiveness of sins, and to bring about the only justification we could ever have for ourselves–by dying with infinite love for us on the cross.

I marched into my local cellphone retail location to claim the free phone upgrade that my diligent perseverance in my plan had merited. By a kind of miracle, I managed to walk out with a phone that works exactly like my old phone worked. All the buttons, everything—exactly the same. Praise God.

But does this accomplishment make me a worthwhile individual? By no means. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross makes me a worthwhile individual.

I could personally invent a way in which no one would ever have to endure a learning curve on any technological “device;” I could devise technology that rendered every 1-800 technical support number absolutely obsolete, and no one’s mother or grandmother would ever call them, asking how to upload onto her iPad music that she has on her iPhone. But even if I did that, that still would not make me a worthwhile human being. I would still be a craven sinner with no hope, if it weren’t for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.

You know what I think will make us more evangelical? More of a leaven for justice and peace in our community?

If we all went to Confession more often. If I start with myself and my relationship with the One Who died because of my sins. Especially the sins which I have heretofore been too obtuse or too lazy to acknowledge.

Eternal Health

The leper came to Christ seeking health, well-being, soundness of body.

Soundness of body constitutes an essential element of our lives. We do everything we can to preserve our health. When we lose it, we try to get it back by every means we have at our disposal.

In what, though, does true health fundamentally consist?

Mustn’t we face the fact that we all suffer from a mortal disease that no medicine can keep at bay forever?

True health, enduring health, health that death cannot conquer—where do we get that? What pills can we take? What spa can we go to? What doctor can help us attain undying health?

We do well to seek health of body. We do even better to seek health of soul. Our souls thrive when they feed on the truth. When we live in Christ’s truth, no disease can destroy us, because we share in God’s eternal life.