ColumnsNaming Grace

The kingdom of heaven is at hand!

Walking into this classroom, one was struck immediately by its warmth, peacefulness and joy. This was not a class for “gifted and talented” students. Rather, this class of 11 extraordinary children included three special needs children. There was dark-haired Maggie, whose eyes twinkled while she talked up a storm. And Lauren, whose language skills were limited, but conveyed her joyous spirit through her infectious smile. And there was Timmy, whose hand was always the first raised to volunteer. The Spirit of the Lord seemed to rest upon this truly gifted classroom. The children were amazingly kind and considerate. Incredible teachers, parents and helpers embraced each child, each need and each lesson. They worked together, prayed together and laughed together. Truly, the kingdom of heaven was at hand!

In this Sunday’s readings, Isaiah draws back the curtain to grant us a vision of the kingdom of heaven: a holy mountain where the “wolf will be a guest to the lamb.” John the Baptist announces the entrance into the kingdom with his fiery call: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Repentance, the key to the kingdom, is a letting go, which, according to theologian John Shea, clears our hearts “for the arrival of what is deeply desired.” When we yearn for God’s original plan, we begin to reimagine what our homes, churches, neighborhoods and cities could be. We can then let go, repent, of pre-conceived ideas and self-deceptions. Repentance turns us from self/sin and opens our hearts to God.

With repentance, the Spirit begins to rearrange our homes into dwelling places of the Christ child. We soon envision our families gathered around the kitchen table, candles lit, heads bowed in prayer and thanksgiving. We begin to act by turning off social media to be truly present to one another. We begin to live out God’s vision by caring tenderly for our young and old, by graciously inviting neighbors and foreigners into our homes and by humbly serving the poor in our midst.

Families with a vision of the kingdom of heaven are inspiring. My daughter’s college roommate and husband have eight children, five of whom are adopted, some with special needs. A family from our parish serves together each month in a soup kitchen, participates in the annual adopt a family and regularly visits the elderly in a local nursing home. Any size or shape of family where God’s love reigns is a light to the nation. Truly, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

As parents/grandparents, we name grace—God’s presence—by praying for God’s vision and invoking the Spirit to work in our domestic churches. We name grace by modeling the kingdom of heaven through our inclusion of other races, abilities and incomes. We name grace through our outreach in charity and justice.

When preparing to return to the Twin Cities after Thanksgiving, our 9-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, asked her mom, “Why can’t we just live together?” Laura explained all our obligations in our current locations. Ellie listened, but didn’t buy; Ellie’s heart sees the bigger picture—where four generations could love and care for one another under one roof. Ellie envisions the kingdom of heaven: a holy mountain, a glorious dwelling, a home filled with all our loved ones. Now, that’s good news!

Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first heralds” or “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.