One thing is clear from the two parables that Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of growth.
The seed scattered on the ground grows mysteriously, “night and day,” even when its growth is hidden to the human eyes and the one who plants is ignorant of how the seed grows, “He knows not how.” The little mustard when planted also “springs us and becomes the largest of plants” and makes a positive impact, “The birds of the sky can dwell in its shades.” (Mk 4:27,32) Nothing can prevent growth in this kingdom.
As children of the Kingdom of God, we are called and graced to continuously strive for spiritual growth. This means that we are to strive to grow and mature in our relationship with God. This is not a vague or sentimental type of growth but one that demands that we become more like Jesus Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions. Our vocation in this kingdom is spiritual growth to the glory of God who “Has called us out of darkness into His own wonderful light.”(1Pet 2:9)
For us to grow spiritually, we need two things – God’s grace and our constant effort to correspond with this grace. God, who is “faithful throughout the night,”(Ps 92:3) will always act and give us His grace. God’s actual graces always act in a mysterious and powerful way to bring us to receive, maintain, and grow in that sanctifying grace we receive in Holy Baptism. It is this sanctifying grace that makes us children of the kingdom of God. In short, we are never lacking for the grace that makes us children of the kingdom and that grace that makes us grow in His divine life.
Sadly, we lack the needed sustained effort to grow spiritually. We give up on making effort because of our past failures and poor visible results. We get discouraged by the difficulties involved, the constant challenges and obstacles we face from the devil, our sinful flesh and the world. We do not do our part in keeping vigil over the seed of life, allowing the devil to poison God’s life-bearing seed by planting poisonous thoughts and desires in our hearts. (Cf Mt 13:28) We thus settle for a mediocre spiritual life, one that is lifeless because it is filled with compromises and dreadful of any concrete effort. We forget that our constant effort is a sign of good will towards God who bestows His grace so abundantly on us.
We thus need courage to sustain our efforts at spiritual growth. St. Paul affirmed this when he said, “We are always courageous,” because we are to “walk by faith and not by sight.” (2Cor 5:7-8) It is by this gift of faith that we enter into this relationship with God and mature in this relationship.
We lose any form of courage when we choose to walk by sight. We walk by sight when we focus on only what is immediately visible and perceptible to our external senses. We are walking by sight when we judge things and events by our feelings, tastes, and sentiments alone. We are walking by sight when we judge things by hearsay and by public opinion alone. We walk by sight when we allow our imagination to become a criterion for judging right and wrong. We are walking by sight when we elevate our human experience to the point that it becomes the sole source and judge of what we believe and how we interpret all reality, including the truths of our faith.
On the other hand, we are to walk by courageous faith for our spiritual growth. To walk by such faith means that, no matter what we are going through, we live with that conviction that, in the risen Christ, God is present and with us now. We believe that God is acting now and giving us both His graces and this present opportunity for our own spiritual growth. We listen because we believe that God is speaking words of love and hope to us for our spiritual growth. We are determined to act now and correspond with this grace now for our own spiritual growth and the glory of God. Because we are so convinced that God is acting always and His life is growing within us, we will be patient even if we do not see visible positive results in our spiritual life.
As children of the Kingdom of God, we are also called to be truly joyful and hopeful children in our sad and hurting world. But we can only be joyful and hopeful when we are striving to grow spiritually as God wills for us. We cannot have His life within us and be in relationship with Him without responding to His promptings to grow spiritually by exercising our courageous faith. How can we have joyful hope when we are striving to grow in several other ways – financially, materially, popularity, talents, ability, career wise, professionally, etc. – while ignoring the spiritual growth that is demanded of us as God’s beloved children in His kingdom?
The mission of the Church as sacrament of salvation in each age and place is to make present the divine grace that we need to grow in our spiritual lives and to direct our own efforts in this spiritual growth by sound teaching of the word of God. Because God has bestowed on His Church the fullness of the truth and means of salvation, it is definitely not the role of the Church to dispense anyone from this call to strive for spiritual growth.
Sadly, we are seeing many failures to call all the faithful to this spiritual growth and to make available the needed graces through the sacraments. How can the faithful grow spiritually during the pandemic when our Churches are closed and sacraments are denied to the faithful? Why would clergy attempt to “bless” “same-sex” couples instead of calling them to chaste living? Why would the Eucharist be given to people who are adamantly promoting and endorsing the brutal slaughter of the infant in the womb without calling them to defend life which Christ won by His blood? Can’t we see in the lingering clerical sexual abuse and coverup a clear sign that many of the clergy are more focused on their ecclesiastical careers than their spiritual growth and those of others in their charge? We see permissiveness of heretical teaching in the Church today because we do not really have spiritual growth as our priority.
Jesus gives Himself to us in the Eucharist because He wants us to grow spiritually and become more like Him. The Eucharist is both the foretaste and foreshadow of the heavenly banquet in God’s kingdom. Thus the Eucharist cannot be only a medicine or food for sinners as some clergy erroneously teach us today because Jesus did not just come to forgive us our sins but to also make us saints like Him and with Him here on earth and in His kingdom.
We are told that Jesus Himself grew in His humanity, “He advanced in age and wisdom and grace before God and man.”(Lk 2:52) He desires that we too grow and become more like Him. In short, He and His Father are laboring even now for this same purpose, “My Father is working still, and I am working.”(Jn 5:17) How then can we give up and allow others to dispense us from making effort to grow spiritually? Because He is laboring for us, we too can begin today and strive for spiritual growth till our last breath.
If we are still tempted to make excuses for not striving to grow and become more like Jesus, let us reflect on the words of St. Paul, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”(2Cor 5:10) We shall be judged by our efforts to correspond with His grace.
Our Eucharist is always an outpouring of graces in our lives today. Let us make use of these graces and make courageous effort by walking by faith and not by sight. This is the only way we can grow spiritually, become more like Jesus, and experience the joyful hope of belonging to God’s kingdom, the kingdom of growth.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!