For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)
What do these words of Jesus mean? For one thing, it means that grace is eternal life already begun. It is the mustard seed within us. The fullness of the Kingdom is to come, but the Kingdom is already here, and is coming all the time. The most peaceful Christian I know, a man who is a kind of saint, is always content with every event that comes his way. Why? I think it's because he knows that it's all part of the Kingdom, all part of our eternal blessedness, even if we can't see it, and even if what comes hurts us or inconveniences us. This man not only trusts entirely on Divine Providence (in the sense that he believes that God will take care of everything), he also perceives God's providence lived out in little things and big things. If he blows a transmission on the interstate and waits for a surly tow truck driver from AAA, he rejoices in meeting him because that's what God wanted him to do. God found that encounter more important than his big business meeting that he ends up missing.
It's the kind of thing that would make me rant and rave, but that a saint can take in gratitude and stride.
And so we
Rejoice in hope (Rom. 12:12)
as St. Paul says. This has always flummoxed me a bit, for hope is one of those odd and slippery virtues like humility. It's hard to put your finger on. On the one hand, we are to trust that God is bringing us to eternal fulfillment. On the other hand, we are not to count on that or to presume upon his mercy. And the fact is that hope is not hope unless things are hopeless. We only hope for a thing that we do not already have, at least completely. And how easy it is in this modern cynical age to despise hope! For hope can easily be bruised. When we consent to hope, we consent to be vulnerable, and possibly to be burned. Hope is a reaching out with longing and with a kind of innocence from murkiness into light. It requires a sanctified and eager simplicity of desire - and that's not cool these days.
For who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Rom. 8:24)
And yet hope is not hope unless it's sweetened by a foretaste. Hope sits right beside faith, which believes, but believes because there is already a tangible bit of evidence that has already been experienced and that we always carry with us.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)
This puzzling definition, if it means anything, means that both faith and hope are not entirely blind virtues. They are not whistling in the dark. They are an inner fidelity to that which we already possess in substance, a yearning for the perfection of that which exists as a germ or a seed (or a mustard seed) inside us. The Kingdom of God is within you, among you, in your midst. We carry around the evidence of things not (fully) seen.
And yet we can begin to see the Kingdom even now. And when we do, we can be grateful. And when we are grateful we can be joyous even when we suffer.
And in being joyous, we can leave that foul mood behind, that nasty Gollum-ized selfish and narrow spirit that is always seeking for its own and is never happy, whether it's sitting stalled on the interstate or whether it's at the meeting and closing the sale.
For there is a fine line between the sanctity begun within us in the Kingdom, and the toxic taste that our inner petty tyrant produces in our own mouths.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. (Gal. 5:9)
Which means that the mustard seed, like a pinch of leaven, can cause the Kingdom to rise within us. Or, by the same token, the "leaven of malice" can poison the whole batch.
This is why our bishops have been foolish to allow men with sexual perversions into the priesthood. Unless that leaven is mortified and kept out, the whole batch goes bad. Even a man with a normal sexual desire destroys his relations with those he is supposed to be helping if he allows that desire to be the leaven that infects the whole lump. If a priest acts on his desire for women, he does just as much damage to his ministry as he would if he were cruising the gay parks and picking up men. Celibacy is crucial in that regard, for it keeps a priest unbiased, it forces him to help even those he is attracted to, not for his gain, but for theirs.
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:8)