21th Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

August 26, 2013 Father De Celles Homily

August 25, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Awhile back I was talking with an old friend I grew up with.
Though we both went to the same Catholic grade school,
we wound up very different in life:
I became a priest and he became a fallen away Catholic.
He excused himself by saying:
“what difference does it make?—we all believe in the same God,
we just take different roads to get to him.”
I’ve heard this a million times, and so have you.
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 their aren’t many different roads to God,
at least not in the indifferent kind of sense my friend was using.
We see this especially when we remember other sayings of Jesus
we find elsewhere in the Gospels,
for example:
“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.

Some argue:
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
so in the way the 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.
He said:
“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,
baptizing them…,
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.”

Unfortunately, this last saying also can apply equally to Catholics:
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 it’s 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.

This week we celebrate the feast of a saint who, like most of us,
struggled with entering the narrow gate.
He was a uniquely talented man:
a brilliant scholar, a rising star in academia and the political life of his time.
But he not only walked down the wide road
but ran and danced as fast as he could all around it.
His life was filled with pride and avarice and greed and lust.

But there was always a problem:
something in his brilliant mind and in his sensitive heart told him
“there’s something missing….something more….”
And so gradually he narrowed his road down, bit by bit.
He moved from being a pagan,
to a monotheist,
to being a kind of heretical Christian.
All along he saw the narrow gate,
and was frightened by what seemed to be it’s limits, and sacrifices.
For example he prayed, “Lord give me chastity….but not yet.”

Until one day, confused and torn
he heard a voice of a child say to him:
“Take up and read; take up and read.”
So he picked up and read the only book in front of him—the New Testament:
The words jumped out at him:
“put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
In other words:
leave behind the wide gate and the easy road
and enter through the narrow gate: Jesus Christ.

And in an instant his whole world changed
and he discovered why he had been so unhappy:
as he would write years later,
“Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in you.”

If you haven’t guessed it yet,
that man went on to become
the most important philosopher and theologian in the history of the Church,
and one of her greatest saints:
St. Augustine of Hippo.
He entered that narrow gate, but didn’t see it as confining or restrictive,
but as a love that freed him to become
the great man he was created to be, in Christ.
And so he wrote:
“Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you….
You were with me, but I was not with you…
You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness….
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.”

Today hear the voice inside of you calling:
“Take and read…“take and read.”
And read what Scripture says:
“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.