The kingdom of heaven which we pray for in this second Petition is the great end to which is referred, and in which terminates all the preaching of the Gospel; for from it St. John the Baptist commenced his exhortation to penance: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. With it also the Saviour of the world opened His preaching. In that admirable discourse on the mount in which He points out to His disciples the way to happiness, having proposed, as it were, the subjectmatter of His discourse, our Lord commences with the kingdom of heaven: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Again, to those who would detain Him with them, He assigns as the necessary cause of His departure: To other cities, also, I must preach the kingdom of God; therefore am I sent. This kingdom He afterwards commanded the Apostles to preach. And to him who expressed a wish to go and bury his father, He replied: Go thou, and preach the kingdom of God. And after He had risen from the dead, during those forty days in which He appeared to the Apostles, He spoke of the kingdom of God.
This second Petition, therefore, the pastor should treat with the greatest attention, in order to impress on the minds of his faithful hearers its great importance and necessity.
In the first place pastors will be greatly assisted towards an accurate and careful explanation of this Petition by the thought that (the Redeemer Himself) commanded this Petition, although united to the others, to be also offered separately, in order that we may seek with the greatest earnestness that for which we pray; for He says: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.
So great and so abundant are the heavenly gifts contained in this Petition, that it includes all things necessary for the security of soul and body. The king who pays no attention to those things on which depends the safety of his kingdom we should deem unworthy of the name. If a man is so anxious for the welfare of his kingdom, what must be the solicitude, what the providential care, with which the King of kings guards the life and safety of man?
We compress, therefore, within the small compass of this Petition for God's kingdom all that we stand in need of in our present pilgrimage, or rather exile, and all this God graciously promises to grant us; for He immediately subjoins: All these things shall be added unto you. Thus does he declare that He is that king who with bountiful hand bestows upon man an abundance of all things, whose infinite goodness enraptured David when he sang: The Lord ruleth me, and I shall want nothing.
It is not enough, however, that we utter an earnest petition for the kingdom of God; we must also add to our prayer the use of all those means by which that kingdom is sought and found. The five foolish virgins uttered earnestly the same petition in these words: Lord, Lord, open to us; but they used not the means necessary to secure its attainment, and were therefore rightly excluded. For God Himself has said: Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The priest, therefore, who is charged with the care of souls, should draw from the exhaustless fountain of the divine Scriptures those powerful motives which are calculated to move the faithful to the desire and pursuit of the kingdom of heaven, which portray in vivid coloring our deplorable condition, and which should make so sensible an impression upon them that, entering into themselves, they may call to mind that supreme happiness and those unutterable goods with which the eternal abode of God our Father abounds.
Here below we are exiles, inhabitants of a land in which dwell those demons whose hatred for us cannot be softened, who are the determined and implacable foes of mankind. What shall we say of those intestine conflicts and domestic battles in which the soul and the body, the flesh and the spirit, are continually engaged against each other, in which we have always to fear defeat, nay, in which instant defeat becomes inevitable, unless we be defended by the protecting hand of God? Feeling this weight of misery the Apostle exclaims: Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
The misery of our condition, it is true, strikes us at once of itself; but if contrasted with that of other creatures, it strikes us still more forcibly. Although irrational and even inanimate, the lower creatures are seldom seen so to depart from the acts, the instincts and the movements imparted to them by nature, as to fail of obtaining their appointed and determined end. This is so obvious in the case of beasts, fishes and birds that there is no need to dwell on it. But if we look to the heavens, do we not behold the verification of these words of David? For ever, O Lord, thy word standeth firm in the heavens. Constant in their motions, uninterrupted in their revolutions, they never depart in the least from the laws divinely prescribed. The earth, too, and universal nature, as we at once perceive, adhere strictly to, or at least depart but very little from the laws of their being.
But unhappy man is guilty of frequent falls. Seldom does he carry out his good resolutions; often he abandons and despises what he has well commenced; his best purposes which pleased for a time, are often suddenly abandoned, and he plunges into designs as degrading as they are pernicious.
What then is the cause of this misery and inconstancy? Manifestly a contempt of the divine inspirations. We close our ears to the admonitions of God, our eyes to the divine lights which shine before us; nor do we hearken to those salutary commands which are delivered by our heavenly Father.
To paint to the eyes of the faithful the miseryof man's condition, to detail its various causes, and to point out the efficacious remedies are, therefore, among the objects which should employ the zealous exertions of the pastor. In the discharge of this duty, his labor will be not a little lightened if he consults what has been said on the subject by those holy men, John Chrysostom and Augustine, and still more if he refers to our exposition of the Creed. For with a knowledge of these truths, who will be so obstinate in sin as not to endeavour, with the help of God's preventing grace, to rise, like the prodigal son spoken of in the Gospel, to stand erect, and hasten into the presence of his heavenly Father and king ?
Having pointed out the advantages to be derived by the faithful from this Petition, the pastor should next explain the favours which it seeks. This becomes the more necessary as the words, kingdom of God, have a variety of significations, the exposition of each of which will not be found without its advantages in elucidating other passages of Scripture, and is necessary to a knowledge of the present subject.
In their ordinary sense, which is frequently employed by Scripture, the words, kingdom of God, signify not only that power which God possesses over all men and over the entire universe, but, also, His providence which rules and governs all things. In his hands, says the Prophet, are all the ends of the earth. The word ends includes those things also which lie buried in the depths of the earth, and are concealed in the most hidden recesses of creation. In this sense Mardochaeus exclaims: O Lord, Lord, almighty king, for all things are in thy power, and there is none that can resist thy will: thou art God of all, and there is none that can resist thy majesty.
By the kingdom of God is also understood that special and singular providence by which God protects and watches over pious and holy men. It is of this peculiar and admirable care that David speaks when he says: The Lord rules me, I shall want nothing, and Isaias: The Lord our king he will save us.
But although, even in this life, the pious and holy are placed, in a special manner, under this kingly power of God; yet our Lord Himself informed Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world, that is to say, had not its origin in this world, which was created and is doomed to perish. In this perishable way power is exercised by kings, emperors, commonwealths, rulers, and all whose titles to the government of states and provinces is founded upon the desire or election of men, or who have intruded themselves, by violent and unjust usurpation, into sovereign power.
Not so Christ the Lord, who, as the Prophet declares, is appointed king by God, and whose kingdom, as the Apostle says, is justice: The kingdom of God's justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Christ our Lord reigns in us by the interior virtues of faith, hope and charity. By these virtues we are made a portion, as it were, of His kingdom, become subject in a special manner to God, and are consecrated to His worship and veneration; so that, as the Apostle could say: I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, we too are able to say: I reign, yet not , but Christ reigneth in me.
This kingdom is called justice, because it has for its basis the justice of Christ the Lord. Of it our Lord says in St. Luke: The kingdom of God is within you. For although Jesus Christ reigns by faith in all who are within the bosom of our holy mother, the Church; yet in a special manner He reigns over those who are endowed with a superior faith, hope and charity, and have yielded themselves pure and living members to God. It is in these that the kingdom of God's grace is said to consist.
By the words kingdom of God is also meant that kingdom of His glory, of which Christ our Lord says in St. Matthew: Come ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom which was prepared for you from the beginning of the world. This kingdom the thief, when he had admirably acknowledged his crimes, begged of Christ in the words related by St. Luke: Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom. Of this kingdom St. John speaks when he says: Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; and of it the Apostle says to the Ephesians: No fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols) hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. To it also refer some of the parables made use of by Christ the Lord when speaking of the kingdom of heaven.
But the kingdom of grace must precede that of glory; for God's glory cannot reign in anyone in whom His grace does not already reign. Grace, according to the Redeemer, is a fountain of water springing up to eternal life; while as regards glory, what can we call it except a certain perfect and absolute grace? As long as we are clothed with this frail mortal flesh, as long as we wander in this gloomy pilgrimage and exile, weak and far away from God, we often stumble and fall, because we rejected the aid of the kingdom of grace, by which we were supported. But when the light of the kingdom of glory, which is perfect, shall have shone upon us, we shall stand forever firm and secure. Then shall all that is defective and unsuitable be utterly removed; then shall every infirmity be strengthened and invigorated; in a word, God Himself will then reign in our souls and bodies. But on this subject we have dealt already at greater length in the exposition of the Creed, when speaking of the resurrection of the flesh.
Having thus explained the ordinary acceptation of the words, kingdom of God, we now come to point out the particular objects contemplated by this Petition.
In this Petition we ask God that the kingdom of Christ, that is, His Church, may be enlarged; that Jews and infidels may embrace the faith of Christ and the knowledge of the true God; that schismatics and heretics may return to soundness of mind, and to the communion of the Church of God which they have deserted; and that thus may be fulfilled and realised the words of the Lord, spoken by the mouth of Isaias: Enlarge the place of thy tent, and stretch out the skins of thy tabernacles; lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes, for thou shalt pass on to the right hand and to the left, for he that made thee shall rule over thee. And again: The Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising; lift up thy eyes round about and see; all these are gathered together, they are come to thee; thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side.
But in the Church there are to be found those who profess they know God, but in their works deny Him; whose conduct shows that they have only a deformed faith; who, by sinning, become the dwellingplace of the devil, where the demon exercises uncontrolled dominion. Therefore do we pray that the kingdom of God may also come to them so that the darkness of sin being dispelled from around them, and their minds being illumined by the rays of the divine light, they may be restored to their lost dignity of children of God; that heresy and schism being removed, and all offences and causes of sins being eradicated from His kingdom, our heavenly Father may cleanse the floor of His Church; and that, worshipping God in piety and holiness, she may enjoy undisturbed peace and tranquillity.
Finally, we pray that God alone may live, alone may reign within us; that death may no longer exist, but may be absorbed in the victory achieved by Christ our Lord, who, having broken and scattered the power of all His enemies, may, in His might, subject all things to His dominion.
The pastor should also be mindful to teach the faithful, as the nature of this Petition demands, the thoughts and reflections with which their minds should be impressed in order to offer this prayer devoutly to God.
He should exhort them, in the first place, to consider the force and import of that similitude of the Redeemer: The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field: which when a man hath found he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. He who knows the riches of Christ the Lord will despise all things when compared to them; to him wealth, riches, power, will appear as dross. Nothing can be compared to, or stand in competition with that inestimable treasure. Whoever, then, is blessed with this knowledge will say with the Apostle: I esteem all things to be but loss, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. This is that precious jewel of the Gospel, and he who sells all his earthly goods to purchase it shall enjoy an eternity of bliss.
Happy we, should Jesus Christ shed so much light on us, as to enable us to discover this jewel of divine grace, by which He reigns in the hearts of those that are His. Then should we be prepared to sell all that we have on earth, even ourselves, to purchase and secure its possession; then might we say with confidence: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
But would we know the incomparable excellence of the kingdom of God's glory, let us hear the words and teaching of the Apostle: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.
To obtain the object of our prayers it will be found most helpful to reflect within ourselves who we are, namely, children of Adam, exiled from Paradise by a just sentence of banishment, and deserving, by our unworthiness and perversity, to become the objects of God's supreme hatred, and to be doomed to eternal punishment.
This consideration should excite in us humility and lowliness. Thus our prayers will be full of Christian humility; and wholly distrusting ourselves, like the publican, we will fly to the mercy of God. Attributing all to His bounty we will render immortal thanks to Him who has imparted to us that Holy Spirit, relying on whom we are emboldened to say: Abba (Father).
We should also be careful to consider what is to be done, what avoided, in order to arrive at the kingdom of heaven. For we are not called by God to lead lives of ease and indolence. On the contrary, He declares that the kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away; and, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. It is not enough, therefore, that we pray for the kingdom of God; we must also use our best exertions. It is a duty incumbent on US to cooperate with the grace of God, to use it in pursuing the path that leads to heaven. God never abandons us; He has promised to be with us at all times. We have therefore only this to see to, that we forsake not God, or abandon ourselves.
In this kingdom of the Church, God has provided all those succours by which He defends the life of man, and accomplishes his eternal salvation; whether they are invisible to us, such as the hosts of angelic spirits, or visible, such as the Sacraments, those unfailing sources of heavenly grace. Defended by these divine safeguards, not only may we securely defy the assaults of our most determined enemies, but may even lay prostrate, and trample under foot, the tyrant himself with all his nefarious legions.
To conclude, let us then earnestly implore the Spirit of God that He may command us to do all things in accordance with His holy will; that He may so overthrow the empire of Satan that it shall have no power over us on the great accounting day; that Christ may be victorious and triumphant; that the divine influence of His law may be spread throughout the world; that His ordinances may be observed; that there be found no traitor, no deserter; and that all may so conduct themselves, as to come with joy into the presence of God their King, and may reach the possession of the celestial kingdom, prepared for them from all eternity, in the fruition of endless bliss with Christ Jesus.