The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 61, No 5, Sep.-Oct. 2008

Theology for the Laity


By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.

The Gift of Piety

       Among the Holy Spiritís gifts is piety, which perfects us in our relations with others. Piety is a disposition of devotion toward a parent, and of friendliness and compassion toward those in need. The very first words of the Lordís Prayer express our desire for a proper ordering of our affections; this second petition asks God to make things right in our relations with Him, and in our relations to one another.

       We properly approach God with awe and reverence, but the invitation to call Him "Father" is an invitation to approach Him in piety, with confidence and love. This invitation also calls us to identify our desires with Godís; and since God can want nothing more than to share with us the joy of life in His Kingdom, we naturally pray for the kingdom to be made manifest in our midst.

What is a Kingdom?

       We may be tempted to picture kingdoms as castles, romantic buildings with turrets and battlements, but the word is far more subtle. The suffix "-dom" indicates a condition or state of being. "Thralldom," thus, is a condition of slavery; "freedom," as the word suggests, is the opposite. To speak of the "kingdom" of God is to name a way of life in which God is the ruler.

       Here we should remark that when we speak of Godís kingdom, we are not speaking in the political terms we ordinarily associate with kings. God is an absolute monarch; He does not reign at our pleasure. Rather we live and serve at His. History provides numberless examples of flawed, or even wicked, kings, whose kingdoms have been characterized by terror, greed, and bloodshed. These should not diminish our appreciation of Godís kingship. Instead, they should remind us what God is not, and how our Father in heaven does not behave toward His subjects on earth.

Why Pray for Godís Kingdom?

       St. Thomas Aquinas asks, "since the Kingdom of God always was, why must we ask for it to come?" He provides three reasons: so that all things may be subject to Him, because the notion of "kingdom" signifies the life we look forward to in heaven, and because sin at least occasionally holds sway in the world. In other words, although Godís kingdom is always present, it is not always visible.

       St. Augustine provides a vivid illustration, the word "come," he writes,

Subjection to Godís Wil

       God by His nature is Lord of all things, so He has the right to rule all creation. However, experience demonstrates that not all of Godís creatures acknowledge His sovereignty. Thus, the reality of Godís kingship will only be fully visible at the end of the world. In the meantime, St. Paul tells us, we enjoy Godís kingdom in stages. "He must reign until He hath put all His enemies under His feet...last of all, the enemy, death, shall be destroyed" (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

       When we pray for the coming of Godís kingdom we do not express a mere hope that the world will continue to run smoothly; St. Paulís words remind us that when we pray for Godís kingdom we pray specifically for the safety of the just, punishment of the wicked, and the destruction of death.

Perseverance of the Just

       To pray that Godís kingdom will come is to pledge our willingness to embrace the consequences of citizenship in the kingdom. St. Cyprian wrote, "What we pray for is that...we who formerly were slaves of this world will reign from now on under the dominion of Christ." He adds, " could also be that the kingdom of Christ Himself, since it is His coming that we long for."

       To pray for the coming of Godís kingdom is to pray that we will be completely subject to Godís will, living lives befitting individuals whom Christ has redeemed by His death and resurrection.

Punishment of the Wicked

       If we pray for an "end," or goal, we pray for the means by which that end will be achieved. To pray that God will reign over all creation is to pray not only that the righteous will remain faithful, but for punishment on those who resist embracing Godís will. We may reasonably shrink from wishing to punish others - however wicked they may be - but we must acknowledge that the possibility of such punishment is one manifestation of Godís justice. Moreover, we must never forget the Lordís Prayer is a challenge to look within; when we ask for the manifestation of Godís kingdom, we are asking for our own just punishment if we fail to surrender to God.

The Destruction of Death

       Because Christ is life, death has no place in His kingdom. In the resurrection at the end of time, "He will transform the body of our lowliness, that it may be made like to the body of His glory" (Phil 3:21). To pray for the coming of Godís kingdom expresses our belief in His victory over death, and our trust in what our funeral liturgy calls "the bright promise of immortality," that day when "every tear will be wiped away."

The Glory of Righteousnes

       We do not have to be very old before we realize the world offers many challenges to our salvation. To pray for the coming of Godís kingdom expresses our confidence in the future and a new order of creation, in which nothing is opposed to Godís will for our well-being. St. John Chrysostom suggests that this second petition of the Lordís Prayer "is the language of a right-minded child, not to be riveted to things that are seen...but to hasten unto our Father, and to long for the things to come."

The Glory of Liberty

       Because piety is the perfection of our relations with others, the supreme act of piety is freely offering ourselves to God. Human experience demonstrates how difficult this can be, how often our free will is compromised, and how seldom we fully achieve our goal. When Godís kingdom is fully revealed, however, we shall be "delivered from the slavery to corruption" (Rom 8:21), and enjoy perfect freedom to embrace Godís will.

The Wealth of Godís Kingdom

       St. Thomas reminds us that the good things we enjoy in our lives on earth are a mere reflection of what God has laid up for us in heaven. At the same time, the pain we suffer in this life has no place in Godís reign. The kingdom we pray for is a reign in which we not only enjoy the fullness of everything that is good, but one in which no evil interferes with our joy. Complete abundance and absolute excellence - we might think of these qualities as the perfection of quality and quantity - are characteristics of Godís kingdom. The prophet Isaiah exclaimed, "You shall see and your hearts shall rejoice!" (Is 66:14), a reminder that when we are blessed with the coming of Godís kingdom the excellence and abundance that delight us - and frustrate us, if we cannot possess them - will be ours to enjoy without measure.

       Here is perhaps a good place to mention that many of the material examples Jesus employs in the gospel are an invitation to look beyond the here and now realities of life. Obviously, we will have no need of food or drink in heaven, but the value we place on these necessities helps us evaluate the spiritual riches God has stored up for us. At the same time, the immaterial realities that enrich us on earth - our friendships, the love we share among our families, the joy we feel at anotherís success - are precisely the same relations we may forward to in heaven.

An Alternative to Sin
The gospel relates that Jesus often cast out demons. This act of mercy not only provided relief for the individual whom the demon tortured, it gave a sign that Godís kingdom had extended itself a little further into the world. When we pray the Our Father we say, "Thy kingdom come," words that express our willingness to surrender our will to Godís. At the same time these words are also a plea for God (and not sin) to reign in our lives. We shall realize this fully only in heaven, of course, but every time we turn away from sin - each time we choose Godís will over our own - we touch the world, as Our Savior did, with an additional sign of Godís rule. Each victory over sin on earth is a tribute to the everlasting triumph over sin God has promised us in heaven.

Godís Kingdom and the Beatitudes
In the gospel, the Lordís Prayer and the beatitudes are part of Jesusí long Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:1-7:28). When he considers the beatitudes, St. Thomas writes " is said to possess the end...when one hopes to possess it...and a man is moved towards and approaches the happy end by works of virtue" (ST I-II, 69.1). When we pray for Godís kingdom, the very act of our prayer allows us to enjoy potentially the reality for which we pray. Our uttering the words of the Lordís Prayer lets us touch - however imperfectly - the good things of Godís kingdom. Our good works then cooperate with our prayer, to make Godís kingdom more and more a reality in the world.

The Beatitudes and Piety
We began this discussion by considering piety, the gift that perfects us in our relations with others. Because the beatitudes govern our attitude toward creation, they are among the chief ways in which we grow in piety. The link between piety and a longing for justice is very easy to see; likewise, the connection between piety and mercy i.e., compassion for anotherís misfortune, coupled with action to relieve the distress. However, the most important link between the beatitudes and piety - and a connection that is not immediately apparent - is the union of piety to meekness.

Blesed are the Meek
We commonly think of meekness as a personís inability or unwillingness to impose himself upon others. While this is true, our theology teaches that meekness is much more: it is the virtue that moderates anger, which is a desire for vengeance. At first glance, we may not see the connection between meekness and piety, but further investigation reveals that the Lordís Prayer is a powerful quest for the meekness Our Savior commends.

Reliance on God
The meek are those who surrender their desire "to win at all costs." When we ask God to let His kingdom come among us, we pray that all creation will be subject to His will. This means we must lay aside our personal notions of judgment and punishment, and leave these matters to God.


       Meekness not only describes an attitude that ought to characterize our dealings with others, it describes the way by which we attain the things we desire. Because meekness governs our irascible impulses, it moderates our desire to lay hold of what we want by force. To pray for the coming of Godís kingdom is to allow God to determine what we need; as our prayer becomes more perfect over time, we should no longer regret a lack of material "things" because our hope becomes more firmly fixed on the blessings God promises in heaven.

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