Circular Letter: Lent 1999
Our Father in Heaven,… Thy Kingdom Come!
The Beauty of the Kingdom: The Gift of the Father
“Our Father in heaven,… Thy Kingdom come!”
This is the second, ardent petition which we confidently raise to our heavenly Father.
The future Kingdom already has its beginning in this life in Christ. It was brought near to us in the Incarnation, when the Son of God was planted, as it were, in the field of the world. The Kingdom is announced in the gospels as its principal theme; indeed, Christ proclaimed the Kingdom from the very start of His ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1,15; cf. CCC 2816) and he speaks of the Kingdom some 90 different times in the course of the gospels. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated in a definitive way by the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is present within us and in our midst in the Holy Eucharist (cf. CCC 2816).
The Kingdom is the object of all our hopes, the proper and formal object of the theological virtue of hope: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten! May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem above all my joy!” (Ps 136,5ff). Before all else, we ought to seek the Kingdom of God and its justice, confident that all other things would be granted to us (cf. Mt 6,33). We can pray to the Father confidently for this ultimate gift of grace, since we know that He created the world precisely in order to lead us into His Kingdom: “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Lk 12,32). Indeed, the Son invites us: “Come you blessed of My Father, accept the Kingdom that was prepared for you before the foundation of the world!” (Mt 25,34).
What a great esteem we ought to have for the Kingdom of God. Our Lord compares it to a treasure hidden in a field (Mt 13,43) and to a priceless pearl (Mt 13,45) for which we should readily sell everything we have. St. Paul, who had formerly persecuted the Church, once he came to know Christ, considered all else in comparison to be mere dung (cf. Phil 3,8).
The Growth of the Kingdom: the Mission of the Son
Spiritually the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst (cf. Lk 17,21; 10, 9. 11. 20). It is planted in us through the word of God and germinates in faith: “The good news of the Kingdom of God is preached” (Lk 16,16) and, “to as many as received Him [Christ] He gave the power of becoming sons of God; to those who believe in His name” (Jn 1,12). The Kingdom takes root in us sacramentally in the grace of baptism: “unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3,5). And so this spiritual reality grows within us: “God chose to make known how rich in glory is this mystery,… which is Christ within you, your hope of glory!” (Col 1,27).
Unfortunately many, many souls have not yet progressed to the point in the spiritual life such that they can intimately fathom and savor the beauty of the Kingdom of God ? “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, those things which God prepares, for those who love Him!” (1 Cor 2,9) ? but all are invited to “taste and see how good the Lord is” (Ps 33,9). To His intimate friends Christ reveals all that the Father has made known to Him (cf. Jn 15,15):“God has revealed them through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God!” (1 Cor 2,10). It is in communion with God that the soul already in this life can receive a foretaste of heaven: “What we have seen and heard,” St. John writes us, “we announce to you, in order that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that you may rejoice, and our joy may be made full” (1 Jn 1,3f). This experience of God fires souls with longing for the Kingdom of God, for whose coming we ardently pray.
The Challenge of the Kingdom
While the Kingdom of God is a divine gift it is also our future reward, the reward of moral rectitude. It demands faith ? “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11,6). It demands virtue and endurance: “[be] imitators of those who through patience and faith inherit the promises” (Heb 6,12). It demands resolution and labors: “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mk 10,24), and sufferings: “Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14,22).
Not everyone is going to get in; many will be rejected: “It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of an needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19,24). Consider the tragedy of the rich young man, to whom Christ offered perfection and treasures in heaven if he would but embrace holy poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. “When he heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Commenting, Our Lord remarked: “it will be hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19,22-23).
Make a choice for Friendship with God
In the Confessions St. Augustine describes the remarkable conversion (cf. Confessions, Bk. 8,6) of two young men who were courting a career and the friendship of the Roman emperor by serving as secret couriers. One afternoon, ‘by chance’ they happened into a modest home, where they found a copy of the Life of St. Anthony of the Desert lying on the table. One of them picked it up and began reading aloud the story of Anthony’s conversion, how he turned from the wealth of this world to the treasures of the Kingdom of God, and about the many wonders he had only recently performed in the power of grace. Interrupting himself, the young man addressed his friend: “Tell me, what is it that we are striving after with all our labors here at court? Why do we stand in the service of the emperor? Can we expect anything greater at court than the emperor’s friendship? And is that not all ephemeral and exposed to many dangers? Every danger is pursued by another yet greater in this world of intrigues! And how long before we achieve our goal, if ever? But this very instant, if I wanted to, I could become a personal friend of God!”
This thought burned in his heart as he returned to St. Anthony’s life. His torment and exaltation broke forth from his heart in signs and groanings, like one laboring to give birth. The labor was intense, the birth felicitous. As he rolled the finished scroll together, he told his friend, “I am resolved: I will serve the emperor no longer, since I can serve the King of Heaven and become instantly His close friend. Please do not hold me back.” Far from it, his friend had interiorly accompanied him along that short but intense spiritual pilgrimage so charged with grace. The two left their worldly ambitions to serve God with an undivided heart!
The story made a great impression on Augustine and helped him through his own very drawn out labor pains to his rebirth in Christ.
The Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit (cf. Mt 5,1): “Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom?” (Jas 2,5). It belongs to the obedient: “Not everyone who cries, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter into the Kingdom of God, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven!” (Mt 7,21).It belongs to the persecuted, “who suffer persecution for justice’ sake” (Mt 5,10). It belongs to the simple and humble of heart: “Unless you be converted and become like little children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven!” (Mt 18,3).
Finally, it belongs to the repentant; the Good Thief cried out to Jesus: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” And Jesus promised: “This day you shall be with me in paradise!” (Lk 23,42-43).
Pure souls seek and desire the coming of the Kingdom, whereas the impure and sinners dread its coming, for they cannot enter the Kingdom of God: “nothing unclean can enter into the [heavenly] city” (Apoc 21,27).
Sin drives away the angels
St. Antoninus tells of a monk who, while journeying, came upon a corpse. When passing he carefully covered his nose with his mantle, whereas the angel who accompanied him in the figure of a man did not even appear to notice the unpleasant odor. Afterwards they met a well dressed young man. Then the angel held his hand over his nose as he passed. When the monk wondered about this the angel explained that the natural odor of a decaying corpse did not bother him but the abominable and unbearable stench of a soul in the state of mortal sin was enough to drive away the whole heavenly court.
St. Basil pertinently says: “As smoke drives away bees and a carcass the doves, so does sin drive away the angels” (Commentary on Ps 22, nr. 5; Scheeben, loc.cit. p. 32)
The Fulfillment of the Kingdom: the Efficacy of the Spirit
The Father chose us to be coheirs with His Son in glory (cf. Eph 1,4ff). Our hope of everlasting happiness in the Kingdom of God is firm (cf. Heb 6,19), based on the divine promise and the victory of Christ. Moreover, we have been “sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance, until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory” (Eph 1,14). The reality of the Kingdom is to be found in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit! (Rom 14,17). St. Gregory of Nyssa – referring to a variant reading of this second petition: “Thy Holy Spirit come to us and cleanse us” – argued that the coming of the Holy Spirit constitutes the Kingdom of God (cf. Discourse on Our Father, 4-5), and in fact, Pentecost is the ‘birthday’ of the Church, the Kingdom of God on earth. By His indwelling, God establishes the Kingdom in our hearts. That is God’s longing, “God thirsts that we may thirst for Him” (CCC 2560).
In His grace we desire that God not only be sanctified in us, but also that He dwell and reign within us, and we long to enjoy and participate in that sovereign reign of holiness. We want to share His life and happiness. With unveiled faces we want to see the Father’s glory (cf. 2 Cor 3,18), to behold Him face to face as He is – that would be enough for us (cf. Jn 14,8) – for “this is everlasting life … to know You [Father], the one true God, and Him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17,3). We desire the perfect reign of God in us and in the whole creation: 1) for His sake in pure love for He appointed us “to live for the praise of His glory” (Eph 1,12) – and 2) for ours – “we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom 5,2). Through this petition we learn to love ourselves in God (cf. St. Thomas Summa. II-II.89,3,c).
The Kingdom is Future
What do we desire, when we pray for the coming of the Kingdom? Principally we desire the definitive coming of the Kingdom at the end of the world, when it shall be definitely established and made manifest in all its glory and power (cf. CCC 2818), when sin shall be no more, and when death shall finally have been conquered, when Christ shall have given all things over to the Father, so that God might be “everything to everyone” (1 Cor 15,28). Accordingly, this petition is the “marána thá”, the call of the Spirit and the Bride: “Come, Lord Jesus!”, that He take us up into His everlasting glory (cf. CCC 2817). It was from this vantage that St. Cyprian understood that, “it may even be … that the Kingdom of God means Christ Himself, whom we daily desire to come, and whose coming we wish to be manifested quickly to us. For as He is our resurrection, since in Him we rise, so He can also be understood as the Kingdom of God, for in Him we shall reign” (On the Lord’s Prayer; CCC 2816).
Sanctifying Grace: the Seed of the Kingdom
Sanctifying grace is the life of God within us; the charity it begets is friendship with God in the Holy Spirit: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit … you have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba, Father’ it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God” (Rom 5,5; 8,15ff). Grace establishes the Kingdom of God within souls where God reigns. By the grace of baptism we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city [Kingdom] of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, … and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 12,22ff). And so, already here and now, we are citizens of heaven (cf. Phil 3,20) together with the angels and saints (cf. CCC 336).
Sanctifying grace vivifies our soul, making it beautiful with a divine splendor and conferring on it the power to merit, to perform acts that are worthy and pleasing to God. Moreover, “through grace we enter into the closest and most living union with Christ and all the saints, for we are bound together with them into one mystical body, whose soul is the holy Spirit. But if in this union there prevails the most perfect communion in good, then the entire treasure of merits and satisfaction that Christ and the saints have accumulated by their good works and sufferings belong to all who are bound together by grace. … The merit of the saints, is, on the one hand, personal. However, we are so closely united with them through grace that their merit gains also for us an increase of sanctifying grace” (M. Scheeben. Glories of Grace, III. ch. 12, p. 135).This naturally also applies to our relationship with the Holy Angels.
The Angels and the Kingdom of God
Servants of the Kingdom
The Holy Angels have an important ministry in the Kingdom of God. Through them the Kingdom of God is in our midst, for they are always present among us. They are Christ’s servants; they were created through Him and for Him; they are all “sent to help those who are called to be heirs [of the Kingdom] of salvation” (Heb 1,14; cf. CCC 331). “The whole life of the Church [the Kingdom of God on earth] benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC 334). They enlighten and admonish us, they strengthen and console us, infusing into our hearts the fire of divine wisdom (cf. St. John of the Cross Dark Night, II. ch. 12). They are our spiritual mentors and companions along our entire pilgrimage to the Kingdom (cf. Ex 23,20); it is they who lead the souls of the just into the glory of heaven (cf. CCC 336) where they will shine like the sun and be like the angels in glory (cf. Mt 13,43; 22,30).
In the gospels the Angels are presented to us as the workers in the field [Kingdom] of God (cf. Mt 13,24ff. 38ff); they are the fishermen who will draw in the net for the catch of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 13,47ff). In the Apocalypse they are the defenders and protagonists of the Church who at the commission of Christ prepare the Church-Bride for the wedding feast of the Kingdom (cf. Apoc 19,7f). And finally, when the Son of Man comes in glory with His Holy Angels (cf. Mt 16,27; 25,31; Mk 8,38; Lk 9,26), they will separate the good and the evil in the world, casting the wicked into the fires of hell (cf. Mt 13,30. 41ff).
The Angels’ Longing for the Fulfillment of the Kingdom
Now why, we may ask, do the angels, who are naturally so much more perfect than us, rejoice so much at the conversion of a single sinner (cf. Lk 15,7)? Why are they willing, even anxious to come to our aid? The answer is to be sought in the nature of grace and the love of God. “By nature we should rather serve the angels, than they us. But grace gives us such a high rank that even the highest angels do not consider it below their dignity, but rather think themselves fortunate to be able to lend us their aid. They know better than we that grace has raised us to be true children and brides of our King, and that it has given us a dignity which they themselves do not possess by nature. They recognize in us the supernatural image of God and honor and serve God Himself in us” (M. Scheeben, Glories of Grace, IV, ch. 2, p. 12-14).
Justification, namely, is God’s greatest work, the greatest revelation of His love for us in Christ. It far exceeds, affirms St. Augustine, the creation of heaven and earth, for these latter will pass away, but justification remains for ever! (On John, 72,3; CCC 1994). How the angels long for the final consummation of salvation in Christ (cf. Eph 3,10 and 1 Pt 1,12).
“What wonder that they come to us and that God sends them to us when the Holy Spirit and the entire Blessed Trinity comes into the soul in order to dwell in it as in a temple? If the King of all the angels comes into our soul, and with joy remains with it and cannot be separated form it, how can His followers remain behind and to hasten to surround and watch the resting place of their King in closed ranks?
“The work of grace and salvation is so sublime that God Himself cannot confer anything greater on a pure creature. Now the are ‘ministering spirits, sent for service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation’ (Heb 1,14). The more they recognize the greatness of grace and salvation, the more they realize how great God’s goodness is Who has given these blessing to us as well as to them, the more faithfully they enter into the designs of God, the more clearly they see how greatly these divine gifts are required by us poor beings, with so much the more joy do they serve God by helping His children to attain salvation, their heavenly inheritance” (ibid.).
Communion in the Kingdom
When we consider that gratitude not only opens the heart of the giver for new gifts, but also dilates the heart of the recipient in generosity, then we can see how fruitful gratitude is in the spiritual life. Such an exchange is a beautiful manifestation of love, which is the life of the Kingdom.
Gratitude binds us and obliges us to our friends and benefactors. Now, the benefaction of the Holy Angels is increased by their constant presence and solicitude; hence, our debt is without limit or term. It was this reflection that led St. Bernard to conclude that we owe them reverence, friendship and gratitude. As St. Paul exhorts: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another!” (Rom 13,8).
Matthias Scheeben describes well the salutary effects that gratitude towards the angels will have in our lives: “How much we should thank the holy angels, how willingly and joyfully we should accept their help and make use of it! And what an effort we should make that we may be worthy of their companionship and remain worthy of their help! Lets us lead a life that pleases them, a life that they may hold before the eye so God without any shame. Let us cultivate heavenly manners as is becoming for God’s children who dwell in the heavenly court. Let our mind be turned away from earthly things and be with the angels in [the Kingdom] of heaven, where they stand before the face of God. Let our heart be attentive to their counsel and docile to their suggestions. But above all let us hold fast to grace, which already here on earth makes us fellow-citizens and brothers of the angels and through which, alone, we are worthy of their companionship and service.
The high esteem for grace brings with it greater honor to the holy angels. Through grace we enter into a spiritual relationship with them since they possess the same grace. The more we learn to treasure grace so much the higher will be our esteem for the angels, since in them we honor spirits who are blessed with grace in a far higher degree than we. Moreover, they are confirmed in it forever.” (M. Scheeben, Glories of Grace. IV, ch. 2, p. 17-18).
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
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