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Christ’s Kingship – “on Earth as it is in Heaven”

Part 2

A prayer well-known to traditionally-formed Catholics asks the Holy Ghost to “fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love,…and thou shalt renew the face of the Earth.” Because what happens in this world matters to God (if it did not, why would He have prescribed rules by which we should live?), the Catholic Church has always striven to carry out the task which He gave it: to teach all nations to observe all of His commandments.[1] That has a personal and a social dimension. As individuals and as societies, we are obliged to obey those commandments. To explain and remind everyone of that fact, Pope Pius XI wrote the Encyclical “Quas Primas”[2] by which he established the Feast of Christ the King. “[A]ll,” he wrote, “must obey [H]is commands; none may escape them, nor the sanctions [H]e has imposed,” [3] and “[w]hile nations insult the beloved name of our Redeemer by suppressing all mention of it in their conferences and parliaments, we must all the more loudly proclaim [H]is kingly dignity and power, all the more universally affirm [H]is rights.” [4]   

[Digression: The best possible means whereby to fulfil and consolidate those and other such affirmations would be for nations to embrace Catholicism in their culture and laws. So it was very disappointing to read that two especially-orthodox Popes had disclaimed such a hope. In his 2003 Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa,” [5] Pope St. John Paul wrote that “In her relations with public authorities the Church is not calling for a return to the confessional state.” Oh dear. According to “The Catholic Times,” [6] Pope Benedict XVI “made it clear from the moment he stepped off his aeroplane” to begin a four-day visit to Portugal “that his idea of ‘new evangelisation’ did not mean trying to reinstall Catholicism as the [S]tate religion,” and that “[a]rriving in Lisbon, he told civil authorities that the Church was happy to live in a pluralistic society…” Oh dear. My attempts to obtain a copy of the relevant speech, in which to check the accuracy of that report, were unsuccessful, but, regardless of that, my experience has given me a disheartening impression that nearly everyone would approve of it. End of digression.]  

In paragraph 2 of their 2007 “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote that “social issues and the Gospel are inseparable.” Why are they inseparable? Because, said paragraph 1 of the same “Note,” “Christ wants to be present in every historical epoch, every place…and every sector of society…” He is present through the capital C Catholic Church. It is His instrument, and, although “the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries must not be excluded” [7] and outside its structure can be found “many elements of sanctification and truth,” [8] one religion is NOT as good as another, [9] (ibid., sections 21 and 22), ecclesial communities which lack valid bishops and the Real Presence “are not Churches in the proper sense” of that word, [10] and the followers of other religions are objectively “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.” [11] Furthermore, people who know that the Church (i.e. the capital C Catholic Church) was founded by God through Christ as necessary for salvation but who refuse either to enter it or to remain in it could not be saved.[12]

Just as the Church is Christ’s instrument, we, as its members, are its instrument; paragraph 2 of the “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization” said that “to evangelize [means] to make oneself an instrument of [Christ’s] presence and action in the world.” “And action” implies that (as stated above) what happens in this world matters to Him.” Being His instrument, said paragraph 7, is not only an opportunity for other people to be enriched, but also an enrichment for the evangelisers. That is natural, because the task requires the evangeliser to become more familiar with the faith in order to be a reliable representative of it. So common sense suggests that evangelisers benefit themselves, the people who are evangelised, and (by extension) society in general. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” similarly, points out that “there is an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society,” [13] and exhorts the laity to “remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when [those] are an inducement to sin, [so that they] may [favour rather than hinder] virtue.” [14]

 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

The need for personal perfection is obvious, and desired by God (“You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”: Matt. 5:48), and the connection between personal perfection and social improvement should be equally obvious. It was made very clear by Vatican II, which expanded a comment made by Pope St. John XXIII in his speech on 11th October 1962, opening the Council: he said that Vatican II aimed to foster the unity of mankind which is required “in order that the earthly city may be brought to the resemblance of that heavenly city where truth reigns, charity is the law, and whose extent is eternity.” Documents of Vatican II contain very useful information regarding the duty of Christians to pursue that objective, which is – of course – implicit in [May]“Thy kingdom come” and “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

We pray “Thy kingdom come,” but its full coming is inevitable and its partial coming has happened. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” tells us[15] that in order to carry out the will of His Father, Our Lord inaugurated the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The “Catechism” says[16] that the Church is “the seed and beginning” of the kingdom; the Church is His mystical body.[17] So His kingdom has come already; it is here on Earth. The “Catechism” says that “The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s.”[18]

So is it superfluous to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for Satan to be defeated? No, because God’s kingdom has not yet come fully, and Satan’s kingdom has not yet been defeated fully; there are battles still being fought between them. The “Catechism” says that “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness.”[19] “Though already present in [H]is Church, Christ’s reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled…by [His] return to earth. This reign is still under attack by the evil powers… Until everything is subject to him,…the Church…carries the mark of this world which will pass…”[20] “Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had not yet come for the establishment of the messianic kingdom… [T]he present time is…marked by distress and…evil which does not spare the Church.”[21] Our Lord said that before He returns there will be persecution of His followers and various other frightening and cataclysmic events.[22] The “Catechism” says that before He comes again, “the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on [E]arth will [include] religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist,…by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.”[23] The Church rejects this deception, even when presented in modified forms, and especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.[24]      

“The Antichrist’s deception,” says the “Catechism,” “already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the [Last Judgment],”[25] when “through [H]is Son Jesus Christ [the Father] will pronounce the final word on all history.”[26] [Digression: I am troubled when I encounter candid or ‘veiled’ opinions that we should not even try to make the world conform in our own time to how God would want it to be. The kingdom of God is “the manifestation and the realisation of God’s plan of salvation in all its fullness,”[27] and building the kingdom “means working for liberation from evil in all its forms.”[28] To ‘shy away’ from that seems more like “the Antichrist’s deception” than does a holy wish for God’s will to “be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” If trying to fulfil that wish opens the door to the Devil, why did Our Lord make it part of His prescribed prayer and implicit in His ministry? End of digression.] 

“At the end of time,” says the “Catechism,” “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgement, the righteous will reign for ever in Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed, [and] the Church will receive her perfection…in the glory of [H]eaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things…, perfectly re-established in Christ.”[29] “The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil… God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.”[30]

Note carefully that that is when the kingdom will be fulfilled. As paragraph 1042 put the point, “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness.” Fallen human nature inclines us to sin in various ways. Therefore the conditions of the world which people produce embody the same frailty. Sin is not closed up within each person. It bursts from him and touches other people. Because God cares about that (as manifested by Our Lord’s teaching and its expositions by His Church), we who wish to please Him should care about it similarly, and while grappling with our personal defects try to remedy surrounding conditions.

The inescapability of those struggles for as long as the world exists does not justify neglect of our duty to persevere in them. Equally, the fact that “a progressive ascendancy” and “historic triumph of the Church” could only prepare for, rather than fulfil, the kingdom of God should not deter us from trying to promote that ascendancy and triumph to the extent that it can be achieved. What the “Catechism” calls “the Antichrist’s deception” is at work not only in the idea that the kingdom of God can be brought about fully in this world, but also in the opposite idea that because it cannot be brought about fully in this world we need not try to achieve it even partly. Father Large, having earlier applied the minimalising word ‘skirmish’ to every battle with the Devil between now and the end of the world, wrote something which might have rectified the unfortunate implication of unimportance. He ended his article by saying that we should not tell ourselves that “evils are here to stay and so we might as well accommodate them.” Evil will be defeated completely “when Our Lord returns in majesty to judge the living and the dead,” but “[w]ith God’s assistance, we must combat it at all costs if we wish to be part of the Church Triumphant in heaven.”

I agree very much. In particular, the governance of society should not be a ‘no-go’ area for us, for if we take neither interest nor part in it the Devil is the better able to put it into the hands of his friends. In that event, it surely will not be to our credit if at our particular judgment we try to excuse our neglect by quoting back at God the statement that His kingdom “is not of this world.”

[1] Matt. 28:19-20.

[2] 11th December 1925.  

[3] Ibid., section 14.

[4] Ibid., section 25.    

[5] Section 117.

[6] 23rd May 2010, p.1.  

[7] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Dominus Iesus,” 2000, section 19.

[8] Ibid., section 16.

[9] Ibid., sections 21 and 22.

[10] Ibid., section 17.  

[11] Ibid., section 22.  

[12] “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 846.  

[13] Paragraph 2344.

[14] Paragraph 909.

[15] Paragraph 541.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Paragraph 787 et seq.

[18] Paragraph 550.

[19] Paragraph 1042.

[20] Paragraph 671.

[21] Paragraph 672.

[22] Matt. 24:3-31; Mk. 13:3-27; Lk. 21:7-28.

[23] Paragraph 675.

[24] Paragraph 676.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Paragraph 1040.

[27] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Dominus Iesus,” 2000, section 19.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Paragraph 1042.

[30] Paragraph 677.

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