Week After Ascension

The Kingdom Is Among You

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” — Matthew 4:17

These words open Jesus' ministry in the Gospels, and they are his constant refrain during his three years of preaching. But what is the kingdom of heaven, also called the kingdom of God? And where is it?

In Jesus' day, the Jewish people were eagerly awaiting the kingdom of heaven, which they equated with a restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Resenting their subjection to the warlike Romans, they longed for the peaceful, worldwide reign of God and his anointed one (Messiah or Christ), who would be a king in the line of David. Naturally, when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven, their ears perked up, and they had questions:

Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he said in reply, “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” — Luke 17:20-21

Clearly, the kingdom of God is not a political entity comparable with the Roman empire or even the old kingdom of Israel. Jesus did not ride in as a conquering hero to impose this kingdom on the nations. At the time of his preaching, he said the kingdom of God was already among them. For those with the eyes to see, this statement provides the answer we're looking for: Jesus himself is the kingdom of heaven. Because he is God, Jesus is the ruler of all creation. Through the mystery of Easter and Pentecost, he also conquers the world and imbued it with his presence through the Holy Spirit. By doing so, he draws mankind and all of creation into his peace—into himself! Thus, the Body of Christ is the kingdom of God.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

This collect prayer begins the Mass for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Jesus is calling us to "take up battle against spiritual evils." We'll explore fasting itself in a few weeks; during the week of Ash Wednesday, we're going to dig into an important set of weapons the Lord gives us to fight evil: sacramentals.

What's a sacramental? Well, if you attend Mass on Ash Wednesday, you're probably going to receive one on your forehead.