Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The exhortation “Strive to enter through the narrow gate” may be among the most challenging things our Lord ever utters in the Gospel. Why? First, he says it in answer to a question about how many will be saved. Will many? A few? Jesus suggests that many are not strong enough. He says that many will claim to have kept His company, but that they, too, will not be able to enter the Kingdom. Strive to enter through the narrow gate.
Before going further, let us pause to ponder the narrow gate itself. The narrow gate is the way of life which Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. This life requires us to love God above all, to love our neighbor as ourself, to forgive even our enemies, to give generously to the poor, to care for the sick, orphan, and widow, to welcome those who come seeking our aid. It is a way of life that requires death to self. There is, clearly, nothing easy about the narrow gate. To live this, we must follow the Commandments (Jesus does not come to abolish the law or the prophets) and live the Beatitudes (through which Jesus teaches us to be virtuous and to persevere). The narrow gate, in short, is nothing less than a life of heroic sacrifice, virtue, and holiness.
We ought also to remember that Jesus proclaims Himself to be the way, the truth, and the life, through whom we have access to the Father. Thus, Jesus is Himself the narrow gate through which we are to strive to enter. If, as He says in the Gospel, many will say to Him that they ate and drank in His company and that He taught in their streets, we can ask ourselves what we will say to Him. Can I claim that I have eaten in His presence, that is, that I have been so close to Him as I am to friends around the dinner table? Can I claim that I have spent time with Him? Can I claim that I listened to His teaching? It is not uncommon to hear people say “I’m basically a good person.” Fortunately, that is, as a general rule, a true statement! But Jesus is not asking us to be basically good people. There are surely many good people who know very little about what Jesus teaches, and still more who have spent very little time in friendship with Jesus. Strive to enter through the narrow way. Our entrance through the narrow way begins at Mass, but it does not end there! We come to the altar that we might eat and drink in His company. We listen to the Gospel proclaimed, that we might hear His teaching. But the Gospel we hear and the Eucharist that feeds us is meant to have far deeper consequences in our lives! These are meant to inspire in our hearts a deep desire for friendship and intimacy with Jesus.
So what is the problem in the Gospel (and by extension, the problem we so often experience in our lives)? It seems that those who ate and drank with Him, who heard him teach, are the very ones who will not enter. How can this be? It is precisely because they stopped there. If we think that attendance at the table or having heard the teaching is sufficient, we are mistaken. Rather, these are meant to be foundational elements that influence every other part of our lives. A truly integrated Christian life is founded on the solid rock of right worship of God, Communion with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (and, really, all the Sacraments!), and abiding by His teaching in the Gospel each and every day. Thus, we are called to enter by the narrow way, challenging though it may be.
A final word of hope. Pay attention to the end of today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us that people come from north and south, east and west to recline at table in the Kingdom. In other words, though by human standards getting to Heaven is hard because of the effort it requires us to make, the offer of Heaven is made to all. And people are accepting the offer. Yes, it may be challenging to live, but look! People from the north are entering. Yes, it may require sacrifice on your part, but look! People from the south are entering. Yes, it may mean leaving behind a habit or vice, but look! People from the east and the west are entering. Yes, it may mean that I am disliked or persecuted by certain people, but look! Young people are entering. Yes, an authentic Christian life may seem countercultural or strange to worldly political eyes, but look! Old people are entering. Strive to enter through the narrow gate.