Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Last week, I wrote a little piece about the Church’s (and the Pope’s) charism of infallibility and, in the course of it, mentioned that the task of the Magisterium is to both conserve and develop the Tradition (since the Church not only holds fast to the Tradition handed down to it by the apostles but, under the guidance of the Spirit, is tasked with going into mortal combat with the Prince of this world, defeating him and liberating occupied territory under the dominion of the devil). A reader writes me excitedly:
I had heard this argument by Scott Hahn before. Eliakim, King David’s chancellor (bearer of the keys of the kingdom), in the OT is the pre-figuration or a type of Peter, Jesus’—Son of David and King of Kings—chancellor of His new kingdom here on earth, the Church. But this time something struck me in Shea’s exposition! I relate this Eliakim-Peter reflection to other articles of his on the Church’s *offensive* against the Gates of Hell and his comments on Tradition in one of the links above in which he rightly mentions that bishops—the Pope included in the first place—not only conserve but *develop* sacred Tradition. And wow! Jesus’ promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church and its Petrine office is to be taken in the active-offensive and not just the passive-defensive way. The Pope, as supreme vicar of Christ, bishop and pontiff, chancellor, priest, pastor, prophet and king in and for the Church, has the keys to not just to defend faith and morals, but to advance and uphold them by teaching, sanctifying and governing! And we can think of many examples of Popes ramming against the “gates of hell,” like Paul VI with his Humanae Vitae, to think of a recent one. Blessed Pope John Paul 2 surely put the Church on the offensive for winning the world for Christ. I was honored to participate in his 1997-2000 Missione Cittadina, a door-to-door Urban Mission to every home in Rome! (I wonder why so few bishops have followed his brave example.) Pope Benedict is surely ramming away in crescendo: in his teachings on hope and charity (faith next?); in his sanctifying through the push for liturgical obedience and faithfulness; in his governing around the priest abuse scandals (ie., the disciplinary action against Fr. Marcial Maciel, and hopefully some upcoming canonic sanctions against dissenting or failing bishops?). Thank God for the Petrine office! Blessed JP2, Pray for us and your successors!
I’m always delighted to see it when people get excited about the word of God and see in the revelation of Christ the power of liberation. My reader gets it: The mission of the Church is not to crouch in a defensive posture behind the walls of Fortress Catholicism, but to take the fight to the enemy. “The gates of hell” is imagery from siege warfare. You do not attack with a gate. You hide behind it while the attacking army deploys battering rams to smash it to pieces. We, the Church, are the attacking army against the gates of hell, with Jesus as our captain. The weapons of our warfare are not violence but the testimony of Christ, charity, and our own blood and suffering, offered in union with His sacrifice. We do not fight because we are sinless and perfect, but because grace enables us. We defeat our enemies by making them our brothers and sisters and no longer enemies. We can’t be defeated, because even death is on our side now, having been taken prisoner and made the conquered slave of the Risen One. The only thing hell can do is lie and plant thoughts of despair or presumption in our minds to turn us from Hope. If we accept these thoughts, either by bitterly embracing the lie that there is no hope for the Church or by drunkenly concluding that we need not fight since the battle will be won someday, then we turn from Hope. But if we remain in Christ and keep putting one foot in front of the other in obedience, we have every reason to rejoice as we keep battering at the gates of hell in his Name and Power.