I spent a good part of one of the days of my retreat praying with Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom, and felt I came away with a much deeper understanding than I had before of some of what Jesus was trying to convey in those parables. But I also came away with something more than that.
On a walk I took on the beach after some sessions praying with the parables, I started singing the David Haas Blest Are They song that we’ve sometimes sung at Mass. As I over and over sang “Blest are they” and “the Kingdom of God is theirs”, and as those words melded with my meditations on the parables, I had a deepened realization that Jesus was not giving a promise about the future when he spoke about the Kingdom. That when he said the Kingdom of God is at hand he was not making a promise about what would happen to us when we die, but was speaking about the here and now. (Doubtless the strength of the realization was aided by the fact that the book I was reading on retreat in between my meditations on Savary’s New Spiritual Exercises is Gerhard Lohfink’s Jesus of Nazareth; I’ll write more about that book at a future time.)
This is something St. Ignatius totally got, hence his stress about being contemplatives in action and on God’s plan for the world. Ignatius is not about doing some good things here so you can enjoy eternity in God’s kingdom in another world, it is about manifesting God’s kingdom in this world.
Once we understand that we can see that there are two fundamental mistakes people can make. The first is a non-spiritual view that thinks this life is just about enjoying oneself, getting as much as one can, living only for oneself.
The second is a mistake some religious folks make – to think that that the Kingdom is all about the afterlife (although we will have that also). That view causes some to think it is an acceptable option to simply write off this world as corrupt and worry about the next one. But what we do in this life is not simply the price for something that comes after death, but is a fundamental part of God’s plan.
When I hear some people these days talk about the “Benedict option,” I fear they may suffer from this mistake. If the Benedict option means withdraw from the mainstream and become a beacon of light for all to see, a model for Kingdom (in the way I think God intended the Israelites to be) that is one thing. But the way I hear some people talk, it is more about circling the wagons and protecting themselves from the big bad world. And that option is a fundamental mistake that abandons God’s plan for the world.