Building the Kingdom of God togetrher in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
On the feast of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, 8 August 2019, Bishop Bill formally convoked our Diocesan Synod which will be held in association with the National Plenary Council 2020. The opening session of the Synod on 23 November 2019 concluded with the solemn celebration of the feast of Christ the King and the closing session will conclude with the solemn celebration of the same feast in 2021.
‘Building the Kingdom of God Together in the Diocese of Maitland Newcastle” was therefore chosen as the theme for the Synod.
In the context of our 21st century Australian Church seeking to be ‘inclusive, participatory and synodal’[i] some may question whether the concept of ‘building a kingdom’ will help us, as a diocesan community, to respond to the challenges we face at this time in our history.
However, if we are truly seeking to be a more Christ-centred Church and to address the challenging Plenary Council 2020 themes, then our focus needs to be on Jesus and on the Good News he came to bring.
Throughout the gospels that Good News was presented by Jesus in terms of ‘the kingdom’ – in well over 100 verses.
Jesus’ first spoken words in the gospels were, ‘The time has come … The kingdom of God is near.’ (Mk 1:15) and he described his own mission as being ‘sent to preach the gospel about the Kingdom.’ (Lk 4:43). He went ‘throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom’. (Mt 4:23). He taught his followers to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ (Mt 6:10).
‘The kingdom’ was in fact the central theme of Jesus’ teaching, his way of communicating to his followers the gospel values that would counteract evil and lead them to understand God’s love and to enjoy happiness in this life and the next.
Jesus wanted his followers to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Mt 6:3), and he told many parables to explain what he meant by that. The kingdom of God was, he said, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a mustard seed, like leaven hidden in dough, like a dragnet cast into the sea gathering fish of every kind. He often said the kingdom ‘may be compared to’ …. to a man who casts seed upon the soil; to ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom; to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves; to a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers; to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said of the poor in spirit and of those persecuted for the sake of righteousness that ‘the kingdom of God is theirs’ (Mt 5:3,10). He spoke about how difficult it was ‘for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Mt 19:23), and significantly, he associated the kingdom with children: ‘Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ (Mk 10:15).
Jesus was, of course, not promoting an earthly, patriarchal kingdom of wealth, status and power but rather the exact opposite. “My kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn. 18:36].
His was a kingdom concerned with “truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace” [LG 39][ii]. It was concerned with God’s unconditional love seeking to transform people’s lives and their relationships with God and with one another.
For that reason, Paulist Fr. Richard Chilson csp has suggested that it may be helpful to think of the Kingdom of God as ‘Love’s Domain’ or ‘Love’s Rule’ because it exists ‘where the God who is Love rules’.
The kingdom of God describes this world as it would be if gospel values were lived.
As we seek to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us through the words of others including those who may differ from us, we will also listen to what the Spirit continues to say to us through the words of Jesus in the gospels and we will seek to understand them better.
That is surely the only way we will really discern how is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is missionary and evangelising; inclusive, participatory and synodal; prayerful and Eucharistic; humble, healing and merciful; a joyful, hope-filled servant community; open to conversion, renewal and reform[iii].
That is the only way we will challenge and support one another in ‘building the Kingdom of God together in this Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’.
[i] Plenary Council 2020 Discernment Themes
[ii] Vatican II Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church
[iii] Plenary Council 2020 Discernment Themes