The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Homily: Solemnity of the Assumption (Vigil)

Readings:  1 Ch 15:3-4; 15-16;16:1-2; Psalm 132; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Lk 1:27-28

In 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a belief the faithful had held for centuries. And almost 100 years later, in 1950, his successor Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of her Assumption; and by doing so once again confirmed that which the faithful had long believed.

These two events span the limits of Mary's life on earth. The Immaculate Conception celebrates God's bringing her into being without sin. And the Assumption celebrates Mary's singular participation in her Son's Resurrection by which she was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory at the end of her life.

The two events, although separated by a lifetime, are actually very closely related. In truth we can't have one without the other. And so once her Immaculate Conception was proclaimed to be part of the deposit of faith, it was inevitable that her Assumption would follow suit.

Mary's Assumption is the destiny of all in Christ and gives us a glimpse into what we too can expect when our own resurrection occurs on the last day. As St. Paul reminds us in tonight's second reading:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
[1 Cor 15:54-55]
...all through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Assumption of Mary
And so, through the power of Christ's resurrected glory, we will experience complete and perfect union with God in a glorified state, just as Mary experiences it now as a result of her Assumption.

Why did God do this for Mary? Why did He assume her, body and soul, into His heavenly presence? We can't say for sure, because the Assumption's a mystery; we'll never fully understand it. But we can understand it partially, and say with some assurance that Mary's Assumption occurred because, as the Mother of Jesus Christ, she's also the Mother of God.

This, too, was taught by the Church from its earliest years. Mary had been called Theotokos - the God-bearer -- since at least the third century, and was officially proclaimed the Mother of God by the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. That Council proclaimed that her body, her immaculate body, a body conceived without sin, held the Incarnate Body of God Himself. This was also a proclamation about Jesus, confirming both His divine and human nature.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant
This understanding of Mary as "God-bearer" is foreshadowed in today's Old Testament reading. The Ark of the Covenant was the mark of God's intimate presence among His people. In the same way, the Church calls Mary the "Ark of the New Covenant" for it was she who carried the Messiah, she who was God's sacred vessel.

Just as King David leapt and danced in front of the Ark as it was carried into Jerusalem, so too does the unborn John the Baptist leap and dance in his mother's womb when he first encounters Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant. Because Christ has this absolutely unique relationship with the body of Mary, His Mother, at the end of her life she is glorified, both body and soul.

Mary is Mother many times over: Mother of God, Mother of us all, and Mother of the Church, the symbol of what we all should be. Today, therefore, we celebrate Mary, Theotokos, Mother of God, and Our heavenly Mother. But she's more than that, more than our Mother. She's also our sister, a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ.

But as the perfect disciple, she shows us how to live the Christian life, a model of faith and hope. Mary is among "the first-fruits" that Paul speaks of, the first-fruits of "all those who belong to Jesus" [1 Cor 15:23] and who share in his triumph.

In today's Gospel passage, Jesus isn't downplaying His Mother's role - just the opposite. For Mary is doubly-blessed, not only as the Mother of Jesus, but also as the perfect disciple who hears the word of God and observes it. Jesus is simply telling that woman who confronts Him in the street that she, too, can be one of His family. It's better, He tells her, to belong to His spiritual family than to His earthly family.

The Visitation: Mary and Elizabeth

Mary is blessed on both counts. She is His true mother, the God-bearer, the Ark of the New Covenant. But she's also the one who hears and keeps the word of the Lord...and does so in perfect humility.

Yes, Mary is the first and the best disciple of Jesus, something that Elizabeth proclaimed when Mary visited her: "Blessed are you among women..." [Lk 1:42] and John "leaped in her womb" [Lk 1:44]. In all humility Mary responded, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior" [Lk 1:46]. All three, Mary, Elizabeth and John, are filled with the Holy Spirit; filled too with joyful anticipation of God fulfilling His promise of a Savior.

How fitting a reminder to us today that Jesus Christ was greeted first by a baby in the womb, an unborn infant who pointed to the Incarnation as the Holy Spirit revealed the presence of the King to be born.

This is the power of the Holy Spirit; He is God's gift, enabling us to experience the indwelling presence of God and the power of his kingdom. Through the Holy Spirit God reigns within us.

From all this we learn that God visits us in the ordinariness of our lives, and remains with us in all we do. He is the presence that holds us up. As St. Paul reminded the philosophers of Athens, and as the liturgy instructs us: "in Him we live and move and have our being" [Acts 17:28].

It's through these encounters with God, these encounters that occur in the midst of our day-to-day lives, that we are saved by God's tender mercies. As our model of faith and hope, Mary shows us all this and more.

She accepted her mission with uncompromising faith and obedience.

She acted with unwavering trust because she believed God would fulfill the word he had spoken.

Mary fulfills the dreams and hopes of all as she proclaims: God exalts the lowly and he fills the hungry.

Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is ever ready to renew our faith in God's promises and make us strong in love for God and our neighbor.

Today, as we experience God's indwelling presence in the Eucharist, let's remember that Mary was the very first to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. As Gabriel said to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" [Lk 1:35]. And like Mary, it is through the power of the Spirit that we receive within us the Eucharistic Presence of her Son, for the Glory of the Father.

And today, especially today, let us ask our Mother Mary to intercede for us with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ask her to pray for our world, a world that has forgotten God, and world that has replaced peace with violence, replaced love with hate, replaced hope with despair. Ask her to intercede, to plead for a global healing that will bring all to Jesus Christ.

Praised be Jesus and forever.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Baptism of Amelia Ann

Yesterday I baptized a beautiful little girl whose name is Amelia Ann. I really love baptisms even though I don't get to preside at very many these days. 

The congregation of our previous parish on Cape Cod included many young families, so baptisms were fairly common. But here in The Villages, certainly Florida's largest retirement community and perhaps the largest in the world, baptisms are understandably rather rare. Fortunately, this large community of seniors (well over 100,000 residents) demands services of every sort. This very practical need has attracted an increasing number of young people, including families with children, who have settled in the communities surrounding The Villages. And so we are seeing a gradual increase in the number of baptisms, something that makes me happy...very happy.

Back to Amelia Ann...

She is eight months old, very bright, and seemingly quite sure of what she likes and dislikes. I suspect she'll be a handful, but what child isn't? Amelia was also very interested in everything I did as the rite progressed. She was very willing to be anointed with both the Oil of Salvation and Sacred Chrism, and, surprisingly, didn't object to the actual baptism. She displayed only a mild surprise when I poured water over her pretty head three times. But she never once cried or showed any sign of real displeasure. All things considered, Amelia was one of those perfect baptismal babies who actually seem to enjoy what's happening.

For years now, whenever I preside at a baptism, I give the child a little gift. I use the child's birthdate and baptismal date and convert each to a scriptural chapter and verse. For example, Amelia Ann was born on December 6 (12:6) and baptized on August 12 (8:12). Then, using these chapter/verse combinations, I go through the entire Bible and select no more than ten verses that seem particularly appropriate. Once I've chosen the verses I create a PowerPoint slide with a scriptural background and enter the verses. I then print the finished product (8x10) on glossy photo paper, place it in a nice frame, and give it to the family as a gift. The entire process takes only about an hour and it's always very well received. I've included an example below; in fact it's the one I made for Amelia Ann and her parents.

Anyway, it's a neat thing to make for a child. I also made these -- with just birthday verses -- for teenagers when I taught pre-confirmation catechesis in my previous parish. It was my birthday gift to the kids who were in my class. Everyone received one, even those whose birthdays fell during the summer months. I found it to be a fairly effective way to get them to open their Bibles and read. I think it would also be a nice gift from a parent or grandparent.

Homily: Saturday, 18th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Dt 6:4-13 • Ps 18 • Mt 17:14-20

St. John, throughout his Gospel never refers to miracles. Instead he calls these acts of Jesus "signs." As we read the Gospels of the other three evangelists, it would be good for us to recall this.

After all, a sign is really a message, isn't it? But it's a message that points to something greater than itself. This is exactly what we encounter in today's passage from Matthew: not just a healing, but a sign that points to something else, something greater. And that greater thing is discipleship, a discipleship grounded in faith.

I find it remarkable that those who come to Jesus for healing inevitably have much greater faith than His disciples. It's particularly apparent in this passage.

A man comes to Jesus, kneels before Him, and utters that most fundamental of Christian prayers, "Lord, have mercy..." (Kyrie, eleison...) [Mt 17:15] That prayer is an open declaration, an act of faith, that sees God's presence in the very person of Jesus.
But even more telling is that the man comes to Jesus not for himself but for another, for his son. He says his son is a lunatic, which at the time meant "moon-struck" or a reaction to the phases of the moon. This was the medical diagnosis of the time. Today we'd simply say, "epilepsy" - a condition involving convulsions that can endanger the sufferer.

But as Jesus heals we encounter a surprising revelation, don't we? The medical diagnosis is apparently wrong, because Jesus treats it as a case of demonic possession. It takes Him to identify the true spiritual illness afflicting the man's son and to point out the presence of the Evil One.

But regardless of his son's condition the man appeals to Jesus with deep faith. And through faith he knows he and his son are taking refuge in the very heart of God. Such is the power of the prayer: "Lord, have mercy."

The father goes on to mention the dangers of falling into fire and water, which call to mind that beautiful prophecy from beginning of chapter 43 of Isaiah:
When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you [Is 43:2].
Jesus brings this prophecy to life. He is with us in all things and suffers alongside us.

Just moments before Jesus had told the disciples, "the Son of Man must suffer..." [Mt 17:12], a prophecy He repeats immediately after this healing [Mt 17:22].

Yes, the Son of Man, the Redeemer, must suffer. He is the Redeemer because He takes on the sufferings of others, of all others, even before they experience them. He comes to us as one of us - Son of God and Son of Mary. And He carries within Himself the Father's love, the love that created each one of us. Jesus Christ, the Son, lives in our pain. He lives in our anguish. He lives in our suffering. And He brings us healing. He also lives in our sinfulness and brings us forgiveness. For what is forgiveness, but healing?

Notice, though, this man who came to Jesus wasn't sent or taken there by the disciples. No, he came on his own, driven by a faith stronger than that of the disciples. The disciples stand off, at a distance, scratching their heads, wondering, why couldn't we heal him? Perhaps the answer lies in the question itself...for we don't do the healing.

Jesus makes ir clear, doesn't He? The disciples could not heal the man's son because of "their little faith" [Mt 17:20], They're still caught up in their earthly lives. They're still focused on themselves and not of the sufferings of others.

We see this when, not long before this incident, Peter can confess, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" [Mt 16:16], and moments later be rebuked by Jesus:
"Get behind me, Satan!...You are thinking not as God does, but as men do" [Mt 16:23].
How can they expect to bring God's healing to others when they've yet to accept His healing presence in their own lives?

Brothers and sisters, as Jesus' disciples we can carry God's life to others only if we ourselves posses it.

Only when we accept, in humility, that gift of faith, that tiny mustard seed, can it grow and be fruitful.

Only then can it bring God's life into our lives and the lives of those we are called to love.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Multicultural Disaster

If you've got the stomach to read any of my politically oriented posts, you'll know that when it comes to politics and the things of the world, I'm a bit of a pessimist...perhaps more than a bit. I've actually come to believe that, as a nation, we have probably reached the point of no-return. By this I mean that the United States of America will never again be the beacon of freedom it once was. The statist elites are so deeply imbedded in all levels of our societal infrastructure, I see no way to exorcise them. And that's exactly what our society needs: an exorcism. Perhaps our loving God will take pity on us and change the hearts of a people who have strayed so far from their real home.

For generations those who suffered persecution, those whose religion, class, or ethnicity had trapped them in a continual cycle of poverty, looked to America as a nation where freedom reigned. In America they could start over and achieve a degree of success unattainable elsewhere. 

Not one of my grandparents was born in this country. Three were born in Ireland and one, also of Irish descent, was born in Canada. They came here seeking freedom, the freedom to work and succeed so they could feed and house their families, educate their children, and freely practice their faith. They didn't feel entitled because no entitlements existed. They took whatever jobs they could find, learned skills that were in demand, and worked hard. There was nothing unique about my grandparents; they were just like millions of others from around the world who came here to experience that same freedom. No longer were these immigrants simply Irish, or Italian, or Russian, or Greek, or British, or German. No longer did they define themselves solely by their class or religion. Now they were Americans! Now they were free men and women, no longer beholden to an upper class or a bureaucracy that lorded over them, but personally responsible for their own lives. I can recall my father, born in 1909, saying that he was most proud of his Irish forebears because "they had the guts to leave the blasted place and come to America!" Amen, Dad.

When they arrived here, they encountered hardships, and bigotry, and hatred. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution didn't stop citizens from sinning. Here in the land of the free some men gave free reign to their baser instincts. Hanging on the wall of my home office is a sign made by the Boston Sign Company in 1915. It reads, "No Irish Need Apply," a not uncommon warning that often met my ancestors when they looked for work. Not very nice, but far better than the lynchings and other atrocities that far too many Black Americans suffered. But despite the rantings of the far-left ideologues of Black Lives Matter, we've come a long way...and for the good.

Today many immigrants come to this country for the same reasons that motivated my grandparents. Many still work hard at multiple, demanding jobs to provide for their families and to offer hope to their children and grandchildren. I see them every day here in central Florida. They came here from Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, Brazil, or any of a hundred nations. They mow our lawns, pick up our trash, clean our swimming pools, cook our meals, paint our houses, and repave our roads. Many probably accept that they will work in these jobs for the rest of their lives, but see the future through the lives of their children who they hope will go on to be engineers or doctors or teachers or entrepreneurs. Some, already educated in their native countries, came here to escape the institutional oppression of socialist bureaucracies. Since moving to Florida I have been treated by doctors and PAs from Croatia, Russia, Pakistan, and India. I am continually amazed by those I meet, people who have come here from all over the world. Just last week, as on-call chaplains at our local hospital, Diane and I spent several hours visiting patients. On that single morning we met and prayed with patients from Egypt, Hungary, the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, and Colombia -- all here in search of a better life.

Most of today's immigrants will eventually assimilate just as my grandparents did. It may take an extra generation or two because of the multicultural mindset that governs many of our governmental agencies and turns the path to assimilation into an obstacle course. 

This multicultural mindset demands an assumption which I refuse to accept: the idea of cultural equality, that one culture is as good as the next. I disagree because I believe that our Western Civilization, the civilization that grew out of ancient Greek and Roman societies, was leavened by Mosaic Law fulfilled in Christianity, and reached its fullness in Europe and North America, is the greatest civilization our world has experienced. Of course it has its flaws -- many, many flaws. Original sin guarantees that. But even burdened by all its imperfections, Western Civilization far outshines any other. Multiculturalism denies this and would assume that sharia law is just as good, just as ennobling, just as supportive of human life as the Bill of Rights or the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes. This I cannot accept. And the very fact that millions throughout the world sacrifice so much to come here, shows that most of them cannot accept it either.

But the real problem with multiculturalism is that in practice it simply doesn't work. Need evidence? Just look at the history of what was once Yugoslavia, a phony nation created by the same European elites that gave us World War One and its disastrous consequences. A patchwork of diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, Yugoslavia was formed into a kingdom that experienced only chaos between the wars. After World War Two this "nation" was held together by the oppressive, totalitarian rule of Communist strongman Josip Broz (aka, Marshall Tito). When the dictator died in 1980 the crises erupted once again, resulting in years of inter-ethnic conflict that tore the country apart

Iraq is another patchwork nation, maintained for years by the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party. No doubt it will suffer a fate not unlike Yugoslavia and be undone by ethnic and religious strife, no thanks to us. I give it ten years maximum. Or look at the Catalonians who today threaten to create a new nation separate from a Spain whose culture they prefer not to share. And what was Brexit if not one culture's rejection of an attempt to create a multicultural superstate? Ironically, the U.K. may well face a similar rejection within its own borders should the Scots decide to go their own way. Yes, indeed, if a nation seeks to destroy itself, multiculturalism provides the perfect recipe.

Unfortunately, some of today's immigrants do not share our cultural values. Too many come here not for the freedom, but for the entitlements. They carry with them a set of cultural values foreign to, and often destructive of, the foundational values of Western Civilization. But the multicultural elites who welcome them actively discourage assimilation. No need to learn the language. No need to respect our laws if they conflict with your cultural values. No need to assimilate; stay together in your ethnic enclave where you can continue to celebrate and strengthen the culture from which you came.

Perhaps surprisingly, many Americans seem to understand that once the culture dissolves, the society it supports will collapse. Will we succeed in turning things around? Probably not. The opposing forces are likely too entrenched (again, my pessimism).

Western Civilization has had a pretty good run, but one gets the sense that it has aged, that its end is not too far off. I suppose it could end peacefully in the kind of societal hospice the Europeans seem to hope for; but most civilizations die with a bang and not a whimper. 

I hope I am wrong and we can rise up and reclaim our patrimony. But this won't happen unless we reclaim our faith, the "cult" that gives life to a culture. This will require some divine assistance, but "for God all things are possible" [Mt 19:26]. One thing we know for sure: if we seek perfection we'll have to wait for the Heavenly City.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Ancient Smiley Face

While browsing on some of my favorite archaeological websites, I came across an interesting story -- one of those stories that proves the truth of the words from the Book of Ecclesiastes:
"What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!" [Eccl 1:9]
Back in 1963 Harvey Ross Ball, a graphic artist and advertising man, was asked by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts to come up with an image that would lift the morale of the company's employees. Apparently the company had undergone several recent mergers and acquisitions and the results had been somewhat chaotic.

Ball spent all of ten minutes on the project and came up with what we now call the "Smiley Face." Here's what Harvey Ball's original looked like:
Smiley Face (1963)
Yes, I know. It's hard not to smile when you see this simple depiction of a happy person.

It is reported that Mr. Ball, who died in 2001 at the age of 80, was paid all of $45 for his ten minutes of design work. Of course, the little image he created continued to pay him rewards in the form of notoriety and the half-century of smiles it has generated.

But Harvey Ball was far more than a doodler. He served in Asia and the Pacific during World War Two and earned a Bronze Star at the Battle of Okinawa. He went on the serve 27 years in the National Guard and retired as a Brigadier General.

I assume his wartime experience in Asia was limited to East Asia, but wouldn't it be interesting if we were to discover that he spent some time in West Asia, specifically in Asia Minor? I say this because of a recent archaeological discovery at the site of the ancient Hittite city of Karkemish, located near the Syrian-Turkish border.

Apparently, archaeologists working the site discovered the fragments of a large, off-white jug. After putting it all back together they noticed a distinct image of a smiley face. The archaeologists claim the jug was used to hold an ancient form of sherbet. Perhaps the smile was to indicate the sweetness of the jug's contents.

I've included another photo (below) that shows the size of this remarkable, happy jug.

Hittite Smiley Face (c. 1700 B.C.)
As you can see the jug displays no other ornamentation and it seems obvious to me that the image is intended to depict a smile, along with the two dots for eyes. In fact, it's really remarkably similar to Harvey Ball's version, drawn about 3,700 years after the Hittite version. Neither includes any other facial features: no eyebrows, no nose, no ears, no chin... Hmmm... Do you think Harvey might have done a little digging in West Asia before returning home to Worcester? Probably not. I guess we can just assume that, as the Bible reminds us, "Nothing is new under the sun."

Over the years I've also seen a few "face jugs," especially here in the South where potters seem to enjoy adding rather grotesque facial features to their work. Rarely, however, are these faces smiling. Here's an example of a face jug from Georgia, perhaps designed to keep the kids from sippin' Papa's moonshine. Can you imagine having one of these in your house when you were a kid? You'd probably need lifelong therapy.
Southern Face Jug
Even in medieval times, the expressions depicted on most of these jugs were anything but happy, at least not the ones I've encountered.

A couple of years ago, on a visit to the UK, Diane and I stopped by a small museum in Winchester, Hampshire where I spotted the jug pictured below. While the expression is certainly not a smile, neither is it particularly hostile. In fact the face looks more surprised than anything else.
If I remember correctly (and I might be wrong here) the jug is dated to sometime around the 10th century. But whatever its age, it's certainly not nearly so ancient as the newly discovered Hittite smiley face.

That this oldest of smiley faces is of Hittite origin also surprised me. I guess I've never thought of the Hittites as a smiley sort of people. They pop up quite frequently in the Bible with perhaps the most famous being Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, the woman with whom King David was so smitten. To cover up his adultery, David arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. And that was certainly nothing to smile about.

While we know very little about the Hittite jug, at least we know that the ancients did enjoy some of life's simple pleasures. Dear Diane also enjoys an occasional taste of sherbet and always offers me some. And I must admit, it does make me smile.

Homily: Monday 17th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 32:15-24, 30-34 • Ps 106 • Mt 13:31-35

The Kingdom of Heaven is where God works.

It's the tiny mustard seed that grows to be a tree, a home for birds. It's the small bit of yeast, the leaven that makes the dough rise. Jesus' use of these natural processes in His parables is meant give us some insight into the nature of God's Kingdom. And to teach us that God's work in the Kingdom involves cooperation on our part.

Notice that you and I are not the seed. And neither are we the yeast. Oh, we work alongside God by helping to plant the seed, or by leavening the dough. But the great work, the miracle of growth, the seed becoming the tree...that's not our doing; that's God's work. Our part is small. And the more we realize that, the more we step aside and surrender, the more receptive we are to God's work in our lives, the more work of the Kingdom is accomplished.

The wonderful thing about this great work of God's Kingdom is that it starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are receptive to God's word. Just like the seed germinating out of sight beneath the ground, God's greatest work is unseen and causes a transformation from within. Just as the yeast transforms a lump of dough and produces rich and wholesome bread when baked, the kingdom of God transforms those who receive the new life Jesus Christ offers.

When we yield our lives to God and allow His word to take root in our hearts, we are transformed and made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. St. Paul said it best: "...we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" [2 Cor 4:7].

In these short parables Jesus tells us that His way is not at all spectacular; it's a quiet way, a way of humility and love. Instead of seeking earthly power, Jesus went about healing sick and tormented people. Miracles, yes, but not spectacles, not the sort of miracles the world wants to see.

The world's leaders, the politicians, promise the world, but produce nothing but dust...because the world can deliver nothing else. Indeed, almost everything about the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of what the world desires. Just like the Israelites in the desert who turned to a false god that demanded nothing - for that would be so much easier than accepting God's Law.

No, man doesn't want to hear God's Word, for the world seeks something else, and what it seeks never lasts. That's the false logic of the world. But the logic of the Gospel turns the world on its head; for it's the logic of paradox, of worldly paradox.

Only in the Kingdom of heaven are the first really the last [Mt 20:16], are the weak the strong [2 Cor 12:10], and the least the greatest [Lk 9:48].

Only in God's Kingdom are the poorest the richest [Jas 2:5]. Only there are the lost saved [Lk 15:10]. It's where the lowest are the highest [Lk 14:10], and where the meek inherit the earth [Mt 5:5]. It's where the hungry are satisfied [Lk 6:21] and where the persecuted are blessed [Mt 5:10]. And to live there eternally, we must die [Jn 12:25].

In a word, what the world seeks, God rejects.

So take heart, because this is the Good News. This is the paradox we're called to proclaim from the rooftops to all who will hear. That's our work. We can let God do the rest through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Our other work within the Kingdom is prayer. For it's under the influence of prayer that you and I grow imperceptibly, that God can work in us so His work of transformation will go far on beyond our own meager efforts.

Let's pray today that we'll be filled with the Holy Spirit, that He'll transform us into the Christ-like holiness God desires. Let's pray that the Spirit increases our zeal for the Kingdom and instills in us a desire to live only for God's greater glory.

And at the end of each day, how about taking a moment to ask, "What did I do today to bring about the Kingdom?"