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From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.
The notion of being men of violence runs counter to the standard portrait of Christian men today. Christianity is not seen as a macho affair. After all, more women attend church regularly than men. And often the men who do attend do not inspire mental images of the phrase “men of violence.” This is because we lack a clear view of the faith. The Fathers of the church, however, understood that Matthew was “pressing and urging” us (to use John Chrysostom’s words) to something higher. Consider St. Basil’s exhortation from his discourse “On the Renunciation of the World”:
The kingdom of heaven is the prize of the violent and the violent bear it away. These are the words of the gospel. “Violence” means the affliction of the body that the disciples of Christ voluntary undergo in the denial of their own wall, in the refusal of respite to the body, and in the observance of Christ’s precepts. If, then, you wish to bear away the kingdom of God, become a man of violence; bow your neck to the yoke of Christ’s service. Bind the strap of the yoke tightly about your throat. Let it pinch your neck. Rub it thin by labor in acquiring virtues, in fasting, in vigils, in obedience, in silence, in psalmody, in prayers, in tears, in manual labor, in bearing all the tribulations that befall you at the hands of men and demons.
As the culture wars escalate, more and more we see that we are living in a culture of death, a culture that values freedom from God over the demands of his love. And as this war advances, we should be prepared for an age of martyrdom. Yes, an age of martyrdom. Not necessarily the red martyrdom that comes from the shedding of our blood, but certainly the white martyrdom that comes from a life of purity and holiness. That is what St. Basil is encouraging us to attain.
Tertullian’s famous phrase, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” can be applied to the white martyrdom as well as to the red. I believe that a new age of martyrdom is approaching—an age that will require men of violence to take the kingdom of heaven by force.
The simple fact is that the more ours becomes a culture of death, the less we can share in it. If we expect to be able to be at ease in a culture of death and do not struggle daily with denying ourselves the things of our culture, then we have little chance of taking the kingdom of heaven.
To quote from Hebrews: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” We need truly to struggle against sin. We need to feel the strap of Christ’s yoke. We need to yearn to be pious, prayerful, repentant, and holy. We need to become men of such violence.