August 21, 2016
Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
The reading from Hebrews is a word of encouragement during difficult times. In particular it is referring to the times when we find it hard to follow the discipline that comes with being a follower of Jesus. This passage compliments well the message of the Gospel in which Jesus calls his followers to "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." It might be difficult, but if we remain strong we will succeed. And those who enter through the narrow gate are the ones who the Lord will recognize. If we look at our Christian Faith as something that is easy to live, and minimize the call of the Gospel so as to maximize my personal wants and desires, we are passing through a wide gate. A gate in which we are able to carry all of the excess baggage of inattentiveness to God, temporary happiness, and sin. We will make it through the wide gate, but all of that baggage will make us unrecognizable to the Lord.
In Jesus' day the narrow gate was not only narrow, it was also a low gate. It was the way one entered the city after the main gates were locked at sundown, and during times of alert for enemies. One had to enter with head down and empty handed, trusting that no one was waiting on the inside to club them on the head to injure them or rob them. It took trust to enter through the narrow gate of the city. It takes trust to enter the Kingdom through the narrow gate. Jesus calls us to leave all that we think is important behind, to let go, and to humble ourselves as we enter God's presence. It is a call for us to trust that God does love us and will provide what we truly need. We will stand before the Lord with nothing but ourselves, no possessions, no pretensions, no pride; only in simple humility. The Lord will recognize us for who we are, not what we have. He will welcome us as a brother or sister.
A few years ago I saw a video of the funeral of Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg, known as the last of the Habsburg Crown Princes. The ritual of entry into the Church was fascinating. It was one that had been used by the Habsburgs for several generations. When the funeral procession reached the church in Vienna the Court Herald knocked on the door, a friar then asked "who seeks to enter?" The Herald responded with the name and a long list of titles of the deceased Prince. The friar responded "we don't know him." The herald knocked a second time and asked by the friar "who seeks to enter." Repeated the name with all the titles. The friar gave the same response, "we don't know him." The herald knocked a third time, but this time when asked "who seeks to enter?" the Herald responded, "a sinful, mortal human being." The doors were opened and they brought the casket into the church.
May these readings help us to put aside pride in titles, accomplishments and possessions and focus more on the presence of God in our lives. May we begin to let go of these things that we deem as important, when more often they are nice, but not necessary. What is necessary is to adjust our lives so that we can walk through the narrow gate with confidence in God, and humility in receiving his mercy. The way to the narrow gate may be difficult, but it is the way to Christ.
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.