Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Many of us work or have worked for company's whose environments were relaxed, where "business casual" is the attire, and where we are encouraged or required to call our supervisors and even the CEO by their first name, usually Skip, or Chip, or Don.  The purpose of this casualness is to make us feel comfortable, to feel at home, to think of the company as a family.  Yet, everyone seems hellbent on kissing Chip's butt in a way we rarely felt inclined to kiss Dad's butt.  In fact, when we kissed Dad's butt, he usually called us on it very quickly, didn't he?  "Ok son, now what's this all about?  What do you want?  Do you need money for a date?  Do you wanna borrow the car?"  But Skip, Don, and the other bigwigs and supervisors at our company seem to like having their butts kissed.  They are certainly aware that our desks are all straightened way a visit from them is anticipated.  The modern kings, princes, and petty barons are much smoother than maybe they were in medieval times, but they nonetheless manage to make themselves felt, as Jesus put it.

The readings from today's Mass (Is 53:10-11; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45), those of the XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, probably go in one ear and out the other of folks intent on being worshiped, the Don's and Chip's of this world.  But they might go misunderstood by those of us trying to be Christians, and should give a moment's hesitation to anyone engaged in "the culture wars."  Here's why:

James and John go up to Jesus and ask him if they can be the two top dogs in their kingdom.  In another account (Mt 20:20) it's their mom that does the asking.  How that fact got confused between St. Matthew and St. Mark might be an interesting sociological question, but it's not really relevant to the story or to the message for present purposes.  Anyway, Jesus basically asks them if they can handle it.  "Of course we can," they basically say, "easy."

Easy, indeed.  Now, the other apostles get all tangled up because they want to be the best in the kingdom, too.  Pandemonium ensues.  Jesus calms them all down by stumping them, as usual:

"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many," (Mk 10:42-45).
Now, this is a different sort of kingdom, isn't it?  Not only is it a kingdom with a different goal than the kingdoms of this world, but it is a kingdom operating on a whole different set of principles.  Normal kingdoms depend upon and elevate the majesty of their king; ours depends upon and elevates the crucifixion of our king.  Normal kingdoms run on taxes; ours runs on widows' pennies (Lk 21:1-3).  And this all makes sense: a different goal often requires different means.  One packs different things for a trip to Ocean City than for a trip to Alaska, and one probably uses a different mode of transport.  The Kingdom of God is different than any of the kingdoms of men, not only because it is run by a different king aiming at different goals, but also because it uses different means.

How often do we who "fight to save the culture" fight using the very worst weapons developed by the very worst people in our culture?  We organize committee meets, develop marketing strategies or three year project goals, recruit workers, and bang! off we go.  Of course, our Blessed Lord chided us because we don't even do these things very well (in the parable of the dishonest steward, "for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light," Lk 16:8).  We use the means of the world to beat the world, but we do not use them well because our Christian faith and morals get in the way; for their own part, using the means of the world often ends up corrupting our Christian faith and morals, which are the whole point of the Kingdom of God.  Now, I am not arguing that committee meetings and marketing strategies are necessarily evilEvil is a very emphatic word.  But those things are emphatically not the way our Lord does things.  We are to make use of the things of the world (Lk 16:9) as appropriate, but never in a way that detracts from our true purpose.  Our true purpose is not to out-world the world, to one up the world at its own game.  Our purpose is to let God build up in us and through us a new sort of world - the Kingdom that is to come.

And that is a different sort of kingdom:
"The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear," (Is 53:10-11).
When we who want to change the world are willing to suffer whatever it please the LORD to visit upon us, as an offering for sin, then we shall see the world change.  If we really believed that our affliction would bring us "to the light," would we seek to dodge it.  If we believed that our suffering would justify many, would we be working so hard to do it with committee meetings?

What I am suggesting is not the abandonment of formal structures in the Church.  I am only urging a return to prayer, fasting, almsgiving, to penance, to service to the weakest and poorest, to those most mangled by the Kingdoms of this world.  I am not suggesting that we have stopped doing those things in the Church, not at all.  I only wonder if we haven't somehow gradually gotten our minds onto the wrong track, if maybe we haven't settled in a bit too much, those of us in the pews.  I am not denigrating petition-signing, election-time campaigning, and blog-writing.  I just hope they haven't taken the place of hairshirt-wearing and prisoner-visiting.  The ancient world was converted to Christ when they saw Christians picking abandoned babies up off the sides of roads, when they saw Christians nursing people with contagious diseases, when they saw Christians giving their own last bit of food to a hungry stranger, trusting in Providence for their own next meal.  The postmodern world will be converted to Christ when they see us lifting male prostitutes up out of the gutters, when they see us nurturing drug-addicted babies, when they see us living simply (and donating the rest of our salary) so others might simply live.

Well, in any event, I doubt many have been converted by seeing how we conduct our committee meetings.  Let's refocus our hearts.  And that, dear brothers and sisters, needs prayer.

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