Keeping One's Eyes on the Kingdom

for Thursday, August 4th, 2016
Memorial of St. Jean Vianney, Priest

Liturgical texts here


EVERY day, I receive an email from someone who is upset by something Pope Francis has recently said. Every day. People aren’t sure how to cope with the constant flow of papal statements and perspectives that seem at odds with his predecessors, comments that are incomplete, or in need of greater qualification or context. [1]see That Pope Francis! Part II

Today’s Gospel is one of the most famous passages Jesus spoke to Peter, and which has been applied from the Early Church until this day to that first pope’s successors. Jesus declares Peter to be the “rock” upon which He will build His Church, and hands the Apostle the “keys of the kingdom.” This is a pretty big deal. But shockingly, only a few verses later, Jesus is now rebuking the Rock for worldly thinking!

Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. (Today’s Gospel)

Yes, the one who is a rock suddenly becomes a stumbling stone. And so, it is good to remind ourselves that not only popes, but especially ourselves are prone to thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

In fact, this is the reason why so many Christians are sad, divided, and rather dim lamps: we have lost a “Kingdom perspective.”  We are sad because our plans and possessions, or desire to possess, are taken away from us. Instead of “seeking first the kingdom” and “being about our Father’s business” we are building our own kingdoms and about our own business, leaving God well out of the picture. When the world unravels, we are unsettled and shaken because our peace and security is threatened.

But when did the following Scriptures cease to apply to us?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3)

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:39)

It is precisely when we become too comfortable, too reliant upon ourselves, our wealth, our know-how, our skills, etc. turning them into little idols, that the Lord allows a “shaking” in our lives to remind us that everything is temporal, everything is vanity, a “chase after the wind.” This isn’t a game; our lives are not these micro-dramas where, in the end, everything will work out for everyone. Jesus didn’t die to be dramatic, but to save us from eternal separation from Him. In truth, Hell begins on earth for most of us whenever we lose a Kingdom perspective and begin to live like this world is all there is: depression, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, compulsiveness, division, greediness… these are just some of the bitter fruits that spring up in the heart, whether one is a billionaire or working at minimum wage.

Perhaps we too need to hear Jesus’ rebuke for us who have let worldliness slip into our lives and Satan through the back door. We have to begin in earnest (again) the work of conversion in our lives. Repentance precedes communion with God—there is no other path. And the first stage of repentance is to begin thinking as God does.

The fastest way to learn the will of God and to enter into communion with Him is prayer—prayer of the heart. [2]cf. Prayer From the Heart Many Catholics can “say their prayers”, but prayer of the heart is more: it is conversation and communion, not just a string of pious words. In prayer is where we surrender to God over and over again, asking His forgiveness and mercy daily, and seeking His strength, wisdom, and guidance. It is where we begin to gaze upon the face of the Lord and let Him transform us.

I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the Lord. (First reading)

We are not abandoned—unless we abandon Him. And never should we despair either if we find ourselves on the same side as Peter—on the end of a rebuke from the Creator.

…for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. (Heb 12:6)

Rather, let it be an opportunity to return to the Lord again, to remind yourself that even the best things in this world are temporal, as is suffering, and that ultimately, our baptism is an invitation to know God, and make Him known.

A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your Holy Spirit take not from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me. I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you… My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. (Today’s Psalm)


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