Finding God's Kingdom
By Father William H. Shannon
"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark
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.
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.
Next: Love Your Enemies
What comes to mind when you think about Jesus as the "One-man-Kingdom
Have you ever experienced the peace and unity of God's Kingdom?
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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 storya 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 Catholicpart
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.
The Kingdom of God is where God's love reigns. What would that
be like day in and day outin your home, the community, the world?
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
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
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.
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 toand back tothe
faith at a period in history when the wounds of the Protestant Reformation were still
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
Francis de Sales is a Doctor of the Church and the patron of the Catholic
press. His feast day is January 24.
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 wordabout her faith and about her
parishas 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
Are Ms. Dansky's evangelization efforts successful? "I would be happy
if just one person accepted our invitation. Welcomingthat's what being Catholic
is all about."