Instituted by Christ and founded on the apostles, the Church on earth is the kingdom of heaven in its seed and beginning. The Church is God the Father’s intended home for all people, deigned to be so from before time began. She is inclusive, barring no person from communion with her and her founder, Jesus Christ. It is only the individual who voluntarily excludes himself by rejecting communion with the Church through free-choices that are incompatible with the love of Christ and the rule of his kingdom.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
2 August 2018
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us a parable about the makeup of the kingdom of heaven and the events of divine judgment that will take place at the end of the age:
Jesus said to his disciples: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. “Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” When Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there. (Mt 13:47-53)
Instituted by Christ and founded on the apostles, the Church on earth is the kingdom of heaven in its seed and beginning. Where Christ is present, there the kingdom of heaven is also present. Christ is present in the Church, which is his one and holy body, by virtue of his divine power, essence, and word. When we assist at Mass we participate in the representation of Christ’s saving sacrifice on the cross, an event of unsurpassed sacredness, as Vatican II noted. When the scriptures are read we hear Christ himself speak. When the Gospel is proclaimed by the deacon or priest, we hear the words of Christ once again announced throughout all time. In the homily infused with the Word of God, Christ continues to give loving direction to our lives in order that all who listen may attain to their proper end in God. In receiving the Eucharist, the heart, source and summit of the Church, we receive Christ himself who nourishes us with his divine power, wisdom and supernatural life.
Jesus Christ is the kingdom in his Divine Person. Where the Church is, there is Christ; where Christ is, there is his Church.
The Church is God the Father’s intended home for all people, deigned to be so from before time began. The Church on earth is inclusive, isolating no one, barring no person from communion with her and her founder, Jesus Christ. It is only the individual who voluntarily excludes himself by rejecting communion with the Church through free-choices that are incompatible with the love of Christ and the rule of his kingdom. Therefore the Church, as a great net, is composed of persons whose hearts belong to God and those whose hearts do not. Within the visible Church is found both friends and foes of Christ, both the righteous and the wicked.
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Mt 13:24-30)
The Church on earth, then, contains both weeds and wheat, growing up together, side-by-side. The wheat represents true children of God who deliberately live under Christ’s sovereign authority and who have made the rule of the kingdom of heaven the rule of their lives. The weeds, on the other hand, have grown up surrounded by the people of God yet have at some point aligned their lives with the spirit of evil, the devil and his cohorts, whose destructive and prideful activities are in opposition to God. One can be transformed from wheat to weed by mortal sin; one can be transformed from weed to wheat through sincere repentance and reception of the sacrament of Penance.
In both these parables, Jesus warns us with love about the approaching judgment at the end of the age. All must pass through divine judgment at death, wherein God will confirm our life’s choices: those who have died loving God will be saved, those who have died rejecting God will not. In each case, those who have passed from earthly life as enemies of the kingdom of God will be cast away and burned. The key is to die in a state of sanctifying grace. If one dies devoid of this grace, one will be lost. That is the reality—a terrifying one—of the power of human freedom.
It seems people often think one can become an enemy of God only by openly and directly attacking him, such as through blasphemy or cursing God himself with hateful words or by committing some especially vicious crime such as murder. However, one becomes God’s foe, casting himself from the kingdom of heaven by knowingly and deliberately engaging in disordered activities which are gravely opposed to the commandments of Christ. Mortal sin, then, is itself a self-exclusion from the kingdom of heaven. To commit mortal sin is to turn one’s back on God by rejecting the life of fidelity and love to which he obliges us all. And it’s easier to fall into than people often like to admit. The danger of mortal sin is very real. It’s as close as sexual sin such as cohabitation or fornication or adultery or lust or relishing in pornographic material, it’s as easy to commit as gravely and intentionally damaging another person’s character unjustly, speaking with the intent to deceive others on critical matters, refusing to help in any way those who stretch out their hands to us in need, supporting abortion or euthanasia, rejecting participation in the Sunday Eucharist or receiving the Eucharist while conscious of having committed mortal sin for which there has not been repentance nor forgiveness via the sacrament of Confession.
Mortal sin remains a very real danger. The parables Christ offers us warn that the kingdom of heaven can in fact be lost. Our life, our beliefs, our actions and the direction we take is crucial. It shapes our present and determines our future—not merely temporarily but potentially forever.
It seems to me that those who are deeply affected by these parables are the very people who belong to the kingdom of God. The Spirit of God directs their hearts, moving them to gaze deeply into their interior so as to illuminate those dark corners of the soul, fostering repentance and cultivating a new thirst for free and loving obedience to Christ that they may drink from the well-spring of his divine love.
Those who tell themselves there is no need for repentance of grave sin because God is merciful have brought their lives under the rule of self-deception.
The truly wondrous and beautiful truth is that God really is loving and merciful. Christ willingly suffered and died on the cross in order for all people to be reconciled with God, that salvation be made possible for you and for me, that the kingdom of heaven become a reality I can step into. God’s love far surpasses our sins. He grants his divine love and mercy to the humble, to those who repent of their sins and apply themselves diligently to living their lives for the sake of his love. Christ embraces those who seek holiness and righteousness. He gives himself to those who love their neighbor for the sake of their love of him. He never forsakes anyone whose mind, heart and will is sincerely attached to his.
Further, through repentance, baptism and the other sacraments, Christ graces us with the treasuries of the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity. With these divine gifts infused into the soul, our lives are directed toward God as our end.
God truly does care for us. He truly does love you and me. The question we must ask ourselves each day is this: does my heart belong to God? Am I wheat or weed? Am I to be counted among the righteous or the wicked?
It is helpful and consoling to often place one’s hand over one’s heart and say this prayer of contrition: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We can say this prayer privately, anytime throughout the day. Above all, we must always remember that Christ is calling us to a new life and bestowing upon us the grace to live it fully and joyously. All we need do is cooperate and step forward.
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Photo Credit: Deacon Frederick Bartels. All rights reserved.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.