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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | The goodness of God’s Kingdom breaks into our sin-ridden world

‘Rising early the next morning, He went off to a lonely place in the desert; there He was absorbed in prayer.’

Does the potential threat of a nuclear missile attack get the best of you? What about the constant threat of another terrorist attack, in almost any neighborhood? What about racial unrest, the inability of our society to work together for the common good? These fears are all aspects of a world where sin abounds and we have no place to go. It has been like this since Cain and Abel.

Those who remember another time that was so different must suffer from amnesia. For me, World War II started when I was 6; the Korean War when I was 16; the Vietnam War when I was 26. Who can count the wars and conflicts since then? Yet we have survived them all.

There is no other world to which we can escape where sin hasn't preceded our entry. However, there is a kingdom in which we can live while in the midst of a sinful society — a society to which we have contributed our share of mistakes.

That is what the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time are about. Life is hard, but Christ has come to make life noble in the midst of sin and misery. Job learned from personal experience that life can be brutally difficult.

Job says: "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery? Are not his days those of a hireling? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who wants for his wages." Job suffered disaster after disaster, losing his entire family and all his possessions. In all of his suffering, he never once spoke against God.

Instead, Job said: "Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"

Perhaps we have on this earth the right mixture of blessings and weaknesses to help us focus on a better kingdom. It's our privilege to help make this a more tolerant, loving and peaceful world.

In the Gospel, Jesus spends His time and energy making this a better society by creating a kingdom in the midst of a sin-ridden world. This kingdom can change human behavior and even society. Notice, He goes from study and prayer in the synagogue into a world infested by illnesses, evil spirits and human depravity. When He enters the house of Peter's mother-in-law who is ill, He immediately heals her. That is neither a part of Divine Revelation nor Church teaching.

When the people found out that the compassionate Jesus was present in the neighborhood, "the whole town was gathered outside the door. Those whom He cured, who were variously afflicted, were many, and so were the demons He expelled."

You would think that the next morning, Jesus would want to take in the adulation and thanks of those healed. However, "Rising early the next morning, He went off to a lonely place in the desert. There He was absorbed in prayer." When Peter found Him and told Him everyone is looking for Him, He replied: "Let us move on to the neighboring villages so that I may proclaim the good news there also."

Jesus went to other towns and villages preaching the good news in their synagogues and "expelling demons throughout the whole of Galilee." Notice the consistent rhythm of Jesus' activity. He enters the synagogues preaching the good news. This stirs up demons and He drives them out and heals the afflicted. He goes back into deep communion with the Father; He then goes out and releases the power of the good news. He was a very soothing presence to repentant sinners and a bombshell for demons. This is the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven breaking into our sin-ridden and demon-infested world.

Cardinal Justin F. Rigali once said that Pope John Paul II had this same rhythm. After deep prayer and then celebrating Mass, the pope always wanted to meet with attendees. He would then go back to prayer before visiting the next group of pilgrims. Pope Francis does similarly.

What worked for Jesus, for John Paul II and for Pope Francis also works for us. We are all surrounded by the same human problems. We are called to use the same weapons of prayer and contemplation to bring relief to those afflicted in our midst.

We need to ask: "Do I really believe that deep, quiet prayer can change me, my family and my friends?"

So much good happens to us when we enter into deep silence, reflecting on God's word. So much good happens when we sit with a Scripture passage in silence. Sometimes the silence exposes a subconscious lie that has kept us in captivity for years. Suddenly, we realize that quiet prayer has released us from its grip. Now its exposure changes relationships that were either strained or ruptured.

This is the kingdom of God's goodness breaking into our sin-ridden world. This is God's word setting us free. If we give God permission, His word, which "is keener than a two-edged sword," has the power to explode spiritual strongholds in our lives.

This is why we are able to experience a kingdom of joy in the midst of a sin-laden and demon-infested world. Scriptural prayer has so much hidden power. Perhaps we might say: "A psalm a day will keep the demons away." That is why the Church's "Liturgy of the Hours" is so powerful. 

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