By Fr. George Welzbacher
March 16, 2008
At first glance one of the most startling passages in the entire New Testament is Matthew 11:12: "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and it is the violent who bear it away". To be sure, the first half of the paradox is easy enough to understand. After all, did not our Lord predict that "If they have hated me, they will hate you. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you (John 15:18 and 20) and "You will be hated by all for my name's sake: (Matthew 10:22). Suffering some form of violence at the hands of others, at the hands of "the world", is at one time or another the foreseeable fate of every Christian who is faithful to Christ.
But what about the second half of Christ's statement: "It is the violent who bear it [The Kingdom of Heaven] away"? Don't words such as these seem to contradict the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth", and "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:5 and 9)? How can it be said that it is the violent who bear (the Kingdom) away:, that it is the violent who will seize the Kingdom and become its masters. Just what kind of violence does our Lord have in mind? To ask the question is almost to answer it. Our Lord has made it clear in so many of His words that the violence He has in mind is the constructive "violence" that we visit upon ourselves, or more precisely upon our disorderly appetites, and, be it noted, NOT a violence inflicted on others. There is no room in the teachings of Christ for that current scourge of the Muslim world, the suicide bomber, whose vicious act is doubly a crime and a Satanic injustice to the innocent. The violent to whom Christ assures victory are those who do "violence" to their own fallen nature's unregulated demands, who submit themselves to discipline, self-denial, voluntary mortification, to bring their rebellious wills into obedience to the will of God and into conformity with our Crucified Lord. "If any man would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24), words of Christ that are echoed by St. Paul: "Therefore I chastise my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should become a castaway'"(I Corinthians : 27).
The "violence" involved in saying "NO!" to the disorder in our own appetites is therefore, so our Lord wams us, a necessary condition of salvation, essential to our having the gates of the Kingdom thrown open to us as victors.
Accordingly as Holy Week begins let's turn off the TV set and commit ourselves to the salvific "violence" of a heightened self-denial and to a prayerful meditation on the horrific sufferings that Christ endured. (A commendable exception to the general counsel for turning off the television set during Holy Week would be to watch a DVD of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ"). As Holy Week begins it is also time to renew and, if anything, to "up the ante" on our Lenten resolutions. And if it has been a while since that last confession, this is the time to make the effort to receive the Sacrament of Penance. (The hours scheduled for the hearing of confessions here at St. John's are posted separately in today's parish bulletin). And finally let's all of us take part with fervent devotion in Holy Week's solemn liturgies: on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. In loving remembrance of what Christ went through for you and me let's make this our aim throughout this unique week of grace-to come a little closer to making truly our own the words of St. Paul. "Crucified with Christ, I live now not I, but Christ lives in me!" (Galatians 2:20).
May the grace of our Crucified and Risen Lord be with us all in this the holiest week of the year!