21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Someone asked Jesus ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ ‘Will I be saved?’ – this was THE question that exercised entire generations, our grandmothers, grandfathers, even mothers and fathers. The judgment after death loomed large in their minds. There was a real fear, even terror of hell and no one presumed they would be saved. The focus is different today. It is on God’s love. This is a very good development and was sorely needed. The Father does seek our love because He is first and foremost the Father. But like all good things it can be distorted. Today the assumption is that everyone is going to be saved. No one will be lost. In fact no one can be lost because God is such a nice guy.
An astute commentator points out the downside of this attitude. If everyone is going to heaven whether they like it or not, we stop bothering about heaven. What you then get is a worldliness even among believers. If heaven is a done deal why bother about it. Let’s focus on the earth. And then a subtle shift takes place in our mentality. Since we focus so much on the world, heaven becomes an extension of life on earth albeit a better version. There is no radical and even terrifying passage to another life. We just roll off the death bed into heaven. For my father’s generation – funeral eulogies would be about standing before the judgment seat of God. The almost certain prospect of Purgatory. They prayed earnestly for the souls of the dead because no one was assured of heaven. But today, eulogies place everyone in heaven right away. Not only that, you get the impression they take up where they left off on earth. Let’s say Joe loved fishing. In heaven, he is now on a heavenly lake, fishing for an eternity. He does not have to wait for the fish to bite anymore. They wait anxiously for him. His kids do not give him the silent treatment. His wife does not give him grief for leaving her to do all the chores. And on the shore, Joe can see the Archangel Gabriel setting up the gas grill and the Archangel Raphael putting out the beers from the cooler. In short, heaven is just a bigger, better and brighter version of earth.
To the questioner who was interested in the theory ‘Lord will only a few be saved? Jesus’ reply is utterly and totally practical and personal. ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I tell you, will not be strong enough’ This is a wake-up call. Heaven is not an automatic extension of the earth. There is a passageway that you might miss because it is so narrow. So narrow that it scrapes off most of what you love on earth. You can get to heaven on auto pilot. That is to enter upon the broad way Jesus spoke about that leads to destruction. And then the scary words of Jesus – many enter through this broad way. Why the narrow gate? The Letter to the Hebrews tells us ‘Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Without this narrow gate, there is no holiness. Without the pain of renunciation, and conversion – there is no way we will go to heaven. Because heaven is not earth. On earth we can do our own thing. In heaven we do God’s thing. Cardinal Newman says ‘Here, on earth, every man can do his own pleasure, but there he must do God’s pleasure’ Heaven will be to live, constantly, without the slightest interruption, in the presence of the Blessed Trinity. And you cannot take time off to do pottery, or to collect vintage cars, or take up fishing, or watch the Dow Jones index in God’s constant presence. You can only do as the angels always do – fall down in worship. This is the only occupation in heaven. And if we have not prepared for this on earth. If we have not slowly and painfully surrendered our lives over to God. If we have not cultivated a sense of His presence? If we have dodged His voice in our consciences, if we have found praying such a bore, how will we bear the weight of His constant presence in heaven for an eternity? For such a one, heaven will feel like hell, a torture chamber.
If we want to prepare for heaven – now is the time and not when it’s too late to change. Now is the time to enter into the narrow gate. Now is the time to take up our cross and not escape it. Now is to the time to worship God if we are to get ready to worship Him, constantly, with never a moment of interruption, for an eternity. Now is the time to prepare for a form of life so radically different from life on earth –that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor can human mind ever conceive. ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. Let us pray for the grace. Let us beg the Holy Spirit of God to lead us into the narrow gate God has chosen for us and let us accept the Cross in our lives because it is purifying us of earthly dross, it is drawing us more and more into the love of Christ and our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.