All of Jesus' teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division" are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus.

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What Did Jesus Mean?
Finding God's Kingdom
By Father William H. Shannon

"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).

You don't hear much about kings these days. The few still around seldom make the news. Perhaps this is the reason you may find it difficult to get excited at hearing Jesus tell us, "The Kingdom of God is at hand." Yet that Kingdom must have meant something exciting to Jesus. He was continuously speaking about it. It's at the heart of his preaching. So it's fair to ask: Just what made Jesus so enthusiastic about the "Kingdom of God"?

Perhaps I should begin by asking you, the reader, "What do you think Jesus meant by the Kingdom?" I put the question to a friend who is 93 years old. Her answer: "I think Jesus meant that the Kingdom is the way God wants the world to be. The world is partially there (there are a lot of good people), but it is not yet fully there." A remarkably good answer to a difficult question.


Jesus himself never offers one simple answer to that question. He gives lots of hints of what the Kingdom of God meant to him, but we should not be surprised that he never defines it. Jesus was not a philosopher proclaiming abstract truths. He was preeminently a storyteller. He describes the Kingdom in stories taken from real-life situations that his hearers would understand.

Perhaps you've noticed that his story-parables tell us not what the Kingdom is, but what it is like. It's like the sower who puts seed in the ground and watches and waits for it to grow. It's like a man coming upon a valuable treasure hidden in a field who sells everything he has in order to buy that field. It's like a pearl merchant finding the most exquisite of pearls who gives up all his pearls to have that one special gem. It's like a lowly mustard seed that grows into a big tree, a fishnet that catches good and bad fish, a banquet for which some show up and others do not.

Making the Kingdom Come

Every one of these stories gives us some insight into what the Kingdom meant to Jesus. It is a many-sided reality that can never be fully captured in words or any single story. Perhaps the clearest way I can sum up what I think Jesus meant is to repeat the words of my 93-year-old friend: "The Kingdom is what God wants the world to be."

But God is not content just to let this happen. God challenges us to bring it about. Do you know what God's greatest challenge to us was? It was Jesus. An early Christian writer called Jesus the "One-man-Kingdom of God." This is surely a vivid way of understanding Jesus' words that we are reflecting on (and hopefully praying about): "The Kingdom of God is at hand."

What this writer meant was that Jesus was the first person totally human—as of course he was also divine—who accepted fully and completely the Kingdom of God. God says to us: Look to Jesus and in him you will see what the Kingdom of God is. Listen to Jesus. He will tell you what it means to enter into the Kingdom.

The Church, the Kingdom

Jesus' preaching invites all to accept the Kingdom and God's rule over their lives. He gathers followers around him and sends them out to proclaim the Kingdom. After his Resurrection he gave the task of proclaiming the Kingdom to the Church. Could we say, then, that the Church is the Kingdom? Not exactly. The Church is the instrument of the Kingdom, calling people to accept God's loving reign over them. The Church is also the sign of the Kingdom. People should be able to look to the Church and see in it—to some degree at least—God's loving family.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded of the difference between the Church and the Kingdom when we ask for Jesus' peace: "Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your Kingdom where you live forever and ever." Only in the Kingdom, where the fullness of God's reign is achieved, do we find true peace and total unity.

William H. Shannon is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. He is professor emeritus in the religious studies department at Nazareth College and the founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society. His newest book is A Catholic Perspective on Dying and What Follows (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Love Your Enemies

Questions for Reflection:

• What comes to mind when you think about Jesus as the "One-man-Kingdom of God"?

• Have you ever experienced the peace and unity of God's Kingdom? Explain.

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Part of the Bigger Story
By Judith Dunlap

I read an article a few years ago that said many of today's young people no longer feel part of a bigger story—a part of something larger than themselves, something grand, fine and noble. The article went on to say that this can make them feel isolated and without roots.

Growing up in the 1950s, I knew about our founding fathers and mothers, the brave explorers and the strong and honorable presidents who made our country great. I also knew the history of my Church. I knew about the saints and martyrs and the holiness of the priests and religious. I was American and Catholic—part of two great stories. I want this to be true for my children and grandchildren.

The government scandals that seem to have begun with Watergate, as well as some of the divisiveness after Vatican II and recent Church crises, disillusion us. The stories became murky; they lost some of their grandness and hold. To help children regain a sense of rootedness, we have to reclaim the bigger story and help them find their place in it. But where do we begin?

First and foremost we have to renew our own faith so we can share it with our children. We have to tell them the story of God's Kingdom and help them see that this Kingdom isn't ruled by men and women but is grounded in Jesus. We have to help them feel proud and excited about their Christian heritage, rooted in hope that helps them tap into the basic idealism they were born with. Most important, we must help them find their part in the story.

And what about reclaiming their place in the bigger story of a grand and noble world? We have to trust that once they claim their place in God's story and begin to work for God's Kingdom, they will realize how both stories overlap.

For Family Response:

The Kingdom of God is where God's love reigns. What would that be like day in and day out—in your home, the community, the world?

Media Watch
Friday Night Lights
By Frank Frost

The game of football has long been used as a model for life lessons, and Friday Night Lights does an excellent job in that tradition. This is ultimately not a football story. Although its plot follows the true story of Permian High School in Odessa, Texas, in its march to the state football championships, it's really about learning what's most important in life.

Much of the story's impact comes from the fast-cutting, hard-hitting visual style of director and co-screenwriter Peter Berg. The jittery camera and rapid intercutting communicate the violence of football as well as the tension in the lives of the players and the town.

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is in his first year as football coach at Permian High. He is under great pressure from fans to deliver another state championship in the Odessa tradition, although this year's crop of athletes is admittedly smaller than some on previous teams. Everyone's hope is placed in unstoppable running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), undoubtedly destined for great things in college and beyond. Boobie tears a ligament in the first game, however, taking him out for the season.

The subsequent struggle is not only for victory, but also for confidence, self-respect and teamwork. In the coming-from-behind and overcoming-all-odds tradition, Friday Night Lights is exciting and filled with tension, especially because we know that what happens is based on a true story. But the real theme of the movie is found in the changes that several key players and their families undergo.

As the season begins to unwind, Coach Gaines becomes the subject of hostile callers on a local radio talk show and is warned by boosters that his job is in jeopardy. He is not slow to scream at his players when they don't meet his expectations. And he repeatedly encourages his players to "be perfect."

Boobie Miles must come back from narcissistic self-pity and self-imposed isolation after his injury. Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), saddled with extreme pressure from his mother, is filled with self-doubt. Don Billingsley (Garret Hedlund) is publicly berated by his boozing, out-of-control father. Himself a former winner of a state championship, he warns Don that winning will be the biggest thing in his life and he's fumbling it away. But it is evident that he is really talking about his own life.

On the eve of the final championship game Odessa players and their coach face the challenge of how to possibly lose without being losers. By this time each one has confronted his personal demons, paving the way for personal reconciliations whatever the game's outcome. The key is in Coach Gaines's halftime speech. "Being perfect," he says, is being there for each other and loving one another.

Although the film presents a highly moral theme, it's not for small children.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

One can be immersed in the world and still be holy. Such "revolutionary" thinking earned Francis de Sales his critics. But he also attracted many to—and back to—the faith at a period in history when the wounds of the Protestant Reformation were still fresh.

Born into a wealthy French family, Francis seemed destined to follow his father's footsteps into public service. He prepared himself for such a career but, by the time he reached his mid-20s, he chose another path: the priesthood. Following his ordination he ministered to the poor and sick and developed his preaching skills.

He relied on those skills after volunteering to undertake a challenging mission in a part of Switzerland where many one-time Catholics had turned to Calvinism. In four years Francis saw the return of many families to the faith, though he sometimes faced hostile crowds and physical violence.

He was appointed bishop of Geneva in 1602. He drew on the tools he'd developed earlier and added a new one: the written word. Rather than presenting God as a harsh judge, Francis depicted a loving parent. He emphasized God's deep love for his creatures and reminded his flock that each person is called to a life of love and devotion. He wrote many pamphlets and letters about the faith. His Introduction to the Devout Life became a best-seller.

Francis, who conquered a bad temper and eventually became known for his good nature, was blessed with many friends and co-workers. His collaborators included Jane Frances de Chantal, now a saint. Together they established the Sisters of the Visitation.

Francis de Sales is a Doctor of the Church and the patron of the Catholic press. His feast day is January 24.

Carole Dansky

For whatever reasons, Catholics are often reluctant to actively promote their faith among those who attend other churches or none at all. But not Carole Dansky.

"It helps to be an extrovert," says the Chicago-born mother of two who is a member of the evangelization committee at St. Denis Parish on the city's southwest side. It also helps that she loves being Catholic.

"I've never had a problem talking about my faith," says Ms. Dansky. Her Mexican parents "evangelized by action, by the way they lived. Faith was always in front of us but never forced on us," she told Every Day Catholic.

Now it's her turn to spread the word—about her faith and about her parish—as part of the archdiocese's Spreading the Holy Fire evangelization plan. Once a month she and another parishioner knock on neighbors' doors to let them know about St. Denis's and invite them to experience the welcoming, faith-filled parish whose members primarily include Latinos, African-Americans, Philippinos and Anglos. Some call it a changing parish; Carole Dansky calls it her second home.

"Usually people are surprised when they see Catholics knocking on the door. But 90% of them appreciate that we came." Those who answer the door don't get a hard sell. They get a gentle introduction to Catholicism, including a booklet answering questions about the faith, a schedule of upcoming parish events and Mass times. Pastor Father Larry Dowling follows up with a phone call if any special needs or requests surface.

Are Ms. Dansky's evangelization efforts successful? "I would be happy if just one person accepted our invitation. Welcoming—that's what being Catholic is all about."

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