Reflection for the Second Week of Advent, by Fr Martin Connor
To establish the Kingdom is to teach Christ by giving Christ.
To give Christ is to teach that love is a choice, the choice of making yourself a gift to the other rather than use another as a means for some pleasure or end, which is so very common in our world.
Ultimately, love is a choice for Good over evil.
To establish the Kingdom of Christ is to establish a consistency of choice in one’s life, the choice to reject sin and to do the good out of love, to imitate Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) To do this, we begin by repenting of anything that separates us from God. This is why perhaps Christ begins his mission with “the Kingdom of God is at hand” and then went on to say “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15).
Incarnate Love sees sin as the greatest evil in the world and the greatest obstacle to love. “To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world” (CCC 1488) Truthfully, however, much of the time we are reluctant to even try change our ways because we feel so helpless, so weak. We shrink back because of shame and regret of past choices. We lose hope. Yet, with these words of Christ “repent and believe,” it was like he was saying:
“there is something new happening here, listen up, you don’t have to take the path that you are currently on, don’t be content with where you are if you are unhappy, there exists another way, a way that will lead to true fulfillment but you need to change your ways.”
In other words, you need to change your heart.
Later in the Gospel, Christ says the “Kingdom of God is upon you” (Matthew 12:28). Words uttered precisely in relation to evil, to the turning away from evil, in rejecting the power of Satan. To receive true love we need to turn away from the enemy of love and receive forgiveness.
Christ links the Kingdom intimately to the forgiveness of sins: “repent and believe.” St. Paul iterates the same to the community of the Colossians: “Because what Christ has done: he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins” (Col 1:13-14). With sin, we were cut off from God and cast into a spiritual darkness. Through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, everyone is undeservedly offered the gift of redemption by God. The paschal mystery, Christ’s dying and rising, is the definitive victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of sin and death.
In a sense, when we speak of establishing the Kingdom, we refer to the announcing of God’s love and mercy, to the announcing of the true freedom that Jesus Christ desires for us, to allowing Him to break the bonds of sin in our lives and to cast out the darkness in our spirit.
In order for a person to be free to love, he or she must be free from internal constraint. This internal constraint involves the tendency we have to use another for our selfish desires. Only if a person is freed from this tendency is he or she really able to love another. Just as the desire to love can be disordered and manifested as lust, the desire for freedom can be disordered and manifested in slavery.
St. Paul spoke of the danger of this slavery to the early Christians:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
If you are not free to control your own desires, how can you be free to love?
Being free to love is only possible through the grace of God who gives us pure hearts. Once we choose God and allow His grace to transform our desires, then the moral life becomes a life not about rules, but about love.
This is what the spirit of Christ’s love and mercy gives to each of us:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
If establishing Christ’s Kingdom is exposing people to this freedom, then we should rightfully exclaim “Thy Kingdom Come!”
In a world so often consumed with false notions of freedom, this is truly the Gospel, the good news!
Freedom from the shackles and lies of sin is the unique life changing experience the Gospel offers. It is truly the Good news! When we cut ourselves off from God –the source of all human dignity—we deprive ourselves of any real possibility of the true freedom to love.
Man was created for love in order to love. Yet, the principal results of sin are pride, fear of not being loved, and low self-worth, all of which are deeply rooted in us. Accepting our broken selves is much more difficult than it seems. Only the experience of one who loves us in a different way, unconditionally — one who is capable of loving us without judging us and accepting us for who we are — only this love has the power of moving us and changing our hearts.
This is the particular grace of true reconciliation with God because we are reconciled also with ourselves. It is an experience of mercy. God the Father looks upon us and says, “You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)
We can hear too the echo of the words of the Father in the parable of the prodigal son: “You are with me always and all I have is yours” (Luke 15, 31). When we feel ourselves loved, despite our failings and our ugliness, then true freedom is experienced because love is the precondition to happiness and because freedom gives value to love.
Truly, the law of Christianity is the law of freedom. It is the new law that Christ gives us: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2, 12).
Is not this the message the world so desperately needs to hear? You were created to love, to freely love. But you cannot try to win it for yourself as it is a gift from above. The way to win it is through Christ’s love. Christ’s love and mercy is the key to the lock which opens us up to this free gift.
[Fr Martin Connor is a priest of the Legionaries of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia. Since his ordination in 2001, he has dedicated his priesthood to the spiritual formation of Catholic men. The reflections on the Kingdom that we will be sharing this week are from a book he plans to publish, 10 Reflections on the Kingdom, which will be available as an ebook in early 2014, pending publication.]