by Frank P. Desiano, CSP
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
The Author states: “For a long time, the importance of the Kingdom of God has been growing on me.” The poser of this image of the Kingdom, mysteriously present but pregnant with a future we can barely imagine, has dovetailed in recent decades with Christian reflection on evolution, at least for those Christians who do not reject the idea of evolution because of their fundamentalist assumptions. Evolution has permeated a new perspective for human thinking, one in which, through a process of greater complexification, new forms of life emerge, indeed even the unique form of life we call humankind. Many Christian thinkers have come to see evolution as a pattern of ongoing progress, one begun in God, drawn forward by God, and culminating in an encounter with the fullness of God. Such a perspective allows believers to look on our world optimistically, as an instrument of God’s loving providence.
If the Middle Ages could arrive at an idea like “the Great Chain of Being,” modern people, because of evolution, can think about “the great Chain of Becoming”. People began to intuit this new vision of hope over one hundred years ago. Henri Bergson, a French philosopher, published a book entitled Creative Evolution (1007) and tried to describe human reality as action. A Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ((1955) produced stunning books that directed humankind toward an ever-fuller future. Another Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan (1984) said that humankind could not be understood apart from a horizon that drew human thinking and behavior forward.
Christian believers can look, then, on human experience as an ever-greater opening to a fullness latent in all human longing, but now unveiled and made operative by the coming of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit-God’s great sending and outpouring that moves creation toward a completion that is identical with the Kingdom of God. Christian spirituality may contain aspects of looking back, and it must contain aspects of looking around in reflection, but its fundamental orientation is looking forward, toward a tomorrow glimpsed only by hope. This book of reflections intends to serve just this vision etched into the Christian imagination by the virtue of hope, that power of transformed imagination bestowed by the Spirit that brings transformation to our imaginative visions and, as a result to our lives.
If more Christians, and particularly Catholics, come to understand their lives as focused on this forward thrust of creation toward a Kingdom, and set their Christian lives in service to the promises of the Kingdom, then a better proportion can emerge in terms of the emphases of Christian Action. Christian history reveals a lot of dead ends, not least of which are false triumphalism and colored-over bias. Maybe if we turn our eyes toward a future that God wants us all to own, instead of the pieces of turf we have settled for, some of the energy of Jesus’s ministry will emerge more clearly once again.
To a disciple the sacred actions of the Church, particularly its sacraments reveal and grant more fully access to the unending dynamic of God’s transforming love. Disciples see the sacraments as pointers to the concrete reality of the Kingdom. The forms and gestures of the sacraments made from the elements of the earth and from the most fundamental of human gestures, continue the earthly, human reality if Jesus, God’s Son made flesh. Water, oil, bread: gestures of consoling and reconciling; acts of abiding commitment to love selflessly-these forms the basics of sacramental experience, all of them seeking to implement the Kingdom.
Disciples also see sacraments as pushing humankind forward toward the Kingdom. The washing of baptism represents the taking on of a new life in the Kingdom; the unity of the Eucharist represents the Sacred Banquet that is the ultimate metaphor of the Kingdom; the capacity ot ask for and receive forgiveness shows the endless possibilities of mercy in the Kingdom; the embrace of marriage is the live-filled embrace of a future that cannot be predicted but still compels; ordination means accepting the responsibility to make the signs of the Kingdom into a totally committed way of life; anointing with oil shows the renewal that the hope of healing offers everyone. Every sacrament receives its deepest meaning with reference to a Kingdom constantly being born and constantly shaping history. To be a disciple is to be committed to serving whatever brings about a more authentic wholeness of humankind and for creation.
This is a hope-filled book that each and every disciple should read.