Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.”

Those are kind of chilling words, in a way. We’ve been so conditioned to think that the spiritual life has to be easy. We are a society that has no patience for anything that requires a lot of work or effort. We have this sense of entitlement that eschews anything that makes demands of us. It’s no wonder that our society in general can often be so spiritually shallow, no wonder that we are caught up in consumerism, no wonder that people have little respect for one another. Because if the spiritual life is going to require work, then many people say they’re just not going to do it. That’s why so many people have left the Church. They might say there are other reasons, and for some people there genuinely are other reasons, but for many people, it’s just not worth the effort to get up on Sunday and come to Church.

To all of us who are tainted by spiritual laziness once in a while, or even very often, Jesus says today, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” It’s going to take some work, maybe even a lot of work, but if we have decided that eternal life with God our creator is worth it, then we will do what it takes. And it’s not enough to just say, “I’m okay because I believe in Jesus.” Some Churches teach that’s all it takes. But that’s not Biblical, and today’s Gospel is all the evidence for that that we need.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was at the Cathedral in Joliet for Deacon Tom Marciani’s Ordination. As part of that rite, the bishop hands the newly-ordained deacon the Book of the Gospels and says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” I remember that very well from my own Ordination as Deacon a couple of years ago, and I was thinking that part of that instruction really applies to all of us. Because we are all called upon to believe what we read, teach what we believe, and practice what we teach.

We are called to believe what we read because the Word of God is Truth. We might all be interested in what’s on the news, or what Oprah and Dr. Phil are saying, but none of that is Truth with a capital “T”. No, the only real Truth, the only Truth that matters is the Truth that comes from God who is Truth itself. That Truth is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and in the writings of Holy Scripture. Other information we get on a daily basis might be more or less true, but the Word of God is Truth. We are called upon to believe it and live it.

We are then called to teach what we believe because if there is just one source of Truth with a capital “T” then we need to make sure everyone knows about it. What good is Truth if everyone is believing something else? And before you object that you’re not a teacher, forget it. Every one of us is a teacher in some way. We might be called to teach in a classroom, but not everyone can do that. We might instead be called to teach in our workplaces by being people of integrity. We might be called to teach our children by living lives of faith and passing that faith on to them in word and action. We might be called to teach the world by participating in acts of justice and charity. We must all teach the Truth, because the Truth is worthy of so much more than being hidden by believers.

Finally, we have to practice what we teach. Because it’s not enough just to believe and teach. Authenticity in believing and teaching comes in our living. If we are people of faith, then we have to live that faith by reaching out to those in need. If we are people of Truth, then we have to stand up for that Truth by our integrity of life and our passion for justice.

All of this requires commitment and effort and real work from all of us. We have to strive to enter through that narrow gate, because we don’t want to ever hear those bone-chilling words from today’s Gospel, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, you evildoers!” God forbid.