When I taught high school,
I asked my students to say every word that came to mind
when they heard the phrase “Kingdom of God.”
Then, I tried to capture all the words on the chalkboard:
I wrote: “Castle in the Cloud” and “pearly gates.”
And “Angels and Saints.” “Heaven”
I broke a lot of chalk, trying to keep up as I wrote more words:
“For All.” “Everlasting.” “Forgiveness.” “Love.” “Peace” “Justice.”
When I would step back and I look at the messy chalkboard with my students
I would feel awe.
Collectively, the students came up with an idea of what God’s reign might look like, what it is.
They named some of the mystery, and described the peace and justice that Jesus Christ established through his life, death and resurrection.
They knew, somehow, that the vision of mercy--the mission we were all made to work toward--was made up of and love and unity.
They held the Truth in their hearts.
My students and I would discuss what they came up with, and why they said what they did. Almost always, I’d hear one say: “God made us so we could die and go to heaven.”
When I heard that, I likely made a face and asked them if they were up for a challenge. I invited the students to see that heaven—the kingdom of God—could be the stuff of then andnow. I’d invite them to expand their imagination—to broaden their perspective.
The expansion of our imaginations and a change in perspective:
I believe this is what we all are invited to today: the Feast of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
From the macro of the cosmos to the micro of our hearts:
the love of Christ prevails and has authority.
Christ’s power is real and transformative.
To see this, we are invited to shift our perspective. A step back to see the big mess on the board. To step back and see the little ones gaining might.
Entering into the Word of God expands our view as well.
Today’s passage from Colossians is an ancient song of gratitude, a hymn of praise.
Its music is in harmony with the trust in God’s authority that is expressed in Psalm 122.
As it says in Colossians:
Brothers and sisters:
Let us give thanks to the Father,
who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Do you hear it? Do you see it?
We have been made for this: we are fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
We’ve been delivered from darkness.
And we’ve been transferred to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The words of the hymn in Colossians are in the past tense.
The early Church is praising God for what has already happened.
And it’s true for all of us: We’ve been transferred into the kingdom. We’re already there.
I can’t help but to wonder: if we believed that we’re already transferred into the kingdom, How might our lives look like songs of praise?
What could happen if we lived as if we believed salvation has already been given us?
What would we act like if we really believed that the kingdom of God surrounds us?
Would we live with more joy and wonder?
Would we reverence God and every part of creation we encounter?
I imagine that if we believed that we’re already in the kingdom of God, then we’d live more wholeheartedly. We’d be our true selves, free and unafraid of judgements, not worried about fitting in.
We’d heed the advice of St. Francis De Sales “be who you are, and be it perfectly well.”
We’d show up for others, every day.
We’d love wildly and freely---no longer trapped by the limits of what we alone can dream up.
We wouldn’t be stuck in a pile of “should” and “shoudn’t.”
We’d be celebrating the goodness.
Or sharing bread. Or moving our bodies to the places of power and demanding freedom for others. We’d love without worry of the cost, without concern of how it might impact us.
Because if we are free, then we’ll be concerned with common good—not our own tribes or preferences. If we are truly ourselves, we will be filled with trust that in this reign of God, we’re all safe and loved. We all belong and are needed.
I wonder what stops us from living this way. Personally, I can admit that I get trapped with being concerned with what others think. Do I seem completely foolish or inappropriate?
Are people judging me? Just thinking about the questions, I can see that when my gaze is on myself, I am not able to see the kingdom around me.
I invite you all to consider: what gets in the way of you living like you believe that the kingdom is around you right now? How would you act differently if you’re truly saved and set free? If God has total power over you?
What gets in the way of sharing the goodness of God’s reign with others?
I’m learning that a contemplative life helps us know the truth, to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus and his reign and gain more freedom.
The criminal who gets to join Jesus in paradise models this for us all.
Unique to Luke’s Gospel, in this criminal we meet a man who is unexpectantly humble and names the truth. He understands that he’s united with Jesus, subject to the same condemnation. He knows he is powerless but Christ is at his side. He encourages another to fear God, to have awe and respect. He understands the limits of his humanity.
The criminal next to Christ shows us how the reign of God can be known and experienced if our gaze is totally on Christ, on the power of God--and not on one’s self.
From a cross, the criminal gained a new perspective and was able to see the truth. He was free to be authentic, to see the big picture, to know the love of God.
Following the criminal’s example, let us also see the kingdom of God around us
and live like the saints we were made to be!
Julia Walsh, FSPA
Julia Walsh, FSPA
Julia Walsh is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration who ministers as a retreat director, educator and spiritual writer. She earned a BA in History and Education from Loras College (Dubuque, IA) in 2003. While a student at Loras, Julia studied abroad in South Africa and realized her passion for social justice and Gospel living. After graduation Julia interned with the Iowa Catholic Conference and then moved to California and joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. As a Jesuit Volunteer, Julia worked with young parents and their children transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency.
As a Franciscan Sister, Julia has taught in Catholic high schools and has served on the staff of a spirituality center. In 2017 Sister Julia earned a MA in Pastoral Studies from Catholic Theological Union (Chicago, Illinois).
Her writing has appeared in Global Sisters Report/National Catholic Reporter, Living Faith Catholic Devotionaland elsewhere. She is currently working on her first book, a memoir about her time in the novitiate and the brokenness of the Catholic Church. Sister Julia enjoys camping, cooking, traveling, watching movies and spending time with her Franciscan community, family and friends. She lives in Chicago.
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