Building the Kingdom of God Today: Reflections on the Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference, Dawsonville, GA
As Pope John Paul II recently reminded Catholics when he introduced the third mystery of light into the rosary, the proclamation of the Kingdom was an integral component of our Lord’s mission on earth. For some, this is a reference to the heavenly kingdom described in Revelation where the Lord God will wipe every tear from our eyes and where there shall be no more death or mourning or wailing or pain for the old order has passed away (cf. Rev. 21:4). And it is. However, St. Luke the Evangelist also makes clear that for the Lord, the proclamation of the kingdom involves this world in this placeand at this time. The Son was sent by the Father to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free (cf. Lk. 4:18). The Son came to correct the injustice in this, His world. And for His disciples, it should be no different. But how is the Christian, especially the Christian minister, or in my case, a soon-to-be Christian priest, to do this?
To begin to answer this question, I traveled to Dawsonville, GA, for a weekend in early November to attend the Towards a Free and Virtuous Society conference for future religious leaders hosted by the Acton Institute. I traveled there to get some answers to my questions on justice, economics, and government. I was not disappointed. Intensive discussion sessions provided me with a conceptual framework to continue reading and reflecting on important issues related to the kingdom of God on earth. I learned that a truly Christian approach to social issues must be grounded in a proper understanding of the human person. A truly Christian approach to solving social problems must respect the inherent dignity of the human being who is made in the image and likeness of his Creator. Out of this flows the principle of subsidiary which states that a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activities in view of the common good. Out of this flows a proper understanding of the liberal market economy that seeks to benefit human society by encouraging the free exchange of goods and services. Out of this flows the social teaching of the Catholic Church especially as it has been articulated in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus. These were only a few of the many insights I learned in Dawsonville.
But the Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference is not only about getting answers to questions about economics, public policy, or government. Just as important, it is about getting these answers with other Christians. There were seventeen other participants at my conference. We were from different churches and ecclesial communions and from different states and countries, but we had come together seeking the same goal to build up the Kingdom of God. In the end, some of my most memorable experiences from the conference involved my interactions with my classmates. Most especially, I will never forget my late night discussions with my Presbyterian roommate. Tim taught me about TULIP and the Reformed tradition. In return, I had a chance to teach him about rosaries and relics and grace. Now he can also say that he once had a roommate who was a Dominican friar. At Dawsonville, I learned that there are still real differences which divide Christians, but it was also very clear that we are all citizens of the same Kingdom with the same Lord. Maranatha!