Strive to enter through the Narrow Gate

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Dr. Francis Beckwith, President of the Evangelical Theological Society, and Associate Professor of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, was publicly received into the Catholic Church on April 29th this year (2007) in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Waco, Texas. He had been raised a Catholic but later left the Catholic Church. His wife was accepted as a catechumen during the same Mass in April. Commenting on his reason for returning to the Catholic Church he wrote in a blog:

“I would have never predicted that I would return to the Church, for there seemed to me too many theological and ecclesiastical issues that appeared insurmountable. However, in January, at the suggestion of a dear friend, I began reading the Early Church Fathers as well as some of the more sophisticated works on justification by Catholic authors. I became convinced that the Early Church is more Catholic than Protestant and that the Catholic view of justification, correctly understood, is biblically and historically defensible…I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the church’s historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient Church of the first few centuries.”

Dr. Beckwith has since resigned as President of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is just one of an ever increasing number who have found that for them entering through the narrow gate that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel today (Luke 13:24) meant becoming a Roman Catholic. But even before the recent large numbers of people being received into the Catholic Church there have been notable converts during the centuries since the Reformation. One of the more famous is John Henry Cardinal Newman who had been an Anglican minister before being received into the Catholic Church in 1845. A more recent but also notable convert is the British journalist and media person, Malcolm Muggeridge. We give praise and thanks to God for the significant numbers of Christians during these years who are accepting that for them entering the narrow door means entering into the Catholic Church to live the fullness of Jesus’ teaching and life in the sacraments in the Catholic Church.

For us who have always been Catholic, we can ask what does entering through the narrow gate mean? Being honest we have to admit that due to the effects of original sin, our sins and the sins of society we sometimes look for a wide door that will allow us to follow Jesus without giving all of ourselves to him or converting fully or making a serious effort to overcome all sin and leave it behind. Entering through the narrow gate means converting from our sins. Our Holy Father John Paul II speaking in Kingston Jamaica in 1993 said,

Now a word to the many young people here today. Young Jamaicans, will you be strong and generous for Christ? Reject the easy road: the road of self–indulgence, crime, cynicism and escape from responsibility. The abuse of alcohol and drugs and sexual misbehavior must have no place in your lives. “Enter by the narrow gate”. Choose the road that leads to eternal life and happiness with God.

Pope John Paul II speaking at the canonization of Edith Stein in 1998 said,

The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians…Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.

We can ask ourselves, “Do we ever choose the wide door of sinfulness or lack of total obedience to Jesus?” Are those who say they are Catholic but do not live as Catholic trying to enter by the wide door? Are we giving every corner and every part of our lives to Jesus?

Giving every corner of our lives and every part of ourselves to God is what Jesus asked on many occasions.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)

Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt 12:47-50)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. (Matt 23:25-26)

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:7)

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Matt 7:24-27)

If we choose the wide gate of self-indulgence and sin and the pleasures of the moment we will never be really happy. The second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of who we are, God’s children, sons of God, “God treats you as sons.” (Heb 12:7) The only way to achieve real happiness and fulfillment in life is to remember who we are, sons and daughters of God, and live as sons and daughters of God choosing the narrow gate that leads to life. We will not regret it. Francis Beckwith, John Henry Cardinal Newman and Malcolm Muggeridge are among the famous who discovered that entering by the narrow gate meant following Jesus in the Catholic Church. Almost 200,000 less famous are received into the Catholic Church every Easter Vigil in this country, not to mention those received into the Catholic Church at other times during the year. For us who have always been Catholic entering by the narrow gate means converting from our sins. Before entering the Promised Land we read in Deuteronomy that Moses said to the people,

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you...” (Deut 30:19-20)

Yes, if we choose the narrow gate, which is choosing Jesus and all he stands for, we are choosing life and happiness and peace. Otherwise we are bringing disaster on ourselves.  Let us follow the invitation of Jesus in our Gospel today,

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” (Luke 13:24)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2007

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More for the Twenty First Sunday Year C

Related Homilies: Choose Jesus the Narrow Door 2013

(gathering of nations) Today’s Gospel in the context of Luke 2007

stories: on the Last Becoming First

Second Reading: on suffering see The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering

stories about suffering