During the civil war in the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1996, which eventually overthrew the president of the time, Mobutu, his Information Minister appeared on TV to tell the nation that: ”President Mobutu reigns, but he does not rule.” In other words, Mobutu held the title of President, but he no longer had the power or authority to enforce it. Very soon after that announcement, Mobutu was deposed and fled into exile.
In our gospel today, we hear various parables about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was the main theme of Jesus’ preaching. He begins his public ministry in Mark’s gospel with the words:
”The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe this good news.”Mark 1:14
The word for “kingdom” actually means “kingship” or “reign.” The “kingdom of God” means the realm where God reigns. Obviously, God “reigns” above all in the realm of heaven. But here on earth, God reigns where believers accept his Son, Jesus, as their Lord and Saviour. And where we expect to see the greatest and clearest demonstration of the reign and kingdom of God here on earth is in the Church, the community of those who believe in Jesus as Son of God, as Lord and Savior.
I say “expect to see” purposely, because I have to say that here in the West, for those who make up the majority of the Church, Jesus, like President Mobutu, “reigns but does not rule.” In other words, many, many Catholics claim to be Christian, that is, followers of Jesus. But in fact, though they bear the title of Catholic, the teachings of Jesus seem to bear no weight when it comes to their personal choices and decisions as to how they intend to run their lives.
I am not talking just about such controversial issues as abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. They were once what we would call “settled law” in the Church. Every Catholic knew where the Church stood on such matters. And the great majority of Catholics accepted that teaching. Judging by the very public way in which these teachings are now being argued about and dividing bishop against bishop, priest against priest, layman or woman against layman or woman, that is no longer the case. Talks of possible schism in the Church, conflicts between so-called “right wing” conservatives and “left-wing” liberals raging on all the time on YouTube, the lack of a unified message from the hierarchy of the Church, all create an atmosphere of confusion, chaos and anarchy. Ordinary lay Catholics don’t know who or what to believe, and end up asking themselves: ”If even our religious leaders can’t agree on what is Catholic truth anymore, what chance do I have? And if I can’t know what is authentic Catholic teaching, how am I to live my life going forward?”
But, as I said earlier, I am not just talking about the current “big” issues, such as abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. There are many other ways in which Jesus may be said to “reign” but not “rule” in our lives as Catholics. When we hold unforgiveness, grudges, resentment, bitterness in our hearts to others, including our spouses or other family members, to our bosses or co-workers, to our neighbours and colleagues, we are contradicting a fundamental teaching of Jesus, who said:
“Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”Luke 6:37
“If you forgive others their trespasses against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”Matthew 6:14-15
I think that is pretty clear teaching, isn’t it, brothers and sisters, added to which we have Jesus’ own example at the cross, looking down at his torturers and killers and praying:
”Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”Luke 23:34
But how often do we profess to be Catholics, and yet fail to forgive, to let go of grudges, and we continue to carry judgement and condemnation in our thoughts and hearts. How much prejudice, racial and otherwise, do we hold within ourselves? And I include myself here, brothers and sisters.
And not just in our minds and hearts. On our lips also. It is astonishing how often we professing Catholics indulge in hateful, angry, judgmental, accusing words when speaking of others, including our fellow Catholics, what a stream of negativity so often pours forth from our mouths. And from our computers as well – spiteful , vindictive emails , Facebook, Twitter and Tweet accounts. Jesus said, “out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If we add gossip and slander to the list, and expand it to include dirty jokes, sexual innuendo, lies, and foul-mouthed profanity, then we have to ask, “if this is what my mouth is speaking, what does it say about what is in my heart?” Jesus said:
”It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intention come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”Mark 7: 21-23
I once set myself a test, to take note of what came out of my mouth during the course of a week, and I was astonished and mortified to discover how much was judgemental, negative, inappropriate and destructively sarcastic, and how little was edifying, inspiring, helpful. And here I am, a Catholic priest!! By the way, before you rush to judgement on me, brothers and sisters, you might want to take the time to try that test on yourselves!
We carry the Holy Spirit within us, the Spirit of Christ, from the moment of our baptism. We know that, we have been taught that. But did you know that we can grieve the Holy Spirit? St Paul writes, in his letter to the Ephesians,
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God . . . put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander together with all malice and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”Ephesians 4:29-32
I tell you, brothers and sisters, as I read those words, I am cut to the heart and ashamed, to think about how often I grieve the Holy Spirit, and reflect that, in so many areas in my life, Jesus may reign, but does not rule. How about you, brothers and sisters?
So, after all this, what are we to say? More importantly, what are we to do?
Firstly, recognition of where Jesus may reign, but does not effectively rule, in our lives, in our thoughts, words and actions, is an important first step. That we recognize that certain thoughts, words, attitudes, mindsets, and actions are simply unacceptable for a true believer in Christ, one who claims that Jesus is their Lord. Lord of all of their lives, not just the parts we choose to let him into.
Secondly, we must take ourselves off to confession. Strongholds of our hearts, fixed mindsets and behaviours, addictions of thought and mindsets are not simply going to vanish because we want them to, or wish them to. We need the power of the sacrament of reconciliation, we need the humbling of coming to confess to a priest that we have fallen way short of our call as a Catholic Christian (don’t worry, the priest knows that he falls way short also!), we need the absolution that the priest gives, in the name of, and on behalf of, Christ.
And, thirdly, we need to consecrate all aspects of our lives to holiness, not just the ones we want to. We need to invite Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, to come and keep guard over our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions, and, to be Lord over all of those areas, alert us to un-Christian ways within us, and to start here and now to really work to eradicate those ways from our lives.
The world will be saved, will be transformed and become much more the realm of the kingdom, the kingship of God, the more we as Catholic Christians, step up to the plate, and ensure that Jesus not only reigns, but also rules in our lives.