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Bible Reflections View Comments

God's Kingdom, Not Ours
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, November 24, 2013
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A few years ago, the movie The King’s Speech gave us a poignant and personal look at one moment in the history of Britain’s royal family. The changes of the 20th century took their toll on a historical institution as the absolute authority of George V was rejected by his son Edward and then uneasily assumed by the man who would become George VI. The reluctant monarch overcame a severe stutter to inspire a nation during World War II. He grew in an understanding of what it meant to be king that his father or brother never could have imagined.

One of the things that has so charmed the world in the first year of Pope Francis’s papacy is his conscious turning away from those trappings of papal life that have been adopted and adapted from the world of secular monarchies. We sense in his humility an authority that doesn’t need pomp and elaborate vestments.

Throughout Christian history, the notion of Christ as king has jostled somewhat uneasily alongside the concept of an earthly king. When Caesar was proclaimed as divine, Christians asserted that they followed the one true God, a greater king and ruler. But as Christianity was absorbed into Constantine’s empire, the lines between secular and religious power tended to blur at times.

From its beginnings in the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept that eventually came to be known as the “divine right of kings” was not immune to the flaws of humanity. All institutions on earth are limited by the fact that they are made up of flawed human beings.

In our first reading today, we hear the story of the great King David. Chosen by God while still a shepherd boy, anointed by Samuel, David is now acclaimed by the people as their king. But the Scriptures will show that even someone as graced as David can falter if he forgets the source of his authority and becomes too enamored of the trappings of power and privilege.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, the people jeering at Jesus frame their abuse in terms of Jesus not using his power to save himself. This was one of the temptations in the desert. Once again on the cross, he overcomes it. The Lord’s kingship is simply not about earthly power. As his followers, we need to remember this. Jesus was victorious through his wounds, not in spite of them.

Luke is the only Gospel writer who gives us the scene of the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. It highlights the recognition of Jesus willingly taking on the sins and weaknesses of all humanity. And yet even in this final moment of degradation, those with eyes to see can recognize his inherent nobility. The repentant thief says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’s followers as well as his opponents try again and again to shape him into their image of a leader, a ruler, a priest, a king. Again and again he resists those attempts. At the crucifixion, we finally see the reality for what it is.

As we look to Christ as our King, we see what true divine authority looks like. We are called to make sure that we, along with our leaders, always strive to follow that model. It’s not that we don’t need leaders; it’s that we need leaders taking us in the right direction. Power must always be used to heal, not hurt.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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