Building the Kingdom of God

Building the Kingdom of God

A woman named Teresa had a sense that something was missing in her life, even though she was very happy, and kept busy with a full-time job, three children, and a husband who worked the midnight shift. She had a nagging sense she was supposed to be doing something more, so—seeing a retreat for women advertised in her parish bulletin—she arranged to go away for a weekend. On Saturday night she was asleep in her room at the retreat center when suddenly she awakened and saw, to her shock, a huge ghostly figure of a young man with curly hair and wearing simple garments. His body was wet with sweat from laboring, and He was looking upward toward Heaven with a smile on His face. Teresa heard in her mind the words “This is Jesus, the Carpenter’s Son; He has been working long grueling hours helping His father.” Then some further words came: “It’s hard work building the Kingdom.” The image of Jesus disappeared, but Teresa’s heart continued pounding, and she wondered, “If that was Jesus, why am I so afraid?”  However, she consoled herself with the thought that the apostles had also been terrified when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water.

At Mass the next morning Teresa prayed, “Lord, was that really You last night?” She was stunned when the priest began his homily by saying, “Jesus, the Carpenter’s Son—what a beautiful Name for the One Who helps us build our lives.” Teresa thought, “Wow! God is definitely telling me something,” and she reflected on this the rest of the day, including on her drive home. Upon arriving, she quickly sat down at her computer and wrote a reflection about Jesus, the Carpenter’s Son. On a whim Teresa sent it to the editor of the diocesan newspaper, who not only published it, but, to her great surprise, invited her to write a column for the paper once a month. Teresa thus heard the call from God to be a writer, and she happily responded, even though she had never considered herself an author. A short time later she was invited to be a cantor and music minister at her parish—something that once would have filled her with fear—and again she responded. 

Reflecting on all this years later, Teresa wrote, “One thing led to another, and suddenly, I had plenty to do; [it] seems there’s a lot of heavenly work out there. The floodgates opened, and I just went with the flow. My visit from the Carpenter’s Son was over twenty years ago. Not one day since then have I been idle; I always find something worthwhile to do for Jesus:  like writing, singing, visiting nursing homes, or teaching catechism to my grandchildren. Often, I get tired. Sometimes I want to quit. But, for the most part, when weariness comes a-calling, I just take a break. Then, I look to Heaven and wipe the sweat from my brow, remembering that Jesus once told me that it’s hard work building the Kingdom of God” (Teresa Anne  Hayden, Chicken Soup for the Soul—Everyday Catholicism:  God’s Miracles in Our Lives, pp. 215-218). As Teresa learned, God has a plan for us that’s far better, and more interesting and satisfying, than anything we can arrange. Jesus can “build” or order our lives in wonderful, unexpected ways—if only we give Him the chance.

The apostles already knew their Master was capable of doing miraculous things, but seeing Him walk on the water prompted them to declare, “Truly, You are the Son of God!” They didn’t realize that they themselves would be working miracles in His Name—though Peter’s initially-successful attempt to walk on the water should have been a clue. Through God’s grace, Peter was doing something amazing; he began to sink only when he took his eyes off Jesus. This is an important lesson for all Christians: centering our lives around Christ allows us to accomplish valuable things for the Kingdom of Heaven, and find great peace in doing so. It’s when we focus primarily on ourselves that life starts to become chaotic, confusing, and spiritually dangerous.  Just as the Lord was not present in the stormy wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but only in the tiny whispering sound, so we must learn to listen and look for God away from this world’s bustle and busyness, and instead in the peacefulness of quiet moments, simple experiences, and gentle encounters—for these are the grace-filled resources Jesus uses to build His Kingdom.

Inner peace is necessary if we are to let God truly work in and through us—and there are a number of simple but profound sayings on this subject. For instance, someone once noted, “Peace rules the day when Christ rules the heart.” Also, there’s a Finnish proverb which says, “God did not create hurry.” Perhaps the most appropriate quote is this: “Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child” (Roy B. Zuck, The Speaker’s Quote Book, pp. 283ff). We live in a world dominated by a 24-hour news cycle, with all sorts of stories and bulletins and special reports clamoring for our attention, even as our lives are often filled with various responsibilities, activities, health and financial concerns, family duties and problems, electronic disturbances and distractions, almost unlimited entertainment options, and constant movement and noise and stress. We must ask ourselves: how many of these things help build up the Kingdom of God? Many times, if we are to fulfill the mission God has assigned to us, we have to turn away from the never-ending storms of this world and allow Divine Grace to calm our hearts—for the same Lord Who walked on water, saved Peter from slipping beneath the surface, and calmed the wind and the waves, can also bring peace to our hearts and purpose to our lives.  As Teresa learned as a result of her retreat, Jesus wants to involve us in the building of His Kingdom, no matter how busy we are or how unqualified or unworthy we may feel. As a Carpenter’s Son, He can help us find satisfaction and joy in discovering and using our talents and unsuspected abilities, in working hard in parish ministries and serving others in  our everyday opportunities, and in making our simple but valuable contributions as part of our Heavenly Father’s unfolding plan of salvation.

Having a vision or mystical encounter can be a great inspiration and blessing, but it isn’t necessary in order for us to discover and embrace our own unique invitation and calling to serve the Lord and His people. Jesus says, “Take courage; it is I—do not be afraid.” Even if, like Peter, we at first allow fear to make us falter, Jesus is with us and will sustain us, as long as we place our trust in Him

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper