Archive for kingdom of god

Expecting the Discomforting Reality of Discipleship

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 25, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

easy-way-hard-wayIf the readings for this Sunday make you uncomfortable, then good. You were paying attention!

There are several reasons why you might be unsettled by the selections from Sacred Scripture that are proclaimed to us on this twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first reason comes from the First Reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 66: 18-21). The original hearers of this prophetic speech would have also been made to feel uncomfortable, and for good reason.

Thus says the LORD:
I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;

…They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the LORD

The chosen people of God might have been unhappy to hear about how God’s desire is for all nations to come together, that the “people of God” — a favored term of the Second Vatican Council Fathers for the whole church — extended far beyond that of the community of Israel. If one cannot be separate, apart, holy in the literally sense — then what makes one special?

Yet, this is God’s desire and plan and vision of reality: all of God’s creation, every human person is a son or daughter, and therefore a brother and sister to each other. There might be times when it is more difficult than others for us to appreciate this about individuals or groups of people that we have come to dislike for a variety of reasons, but God’s wisdom insists that this is for us to overcome and that it is not God’s intention that we be divided.

This is indeed a hard truth, just as much for us today in the United States in 2013 as it was for the Israelites thousands of years earlier. The vilification of other people in other lands, the maintenance of prejudice and racial discrimination, the perpetuation of inequality in pay and social standing for women, the continued prohibition of certain civil rights for all — these are just some of the ways in which we struggle as a nation against God’s Will for inclusivity and recognition of all people as equal in the sight of their Creator.

Perhaps the Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:5-7, 11-13) sets you on edge. It is quite understandable that it could, for the author of this letter makes it quite clear that being a disciple of Christ requires the acceptance of difficult or challenging times. And why shouldn’t it? Didn’t Jesus, the letter’s author explains, endure the trails and demonstrate the discipline necessary to do what is right? Why should we, who call ourselves Christians and bear the name of Christ, expect anything different?

At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

In a sense, today’s Second Reading continues where last week’s left off. Jesus warned of the inevitable division that would arise in the lives of those who would risk being the prophets God had called them to be. Today we hear something of an affirmation that there are challenges ahead, but challenges that we should indeed embrace and that will come to their peaceful, fruitful, and just end eventually. We should not be afraid.

Finally, for those who pay close attention to the readings, the Gospel could make us uncomfortable for several reasons.

First of all, Jesus seems to do something that is commonplace in my experience of human nature and something that I’m sure frustrates a whole host of other people. He doesn’t answer a straightforward question!

Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

And what is Jesus’s response?

He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough…

He continues with an allegory about which I’ll say something more shortly, but for now it should be noted that Jesus does not outrightly answer the question posed to him. Some people might misread his response as an answer to the question and interpret his response that “many…will attempt” and see that as an indicator that only few will enter.

Yet, this is not exactly right. Jesus is redirecting the focus of the questioner and his other hearers (including us) away from what teachers often refer to as “stupid questions.” The curious (or perhaps cunning) person who posed this question basically asks the wrong question, so Jesus proceeds to respond the answer to the right question that was never asked!

Instead of being concerned with “who is in” and “who is out” those who follow in the footprints of Christ should be concerned with rising to the challenges of discipleship we are sure to encounter throughout our lives. It is like looking at two ways to enter a location — one is wide and easy and filled with the mob of those unwilling or unable to embrace the cross of discipleship, and the other is narrow and more difficult. Jesus says that we should not focus simply on the “end” (that is, who is “in” or “out”), but instead focus our attention on the “means” (that is, doing what is right even when it is difficult)!

This is again explained in the second part of today’s Gospel when Jesus presents an allegory that can be very uncomfortable for the hearers.

After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Those would-be disciples that are so concerned about “who is in” and “who is out” must realize, Jesus explains, that just because you claim to be a Christian, just because you associate with Jesus, just because you think you’re in the “in-crowd,” doesn’t mean that you’re going to make it.

Actions speak louder than words and to be part of God’s Reign is demonstrated not by who you know, but how you live.

This is why Jesus can talk about all the people from, literally, all the ends of the earth that will “recline at the table in the Kingdom of God,” while those who were so sure of themselves and did little else will not. Those who think themselves the first in the line of Christian discipleship might experience a harsh awakening that they are indeed last in word and deed, while those who were written off because they didn’t think, look, or behave a certain prescribed way according to the self-identified “firsts-in-line” will be reclining with Christ at the table.

Photo: Stock

O Key of David: God’s Will and Prisons of Our Own Making

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

gate of heavenO Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

In the past, I’ve thought about today’s O Antiphon in terms of the captivity that binds us, entraps us, and prevents us from the freedom that God desires for us. The coming of Christ as the “Key of David,” presumably offers us the escape by means of the unlocking of these restraints or prisons, literal or figurative, of our lives.

However, this year I’m much more attentive to the first line of the antiphon: “O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven.”

This tone-setting introduction for the rest of the antiphon that deals with captivity, imprisonment, and freedom, could easily be overlooked or misunderstood. It could be overlooked because force with which the remainder of the antiphon captivates the proclaimer and hearers. It could be misunderstood because of the general feeling that comes with talking about prisons, death, darkness, and captivity — it doesn’t take much imagination to think that some might see God’s controlling the gate of heaven at will as arbitrary and threatening.

This is not my sense of the opening line. That God controls the gate of heaven, as it is described, at will suggests to me that what we might likely fear — an arbitrary, spiteful, or vindictive God/Gatekeeper — is not at all the occupier of that position. In fact, what God has revealed about God’s self to us over the course of human history, what is contained in Scripture and experienced in the Christ event, really rejects this sort of caricature of the almighty hall monitor.

I see a God who desires that all people and all of creation return to their source — God. Creation does a pretty good job on its own being what it truly is. In other words, blades of grass or puppies have a difficult time sinning because they aren’t in the business of trying to be something that they’re not.

We humans, however, make that a full-time job.

What God really desires from us is that we live to the fullest the lives we were created to live, individually loved into being, uniquely and particularly cared-for from all eternity. Yet, this is not how we live. We live out of fear, out of a desire for power or control, out of a sense of our own best interest over against that of anybody (or everybody) else.

What God really desires, it would seem to me, is that all come through the “gate of heaven” and escape the prison, the darkness, and the shadow of death that ensnares us in the fear of facing ourselves, others, and God simply as we are.

To say that Christ, the key of David, controls the gates at will suggests that it is “Thy Will” that is done, not our own. God’s will in Christ is to care for all people and welcome home the prodigal son, the woman at the well, the lame, the blind, the unholy, the adulterer, the cheater, the sinner, all people. Thank God that it is Thy Will by which the gate of heaven is controlled and not according to our will.

That this might be the will of God, the desire for all to be themselves in right relationship with others, creation, and God, means to live in the freedom mentioned at the end of the antiphon. The prison is of our own making. The key to the chains is living as we are supposed to live in God’s eyes. The freedom comes with making God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Photo: Stock

On Kings, Kingdoms and Worlds

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Today is marks the last Sunday in the regular church year. Next week, the First Sunday of Advent (I know, when did time fly by so quickly?!), is the transition into the next church year — the “New Year’s Eve” of the Liturgical cycle! But before we start thinking about the coming new church year, I think today’s Gospel selection is well-worth considering as the last proclamation of the Good News for this current year. It comes from the end of the Gospel of John where Pilate is interrogating Jesus during his impromptu trial before the Roman Governor. In response to the question, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus explains: “My Kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

For us to consider are two aspects of Jesus’s response, among the many things on which we could reflect from this set of readings. First, there is this business about a Kingdom and a king. Most readers will inevitably think of medieval Britain or the current Saudi monarchies, but Jesus’s response is not at all in the realm of these earthly domains (hence his “not of this world” line).

What is really alluded to here is the Hebrew notion of the malkuth YHWH, the “Reigning of God” (or in the Greek: basileia tou theou). This eschatological image is not “reigning” like Queen Elizabeth II reigns in England, nor is it the dictatorial monarchies of centuries past, but instead has to do with the actualization of God’s will on earth. In other words, it is an expression of what God has intended from all eternity in the creation event, yet because of our finitude and hubris we have not  lived up to our personal and communal vocations to live in the world as if God were reigning. Note the our, meaning human — there are very serious theological questions still open about whether the rest of creation could be implicated in our sinfulness.

My guess, following Francis of Assisi’s notion of the rest of creation’s ability to be what it was intended to be and therefore still able to praise God naturally, is: no, only humanity is responsible here for the stalling of sorts of the basileia tou theou, which is why humanity is the so-called linchpin of salvation. The rest of the created order, as one might flippantly put it, is waiting for you and I (i.e., “humanity”) to get its act together.

What Jesus is talking about with Pilate is a revelation, yet again as he had throughout his life, preaching, and deeds, of what the in-breaking of God’s reign looks like. Therefore, it really bears no resemblance to the worldly conceptualization of control, power, might, authority, and the like — all of which a Roman Governor would have naturally associated with this discussion.

The “other world” is not (pace Augustine) some platonic, actual, and ideal “other world,” but is instead another sense of logic or wisdom against which the logic and wisdom of “this world” stands in contrast. God’s reign, as Jesus demonstrates, does not align with any of the earthly conceptualizations of what it means to be king. So, Christ the King is a reminder — here on this last day of the church year — that what it therefore means for us to be “subjects” or “disciples” of such a king has to do with continually keeping in check the logic and wisdom of the world and instead becoming the servants of all, putting others first, giving voice to the voiceless, prioritizing the needs of the marginalized, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, allowing the last to be first, loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and so on and so forth.

These acts, as Jesus lived and modeled them, are the signs of the coming Kingdom — the coming realization of all humanity that this is what God intends for us and how God has always intended us to live.

To talk about Christ the King is to talk about what it means for us to be Christian in a world saturated with the lust for power and the greed for wealth. It means to give everything up so as to inherit the kingdom, to become the servant of all so as to be the greatest among the disciples, and it means be to be like Jesus, the fullest revelation of God, who gives his life for all.

Long live the King!

Photo: Stock

The Meaning of Prayer

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

Christ the King of All Creation: Learning about ‘GreenFaith’

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This past weekend we celebrated the solemnity of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year. Next weekend marks the beginning of a new church year as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent (that’s right, already!). The celebration of Christ the King might evoke a variety of images and views of God for different people. One way to think about the title and solemnity, one that might not be emphasized all that much is that Christ is the King of all creation. This understanding of the reign of God, the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom (malkuth Yahweh in Hebrew, or basileia tou Theou in Greek), extends beyond our own worlds, experiences, concepts of nations or even the environment. Christ is the one who rules over the entire Cosmos, for as St. Paul reminds us, all was created in Christ and unto Christ, He is before all else that is, the firstborn of all Creation.

At the parish where I assist as a deacon in Triangle, Va., we had the privilege of having a guest speaker this weekend who encouraged the assembled community to seriously reflect on their connection to the earth and all creation in a way that tied in to their faith and understanding of Christ as King of all Creation. Rev. Fletcher Harper, an Episcopalian priest and executive director of GreenFaith, an interreligious organization focused on the environment, whose mission is, “to inspire, educate and mobilize people of diverse religious backgrounds for environmental leadership.”

Fletcher offered excellent and engaging reflections about his understanding of the connection between Christian faith and environmental concern, something that Christians should see as more intuitive. He spoke of his personal experiences, both as a father and as someone professionally engaged with environmental justice work internationally, that helped him recognize this foundational truth that all of creation is indeed sacred and that as people of faith we are called to protect and celebrate all of the cosmos. In passing he even mentioned St. Francis of Assisi and implicitly recognized how important a parish committed to the Franciscan spiritual tradition, and whose patron is Francis himself, should see this as a central part of its mission.

I was not all that familiar with the organization GreenFaith prior to meeting Fletcher this weekend, but I’m delighted to have met him and spoken with him a little in-between the Masses and to listen to his sermons. Having checked out the GreenFaith website a little, it seems like a resource all who read should check out. I noticed that my colleague Sr. Kathleen Deignan, CND, the current president of the International Thomas Merton Society on whose Board of Directors I currently serve, is also on the board of GreenFaith. Sometimes you realize just how small the world really is!

Additionally, GreenFaith offers a number of resources and programs, including a certificate program, that might aid those who are “driven by the spirit” (Mark 1:12) — as Fletcher reminded the congregation of Jesus’s move toward creation in the wilderness to pray — to take more initiative in caring for this earth and the entire cosmos. They offer, for example, several free webinars on energy conservation, among other programs.

I really encourage you to check out GreenFaith and learn more about what that organization is doing to help spread the word of reminder and encouragement about what our responsibility is as people of faith to the rest of creation, which was created “very good” along with humanity. We are part of this creation, not above or apart from it. I believe, as Fletcher intuited well, that Franciscan spirituality and theology offers a particularly helpful set of resources and a unique worldview that specifically challenges us to see our connection to the rest of creation as a form of kinship. I also offer here an article I published back in January 2011 in the journal The Cord, a Franciscan spiritual review, titled: “A Franciscan Theological Grammar of Creation”. I hope it might help readers to understand better the unique way we are called to see the world and the entire cosmos from a Franciscan worldview.

Photos: Stock, GreenFaith

The Spirit of Truth: Sometimes God Tells us What we Don’t Want to Hear

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This reflection is now available in Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays, Volume One (Koinonia Press, 2013).

Some Call it Radical, But I Call it the Gospel

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The events of recent weeks have sparked a great deal of productive discussion and unhelpful diatribe. I have been both edified by the interest in this blog and the comments posted, emails sent and phone calls received, but I have also been saddened by the vitriol present in the less-than charitable remarks of some in the blogosphere, particularly by those who claim the title Christian. As I continue to reflect upon some of the pressing matters of the day, and in light of some of these recent conversations, I felt it necessary to clarify a few things that have continued to be a source of confusion or the focus of critique (both legitimate and nonsensical).

I think the most controversial theme that has emerged from the reflections and commentary offered here at has been the subject of Christian nonviolence or pacifism. Because of the heated reaction my commentary has evoked, I feel it is worthwhile to explain a few things so as to have this matter clearly presented for anyone who is interested. This is only an introductory take on the subject, while the post itself is lengthy, there is much more to be said about this matter.

  1. Christian nonviolence (Pacifism) does not equal passivity. This might seem like an obvious statement (and if it does then you can skip ahead to the next point), but a surprising number of people, including some very bright friends and regular readers of this blog, appear to forget this disjunctive fact. Perhaps it is the alliteration of “pacifism” and “passivity” that makes the seeming linkage sensible, but the truth is they are antithetical terms. Pacifism by its very definition implies action: nonviolent action. A common definition of the term, devoid of the Christian qualifier, states: “the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.”
  2. The “Just War Doctrine” is a Post-Constantinian Development. As anyone with an elementary knowledge of early Christian history knows well, prior to the Edict of Milan (313 CE) one is hard-pressed to find an authoritative Christian source that posits something resembling the so-called Just War Doctrine as it was inaugurated in the work of Augustine in the late Fourth Century and developed by scholastic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas centuries later. The concepts of Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello were not necessary categories when the authority of the State was not linked to the Church in the way that emerged during and after the Constantinian era. Prior to the Fourth Century, Christianity is most famously marked by peaceful resistance, which often resulted in martyrdom as opposed to violent resistance or defensive action. In the realm of the apologists and Fathers of the Church one thinks about the difference between the views on violence proffered by thinkers like Origen and Tertullian (pre-Constantine) and those thinkers like Ambrose and Augustine (post-Constantine).
  3. Vita Evangelica as Starting Point, Ecclesia as audience. Some folks have asked me about my starting point and aim in discussing the Christian imperative of nonviolence. Without getting into the details of scriptural exegesis, historical theology and Catholic moral teaching, suffice it to say that the model of Christian living presented in the Canon of Scripture — the normative source for Christian theology — provides unequivocal evidence for the inseparability of nonviolence and Gospel life (vita evangelica). Furthermore, as a Franciscan friar, I profess to “live the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” according to Continue reading
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