19 May 2019 (C) Fifth Sunday of Easter Reflection

B. Reflection & Dialogue: A New Heaven and New Earth yet to come. The kingdom of God already present.

1. New Heaven and New Earth. One of the articles of the Creed is that we believe in life everlasting, where the just enjoy the presence of God in the Beatific Vision, the trials, persecutions and worries of this present life behind them. It is obvious to believers, and has been down the centuries, that this world cannot be as God would have it. Paul has said as much to the Romans (Romans 8:20-23): “For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”. There arose the belief that after history had run its course, there would be a new creation, as expressed in the Second Letter of Peter (2 Peter 3:13): “13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” This belief is also clearly expressed in today’s second reading (from John’s Apocalypse). The Church takes note of this expectation, both in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes ,“Joy and Hope”), paragraph 39,2, with the reminder that rather than take from, it should add to, our concern for the world in which we live: “Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a person nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age”, themes taken up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1049).

2. The kingdom of God is among us. The expectation of a new heaven and a new earth should not lead us to forget that the kingdom of God is already active among us. At his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and in the power of this Spirit went around doing good, destroying the power of Satan, healing the sick, bringing hope and comfort. He himself plainly said that this activity was a sign that the kingdom of God was among us. Humanity would be transformed by the presence of his grace and the spirit of the Beatitudes. His kingdom would mean care for one another after his example and his command. He made this clear by washing the feet of his disciples and his explanation of the meaning of this. “I have given you an example”. He came to bring life in its fullness, life here and life hereafter. This life was about one’s soul, one’s true inner self, with a knowledge of the meaning of life and the handling of trials. Despite occasional lapses, the Church, that is t he body of believers, has been true to the message of the kingdom preached by Jesus. The same message is still proclaimed in the Easter liturgy, as in the following text from one of the prefaces for the Easter Mass: when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed: “For with he old order destroyed, a universe cast down is renewed, and integrity of life is restored to us in Christ. Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory, as they acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy”.

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