The Kingdom of Heaven: A personal relationship with God

WeeklyMessageGuest Homilist:
Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time,
July 24, 2011

A teacher, a garbage collector, and a lawyer wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher wanting to make it easy and asked, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered quickly, “That would be the Titanic.” St. Peter let her through the gate. St. Peter then looked at the garbage man who was stinking literally to high Heaven, and decided to make the question a little harder: “How many people died on the ship?” As fortune would have it, he was a big fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” “That’s right! You may enter,” St. Peter said. And then, giving the lawyer the once-over, St. Peter turned to him and said, “Name them.”

Our Gospel this week has a Heavenly focus. Jesus gives us these images of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Praying with this Gospel this week, I couldn’t help but think of a time about 10 years ago when I had the opportunity to be at a Wednesday Audience with Blessed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Holy Father reflected on the same passage we have before us today. The Pope spoke to the tens of thousands of people gathered there from around the world about the Kingdom of Heaven and reminded everyone to keep their minds and hearts on the things of God and not on the things of the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, he said, but an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced partially on earth. Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

The Pope’s comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Jesus speaks, as He often does, in parables about the Kingdom. This is clearly one of His favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is regularly speaking of the Kingdom. In His very first sermon recorded in Matthew Jesus said simply, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over again – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. It should also be a favorite of ours.

So, what can we know about this Kingdom? Well, the Pope reminded us that it is not “a physical place among the clouds.” We can tend to think of Heaven as some far off place. We might imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, today’s Gospel tells us something different. Jesus compares the Kingdom to some very down-to-earth things. No castle, no clouds, no angels, stars or rainbows or music. Rather, Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds growing in a wheat field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a merchant’s find of a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake.

The point isn’t that the clouds, angels and music aren’t part of the reality, but that they are only part of the reality. The Kingdom that Jesus is talking about is both heavenly and earthly. Jesus makes this also when He gave us the Our Father, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as in heaven.”

So, our Gospel begs the question of each of us today – where is our treasure? And what might our treasure be? Is it in gold or riches, in power or fame? What is Jesus talking about, this buried treasure, this pearl of great price which we are supposed to have found? Where do we find this unique mix of heavenly and earthly reality?

The answer is right here in this Church. The closest we can ever come to this double dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our intimate union with God in heaven and with all humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that Kingdom of God.”

So the question, again, today is: Where is your treasure? Do we really consider the Church, and our parish community in particular, to be our buried treasure and our pearl of great price? We are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy the field where the treasure was buried and to buy the pearl. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift from God. Jesus is the one who found and bought the precious pearl and the buried treasure – and He paid for them with the price of His own life on the cross – all FOR US. But far from hiding and hoarding His treasures, He now and forever shares them with us freely. And, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes downs and makes our gifts holy; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church as the chosen and beloved People of God is the gift that all the money in the world cannot even begin to buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s immense and intense love leading us to our ultimate prize – eternal life.

The pope said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love…will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” And it is possible to get a taste of heaven on earth through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is such a profound meeting place of Heaven and Earth, and through acts of self-giving charity which show us some of the happiness and peace which will reach its culmination in final, complete communion with God.

Where is your treasure? “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May God give you peace!

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
July 24, 2011

The Old vs. The New – Liberal vs. Conservative
“Liberal” and “conservative.” The definitions of these terms are seldom stated. Usually they are just presumed. Often people call “conservative” those who like old-fashioned things and “liberal” those who favor the latest ideas, trends, and values.

But for the Christian, the ultimate question is not personal preferences of style, or whether something is old or avant garde. It is rather whether or not it fits into the Kingdom of God. …more

Christ Jesus, The True Pearl of Great Price
In the Gospel for this Sunday, our Savior begins with two parables: That of the treasure hidden in the field and that of the pearl of great price. “In these two parables Jesus shows the supreme value of the Kingdom of heaven, and the attitude people need if they are to attain it. The parables are very alike, but it is interesting to note the differences: the treasure means abundance of gifts; the pearl indicates the beauty of the Kingdom. The treasure is something stumbled upon; the pearl, the result of a lengthy search; but in both instances the finder is filled with joy.” (from the Navarre Bible Commentary)

The Kingdom of God Here
An old Irish woman was so poor that the parish had to bankroll her. Her son had gone to America and become rich. Her pastor asked, “Mrs O’Leary, do you hear from Bob?” She told the priest, “Bob writes weekly and encloses a picture.” “Have you saved them ?”, asked the priest. “Certainly,” said she, “they’re in my Bible.” The pastor found it stuffed with fifty pictures of Ben Franklin resting comfortably on US $100 bills. (Arthur Tonne)The problem with treasures, heavenly and otherwise, is they stare us in the face so long before we pick them up. Sometimes unhappily we never do. How disappointed Jesus must be.

Jesus Christ – A Divine Friend
Lately I have had the unfortunate reality of encountering several individuals that have been confused regarding the nature of our Divine Lord. Recall, that our Blessed Lord, the Savior of the world, has said, “Be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and only by imitating our Lord can we attain the perfection required to enter Heaven. For those of you who desire greater intimacy with our Lord by imitating Him, I can not highly recommend enough the work of Thomas A Kempis in The Imitation of Christ.

Two Hearts in One
Whole books with titles like A Treasury of Christian Prayer attest to the fact that the Church can dip into vast pools of prayer and come up with any number of prayers that it might set before us for our contemplation.

Some of them, such as the “Prayer of St. Francis,” are very popular and very old indeed. Some of them, such as sundry litanies, are easy to memorize and serve well for both individual and communal prayer. Some of them, such as the “Serenity Prayer” or the “Prayer of Jabez,” are (for a brief time) hugely popular and could be capitalized on by

All we ever hear from the wild-eyed critics of the Catholic Church, including the dissidents within, is that the Church had better “get with it” and change its teachings on abortion, homosexuality and women’s ordination. Yet it is precisely those religious institutions that are the most liberal on these issues—the mainline Protestant denominations—that are collapsing. Not so the Catholic Church. Indeed, its numbers are going north while the mainline denominations are going south.

Study: U.S. Catholic Population Is Growing
A new study shows that the number of Masses and the size of Catholic parishes has increased in the United States, despite a decline in the number of priests and parishes.

8 Reasons Jesus was being literal in John 6
The Eucharist, or communion is the source and the summit of our Catholic faith, but many people believe that Jesus’ words at the last supper and John 6 should be taken symbolically, not literally.

There may be more, but I found 8 Reasons that Jesus meant John 6 literally.

An Answer 60 Years Long
Everyone in Heaven is a saint. Does that mean everyone who goes to purgatory stays there till judgement day, or that they are all saints by the time they make it to Heaven? We pray for people in purgatory to make it to Heaven a little quicker so I presume they’re not all necessarily there until judgement day, or are they?.

The Jesus Prayer
Years ago, when I was still an Anglican theological student I remember reading The Way of the Pilgrim which is a Russian Orthodox book about the hesychast–the Jesus Prayer–or the way of praying without ceasing. I had come across it first in J.D.Salinger’s story Franny and Zooey and then the charming story in the Way of the Pilgrim encouraged me to start using the Jesus Prayer.

Answering Nine Protestant Arguments About the Bible
After yesterday’s post, Brent Stubbs pointed out that a thoughtful Protestant named Shawn Madden raised a number of arguments against the Catholic Bible, and in favor of the Protestant Bible, in the comments at Called to Communion. His full argument is here, but he essentially makes nine points:

Pope names Charles Chaput, first Native American archbishop in U.S. to lead Philadelphia’s archdiocese
The city of Philadelphia will soon have a new archbishop. The pope appointed Monsignor Charles Chaput to lead one of the biggest archdiocese in the U.S. Within just a few months, the 66 year old will leave his current post as archbishop of Denver to take on his new role.

Chaput is the first Native American archbishop in the country. He’s also a member of the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians. More than anything, he’s mostly known for being an outspoken and conservative voice in the Church, especially on issues like abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage.

A Powerful Catholic Character in a New Science-Fiction Television Show — “Falling Skies”
Taking things a little (but not entirely) off topic–and, hey, it’s summer and time for some fun–I want to commend to readers a new television program this summer—“Falling Skies” on TNT on Sunday nights. Now I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so I’d be easily intrigued by this series set in the near future when civilization has destroyed by an alien invasion, most of human-kind has been wiped out, and a small band of humans continues to fight on as a guerilla movement near Boston. The story isn’t only about the aliens (who appear only occasionally) but really about people and how people respond to tragedy, fear, the loss of everything and everyone around them, and the need to simply survive from day to day.

In an Age of Relativism, the Catholic Church is the Voice of Truth
Truth is under attack in our nation, and, consequently, many have lost sight of its importance and beauty. Even so, the desire for truth remains, albeit it often lay dormant under the influences of a world laced with distraction, misguided purpose, and the various “isms” which pervade our culture.

Knowing and Doing the Will of God
Editor’s note: The following selection is from Chapter 3, “Russia”, in which Fr. Ciszek, having journeyed into Russia with Fr. Nestrov under the guise of being common workers, grapples with the frustration of not being able to establish any sort of Catholic connections or support.

And then one day, together, it dawned on us. God granted us the grace to see the solution to our dilemma, the answer to our temptation. It was the grace quite simply to look at our situation from His viewpoint rather than from ours. It was the grace not to judge our efforts by human standards, or, by what we ourselves wanted or expected to happen, but rather, according to God’s design.

Why God Terrifies Me
Last week I heard with great sadness the story of Texas Rangers fan, Shannon Stone, falling to his death trying to catch a foul ball for his son.

If he was a single guy, or an older man, it would have been sad, but less tragic. But no, he was a 39-year-old husband and father, whose six-year-old son was with him and watched him fall to his death. In other words, he was me in just a few years.

Confession: It puts you straight with everyone
Penance, aka confession, is the sacrament of the forgiveness of sin. You can’t beat it for convenience. It’s available practically whenever. Tell a priest you want to go to confession and you’ll get his attention. One bishop I know was cornered on an airplane. Another passenger figured out what was going on and asked if he could confess too. It must have been an interesting game of musical seats. An interesting question for priests might be: Where was the strangest place you ever administered the sacrament of penance? The answers I’ve gathered include “in a sports bar, at a graduation party” and “on the golf course, walking up the fairway.”

Confession has benefits. Here are ten:

Pontiff Praises Wearing the Scapular – Asks Mother Mary to Wrap Us in Her Mantle
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, JULY 17, 2011 ( Benedict XVI today noted that the scapular is a “particular sign of union with Jesus and Mary.”

The Pope commented on the use of this devotion when he addressed Polish-speaking pilgrims gathered at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo to pray the midday Angelus.

“Pride goeth before destruction…………..
In Proverbs 6 16-19 we are told: “Six things there are which the Lord hateth, and the seventh his soul detesteth.” The first things in the list are “haughty eyes”, and the last, “him that soweth discord among brethren”.
In the famous Galatians 5:19-26, Saint Paul lists the things in which we must not indulge if we wish to attain the kingdom of God : luxury, emnities, contentions, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, revilings. He then describes the fruit of the Spirit as including charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, mildness, faith, modesty, continency and chastity. And he concludes the chapter thus: “If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit. Let us not be made desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Of the seven deadly sins pride is denoted as the most serious, and the source of all the others. In any case there is Genesis 3. We can hardly claim not to have been warned!

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