There is a wise and gentle King who has reigned for endless time over a kingdom, known as The Kingdom of Light and Peace. The kingdom rings with joyful sounds of music and laughter. It is hard for us here on earth to imagine a kingdom where everyone is happy and where there are no wars or angry outbursts to destroy the peace. Yet this kingdom is real and has existed for longer than the human mind can conceive. It is also not very far away, though it is impossible to cross from here to there, because of an impenetrable barrier as thin as a gossamer veil which guards its borders. One day the King looked down upon our world and felt a profound pity over the deplorable conditions he witnessed. He saw anger and meanness and wars and sickness and discouragement. He saw a world full of unforgivingness and intolerance. He saw good things, and good people, too, but was pained by the misery he witnessed.
After much thought and consultation with his Father, he made a momentous decision. He decided to pay a visit to this world and tell the people about himself and his Kingdom of Light, where all his subjects live in perfect joy. He would extend to them an invitation to come and live with him when their life in this world ended. So, one quiet night, when all the world was still, the King appeared, not in splendor, not in luxury as one would expect of a king, but as a little baby, born to a poor couple. As a child he became a homeless refugee, as his parents were forced to flee the insane jealousy of a demented king. As he grew from childhood to manhood, he lived like all the other villagers, so no one knew his true identity. During the last three years he spent here, he walked from village to village telling people simple stories, stories with profound truths, always pointing the way to peace and happiness, and promising that if they accepted him and his way of life they could one day come and live with him forever in his Kingdom of Light and Peace. Before he left to return home, he established a kingdom on earth as a preparation for things to come. This kingdom began with a small community of followers, with twelve men whom he appointed as leaders. To them he gave authority to spread his message throughout the world, promising to be with them until the end of time. These leaders brought the message to all the known world at the time. Wherever they went, they chose others to continue their work for the King and appointed them to take their place when they passed on. In time, some of these faithful leaders and their disciples decided to write down memories of the King and the things he taught, but not everything, because, as one of them said, "Not even the whole world could contain all the things he said and did." These writings were preserved in a sacred book which was treasured among those loyal to him. Many years later, the leaders at that time declared those writings to be an inspired way of knowing about the King's life and his message. But that was never a substitute for the authority of the leaders the King had appointed. It was still the leaders to whom the King had entrusted the responsibility to teach his message, and guaranteed to provide an ever-deepening understanding of the King's message until the end of time. As time passed, the community of followers grew to vast numbers and included people of every race and nation, as the King had planned. It became powerful and wealthy and its influence spread as its presence transcended the boundaries of all the worldly kingdoms. The King's message flourished not only in words and messages, but by the way his leaders and followers inspired changes in society. They started hospitals to care for the sick, and schools to teach the poor and the ignorant, and great universities to train scholars in the sciences and philosophy and in the understanding of all the messages contained in The Book.
In time, however, people began to center life around the kingdom. Though it was still the kingdom of the humble King, and its leaders preached his name, the memory of his goodness faded until eventually few even knew him. Oh, people liked to read The Book, in which were stories about the King and his message, but even The Book in time became the focus of worship rather than a mirror reflecting the King. These people broke away from the kingdom and fashioned leaders of their own choosing, rejecting the leaders the King had chosen and all the guidance of the King's spirit through the centuries. One by one these groups splintered into a thousand variations on the King's message, spreading confusion throughout the kingdom. In the meantime, the leaders of the kingdom became enamored of their power and prestige, wearing robes common to nobility of over a thousand years past to dramatize the importance of their positions in the kingdom, while at the same time showing reluctance and incapacity to change even in matters of importance to people's lives. Though many of the leaders were good people and sensitive to the needs of the King's followers, many others felt threatened by the people's freedom and ruled them harshly, demanding obedience to their decrees which they often issued regardless of the pain they caused the people. They enjoyed their power and enjoyed ruling like rulers in other kingdoms, even though the King had forbidden this. In time, freedom was curtailed and the people were allowed to do and think only what the leaders approved. If they disobeyed, they were punished, often severely. Even minor leaders were reduced to a comfortable form of servitude and lived in fear as authority became more centralized, and everyone was monitored.
The people grew sad and restless, and were filled with guilt because they could not live up to the demands of the leaders. Gradually, the whole kingdom became obsessed with the endless stream of laws and penalties which the people, with the best of effort, found extremely difficult to observe. Out of discouragement they forgot the King and his message of freedom and peace. It no longer seemed real. As leaders became more concerned with the business of the kingdom, the kingdom itself became their message to the people, rather than stories about the King. Maintaining the kingdom became an obsession. The people's energy went into building up the kingdom and paying the vast debts incurred by the leaders. Thought of the King and his beautiful dream of peace and freedom faded farther and farther from view, as the people sank deeper into despair.
The King watched from afar and grew sad over what he saw happening to his dream, and wondered what he could do to reawaken hope in people's hearts. He thought and thought for the longest time, and finally decided upon a plan. One day, while walking through his splendid garden filled with flowers and plants of incredible beauty, far more beautiful than anything in the faraway kingdom, the King was reviewing all he had done to renew his faraway kingdom. He had sent messengers to reawaken people's faith. Some of those he sent were simple people who lived the King's message in the very simplicity of their lives. Ordinary people loved them, but they were often looked upon as simple, as unrealistic dreamers out of touch with reality. Memory of these holy people inspired millions of people for centuries to come. But little heed or credence was paid to them by the leaders who passed them off as harmless visionaries. The King sent other messengers who were learned to offer a new vision that would appeal to leaders, hoping they would see how far they had strayed from the humble King's dream. These messengers were often a threat because they were so brilliant. Many of them were punished, some expelled from the kingdom, and their writings banned. In time, however, many of their ideas were accepted and significant changes were made. But people's hearts did not change for long, as they soon returned to the old ways. At one point teachers appeared in the kingdom who were very angry. They, too, delivered messages but the anger behind their message was so violent it tore apart the kingdom and bred hatred and wars that continued for centuries. This broke the heart of the King, who had prayed before he returned home that his followers would always be one.
Many years passed and the kingdom showed little evidence of change. In a worldly way it was still powerful and influential but that was not what the humble King had envisioned. There were in the kingdom many people, who in their own hearts and personal lives brought joy and hope to the King. There were also many leaders who lived lives pleasing to the King, but sadly there were many who ruled the people arrogantly, imposing laws that made little sense, much like the Pharisees of old. As people became better and better educated they resented the lack of humility on the part of the leaders, and resented their condescending attitude.
Their laws and prohibitions they found offensive and foreign to the spirit of freedom and compassion of the King. The King was beside himself trying to understand what more he could do that had not already been done.
"What shall I do?" He asked himself. "I have tried everything. I have sent messengers of every description to rekindle my spirit in the kingdom, but their message is like seed on rocky soil, or barren soil where only thorn bushes will grow. It rarely takes root, and when it does it is soon dispelled by people's love of the kingdom itself which they try endlessly to protect. My messengers they judge disloyal and consider enemies because they criticize insensitive leaders. They do not understand that the kingdom must be renewed constantly so it can remain faithful to my spirit. Unfortunately, they worship the kingdom, and The Book, and care little to understand me or my wishes. I suppose it is easy to fall in love with the Kingdom. It is so majestic, and fills people with a sense of pride. I can also understand why people would die for the Kingdom, but I wonder how many would be willing to die for me, as did the saints of old, for there are not too many who even know me anymore."
The King thought long and hard. It seemed like an impossible situation. How could he guide this faraway kingdom so it would again become faithful to his spirit? How could he reacquaint his people with his life, his compassion, and his love for them. After many hours of pondering, the King finally hit upon a plan. He would send another messenger, whom he would guide in a special way.
Meanwhile, in the faraway kingdom, there lived a simple man named Francis. As a young boy he fell in love with the King and wanted to spend his life helping others to know and love the King. He was a dreamer, and when he grew up and became a priest he found himself frequently in trouble with officials of the kingdom, who held him in very low esteem, because he did things differently. In difficult and lonely times he would take long walks, and in the quiet of his thoughts, the King would share with him his own sadness over the condition of the kingdom, which had drifted so far from his dreams. Francis did not realize that the King was trying to tell him something. At first he thought they were just his own ramblings. It took years before he realized the King was sharing something important and intimate. The realization came gradually, then as a striking awareness.
Worn down by the stress of his work, and in a weakened state, one dark night the call of the King was unmistakable. Frightened, Francis knew his life was about to change. His doctor's call was the catalyst that brought about that change. Told he could no longer continue his work, he retired. Some colleagues sneered at the decision, attributing it to motives far from noble. Though his family was kind to him, none were aware that he was penniless. Weakened by the years of stress, he spent hours each day resting. Two years passed before he regained his strength. During that time, Francis recorded his thoughts and dreams. It was becoming increasingly clear that his sickness was not an accident. He knew he was being irresistibly drawn to something that was frightening.
It was not that he heard voices, though there were messages, messages that came in the form of ever more insistent promptings: "Do not be afraid, Francis, to follow where you are being led. Though you are weak, that is of little concern. I communicate best with those who are weak. You have been prepared for this day. Your mission means much to me, and I will be with you. I know you and I know that when the work becomes difficult you will not give up. It will be lonely, because those who should be your friends and support will be afraid or ashamed to acknowledge you. Trust no one!
"The kingdom that I love has fallen into conflict and despair. Leaders have drifted far from my message. They have fallen in love with the kingdom and have lost my spirit. Pharisees of old have sprung up again, and rule my people with the harshness of their laws and ancient customs with little concern for the people's anguish. Good shepherds are ridiculed and treated as disloyal in the same way I was treated by the masters of the old law. Fearful, they rarely speak out. Indeed, they are forbidden to speak out. It is considered offensive and insubordinate.
"So, I am sending you to speak out, and to speak out forcefully to lift the spirits of the people and rouse their courage and assure them I have not forgotten them. Encoded in your heart are all the messages I have been giving you over the years. Now speak them out loudly and clearly. Do not prepare what you are to say because those to whom you speak will be always different. You will know what to say when the time comes. Your very presence will deliver the most powerful message, the message of my spirit touching the hearts of the good and arousing the anger of those who worship the kingdom, but do not know me. They will judge you an enemy and try to destroy and discredit you. But do not be afraid. I am determined your mission will succeed, though you will not see it in your time. Do not stay in one place, but move from place to place. When you are finished you will return to me."
Excerpted from The Messenger by Joseph Girzone. Copyright © 2002 by Joseph Girzone. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.