“The kingdom of Heaven is won by violence and the violent bear it away” (Matthew 11-12).
To a non-Catholic or even a Catholic not familiar with the Scriptures, this verse may seem shocking. These words of our Blessed Lord, as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, seem to strikingly differ from the meekness and peacefulness for which Our Lord is well known. Did the Lord actually command violence as some religions falsely justify? What is meant by “violence”? And to whom are we commanded to enact this “violence”?
The Violence Commanded Is Against Ourselves
Bishop Richard Challoner, the illustrious 18th-century English Roman Catholic bishop, wrote in regard to this peculiar verse: “It is not to be obtained but by main force, by using violence upon ourselves, by mortification and penance, and resisting our perverse inclinations.” Violence in this context is penance, and penance is necessary for salvation as Our Lord elsewhere affirmed: “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
If the verse in question refers to penance winning Heaven, what are the practical means by which we can enact this “violence”? Far from commanding us to inflict physical harm on our bodies, there are four primary kinds of penance in our lives:
- Willing acceptance of our crosses,
- The faithful discharge of our duties of state,
- Fasting and almsgiving, and
- Privations and mortifications.
It is through these means that we can subdue our evil passions, resist temptations, and make reparation for sin. This is precisely the “violence” which Our Lord and the saints practiced – Our Lord for the sake of example, and the saints who followed His example and so merited eternal beatitude in Heaven.
In similar sentiments, Father Menochio, the 17th-century Jesuit, remarked that “the kingdom of heaven is to be obtained by mortification, penance, poverty, and those practices of austerity which John, both by word and example, pointed out. According to this interpretation, the kingdom of heaven means eternal life. Or the meaning may be, the kingdom of heaven is taken by the violent, because it is not now confined, as in the old law, to one people, but open to all, that whoever will may enter in and take possession of it. The kingdom of heaven, in this interpretation, is taken for the Church of Christ, for the gospel, and also for eternal life.” Indeed, our goal is to be missionaries in our own lives and work for the salvation of all mankind by spreading the Faith and living as holy Catholics – which necessitates penance.
The Modern World Needs Soldiers for Christ
Yet, more than commanding us to do penance – despite how important this truly is – this verse also underscores the importance for all confirmed Catholics to live as soldiers for Christ.
Confirmation makes a Catholic a soldier for Christ who is called upon to live, defend, and spread the Faith to others. As a testimony to this fact, the traditional Confirmation rite calls for the minister of the sacrament (ordinarily, a bishop) to gently slap the cheek of the confirmandi (i.e., the person being confirmed) as a physical reminder that “he should be prepared to endure with unconquered spirit all adversities for the name of Christ.”
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen remarked: “And if there is anything that has to be restored in our day, I would say it would be violence. Violence! The kingdom of heaven is won by violence. And only the violent shall conquer it.” And that is our goal as confirmed Catholics – to spread the Faith of Christ with unconquered spirits and convictions by word and by virtuous lives.
There is a striking difference between the violence asserted by followers of Islam and those of Christ. Whereas one group – at least in part – praises the murder of innocents, the Catholic works tirelessly for the conversion and the salvation of all men. To the Catholic, the violence we perform is that done on our knees, through our fasting, and through patiently bearing wrongs and sufferings. The suffering accepted in our life is acceptable to God if offered up to Him in the state of grace. For us, a martyr is one who is killed for keeping the Faith; and to the other group, a martyr is one who kills others. The difference could not be more striking.
It seems fitting at this moment to recall this apostolate’s theme for 2021:
Reparation to Console Our Mother
Let us continuously recall this theme so that our penances, lovingly offered, will render that much needed reparation.
And as we honor Our Lady of Fatima’s request to perform penance and to offer up everything for poor sinners, we directly follow Our Lord’s command to do penance, and in so doing, we help “bear [Heaven] away.”