Picture this: A certain nation has an embassy in most major countries; maintains soldiers, tanks and aircraft on military bases inside those countries’ borders; boasts companies conducting business within those countries; and has such a grip on the entire world that this nation’s language is the most commonly spoken of any language. No, I’m not referring to the United States of America; I’m referring to the Church. When He came, Jesus Christ brought the Kingdom of God to earth, and it is still present today. Understanding that we who belong to Christ are citizens of this Kingdom will help us to live authentic Christian lives in the middle of the world.
Some people bristle at the idea of the Church as a world power, in the same way the Incarnation is not to their taste. There is something off-putting about God getting involved in human affairs. But Jesus speaks frequently and clearly about His kingdom throughout the Gospels and declares at His Ascension, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” St. John Henry Newman says that while most Christians acknowledge Christ’s heavenly authority, they are likely to “grudge Him His power upon earth.” This way God can be kept at a comfortable distance. But for us who want to follow our Lord closely, we must take Him at His word.
Apart from Scripture, our eyes should give witness to God’s kingdom on earth. Though our King is invisible, His Kingdom is already visible. Christians live in every country, participating in every aspect of society, acting as the hands, the feet and the heart of Christ in their offices, schools, churches, hospitals, grocery stores and so on. In each of their activities, with their whole selves, they testify to Christ and carry out His work, acquiring more lands and subjects for His name. In fact, the Kingdom of God operates just like human kingdoms in certain primary ways: “Kings are within their palaces, yet their power is in the public world. It is seldom they rule by themselves; they rule by instruments. Such is Christ’s mode of governing…[God] resembles earthly sovereigns, not only in having a kingdom, but in His mode of governing it.”
It is not just a kingdom, Newman says, but an empire: “Thus, the kingdom of which we are subjects is small, consisting of two islands; but the empire vested in that kingdom extends all over the earth, consisting of our colonies, dependencies, fortified places, subject and tributary nations, and such allies as are materially under our influence and authority. It is the peculiarity of an imperial state to bear rule over other states; and it is another peculiarity …. that it should be always in movement, advancing or retiring … Conquest is almost of the essence of an empire, and when it ceases to conquer it ceases to be.”
Newman first delivered this sermon in 1842, when the British empire still spread far across the seas, but he had in mind a spiritual kingdom. The Church is a fulfillment of the promises made through the prophet Isaiah that God’s light and glory has risen upon it; it would become a light to all the nations and all the kings would come to it.
We are subjects of this Christian empire, and also its soldiers. To us has been entrusted the vocation of conquering souls for Christ and of transforming society. How will we do it? Not by our own power, for “apart from me” Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “you can do nothing.” We’ll begin in the smallest way possible, allowing Christ to reign over our minds, our hearts, our attitudes, our passions, our habits, our wallets, our entertainment. Then we will start to do Christ’s work in our world, beginning with our home and work. Of course, there will be setbacks, lost battles, dead ends and many reasons for giving up. But we will get up again and keep going, because we will hear the voice of our Lord saying, “Begin again, I am with you.” Today we can ask Jesus, our King, to always remind us of our identity and our vocation, to accompany us on every mission and to help us get up again after every fall. For we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.