Tuesday, September 11, 2012
The Lord: Chapter 7, “Beginnings”
What do you make of Jesus beginning his public life by saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand”? I have often puzzled over this—when reaching the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, for example.
Oh but hey, I forgot. You don’t pray the Rosary, being an Episcopalian. We Catholics tend to dwell on things, maybe more than we should, meditating on key events of Jesus’s life like his presentation in the temple (Joyful Mystery #4), his baptism in the Jordan (Luminous Mystery #1), and, ouch, his scourging at the pillar (Sorrowful Mystery #2).
In fact, Romano Guardini’s whole book The Lord amounts to a series of meditations on such events.
In his chapter on the “Beginnings” of Jesus’s public ministry he takes up the whole Kingdom of God thing. According to John the Evangelist, Jesus went to the Easter festival in Jerusalem after his first meetings with John, Andrew, and other Apostles-to-be. Then Guardini moves over to Mark, and the return journey:
“After John [the Baptist] had been delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of god, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.’”
This has always puzzled me. Did Jesus mean the kingdom is here, it’s started? If so, why is the world still in such a mess two thousand years later? Or did he mean something more esoteric, like the kingdom is inside you, and God too? That’s the sort of thing I thought in my New Age days, a/k/a my years in the wilderness.
In fact, Guardini says a third thing.
Jesus, he says, came to institute the Kingdom of God, and the Jewish people weren’t ready for it! But instead of coming down on heedless Jews of the first century for not getting the message, Guardini turns the mirror on ourselves. “Kingdom of God,” he writes, “means a state in which God is king and consequently rules. . . . What is it that actually has power over us?”
Guardini concludes that the most powerful (“ruling”) forces in our lives are people and things. We bow to the ways and opinions of those around us, and we desire their things or better ones. Consequently, we leave no room in our lives for God.
Would we be any readier for the Kingdom of God if it were offered to us today? Hmmmm. “With us,” Guardini says, “it is the kingdom of people, kingdom of things, kingdom of earthly powers and events and arrangements and interests. They stifle God, crowd him out of our lives.”
Oddly, my mind jumps from this to my first months at the boarding school where I met you over 45 years ago. We had a religion requirement my first two years, then it was dropped. Funny thing is, I don’t remember going to church once while I was there! Or where I might have gone if I went. But the record says I must have gone.
I can blame the school for being too secular, for not encouraging what I thought was my own sincere interest in the ministry—but I also know that in my first months there I was so overwhelmed with the people and things and powers and events of boarding school life that I had no room for Anything Else. When I finally went looking for God two or three years later, I had lost my way to Him. And I ended following something else entirely. For 40 years.
This period in my life is fascinating to me—the years of age 15, 16, 17—the years of “losing my religion.” How were those years for you? What, if anything, did you hold onto? I suspect you were more successful than I was.
This series of letters continues here with chapter 8.
* This post continues a chapter-by-chapter series on The Lord by Romano Guardini, in the form of letters to an Episcopalian friend. Scroll back through older posts to see previous letters about earlier chapters.