You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to identify the direction Jesus is going in today’s gospel. In a very blunt language, he tells us that no one has a lock on heaven. Heaven isn’t a summer home we visit when the temperature in Oklahoma turns 112. Rather, it is an everlasting home which is the payoff for a lifetime of faith and its accompanying living experience. Hence, Jesus speaks about heaven’s gate as a narrow gate of determination and courage, not of apathy.
We all need a re-introduction to the real Christ. We must stop living in a fantasy world in relation to Christ whom many consider a naïve individual, some kind of loving, pasty, easy-touch of modern motivational speakers. Jesus is actually a no-nonsense man who tells it like it is. The gospel today reveals that his favorite sport wouldn’t be softball but hardball. Jesus invites us, like players at the Olympics, to be disciplined, to practice constantly, have a strong belief in our calling, and great determination to win the prize.
People often justify their apathy by speaking about past Church involvements and hurts against the Church—how they went to Catholic school, attended RE, served at a Pope’s Mass, but then were denied communion or remarriage. Some years ago, at St. Pius X, someone requested to put her child in the school, hoping to receive the same subsidy given to Catholics who are in Church every week supporting the Church and the school. She prefaced her request with a summary of her past. She boasted about growing up in Brazil—which she said was 99 percent Catholic, attended Catholic school for nine years, was even confirmed. But then, it’d been 13 years since her abusive marriage to some “Mr. Terrible,” when she quit Church out of frustration. Does that storyline sound familiar? She hoped that her past deeds would get her by. While she deserved sympathy for the abusive marriage, it was her choice to marry “Mr. Terrible,” not an imposition by the Church. She would have flared up in rage if she was told, during those years when the passions were running riot, to look deeper before marrying someone who was then “Mr. Adorable.”
Here we have an example of people who coast through life thinking their past is all that matters. It doesn’t occur to them that their present relationship with God is what really matters. Yes, one’s present relationship with God is the source of spiritual strength. It matters whether you’re still walking that difficult road that runs to the narrow gate. If you’re not on that road, you’ll be wise to tell yourself the truth that you probably might be lost. If your relationship with Jesus is no longer present, then the source of life is gone. The words of Hans Urs von Balthasar are striking for every Christian: “It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his or her becoming lost.”
These words are not meant to frighten us, rather, to encourage us to keep rowing against the torrent and head toward the narrow gate of heaven. Evil is all around us. It invites us to an immoral party, to an immoral life, to a life of hatred and dissipation. It tells us that plenty of people we know are at the party. It is easy to join them, but much harder to go a different direction. The different direction is the narrow gate of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel. It is easier to go through the wide gate, to go along with the crowd, and we have many who’ll argue persuasively that it makes more sense.
The spiritual life presents a different formula. Holiness calls us to be one of the few who reject the values of the crowd. Christian life is forever a task of being ahead of the crowd. As the great Oklahoman, Will Rogers, put it, “even if you think you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if all you do is just sit there.” Keep your gaze fixed on Christ, determined to win the race.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo