The building in which I work is blessed to have a chapel. And sometimes I take advantage of that fact to spend a few moments during my working day in quiet prayer before the tabernacle.
Invariably, I have to begin that time of prayer by trying to put aside a raft of distractions. I try to make space for the Lord and all the cares of my working day come rushing in.
This is a strange situation. Here I am seated or kneeling before the Lord of the universe and I can't give him my full attention. Surely, if Jesus were present in human form, he would get my undivided attention. But that is not the form of his presence.
In the tabernacle, Jesus is present in a different way -- in the unassuming form of unleavened bread. This is a God who is humble beyond my imaginings. He does nothing to demand my attention. The Lord of the universe sits silently as bread.
We humans dress it up by housing that silent host in a golden tabernacle and erecting a magnificent building around him. But the basic reality these contain is that of the utter self-effacement of God.
Jesus told us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). In the humble host, the kingdom of God is most present. There is also nothing which could be poorer in spirit than Christ's presence in the Eucharist. Here, Christ the king stands ready to be consumed by his people.
When we pray for God's kingdom to come, what are we asking for?
The late Jamaican reggae musician Bob Marley drew a caricature of the kingdom in one of his songs: "Some people think great God will come from the sky, take away everything and make everybody feel high."
To be sure, we live in hope, rooted in faith. But this hope is not escapism. Dominican Father Jordan Aumann wrote that "Even the greatest saints experience a nostalgia for heaven, and this is one of the most powerful stimuli for advancing without discouragement along the way of heroism and sanctity" (Spiritual Theology, p. 260). The desire for heaven can lead one to lead an especially loving and virtuous life in this world.
We live as though we are already in heaven. We endeavor to live by the values of God, rather than the values of the world. But this does not mean fleeing the world. We live here in cooperation with God's grace, but not as though everything hangs on human efforts. As St. Paul said, "We have our citizenship in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). But our feet remain on earth.
While God's kingdom is not of this world, it has effects on this world. Those striving for union with God live with poverty of spirit and suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness.
In a world which is frantic and self-absorbed, God's children live with the fruits of the Holy Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God's children have a special love for the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the rejected because they know Christ is especially present in them. The children of God cannot bear to see the dignity of any person trampled in the interests of material gain.
God's kingdom is coming but, through our lives, it is also in our midst.
So when I pray before the tabernacle, I adore the Son of God who is present there. I also seek to be like him. I seek to live with the same poverty of spirit with which he dwells in our midst.
So the first thing I must do is empty myself of those distractions. Those distractions are a clear sign that I am caught up in worldly values. They are my gods. They are the things which keep me from poverty of spirit, the things which prevent God from reigning in my heart. I must examine them and then put them aside so God can be my God.
Once my distractions are gone, then I can live with some degree of poverty of spirit. Now, there is room for the Holy Spirit -- the gentle Holy Spirit who does not force his way into anyone's heart -- to transform my life with the values of the kingdom. The kingdom is coming and now it is in our midst.
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