21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 25, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
How many of you have been in some social situation,
and the topic of religion came up in one way or another,
and someone in the group, perhaps trying to be friendly,
or maybe trying to be unfriendly, says, something like,
“what difference does it make? —we all believe in the same God,
we just take different roads to get to Him.”
We hear things like this all time.
And it has a certain attraction to it.
But then we run into some problems,
like when the one we believe to be “God” tells us:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.”
In this phrase Jesus is saying that
there really are NOT many different roads to God,
at least not in the indifferent kind of sense people usually mean.
We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus
we find elsewhere in the Gospels,
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy,
that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
And: “Whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
…is a thief and a robber….
Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
Sure, we all live different lives, and so in a certain sense we “take different roads.”
But in the end, we all have to stop when we come to that one narrow gate
that is Jesus,
and enter, and follow the one road, His one way, to the Father.
but look at texts like the one we find in today’s first reading, where it says:
“I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.”
Doesn’t that mean that all peoples
—even non-Christian peoples—will go to heaven
no matter what their religious beliefs?
The thing is, the text goes on to say:
“They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
…to Jerusalem, my holy mountain
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.”
In other words, one day the God of the Jews will come to earth
and bring all nations to come to worship HIM
in the way that HE would tell them to.
(Now/And) as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is, in fact,
the incarnation of the God of the Jews,
and who did come to earth to tell all nations the way.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life;
no one comes to the Father, but by me. “
And He told his apostles:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Some might argue, well then as long as someone’s a Christian,
that’s’ good enough.
Again, we turn to Christ’s own words:
Speaking to Simon Peter:
“And I tell you, you are Rock,
and on this rock I will build my church…”
Or speaking to all his disciples:
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”
Or to His Father:
“I pray Father…. that they may become perfectly one.”
The only religion we find that follows these teachings of
the primacy of Peter, the centrality of the Eucharist
and the unity of the Church
is in the Catholic Church.
So, following Jesus is a narrow gate that leads through the Catholic Church.
Now, it’s true that many Christians who aren’t Catholic,
and even many people who aren’t even Christian,
try every day to enter the narrow gate.
They truly seek God even though, through no fault of their own,
they have not been able to come to know Jesus Christ
or the fullness of his teachings in the Catholic Church.
And if they truly believe and accept the way and truth of God,
as best they can come to understand it,
of course God won’t deny them salvation.
Still, it’s hard to know which gate to walk through
when you don’t share in the full teaching and instruments of grace
that Christ has entrusted to his Catholic Church.
So that, in fact, as Jesus says elsewhere:
“the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,
and those who find it are few.”
Kinda flies in the face of those who think either we’re all going to heaven.
Or who think if you’re basically a good person, it’s easy to heaven,
and God will overlook the fact that
you don’t really keep His commandments,
or are indifferent to what He’s taught us.
“The gate is narrow and the way is hard,…and those who find it are few.”
Unfortunately, this is sometimes where many Catholics find themselves:
Just because you’re outwardly a Catholic
doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven.
Even if you’ve memorized all the teachings of the Popes back to Peter,
and even if you come to Mass every Sunday and
“eat the flesh of the Son of Man”,
if you do not follow the way, the truth and the life
that Christ and His Church has taught you
you really haven’t entered the narrow gate.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to these Catholics:
“then will you stand outside …saying, …
‘We ate …in your company
and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.’”
As we read last week:
“to whomever much is given, of him much shall be required.”
And as Jesus says this week:
“some are first who will be last.”
The fact is many self-proclaimed “practicing” Catholics,
including too many priests,
choose the wide gate, the easy road, all the time.
And instead of recognizing this about themselves,
they blame the Church for being too narrow-minded,
out of step with the real world.
It needs to change its teachings and stop thinking it has the one truth faith.
Now, most of you, would probably never say these things.
You accept the Church’s teachings and you try to follow them.
That’s great, and I’m very proud and edified by you.
But is even that enough?
By telling us to “enter the narrow gate”
Jesus isn’t calling us to become
some sort of unthinking, unfeeling narrow-minded rule-bound bureaucrats.
His rules and doctrine are essential:
there is a particular way to go, truth to believe, and life to live.
But you can’t understand any of that if you don’t first understand
that the narrow gate is first and foremost a person,
and in fact one particular person.
“I am the Gate,” Jesus says; “I am the way.”
All of us go through life with some sort of rules that determine how we live
—even if we make them up for ourselves.
That’s relatively easy.
But it’s a whole lot harder
to give and commit your life and love to another person.
Because no matter how wonderful and inclusive and multifaceted a person is,
every person is unique, specific and demanding.
And so it is true that the gate is narrow:
you must give your life to the particular person
who is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
And you must truly love Him and His Father and Spirit
with all your heart, mind soul and strength.
Today hear the voice of Jesus calling to you:
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
And as you approach the altar today to eat the flesh of the Lord,
as He enters into you, let yourself enter into Him:
enter the narrow gate.
And as you leave here today do not go back outside that gate,
but go forward on that road that opens wide your heart and mind
to the infinitely boundless, and yet particularly personal,
love of Jesus Christ.