Saturday, August 21, 2010

Enter by the narrow gate

When Our Lady appeared to the three children at Fatima in May 1917 Lucia, then aged 10, asked if she would go the heaven. The lady replied: ‘Yes, you will.’ ‘And Jacinta?’ she asked: ‘She also’ the lady replied. ‘And Francisco? Will he go to heaven also?’ The lady said: ‘Yes. But first, he must say many rosaries.’ They knew that heaven was the goal for which they were made and knowing that this apparition came from heaven, their immediate instinct was to know whether or not they would end up there.

The question of the unknown person in today’s Gospel is also an understandable enquiry concerning the destiny we journey towards in hope but also with some uncertainty: ‘Will there be only a few saved?’

The Lord does not directly answer the question. What he does tell us is that “many will try to enter and will not succeed.” There will, in other words, be many who will not be saved: a sobering summer thought! It is very easy to forget the possibility of not making it to heaven. Where do people get the idea from that everyone goes to heaven? How often at funerals do we hear a canonisation: “He’s with the Lord now!” Or people say: as long as you love everyone, that’s all that matters. Or what counts is being a good person. We can all too easily make up our own standards of what is good, forgetting how Our Lord once commented: “What is good? Only God.” St Teresa of Avila, a great mystic, said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and God showed her souls falling into hell as leaves falling from the trees in the Fall. The children of Fatima, at the tender ages of 10, 9 and 7 were also shown a vision of hell by the Blessed Mother. Mary wanted them to know the urgency of conversion and prayer for sinners.

Jesus tells us today that we can only enter His Kingdom by a narrow gate. In the parallel text from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus adds that “the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:13-14)

Ralph Martin, a modern speaker and author on the spiritual life comments: “In these words, Jesus … makes clear that drifting along with contemporary culture will not lead us to heaven but, rather, to hell. He clearly teaches that if we want to arrive at happiness – the fulfilment of all desire – rather than destruction … we need to take the road and enter through the gate that leads to heaven.”

The contemporary culture, of whatever age, tends to go in the opposite direction to Jesus. At the time of Jesus, Palestine was under Roman, pagan, occupation; they had a king, Herod, who lived a debauched lifestyle; early Christians had to choose between worshipping the emperor or worshipping God; and throughout the centuries the Church’s saints found their holiness in precisely those ways that the world disdains: in poverty, in purity, in suffering, in meekness, in gentleness, in forgiveness, in prayer… Whilst we should love all that is good in our culture and seek to raise it to its true meaning in Christ, we should always remember that it cannot save us and it can even be harmful.

And even though we are here at Mass and think we are good, faithful Catholics who think we know the Lord, we too need to listen to the challenging words of Jesus in today’s gospel: “Then you will find yourself saying, ‘We once ate and drank in your company, you taught in our streets’ but he will reply, ‘I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!’”

We once ate and drank in Jesus’ company. We were at Mass. Yes, but all you did was eat and drink. Is that all the Mass is? A fellowship meal? A gathering of the community that has to be made ‘fun’ and ‘relevant’ because, really, unless we jazz it up a bit, the Mass will be ‘boring’ and ‘irrelevant’ to the contemporary culture?

Yes, we ate and drank, but let us not hear the Lord say: but you didn’t sacrifice; you didn’t take up the Cross; you did not, at Mass, ascend Mount Calvary to be with me where I was when I said “It is accomplished”, “The Mass is ended.”; when I said “This is my body given for you; this is my blood poured out for you” you did not say in return: “Jesus, here is my body, here is my blood, which I offer completely to you, so that I may be totally yours.”

Yes, you taught in our streets, Jesus, we heard your beautiful words in the gospel and we loved the sermons of your priests. Let us not hear the Lord reply: but did you change? Did you convert? or did you accept the nice bits but forget those bits that, really, in the 21st century, sound a little irrelevant and outdated?

More positively, both in the Gospel and in the first reading prophecy from Isaiah, there is a prediction that men from all over the world, in large numbers, will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God, people who bring offerings, who make sacrifices, in clean vessels.

We must present our offering at the altar in the clean vessels of our pure hearts and souls. To maintain this purity, we must again pass through the narrow gate by resisting negative things in our contemporary culture, particularly in the various forms of the mass media: (TV, internet, movies, songs…) and also in the company we keep. Not all our friends want to help us maintain these clean vessels of pure hearts and minds.

Furthermore, the prophecy of Isaiah says that from among those bringing the offerings in clean vessels the Lord will choose some as priests and Levites, i.e. sacred ministers – priests and deacons – in the Church. If our young people keep themselves pure, more of them will be strengthened to accept the call to the priesthood and diaconate to serve as ministers at the altar of sacrifice, which is already on this earth a participation in and foretaste of the feast in the Kingdom of God.

1 comment:

  1. Well Father, that was a lot different from the sermon we had yesterday! Ours was more of the “I’m Ok, you’re OK” and “God loves everyone” variety… Good for you – we need to hear more of your kind!

    You deal with things seldom heard in sermons these days, unfortunately. It is chastening to read in the lives of the saints how, despite their heroic virtue and sanctity, they never felt that that they were guaranteed to get to Heaven. Fear of Hell – the loss of Heaven – was an ever-present concern for many of them - as revealed in their writings.

    The funeral ‘canonizations’ you noted has been a bugbear of mine for some time – for more than one reason. Firstly, only God knows a person completely. We see externals only but can’t know the true state of another’s soul, so we should not take anything for granted. Which leads to the second concern: prayers for the faithful departed. If we’re told, or believe, that “Joe is in Heaven” well then that’s it. We’re done. No need to pray for him any more as we don’t pray for people in Heaven. So poor Joe (who – let’s be positive - is probably languishing in Purgatory) is not going to get many prayers for the repose of his soul. And thirdly (the self-interest reason!), some day we will be Joe – dead and gone with nobody thinking to pray for us.

    It wasn’t always this way. Years ago in Ireland the first thing out of a person’s mouth on hearing of someone’s death would be: “Lord have mercy on him/her”. It didn’t matter who the person was – perceived as good or bad – there was a recognition that we are all in need of God’s mercy. And it didn’t end there. There would be Mass cards, Month’s Mind Masses, Anniversary Masses and you kept In Memoriam Cards of them in your Missal as reminders to pray for them – not just on the day of the funeral - or once a year in November - but as long as you lived.

    I fear the Holy Souls in Purgatory have been short-changed these past 40+ years. We need to return to remembering them and recalling all who make up the Mystical Body of Christ - the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. We’re all a part of it and all have the same goal. Charity doesn’t end with death but continues to eternity.


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