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Keeping the End in Mind
Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Opening Prayer: I come before you today, Lord, eager to praise you and to receive from you the grace I need to live this day to the full. I feel what St. Paul describes in today’s first reading: we do not know how to pray as we ought. And I invoke your promise through St. Paul: The Spirit himself comes to the aid of our weakness… the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. Holy Spirit, guide my time of prayer today, for the glory of God and the advance of Christ’s Kingdom.
- Clear Destinations: Jesus had a clear destination. He was …making his way to Jerusalem. He knew that his mission was to culminate in his self-offering on the cross for the world’s redemption. And even though he kept busy on the way, Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went; he never lost sight of that destination. Do I know what my destination is? Do I know how everything I do in my daily life contributes to the journey? We need to be intentional about keeping our destination–everlasting happiness through growth in our communion with God here on earth and entering the Father’s house after death–in the forefront of our minds. So many other voices try to distract us. So many false promises vie for our attention. We are so easily distracted. As disciples of Christ, we should learn from our Master and renew our commitment every single day to continue our journey to our true destination.
- Few or Many?: The question posed to Jesus in today’s Gospel is one that continues to be posed in every generation: Lord, will only a few people be saved? Jesus doesn’t really give a direct answer to this question. Rather, he turns the tables. We don’t really need to know how many people will make it to heaven. What we need to be concerned about is our own journey, our own fidelity to God’s grace. And so, Jesus encourages us to stay humble, to take good care of our own souls first: Strive to enter through the narrow gate. He implies that in this fallen world it isn’t so easy to be a faithful disciple of Jesus: …many… will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. Being Christ’s disciple is not complicated—he himself summed it up in two commandments: love for God and love for neighbor. But the many traps and deceptions swirling around us and within us–because of our own fallen nature (concupiscence), the fallen world, and the fallen angels who hate God and work to separate us from him–make it difficult. It is so difficult, in fact, that we can easily deceive ourselves, thinking we are living a faithful friendship with Christ when in truth we are just building up our own petty, self-centered kingdoms. This is the message of his parable about the master who locks the door. We don’t need to panic. God’s grace will never fail us. We just need to stay humble, to stay focused, to make good use of the many means for spiritual growth the Church offers us (that’s part of our “striving”), and trust that God will do the rest.
- A Cure for Discouragement: The tone of our Lord’s answer to his questioner in today’s Gospel can strike some readers as stark, maybe even pessimistic. But we must not take this passage in isolation from the rest of the Gospel. Jesus makes equally clear in many passages that God’s mercy is infinite and proactive; he wants us to be saved. In fact, the basic theological virtue of hope propels us to remain deeply optimistic even amid all our struggles and the grave evil around us. The Catechism points out (1821): We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” This robust, wise, theological hope is what St. Paul has in mind when he writes in today’s first reading: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We should all memorize this verse and go back to it frequently, because it is true, and it reminds us of a truth that we need to be reminded of almost every single day.
Conversing with Christ: I want to strive to enter through the narrow gate of your friendship— narrow because to be your faithful friend I have to stay humble, to stay small, to become once again like a child, trusting more in you than in myself or any other worldly power. I want to live with the buoyant joy of hope always shining in me and through me. I want to live simply, truly, limpidly, free from all unnecessary complications that inhibit me from living in your peace and spreading that peace all around me. Teach me, Lord; never let me be separated from you.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a special visit to the Eucharist and pray earnestly for the salvation of all people, especially those in most need of your mercy.
For Further Reflection: Consider this theological and spiritual reflection on the importance of “striving to enter by the narrow gate” by Ralph Martin, professor at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.