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Veritatis Splendor

"Keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith" --Hebrews 12:2

Pope Benedict XVI before our Lord

And only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.
Each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed,
each of us is loved,
each of us is necessary.
There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.
~Pope Benedict XVI, Homily April 24th, 2005

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The Narrow Gate... A Call For Us All

Today's Gospel, from Luke 13:22-30, got me thinking... In it, Jesus is asked, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" and He answers, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." In fact, Jesus says, He will claim that He "does not know where you are from", He does not know you!

I have to wonder, how many homilies today really helped people to understand the message of this passage?

I will be the first to admit that I cannot claim any full understanding of this passage either, however, I did sit through two Masses, two readings of this Gospel, and two homilies on this Gospel today, and so, here are some observations that I have made from the experience. :)

In this day, so many are convinced that heaven is a "freebie", because, hey, "I'm a good person" and "I surely don't deserve hell." A few even go so far as to claim themselves Christain and then say, "But only heaven exists anyway, right? No good God would send anyone He created to hell, therefore both a good God and hell can't both exist!" We must all face the fact that, according to the Bible, we must work out our salvation "with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).

While both of the priests at my parish today did make this Gospel passage's relationship to the Catholic understanding of salvation central to their homilies, I shudder to think of how many well-meaning and "kind" priests had no desire to stir the pot (so to speak), and completely left heaven and hell out of their homily's rosy picture.

As Cardinal Ratzinger has said, "He who has refused to acknowledge the truth in life will be forced to confront it in death." Strong words indeed.

Jesus says quite clearly that the gate is narrow, that many will not be able to enter heaven. This does not tell us whether or not few, or many, will make it, it is merely reminding us that we must not become either despairing or presumptuous about our salvation.

Those who become focused on the technicalities of the faith, to the loss of their relationship with Jesus Himself, are in danger of loving Truth, but forgetting the truth about Love (St. Thomas Aquinas). For, as St. Paul commented on in his letters, the Jewish Law is too much for anyone to be able to adhere to perfectly on their own, to make the Law the end in itself; to think that salvation comes through works, puts the soul in jeopardy. Legalism, believing in the power and merit of works without faith, is deadly to a soul.

Then there are those who go the other direction, focusing almost exclusively on their "personal" relationship with Jesus, assuming that they have in fact already "been" saved, once and for all. They feel that they "know" in their hearts that Jesus would never let them go to hell. Some even deny that there could be a hell anymore! In this way, many scorn or ignore the commands of Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. Not all of those who say "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). This error, too, places the soul in danger of losing their salvation, the salvation that God wills for all of us, but that we must freely will to accept!

Yes, I fear that many today will hear this Gospel and will be blinded to the whole picture, only seeing the elements that we agree with (myself included; indeed, this is partly what made me realize that I needed to write down these observations -- they are also observations about myself and I dare not forget them!).

Those who strive solely for the obedience to the letter of the law will see only Jesus' words about the narrow gate. They say, "See! Many will not make it! If you do not obey Jesus' commandments through the Church's authority, you will not make it to heaven."

Those who strive for a "personal" relationship with Jesus will see only Jesus' later response about not knowing the person. They say, "See! You need to accept Jesus, you need to know Jesus, those whom He does not know will not make it to heaven."

Both sides are in danger of missing the forest for the love of their particular tree.

Christ has given us the grace of salvation, if we choose to accept Him, to follow Him, to obey Him -- in a word, to love Him. Love is not merely a feeling, or even a sense of peace and happiness. Love is, first of all, a choice, an ongoing decision motivated by our free will. In order to love Christ, we must love His Church. When we choose to love someone, we choose to place them ahead of us, to sacrifice ourselves for them. We must see today's Gospel as a call for us to freely choose today, and every day, to love Him and trust in Him completely.

(I highly recommend this article, "Assurance of Salvation?", for everyone, Catholic or not!)


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