In a recent Sunday Gospel reading, Jesus reminded us that the gate into heaven is a narrow one. (Luke 13) The reading made me uncomfortable. The Church tells us that sin requires an element of knowing that we are doing it. The Gospels this summer eliminate this excuse. We have been told to prepare; we don’t know the time when God will call us home. Our society ignored reminders that “if they don’t believe a man came back from the dead” we will not heed other warnings as well.
The gate is narrow and we have been told
I love Gospels like this (Luke 13 and John 6) – Jesus being direct. In these Gospels, there is no confusion, no distorting interpretations. There shouldn’t be any confusion in His message and yet, we live in a society that is telling us differently. Not only to live these distortions, but celebrate them as well. The Gospel gets distorted in an effort to conform it to our personal desires. In further thinking about this, the Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins song “What a Fool Believes” plays in the background of my mind.
Recently, I attended a program at a retreat center run by a Catholic order. Because of Covid concerns, the chapel was closed to visitors but, a small prayer chapel was set up in the meeting area. I was happy to see this since there was no chapel alternative set up the year before. The small prayer chapel had a piece of artwork depicting the universe, a clay sculpture that I did not understand and a statue of Mary. Of significance to me, there was no crucifix. This retreat center goes so out of its way to be ecumenical and “cutting edge” in its spirituality of the universe that the Catholic identity is not only masked but in many regards gone. I left the chapel thinking a nice crystal was probably in order for the room as well. Sadly, this was all my mistake. I assumed a Catholic identity of this retreat house where none was ever advertised.
Sadly, I felt dirty. A spirituality without a Christology is not one I am interested in. This retreat center illustrates where many have gone with our faith. Too often we seek appeasement to avoid conflict. We promote that Jesus sat with everyone. Yes, I truly believe that Jesus loves everyone and would sit and converse with people out of love for them. Yet, compassion and love do not require that we compromise our beliefs. Too often we are asked in the name of “love” to compromise our beliefs. We are challenged by society, by our families and even at times within Christendom.
The gate is narrow.
In Gospel passages like Luke 13 and John 6, Jesus did not seek compromise nor offered any concession. The question becomes, what are we do? First of all, we need to clean up our own act. For much of my life, this conflict existed until I realized that to become authentic, the Gospel I preach and the life I live must not be in conflict. Fortunately, for each of us, at this very moment, God gives us today to own it and change direction. We must choose to hold the narrow-gate standard for our own lives. Our authentic lives must be amended to a universal call to holiness.
Secondly, we must learn to walk with others to bring them along with us through the narrow gate. Herein lies our challenge today. Using an extreme example, suppose a loved one, which should be everybody, is thirsty and desires to drink from a cup at your table. They have a right to this cup; they desire this cup and who are we to stop them from this enjoyment? Yet, we know the liquid in this cup is poisonous. Would we step back and let this person lethally satisfy their desires? Of course not. Their action would kill them.
Accordingly, if we love someone and know the gate to heaven is narrow, is it not our same duty to help them to not miss out on a heavenly eternity with Christ? Our faith demands action. Yet, what action is being demanded? Contrary to a historical response, we do not need to be shouting from the street corner and simply citing the Catechism or Scripture does not work. We need to fight our internal impulses and leave judgement to God. We need to teach ourselves to see the person as God sees them. Mostly, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom before speaking our own.
Loving someone requires us to love them enough to walk with them while they discern that cup of poison, and all the “poisons” of our sinfulness. If we love and want others to pass through the narrow gate, we must be inviting. We must have faith – in ourselves, in them and in God as well. God will respond to any genuine desire of relationship with him. We, on the other hand, must have faith that a true desire and love for Christ will lead to conversion. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. God is the point person in this task, not us. Finally, we must trust that a true love for Jesus will lead to conversion and a desire for Catechism.
We must live in faith. John told Herod the truth of his marriage. It cost him. Or did it? Too often we commit “spiritual malpractice.” In fear, we stop at “love.” Jesus didn’t stop there. He followed love with a reminder to “go and sin no more.” We are not loving people into eternity if we focus on love and forget about repentance. We are not loving people if we forget to remove the poison. Otherwise, we have stopped without trying to get them through the narrow gate.
Jesus has reminded us that the gate into heaven is a narrow. In this visualization, we must discern how tight of a fit it is for us. We must remember that each of us must pass through this gate alone and not reply upon others to get them through. Yet, to get through this gate we must seek passage for everyone, not just ourselves. Only humility will help us through it.
Finally, we know the gate is narrow but also that Jesus wants us with him on the other side. It is our choice to get through the gate as it is. Unlike what society is telling us, Christ is not widening the gate just to let us in.