In the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent in the Ordinary Form of Holy Mass, Jesus proclaims, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” but what does that mean?
Is this Kingdom still to come such that we might participate in bringing it to fulfillment, or is the reign of Christ the King a present reality that we are duty bound to proclaim? The answer is yes!
Sadly, however, we all-too-often fail to do our part.
The book of Wisdom speaks rather poignantly to the present day situation wherein our political leaders in Washington presume to exercise their authority, not just beyond that which is granted them in the U.S. Constitution, but over and against the Kingship of Christ.
“For thy judgments, O Lord, are great, and thy words cannot be expressed: therefore undisciplined souls have erred. For while the wicked thought to be able to have dominion over the holy nation, they themselves being fettered with the bonds of darkness, and a long night, shut up in their houses, lay there exiled from the eternal providence." (Wisdom 17:1-2)
We, unlike Solomon, are not living in that age during which the Divine words could not be expressed; rather, to us has the fullness of God's Revelation been given in Christ Jesus and entrusted to the Church as custodian and teacher.
The Church and Her members have thus been commissioned by the Lord, not just to revel in His truth privately as if content to dwell in a Catholic ghetto, but to profess to all the world that Jesus is Lord, leading the undisciplined souls into that Kingdom into which all the nations are destined to be gathered.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to our solemn obligation as follows:
The duty of offering God genuine worship concerns man both individually and socially. This is "the traditional Catholic teaching on the moral duty of individuals and societies toward the true religion and the one Church of Christ." By constantly evangelizing men, the Church works toward enabling them "to infuse the Christian spirit into the mentality and mores, laws and structures of the communities in which (they) live." The social duty of Christians is to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good. It requires them to make known the worship of the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church. Christians are called to be the light of the world. Thus, the Church shows forth the kingship of Christ over all creation and in particular over human societies. (CCC 2105)
By this standard, we must admit that the overwhelming majority of us – clergy and laity alike - have fallen terribly short in recent decades; some by weakness, others by ignorance.
In truth, far too few in the Church today seem willing to risk the ostracization that most certainly will come for making it known that the Catholic faith is the one true religion that all men have a moral duty to embrace. Likewise, even our most prominent voices stop short of proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Sovereign over all creation, behaving instead as though the Lord’s Kingship is just a “Catholic thing.”
This is especially evident in the way so many of our leaders tend to fence political with those who exercise civil authority rather than upbraiding them as Jesus did Satan saying, “The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve" (as we heard in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Lent in the Traditional Mass).
Oh yes, I’ve heard the argument before, “If we want to have any impact at all we must speak to our politicians about policy initiatives, civil law and the like; not esoteric religious principles they will never accept!”
Entirely logical though this strategy may seem, the fatal flaw lies in the simple fact that it’s not what the Lord commissioned us to do. Sure, we should make political arguments when warranted, but let’s not forget that we are called first and foremost to proclaim the word of Christ.
Given our reluctance to do so of late, one may ask concerning our wayward politicians the very same questions posed by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans:
“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:14,17)
Some of those believers who first received this exhortation responded by embracing a martyr’s death, and though the call itself hasn’t changed, we certainly have. Ours is a generation of the timid; a people who take refuge in the “can’t we all just get along” attitude formally enshrined in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.
I have addressed this topic in this space a number of times in the past, mainly by referencing the traditional teachings of the Roman Pontiffs (Leo XIII, Pius XI and others), but with so many modern day Catholics wrongly assuming that the Council has effectively trumped all of the Magisterium that preceded it, perhaps a different approach is in order.
I would propose, therefore, to do a little ressourcement of my own (a French term invoked in the conciliar debates meaning a “return to sources”) by looking to Sacred Scripture as the basis for our understanding of the temporal dimension of Christ’s Kingship.
First, consider carefully the words that Our Lord spoke to Pilate: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over; but my kingship is not from the world" (John 18:36).
Notice that Jesus does not say that His servants will not fight in this world; indeed they must, but not as the worldly do. Rather, the servants of Christ the King will wage war by wielding weaponry that comes from a share in the Divine power.
“For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Cor. 10:3-6)
When St. Paul says that our war is not worldly, he does not mean to imply that we have no battlefields here in the present order. Our Lord came to redeem all of creation; therefore, we can fully expect that among the strongholds that will be brought to heel by Christ are those in this world, often through the co-operative actions of His faithful servants.
Nowhere does Jesus suggest that His Kingship has no dominion over this world; rather, He lets it be known that His kingdom is greater than this world. He even tells Pilate that the only reason he has any power whatsoever is that it has been given to him from above, a very clear indication of the duty incumbent upon all earthly rulers to uphold Divine truth.
And where does this power now rest in its fullness today?
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” said the Risen Lord. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”(Mt. 28:18-20)
Jesus does not speak of having authority in heaven alone, but also “on earth,” nor does He commission the Church to make disciples simply of “individual people” but rather of “all nations.”
Yes, it is indeed individual people who are baptized into Christ, but the mission of the Church is to build the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; into that Holy Nation once foreshadowed in the people Israel. This Kingdom is indeed a spiritual reality, but it is one that is made manifest in the temporal order as the work of redemption is brought to completion by Christ working through His Body, the Church.
Returning to the Wisdom of Solomon, we who by grace possess the Light of the World in Christ and yet fail to fully shine it in this culture of darkness bear some responsibility for those rulers of State who err by presuming to have dominion over the Lord and His Church.
There has ever been but one faithful response, and that is preaching with neither timidity nor apology the social Kingship of Christ and the singular glory of the Church that He founded - the Catholic Church – the one true religion and universal sacrament of salvation.
And why shouldn’t we? This is, after all, the Good News.
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com