Sunday, Jan. 23, is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Liturgical Year A, Cycle I).
Readings for Mass
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalms 27:1, 4, 13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
Today’s Gospel is the Third Luminous Mystery: The Proclamation of the Kingdom. In it, Christ quotes today’s first reading: “The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.”
He refers the prophecy to himself, but then indicates what this “great light” will look like. It isn’t necessarily what you would expect. First, he says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Second, he starts establishing the Church by choosing apostles.
That’s a little surprising. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” sounds a little to our ears like “Be sad, for the party is about to begin.” And the first action associated with this great light amounts to the establishment of the hierarchy.
But remember, as one children’s catechetical book repeats over and over, “The Kingdom is the Church.” The Church is filled with frail humanity, with all of its weakness, mistakes and corruption. But it also unfailingly delivers exactly what we need: It incorporates us into God’s family with baptism, forgives our sins in confession, unites us with Christ in Communion, and so on, through the rest of the sacraments.
What else is the Kingdom of heaven besides being in the family and company of Christ? So, what is the Kingdom? The Church.
As the Catechism points out, “Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ’s Kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil” (680). That evil, it says, will not spare the Church itself and will take the form of a “religious deception.”
This means it makes sense that Christ would say “repent” in the same breath as he proclaims the Kingdom.
But it is also helpful to look at the family as an analogy when thinking about the Church. While we can heap praise on the family as an institution, it is harder sometimes to heap such great praise on any particular family.
That families have shortcomings shouldn’t diminish our love for “the family” or for our family, for that matter. To keep a balanced view, it’s helpful in our families to notice and celebrate the things that are strong. Perhaps that’s why our culture does that automatically: We celebrate weddings (where a family member enters a covenant on earth) and funerals (where a family member enters a community in heaven); we celebrate graduations, anniversaries of birth and other milestones.
In the Church, we do the same thing: notice and celebrate the things that are strong — the saints, the sacraments and, above all, Our Lord who is the Church’s head.
The fact is: Just as family love doesn’t work without the institution of marriage, love of Christ doesn’t ultimately work without the institution of the Church. The Kingdom really is the Church.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.