Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Seeing The Kingdom: Reflection on Today's Gospel

"What is the Kingdom like?" is Jesus' question to his hearers in today's Gospel. This question sets the stage for Jesus' painting a portrait of the dynamics of the Kingdom through the use of metaphors that would have been quite common to the people of his time. First he states that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed that is sewn into a garden, grows to an impressive stature, and becomes a large bush that offers refuge to the birds of the air. The second metaphor Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom is leaven that diffuses itself throughout a measure of wheat flour.

The characteristics of the Kingdom that can be derived from these metaphors is that it is a subtle, nondescript (meaning hard to describe or easy to overlook), but diffusive and potent manifestation of God's solicitude toward creation and all creatures. If the Kingdom is so subtle and nondescript, an important question that this raises is how do we "see" the Kingdom in our midst, and, even more importantly, how do we participate in it?

While there are likely many different ways to see and participate in the Kingdom of God, the Franciscan tradition offers one "key" for probing this mystery. St. Bonaventure, a 13th Century Franciscan scholar, came up with a curious word to describe how St. Francis was able to perceive and participate in God's Kingdom. According to Bonaventure, through Francis' devotion to Christ, especially his ministry to the poor, his passion, and his death and Resurrection, he came to "contuit" God and Christ's presence diffused through every situation and all creation. To grasp the profundity of this word and what it means for "seeing" God's presence at work in the world, we need only compare it to another word, "intuit." To intuit something, or to have intuition into something, means to penetrate "beyond" what is perceived in order to grasp it's meaning. For example, when we see storm clouds gather we "intuit" the meaning that there is likely a storm on the way.

Contuition implies not a "grasping" for meaning but, rather, to be gently and powerfully "grasped" by meaning. The prefix "con", which means "with", indicates that this type of vision is a "seeing with". In other words, contuition is a "relational" mode of perception whereby we see and experience something not simply on our own but in, with, and through the eyes and heart of another. A great example is when a parent sees the world anew and afresh through the eyes of his or her little child. Essentially, contuition is a way of seeing that comes from our communion with God.

To see and participate in the Kingdom that is subtly diffusing itself throughout the world, we need simply allow God's presence and love to subtly and gently diffuse itself throughout our lives and relationships. When we allow God to take gentle and empowering hold of our imagination and lives, we, like Francis, will be able to "contuit" the Kingdom which is always in our midst, if only as an offer. Pat, TOR