Arts and Culture

Building the Kingdom

Fourth in a series

I AM HAVING the strangest experience in re-reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”). When I first read it weeks ago, I thought it was marvelous and I quickly decided to do a series of columns about it with the hope that I could motivate readers of my columns to read the exhortation.

I still think it is a marvelous document but re-reading the exhortation, not only am I more enthusiastic about it, but I have the impression that I am reading some sections for the first time. How to explain that? Is it that I read the document too quickly or is it that there is so much wonderful material in the document that a second and third reading can help a reader to probe more deeply into the Holy Father’s insights? I suspect the latter.

I think that when I was a young priest I mistakenly thought that my vocation was to “save” or “redeem” people. How foolish I was. Only Jesus saves and redeems people but, in the mystery of God’s loving providence, all of us can participate in Jesus’ saving mission. We do not create the kingdom of God that Jesus preached about but we can, with God’s help, contribute to the building of the kingdom. I find Pope Francis’ words about the kingdom instructive, inspiring and challenging:

“Just as you cannot understand Christ apart from the kingdom he came to bring, so too your personal mission is inseparable from the building of that kingdom. ‘Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ (Mt 6:33). Our identification with Christ and his will involves a commitment to build with him that kingdom of love, justice and universal peace. Christ himself wants to experience this with you, in all the efforts and sacrifices that it entails, but also in all the joy and enrichment it brings. You cannot grow in holiness without committing yourself, body and soul, to giving your best to this endeavor.

“It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. Everything can be accepted and integrated in our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission.”

The Holy Father links our personal identity to our role in building up the kingdom. We can understand who we are by realizing that we have an indispensable role in cooperating with Christ in building the kingdom. There are many ways that we can describe ourselves, for example, by our age, gender, nationality or occupation. There may be no more profound way of describing ourselves than by referring to ourselves as called by God to help in the building of his kingdom. This is who we are.

The Holy Father is trying to help us live by integrating into our lives everything good that we experience. Nothing except sin need be excluded from our path to holiness. We are called not to escape from the world but to be involved in a way that can make a difference. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives there is no one who cannot make a difference. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, there are no good actions that are small or insignificant. What may be looked on by some as a small act of kindness or respect for another person, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, takes on a new importance and value.

The Holy Father points out that what he is proposing should not lead us to neglect or avoid moments of silence and solitude before God. We need such moments. I think the term “contemplatives in action” captures the importance of those moments when we are silent before God. They provide the opportunity for us to face ourselves honestly and humbly in the presence of God. Those moments of solitude and silence will give God an opportunity to speak to us and afford us an opportunity to listen. Pope Francis thinks, and I agree with him, that those moments are essential in any life.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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