Mar. 30, 2017

TWENTY FIRST SUNDAY, YEAR C.

"STRIVE TO ENTER THROUGH THE NARROW GATE" (Lk.13:24) 

Someone asks Jesus a question that bothers on eschatological hope in today's gospel. It is about the last thing, "Sir, will there be only a few saved?" That's a serious question. It's like pressing pause in our Christian journey to say, "By the way, where am I heading to?" If I am not convinced that I'll be saved, then the Christian life doesn't make any meaning to me. Why be Christian if I'm not worried about my salvation? This question elicits the hard lessons on God's kingdom from Christ, "Try your best to enter by the narrow gate..." In the gospel of Matthew, Christ elaborates on the narrow gate this way, "Enter the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matt.7:13-14). Think about the narrow gate in the sense of the tunnel. If for example, you're going to New Jersey from Maryland, you have the choice of taking through the tunnel or navigating through a longer route. If you are inside the tunnel, you have to maintain your lane meticulously. You must be disciplined to drive through the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel however, you feel the radiance. While inside the tunnel, you are inspired by the hope of getting out in the end. That's the narrow gate. 

The narrow gate can be described as the commandments of God. The commandments prescribe ways of Christian living. They are hard to keep. They are tough to maintain. There is a story of a Christian community who felt uncomfortable with the sixth commandment, "Thou shall not commit adultery". This community believed they could keep every other commandment but found the sixth commandment not only tough but impracticable. The community sent a delegation to the bishop of the diocese to ask for dispensation from the sixth commandment. They told the bishop, "We would be wonderful Catholics if only you would scrap the sixth commandment for us". Of course, you can predict what answer the bishop would give in such case. They would receive an unprecedented catechism instruction during that visit. The commandments are made by God not by the bishop. 

The Christian life can also be likened to being a student in school. The student has to attend classes, do assignments, and follow the teacher's instructions. The student has to work hard else he fails his classes. The student works hard in order to become great. The same applies to us Christians. We are students in the hands of God. We learn from him the best ways to make heaven. We learn through the commandments. We learn through pastors and preachers. We learn from the church. We learn how to love and be compassionate. We learn how to be sincere and just. We learn how to respect and honor our parents. We learn how to respect others and their property. We learn to discipline our bodies. We learn to mortify ourselves for greater things. We learn the way of suffering. We learn the virtues for good moral life. We learn to hope in the things to come. These are the narrow gates through which we can make heaven. 

The way of the world is the way of pleasure. The world hates suffering. The world hates fasting. The world hates mortification. The world hates patience. The world wants easy life all the way. Think about where you get the largest gatherings. It's not in the church because the church teaches the hard, narrow, austere way. 

Last week I got a call from a lady who said she wanted to get married in our church. I asked her whether she belonged to the parish, she said know. She told me she googled churches near her area and found the Catholic Church of Glen Burnie beautiful. I felt happy about that. I asked her whether she was registered with any church and she said no. Then I said, "which church do you usually attend?", and she felt a little bit uneasy. She told me that she has been away from church for a very long time. I said ok, could you remember the last time you went to church? She said to me sharply, "Fr., you know what, I'm not ready to answer these questions on church things right now. I think I'm done here. Good bye Fr. I'm done". And she hung up the phone on me. That's today's society, the way of the world. People don't want to hear anything that places demands on them, no responsibility. It has to be easy- butter and bread spirituality. Perhaps the next step would be for that lady to go to the beach to do her wedding where there will be no responsibility, no enquiries. And she would tell anyone how the church makes things hard for her followers. I was ready to help her, and would have helped her. But she was impatient. She cut the conversation short. She didn't want any challenges to her faith. 

The second reading from Hebrews says, "My children, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him, for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines, he scourges everyone he acknowledges" (Heb.12:5-7). We have to understand that the Christian life is not an easy one. Suffering is part of our Christian commitment. It is the narrow gate that most of us walk in. It doesn't mean that Christianity is only about suffering, but it helps us to understand that suffering is not in itself a punishment from God. God is our Father, and loves us. He trains us to appreciate the way of suffering. Saint Paul reminds us that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for our sake (Cf. Rom.8:32). Christ went through suffering and rose in glory. He went through the narrow gate. As Christians, we experience trials. They are inevitable part of the Christian path. Our faith helps us to rely on the peace and consolation that comes from Christ, his grace. Saint James admonishes us to treat trials as a happy privilege to suffer with the Lord since that's the way to develop mature faith. He maintains, "Happy the man who stands firm when trials come" (Jas.1:12). 

And Christ warns us today not to take our Christian life for granted, "For behold, some are last who will be first, and some first who will be last" (Lk.13:30). When Christ says, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me...", he warns us of the choices we make as Christians. Wrong choices can make us unrecognizable despite that we bear his name. He invites us to commit. He invites us to remain faithful despite the trials and tribulations that we face. So, the question should even go beyond, "Will there be only a few saved?" It should rather be, "Will I be among the few to be saved?" The best way to respond to that is to recognize the narrow gate to heaven, and to keep to it. So many things are attractive in the world. They glitter all the time. They seek our attention. They flash us in the face. But they don't help us on the journey to heaven. 

God our Father could be hard on us, but he has the best for us. He wants us to remain faithful and committed to him. He wants us to make heaven. Do not be discouraged when you find things hard, when things don't work your way. God is preparing you for greater things. Remain firm in him, don't give up. It takes Christian courage and faith in Christ. That way, you get through to the end. On the last day, the narrow gate will open up to an endless celebration. It will open up to the great mansion that is prepared for you in heaven.