I recorded the below on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe but it holds for the whole Advent and Christmas seasons, when the Blessed Virgin takes center stage in a special way. .

I’ve always been a little stymied by today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:11-15), the one from which Flannery O’Connor took the title of one of her novels: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.”

Googling, I find “Taking the Kingdom by force refers to those who make a concerted effort to enter the kingdom in spite of violent opposition. This opposition comes in many forms including our carnal mind, which is enmity against God and the lust of our own human flesh.”

The lust of my own human flesh takes the form these days of allowing myself to be distracted by gossip, “news;” a desire to build up “security” for myself instead of sharing what I have with others; the tendency to see the glass as half empty instead of half full, the perennial craving for attention, approval, validation, love; and probably many others to which I’m blind…

Making a concerted effort to enter the kingdom is taking the form at the moment of a deep desire to connect with the people I love. My brother Joe called me back from the road at 10 pm last night which is way past my bedtime but we ended up gabbing for a couple of hours. I have a zoom scheduled with another beloved sibling next week. We’ll probably shoot for an online Holy Fam get-together as the 25th draws near. I’m reaching out to the friends who have sustained me for so long. Being in LA last week brought sharply home how everything passes…people, living situations, health, the old streets, whole neighborhoods…

Praying Psalm 23 last week, it occurred to me to ask, “What is the biblical difference between a rod and a staff?”

Answer: “The rod and staff can be broadly categorized as tools of protection and guidance, respectively. The rod warded off predators; the staff was a guiding tool with a hook on one end to secure a sheep around its chest. Only the two tools together provided comfort to the sheep.

A guiding tool, one end of which secures a sheep around its chest. That is SO what I need.

I always kick off Advent with Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, haul out my Victorian book of simple carols to play on the piano, line up a few playlists, and look forward to The Messiah.

But, possibly due to my Protestant upbringing, I’m a sucker for old-school hymns. This isn’t especially a Christmas song but then again–

“And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.”


  1. Jill Bowers says: Reply

    I agree with your explanation of this mysterious verse. It has to do with the cross, for sure.

  2. So much good stuff you’ve shared with us. Florida Scott-Maxwell — I’ve never heard of her. Why?!! She’s fantastic. I’ve loved Kamienska for years, especially her Notebook. Glad you’re drawn to her, too. “The violent bear it away” is a passage I still don’t understand and the Google quote is very unsatisfying, maybe even wrong. Perhaps I need to reread O’Connor to figure it out. If you figure it out, let us know.
    Ron Zito

  3. HEATHER KING says: Reply

    Every commentary I’ve read pretty much agrees with the stated explanation. I think “suffer” here is used in the same sense as when Christ says “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” as in tolerate, an archaic definition of the word. O’Connor’s novel also bears out the notion that grace often comes through violence of some kind, in particular a violent upheaval of our hubristic worldview…coupled, in the case of her backwoods prophets, with a semi-insane, partly deluded but singleminded, passionate, and sincere longing for redemption of which O’Connor entirely approves. The violence of this longing/desire (Hazel Motes in Wise Blood has it, too) is seen by the world as mad but attains heaven in the end even if the person ends up dying violently and/or in ignominy (as Christ did)…as happens in both Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. Thanks, readers!

  4. Anonymous says: Reply

    I thought it was Challoner’s but it’s in the original 1582 Douay-Rheims. Matthew 11.12: And * from the dayes of Iohn the Baptist vntil now, the Kingdom of Heauen suffereth violence, and the violent beare it away.

  5. I love old Protestant hymns, too, Heather. Just As I Am” chokes me up. Reading your writing about your life, and in particular your conversion, reminds me of that hymn. There are many treasures in “old time religion” Protestantism. Blesses Christmas to you.


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