The Door is Narrow, but Jesus is Real
What a loaded question to ask Jesus: “Lord will only a few people be saved?” And typical of the Master, He doesn’t answer the question directly. This is a question that evokes extremes. If you asked Catholics before Vatican II, the question of hell and mortal sin preoccupied their souls. If you ask Catholics today, very few of us take these questions to heart. And if we do, we say things like, “Well, God is love. So really everyone goes to heaven. Or at least most people.”
But I think in losing a healthy fear of hell, we have also lost a deep longing for the kingdom of heaven. And instead we easily get set on the things of this world: living comfortably, with the big screen TV, latest toys and techno-gagets. Only to find ourselves bored with them shortly after getting them. If we don’t have them: maybe we long to have them: the latest fashion, the sexiest car, the big house. It’s the “American Dream.” But is it compatible with the Gospel? Doesn’t Jesus say, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
Our gospel this week challenges us to take our spiritual lives seriously and not to take salvation for granted. Hell is real, but so is heaven! Jesus Christ exhorts us: “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.”
I think many of us have gotten too comfortable in our discipleship. We’ve become lazy or lukewarm. Perhaps we tried for a while, but it got hard, and we got tired. To many Christians have become spectators of Jesus, but haven’t made Him Lord of their lives. Maybe some of us have never really fully bought into the “Jesus thing”. I mean, it’s cool to like Jesus—but let’s not get over the top.
But the reality is our world is changing. It’s getting more and more hostile to Christ and to Christianity. And in particular to Roman Catholicism—the one true Church founded by Christ. Brothers and sisters: It’s time to get off the sidelines. We need all hands on deck. The Church is sick because so many people are spectators. Don’t be a tumor on the Body of Christ! It’s time to begin to make Christ the absolute center of our lives. It’s time to wake up! Its time for us to start being the Church!
The Church isn’t here to form good people. There are plenty atheists out there that are a lot nicer than many of the Christians I know. The Church is about making people holy. About sharing the very mysteries of God, of His divine life with people. Holiness literally means to be consecrated, to be set apart. We are set apart by our baptism, consecrated for God and for the work of evangelization. And the primary way we grow in holiness is through spiritual disciplines. Through a daily life of prayer—and principally through our participation in the Sunday Eucharist.
The second part of the Gospel is kind of scary. Jesus says that it is possible to have ate and dinned in His company and still not to know Him. Can we know Him if the only time we spend with Him is an hour at Sunday Mass? Or if we only pray when we need Him—as if He is our divine butler, only there to wait on our needs? How awful it would be to hear those words addressed to us: “Depart from you evildoer, I do not know you!”
A good way to gauge the effects on our spiritual practices and disciplines is to ask if they have changed us. Have we grown in charity because of them? If not, then perhaps we are not entering into the Sacred Mysteries as we should.
The Sunday liturgy should be the highpoint of our week and of our relationship with the Blessed Trinity. The liturgy is not primarily our work—it is the Work of God. What does that mean—the liturgy if the Work of God?
Well, the Mass is a Sacrifice and a Wedding Banquet. It’s both of these things. The priest holds in his hands the bread and, invoking the Holy Spirit, he says, “Take this all of you and eat of it, this is my Body, broken for you.” In that moment the priest in virtue of his ordination acts in the person of Christ. He doesn’t say “This is Christ’s Body” …but “This is my Body.” The priest is a sacrament in Himself of Christ’ presence and saving work. In that moment of the consecration, as Catholics, we believe the priest acts truly as Christ, just as the priest does when He absolves sins in the confessional. It is Christ working through the priest! But think about the words of consecration for a moment. Pay attention to them during Mass. When the priest says the words of consecration, the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present, and you and I are mystically brought to the foot of the Cross. Like a time machine. That is, this altar becomes the altar of the Cross. Not symbolically, but truly. That’s why we call the Mass the Sacrifice of the Mass.
One of the reasons I think so many of us get so little out of Mass is because we totally miss what the heart of the Mass actually is. You and I don’t have to just imagine being at the foot of the Cross, in the Mass we are brought there.
The Sacrifice of Himself that Jesus Christ offered for our salvation and for the forgiveness of sins is made present to us.
This takes faith. We must pray for the gift of faith to see the true mystery that is before us. If we ask, the Holy Spirit will begin over time to unveil the mystery more and more. So when you kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer, don’t just hold your breath, wondering how long till the priest is done and you can stand up again. Close your eyes and place yourself at the foot of the Cross. Be there with Our Lady and St. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Look on Jesus in His Passion. Not the cartoonish Jesus of a holy card. Imagine Him with real flesh. Imagine His bloody body. Remember, this is what He offered for your sins! You don’t think your sins are that bad?This is what it cost Him to redeem you! Confess your sins to Him, console Him with words of love. Gaze on Mary, the Mother of God. Imagine her broken heart. Put your arm around her and console Her. And let Her console you. If you begin to do this at every Mass, I promise you it will transform the way you pray. Your prayer will become liturgical. And this will spill over to your personal prayer.
And then when you come to Communion, remember you are attending the Wedding of the Lamb of God. Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God? Because He was the true Lamb offered as the true sacrifice to God. And blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb! Only come to Jesus after having fasted for an hour before Communion as the Church requires, and only if you are in the state of grace. Otherwise, get to Confession and experience the great mercy of God the Father there. Ask yourself: did you dress for Mass as for a Wedding? Anyway whose Wedding is this? It is Christ’s Wedding to His Bride—the Church: to all of us. Remember how we say at a wedding the two become one? In Communion, we become on with God!
Jesus Christ is God! I hope you know this brothers and sisters! He is not just a prophet, a teacher or a spiritual guru.
He is not just one more option on the shelf next to Buddha, Allah, or Thor! He is the one true living God. He is it! The all-powerful, all-holy one comes to be in union with you in the Eucharist!
But the reality is our Communion isn’t magic. God respects our free will too much for that. He doesn’t want to be just part of your life: He wants the intimacy of a marriage: meaning He wants the whole you! And when one has tasted this love, the spiritual discipline of a daily prayer life naturally blossoms. We realize one hour a week isn’t enough for God. We want to give Him everything. And that begins by actually setting aside 15 or 20 minutes a day of intentionally being with Him. Read Scripture. Pray the Divine Office. And speak to God about what you read and what’s weighing on your heart.
Jesus says to strive to enter through the narrow door. If you begin to pray this way at Mass and to set aside a chunk of time every day to pray, you will begin this great adventure of being saved. We are brought back to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass each week because we continue to sin each and every day. When you do this, you won’t have time to judge if another person is going to heaven or hell. You’ll realize that you have to worry about your own salvation.
And yes, hell is very real. But so is heaven. So begin now to long for the life of heaven. Strive to enter through the narrow door!