June 29, 2011 - Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles (Mass during the day)

Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 34:2-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Matthew 16:13-19

“Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it.” The gates of the underworld shall not prevail against the Church. What does it mean for a gate to prevail? It means that the gate is able to stand up against attacks. What does it mean then that a gate will not prevail? It means that the gate will fall down after being attacked. The Church is on the attack, and the gate is going to fall.

Which gate? The gate of the underworld. The underworld, in Greek, Hades. The older English translations said the gates of Hell, but that is not quite correct. Jesus uses the word Hades in the Gospels to refer to a place where the souls of the dead gather, rather than a place of punishment, which he calls Gehenna or simply Outside or The Darkness. After Jesus died on the Cross, he went to Hades and led all of the good Old Testament people to heaven: Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham and Moses and many others.

Which brings up an important point: a gate can be attacked from two sides. Sometimes a gate is attacked by invaders trying to get in, and sometimes a gate is attacked by prisoners trying to get out. It seems that the second applies in this case. We are not trying to conquer the land of the dead; we want to leave.

For we are in the land of the dead right now. We are, of course, biologically alive, but spiritually we are mostly dead. We want to leave the land of the dead and get into the land of the living, the kingdom of life, the Kingdom of God. The Church is, even now, engaged in a fierce battle to destroy the gate of death. Those of us who stand on this side of the gate can see those who have broken through, who are now fully alive.

Today we celebrate two such conquering heroes: St. Peter and St. Paul. Both of these men broke through the gate and hordes of Christians followed after them to life. We know that they were fully alive because when they were threatened with death neither was afraid. They both ended their lives as glorious witnesses of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us not shrink back from our own assault on the gates of the underworld. The fight is brutal, but we already know who will prevail.