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Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says to the crowds, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” The title for Flannery O’Connor’s irresistibly powerful second and final novel, The Violent Bear It Away, is taken from the Douay-Rheims translation of this last phrase.

This famously ambiguous passage has given rise to a variety of interpretations over the centuries. Many have taken it to mean that the kingdom of God is attacked by violent people (such as those who killed John the Baptist) and that they threaten to take it away. But others have interpreted it in the opposite direction, as a word of praise to the spiritually violent who manage to get into the kingdom. Flannery O’Connor herself sides with this latter group.

The “violent,” on this reading, are those spiritually heroic types who resist the promptings and tendencies of our fallen nature and seek to discipline it in various ways in order to enter into the kingdom of God.