The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on August 26, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
As we listened attentively to God's Word this morning, we could not help but notice two very different statements. On the one hand, we heard that all people are invited to see God's glory. God's kingdom is open to all. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah affirms this: "Thus says the Lord, I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory." In today's Gospel account, Jesus Himself says: "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." So, there is the universal call to salvation. Yet, on the other hand, we heard Jesus remind us that we must "strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." So, quite naturally, we ask: if the gate is narrow, how is salvation open to all?
There is no doubt that the Lord desires all people to be saved. He indeed invites everyone, including each one of us here. But, sadly, some resist the invitation. In order to be saved, we must pass through "the narrow gate" and that means saying "yes" to the one whom God sends us to be our Savior, saying "yes" to Christ and to the relationship He wants us to have with Him.
This "yes" to Christ necessarily involves a choice. This "yes" necessarily means: "Not my will be done, but Your will be done." This relationship with Christ, which began at our baptism and continues each day thereafter, if we keep giving our "yes," our consent, this relationship demands that our focus be on the other, on the Lord Jesus. After all, we know this to be true in any true friendship, in authentic love: the focus is always on the one loved.
Keeping our focus on the Lord leads us to the dynamic of listening and responding, that is, listening to His word and responding with trust and love, with obedient faith. However, this is not easy, because doing this demands giving up our selfishness, our deep-seated desire to be in complete control, our attitude of "me first." This is why Jesus reminds us: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate." The word "strive" in the Greek has the sense of "struggle," in fact, "intense struggle."
Nonetheless, the more we try to respond with obedient faith to the Lord's word and will, the more we try repeating our "yes" in faith and love, the more we try to enter into a living relationship with Christ, the more we come to know Him in a truly personal way. So, when we finally arrive at our journey's end here and are seeking to enter into God's kingdom, we will not be told: "I do not know where you are from." Instead, we will be known as one who tried to respond with the "yes" of obedient faith, as one who tried to live in relationship with the Lord Jesus who so desires that we do so.
Therefore, there can be no complacency in our relationship with Jesus, no sitting back with the attitude that we have already achieved our goal, that we have already arrived at the fullness of God's kingdom. We cannot remain stagnant; unless we move forward, we shall move backward. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor killed by the Nazis in Germany, wrote a book entitled The Cost of Discipleship, pointing out that there is no such thing as cheap grace and that we must relentlessly strive daily to be faithful to Christ and to His word and will. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: "Through his parables (Jesus) invites people to the feast of the Kingdom, but he also asks for a radical choice: to gain the Kingdom, one must give up everything. Words are not enough; deeds are required" (No. 546). Our "yes" to Christ must be expressed in our surrender to His word and His will in our lives. Relying on His grace, we will strive every day to enter through the narrow gate, through Christ our Savior and Lord.
Yes, we seemed to have heard two very different things in God's Word today. But now we understand more clearly how connected they really are. God does invite all people to be saved by entering the narrow gate, the gate whereby we give to Christ our obedient faith, the "yes" of our lives in surrendering love to Him!