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Kingdom of Heaven

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

In our Gospel passages for the 17th Week of Ordinary Time, there are many references to the “Kingdom of Heaven.” In some other places and translations there will be references to the “Kingdom of God” or “The Reign of God.” All point to the same reality. But what comes to mind when we hear of the “Kingdom of Heaven?” We may have different ideas about that, but the actual meaning can be a bit unclear. It is not first of all a place to which we travel.

During the 17th Week, we read some of the parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. And as the early Christian community reflected on Jesus’ words about the Kingdom, they realized he did not describe it in precise terms. And so we hear over and over, “the Kingdom of Heaven is like” something. It is like the seed scattered on the land. It is like weeds growing up among wheat. It is like a great catch of fish. It is like a treasure or pearl of great price. It is “like” these things.

And so, what are we to think? Among other things, we may see the Kingdom of Heaven as a way of living or a state of mind. We might say those living in the Kingdom of Heaven are those who live in a certain way, who express certain values in their lives. They are, in other words, those who try to live by all the teachings of Jesus. They do this as individuals and in community with others.

The Catholic Church does not equal the Kingdom of Heaven, but we hope that Catholic people participate in the Kingdom in their behavior, along with their brothers and sisters in other groups and denominations.

Those living in the Kingdom of Heaven are those , indeed, who hear the words of Jesus and follow them with their lives. Could Jesus say to any of us: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like your life?”

St. Bonaventure

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

On July 15, the Church honors St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan mystic, theologian, and Minister General of the Franciscan Order. He is often called the “Second Founder” of the Franciscan Order for a couple of reasons. He lived in the 13th Century and joined the Order not too long after the death of St. Francis.

He took up the ideas and spirit of St. Francis and gave them some theological form and structure. His famous work, The Journey of the Soul into God, tells of a way of prayer and spirituality that incorporates the Franciscan spirit. He builds on Francis’ appreciation of nature and all of creation as reflecting the presence of God in all things.

He is associated with the phrase vestigia Dei, the “footprints of God,” which are to be found all around us in the created world.

Bonaventure is also considered the Second Founder in the way he helped to reconcile two factions in the Order, which were having disagreements about how to truly follow the spirit of Francis.

He was asked to become a bishop and he refused until finally he was prevailed upon to become bishop of Albano and was made a cardinal. With that is connected the little story of how delegates from Rome came to give him his cardinal’s red hat. He asked them at first to wait outside and hang it on a tree while he helped wash the dishes. The humble spirit of a great man.

St. Thomas the Apostle

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

On July 3, the Catholic Church honors St. Thomas the Apostle, frequently referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” and therefore the source of many comments aimed at those of us who go by that name! Yes, Thomas struggled with doubt when the other disciples told of seeing the Risen Christ. He demanded proof, or else he would not believe. And so the Gospel tells us he did see Jesus the next time he appeared, and so he believed. Jesus reminded him that those are blessed who have not seen, and still believe. Was he talking about you and me?

Thomas could be the patron of all of us. Do we ever have doubts? Do we have questions about the unseen realm of God and “heaven?” Do we wonder what really happens after physical death? I raise my hand to join that group.

The story of Thomas can be a reminder that, even as we doubt and question and wonder, the Risen Christ is there, beyond the veil of our limited sight, ready to receive and accept us in our questioning. We are to remain open to the mystery and not close the door to what might be. God, Christ, Trinity await us.

We are blessed if we continue to even want to believe without visible proof. We remain open to what God wants to teach us.

Independence Day

By Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap.

Once again we observe Independence Day. The day will be observed in all sorts of ways, some more serious than others. On the surface, it will be a day, a weekend, of picnics, cookouts, beach time, golf, baseball, fireworks. But the reason for the celebration always lingers in the background: the United States declared its independence from Great Britain and fought a war to make that a reality. Since then, our citizens have been proud to  proclaim our freedom, our independence. As Christians, we know that Christ has made us free, but free for what? Not to do simply as we please, but free to be who we really are: children of God, living with Christ’s life in us. This is not rugged individualism without regard for others. We are free to be in communion with the Trinity, and therefore with other people. We are free to be loving and compassionate and to do justice.

During the past year, someone cynically said the new spirit of American was becoming “No one can tell me what to do.” If that is what Independence Day means for anyone, that person is headed in the direction of selfishness and a kind of narcissism. All about me. That is hardly the spirit of “All for one, one for all,” or the spirit of the freedom of the children of God. Our freedom is not for selfishness, but is a freedom for sharing and respecting all our brothers and sisters. Happy Independence Day!

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