FR. BEN’S HOMILY FOR MONDAY OF THE 18TH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME CYCLE I
THEME: “The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against thee”- Matt 16: 18
BY: Ben Agbo (Rev Fr)
HOMILY: A. PREAMBLE
In my simplistic study of the Bible, I have often noted with awe, what I call “the Categorical Statements of Christ” such as: “Unless you are born again of water and spirit you will never enter the kingdom of God”, Jn 3: 5 or “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”, Jn 6: 53. These statements command closer attention. They evoke a sense of seriousness, certitude and imperative obedience. Another example of such statements is the one Jesus made to Peter at Caesarea Philipi : “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven”, Matt 16: 18.
In this article, I want to attempt a simple but close reading of this statement of our Lord in content, context and contextualization. I want to extemporize our understanding of this statement vis a vis dogmatic issues like the Infallibility of the Pope, the Power of the keys and the teaching authority of the Church’s Magisterium.
B. YOU ARE PETER…
Simon, Son of Jonah represents the image of the weak priest, the uneducated and primitive Peter, the floppy and impetuous temparement of a Priest candidate, infact, the overall human face of the Church. Christ knew fully how weak the ‘Simon element’ in Peter was when he chose him to be the first Pope or leader of his Church and now baptized him as ‘Peter the rock’.
Peter the rock represents the baptized Christian, the ordained priest or bishop who inspite of his old nature, now wears the new robe and indelible character of priestly regeneration and anointing. He is no longer bound by the limitations of his human nature but wired on a new wavelength of Holy Ghost configuration of sanctity and priestly holiness/ integrity.
C. ON THIS ROCK, I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH!
“On this rock’ represents a paradigm shift from fluidity and weakness of character to a consistency of faith and insistence on the principles and pedagogies of the Word of God. “Rock” represents the constant will power of the “born again Christian” and his/ her steadfastness/ fortitude in daily making a fundamental option for Christ and continuously saying “Yes” to God in all situations, 2 Cor 1: 19 – 21.
“Rock” represents the conservative energy of that Church of Christ that remains tenatiously hinged on the authentic doctrines inspite of the storms and tornadoes of secularism, anticlericalism, modernism, atheism and all forms of religious post structuralism. “Rock” represents the pedagogic ministry of the Church’s Magisterium, the impecability and infallibility of the Pope when representing the mother Church in matters of faith and morals.
D. THE GATES OF HELL…
The “gates of hell” represent the evil temptations of the modern age, the occult conspiracies against the Church, world health and all the machinations of Satan and the kingdom of darkness. The “gates of hell” represent the ‘Anti Christ’ ideologies towards population control, artificial use of contraceptives, same sex euphoria, transgender madness and all apparatchiks of war against natural family life and organized religion.
The “gates of hell” represents the hijacking of political power of different countries of the world by grandmasters and mystical occult forces of the kingdoms of darkness such as the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Ogboni confraternity, Brotherhood of the Cross and Stars, etc. When Christ promised the Church, through Peter that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it”, he mearnt that inspite of the conspiracies that will take place at such a time like this, when the forces of evil seem to triumph in many countries over the forces of the good, the Church of Christ must finally prevail. It is such a consoling promise!
E. THE POWER OF THE KEYS
The “power of the keys” represents the authority for ecclesiastical leadership and the primacy of the Pope or whoever stands in this position of Peter. We must remember that many other Churches do also claim legitimacy to this strand of apostolicity, controversial as the debate may be. The “power of the keys” represents the power of the Church to absolve sins, Jn 20: 23 and the institution of the priesthood for the confection of the Eucharist and other ecclesiastical structures for the salvation of souls.
The “power of the keys” represents the Church’s mandate to act on behalf
of Christ in all the sacraments starting from Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders up till Matrimony. St Paul said that “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all”, Eph 4: 5.
In summary, the “power of the keys” is the Church’s lifewire of holiness, unity and authenticity. It is based on this power that the Church weilds its Spiritual authority over all kingdoms of darkness and superiority over all other claims of religiousity, Matt 28 : 20. The Church of Christ should therefore be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
Today, we have seen, inspite of this promise of Christ, how far the enemy has gone in fighting and dividing the Church both from within its ranks and from without. The best bet for the Church today is to expedite her efforts towards ecumenism and unification of the Churches. Ecumenism begins when the older Church (eg the Roman Catholic Church ) realizes that the Holy Spirit is also operating in the younger Churches (eg the Pentecostal Churches) . Secondly, it progresses when the younger or splitting churches believe that the Holy Spirit is still operating in the older Church inspite of whatever human weaknesses were/ are inherent in the system. A split usually takes place when a smaller part of an older Church begins to feel that the Holy Spirit is no longer operating in the older block.
But Christ didn’t want this split. That’s why he said that ‘There shall be only one flock and one Shepherd’, Jn 10 : 16. He promised to be with them till the end of time, Matt 28 :20. It is high time we pursued this project of Christian unity more vigorously, if not for anything, to avoid Muslim onslaught. Allowing ourselves to be governed under one Shepherd is the basic demands of obedience placed on all Christians and not allowing our flock to scatter is the basic demand placed on all good Shepherds.
Many heresies which we have seen in the Church today were born out of over zealousness or fanaticism. People tend to break off in disobedience when they perceive that the “gates of hell” is trying to prevail against the Church but they often realize when it is too late that it is not what they taught. For example, many have stuck to the Latin Tridentine Mass insisting the Pope Francis is demonic for promoting the Vatican II liturgical reforms. Today, even as we speak, so many fanatics believe that the decision for the reception of the Holy Communion in the hand in reaction to the CoViD 19 pandemic is a Satanic agenda. But according to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen,
“Zeal, unfortunately, is not always in direct proportion to truth. Fire has 2 qualities: light and heat. Light is truth. Heat is love. We have the truth, but sometimes not the zeal or love. We have the light, but not always the heat”. Zeal for instance without obedience, oftentimes makes a caricature of spirituality because when a priest, for example thinks he is holier than the Pope, he gets lacerated from this autochthonous bond of ecclesiastical unity and ends up looking scandalously arrogant and disobedient. Vima Dasan warns that “Liberty without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic”. We need a doctrinal control, a moral and administrative leadership that only a respect for this promise of Christ that “the Gates of hell shall not prevail” guarantees.