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Week Two: "Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven”
It was a November Friday night in the Passionist retreat house in New York where I served as director for a number of years. We were beginning a weekend Matt Talbot retreat for men. Matt Talbot retreats are weekend spiritual gatherings for members of Alcoholics Anonymous. This particular weekend was usually a challenging one because it included men (many of them young adults) who were new to the program, some of them just off the streets. I was standing at the front of our dining room that was filled with about 80 men who were filing up to the buffet line to get their dinners. At the front table, there was a group of men who were at the retreat house for the first time. Quite frankly, they were the toughest-looking group of men I had ever seen come through the doors of our retreat center. A couple of them wore old Army jackets that had certainly seen better days. Most of them sported a wide array of tattoos; a couple wore those black leather bracelets with metal spikes on them; some had long hair with bandanas; and there were two or three Harley-Davidson T-shirts at the table. I felt like we might be giving a retreat to the local chapter of Hell’s Angels. Just then Father John Patrick, an older Passionist priest who is since deceased, came up to me. John Patrick was a very perceptive man with a delightful Irish wit. He whispered in my ear, “I don’t think that any of these guys will be signing up to volunteer for our Liturgy Planning Committee.” I had to walk away at that moment and try to conceal my laughter.
But there we were all together in that dining room. As I looked around it seemed that every kind of person was there, from my scruffy friends at the front table to well-dressed businessmen at other tables. A variety of ethnic groups were represented and, I suspect, almost every level of educational background. We were all there sharing a meal and preparing to enter into a retreat experience focused on the spirituality of the Twelve-Step program, especially on deepening one’s relationship with God. As it turned out, the weekend was a very positive and inspiring retreat experience. Later I reflected on that moment in the dining room, and it struck me that this is exactly the kind of place where Jesus would be present, sharing a meal with this motley group of folks (including our own motley group of Passionist priests!). That Friday night meal in the retreat house dining room provided a little glimpse of the kingdom of God.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God that his kingdom come, his will be done on earth and in our own lives. As we do, we enter into the deepest hope and driving force of Jesus’ earthly life. The proclamation of the kingdom, or reign, of God was the major focus of Jesus’ public ministry. In the very first chapter of his gospel, Mark begins his account of Jesus’ ministry with these words: “After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, and there he proclaimed the good news from God. ‘The time has come,’ he said, ‘And the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the good news.’” It was about this reign of God that Jesus told his earthy and often unnerving string of stories that we know as parables. It was in order to make this kingdom present -- to make it a living reality -- that Jesus acted in opposition to all those forces that oppressed and imprisoned people. And so, Jesus made the reign of God present when he reached out to touch the leper and strengthen the limbs of the paralyzed, when he expelled demons that drained the life out of people, and when he opened the eyes of the blind.
When the reign of God became present in and through Jesus, people found life. They encountered the God of life. It was in order to demonstrate the inclusivity of this reign of God that Jesus dared to dine with tax collectors and other “undesirables.” It was to offer us a glimpse of the God of the kingdom that Jesus told stories about the woman who sweeps her house in search of the one lost coin, the shepherd who sets out after the one stray sheep, the parent who eagerly awaits the return of a prodigal child. It was his commitment to the reign of God that impelled Jesus forward in his mission even in the face of intense opposition. Jesus died because of the way he lived: in faithful service to the reign of God.
The reign of God is not so much a place as an activity; it has a dynamic meaning. It refers to what happens when the rule of a gracious, loving God permeates creation and human relationships. The Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx describes it as “the proximity of God’s unconditional will to save, of his reconciling clemency and sufficing graciousness, and opposition to all forms of evil” (Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, p. 14). In his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “To pray for the Kingdom of God is to say to Jesus: Let us be yours, Lord! Pervade us, live in us; gather scattered humanity in your body …” (147). Perhaps the simplest and most compelling definition of the reign of God I have ever heard is given by Cardinal Walter Kasper; he refers to this kingdom as the sovereignty of God’s love (see Jesus the Christ, 80-81).
Praying for the coming of God’s kingdom means that we speak to a God who is a passionate God. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI said that the love of God is agape but also eros (n. 10). In other words, God’s love is a completely other-centered, beneficent love, but it is also a passionate love. This is a God who is deeply involved with the lives of his people, intimately connected with our joys and sufferings. This is a God who in Christ, through the incarnation, has become forever bonded to the human family.
It seems to me that this petition for the coming of God’s reign means that disciples of Jesus are called to be: (1) people of hope; and (2) those who recognize and foster the reign of God amongst us. First of all, praying for the reign of God, and living in service of God’s reign, always involves an act of hope. We live in a world in which the sovereignty of God’s love seems to be obscured in so many ways. The list seems endless: the ongoing war in Iraq; the specter of terrorism around the globe; the tragedy in Darfur, etc. Reading the newspaper in the morning can certainly make us wonder whether the sovereignty of God’s love is even a remote possibility in our world. Closer to home, each of us deals with personal pain and disappointment in which it is sometimes difficult to discern the presence of God. In his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, Leonardo Boff reflects on the dynamic of hope that is intrinsic to it: “To pray ‘Thy kingdom come,’ is to activate the most radical hopes of the heart, so that it will not succumb to the continual brutality of present absurdities that occur at the personal and societal level… The supplication ‘Thy kingdom come’ is a cry that springs from the most radical hope, a hope that we often see contradicted, but which we never give up despite everything, as we hope for an absolute meaning that is to be realized by God in all of creation” (61).
Hope is not a superficial optimism that looks at life through “rose-colored glasses.” In the Christian vision, the virtue of hope is a power within us that keeps us affirming life in spite of death. It is a dynamism that enables us to enter fully into the reality of the present, not to deny it or try to escape it. At the same time, the virtue of hope enables us to keep the vision of new possibilities before us. Ultimately, Christian hope is grounded in the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We believe that the moment of greatest darkness, the crucifixion of the Son of God, has been overcome by the power of God’s love in the resurrection of Jesus. In and through this event, the reign of God has been inaugurated in creation, even though we still await and pray for the fullness of its coming.
Second, our prayer for the coming of God’s reign invites us to recognize the signs of the kingdom in our midst and to foster its presence in our lives. Benedict XVI writes, “The kingdom of God comes by way of a listening heart” (146). You and I need to listen, to be on the lookout, for the moments when the kingdom of God becomes present amongst us. As I reflected on that scene of the Friday night dinner at the Passionist retreat house, I was blessed to perceive in it a moment of the inbreaking of God’s gracious and inclusive love. What are the moments in our own lives in which we have experienced the sovereignty of God’s love? It happens, but sometimes we just don’t recognize it. The sovereignty of God’s love makes itself felt: when we learn to recognize the gifts and the goodness within ourselves; when we are able to acknowledge the places in our lives where we need healing and bring them to Christ; in moments of reconciliation with people from whom we have been estranged; when we are able to reach out and include people who may be on the margins of our lives or our world; when a friendship or family relationship deepens and matures. And it happens in a thousand other ways as well. Do we have eyes to glimpse the presence of the reign of God in our midst? Are we committed to promoting the sovereignty of God’s love in our relationships and in the wider society?
As we reflect on this part of the Lord’s Prayer during the coming week, let us ask for a renewal of the virtue of hope in our lives. It may be that we need to be revitalized in our ability to engage the reality of the present, especially in the difficult dimensions of our lives. May we pray for a deeper trust in the God of life and for the hope engendered by this trust. And let us ask for eyes that are able to perceive the glimmers of God’s reign in our lives. May we re-commit ourselves to a way of life that promotes the sovereignty of God’s love in the world.
Fr. Robin Ryan, cp
Suggestions for Daily Prayer:
Online Bible Resource
Monday – Read Luke 4: 16-22. This is the scene in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus inaugurates his public ministry in his hometown synagogue. The words of Isaiah are fulfilled in the people’s hearing because Jesus offers good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, and sight to the blind. This is what happens in his ministry on behalf of the kingdom of God. As you pray with this passage, reflect on the ways in which your relationship with Christ has enriched your life. In what ways has Christ offered you freedom, insight, and hope? Give thanks for the gifts you have received from Christ.
Tuesday – Read Matthew 13: 44-46 – the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. What are the relationships, the values, and the activities that you treasure in your life? Name the “pearls of great price” in your life. Where does your relationship with Christ fit into those priorities? Is there a need to adjust some of those priorities in order to live the gospel more faithfully?
Wednesday – Pray Psalm 40 (slowly, a couple of times). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes verses 7-9 of this psalm and applies them to the saving work of Jesus, who was obedient to the will of the Father (see Hebrews 10: 5-7). Reflect on the words, “To do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart.” In what ways do you see yourself fulfilling the will of God in your life? Does “doing the will of God” as you know it bring you joy? In what areas of your life are you searching for the will of God at this time? Ask for the help of the Spirit in discerning God’s will.
Thursday – Read Hebrews 6: 13-19. The author of this letter speaks of the fidelity of God to his promises, which is the source of Christian hope. He calls hope “an anchor of the soul, sure and firm.” Are you a hopeful person? What in your life right now gives you hope? What drains you of hope? Does your faith in Christ serve as a “sure and firm anchor” of hope? Do you inspire hope in others? Pray for a renewal of the virtue of hope in your heart.
Friday – Read Luke 10: 25-37. This is the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in response to the question posed by the scholar of the Law, “And who is my neighbor?” By telling this story, Jesus interiorizes the meaning of the word “neighbor.” “Neighbor” is not someone “out there” who should or should not be the object of my concern. “Neighbor” is something inside of me – an attitude of genuine concern that is expressed in concrete action on behalf of others. As you reflect on the petition for the coming of God’s kingdom, ask Christ if there is someone that he is calling you to become neighbor to in your life at the present time. Is there someone who has been “left by the roadside” for whom I can stop and offer my help?