22 August 2010

Faith and the Narrow Gate

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – C – 22 August 2010

Readings: Is 66:18-21; Ps. 117:1, 2; Heb 12:5-7.11-13; Lk 13:22-30

The readings this Sunday tell us, at least, two things:

I. God wants all people to be saved.

Lk 13,29 says: “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.” Is 66,18 says: “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.”

II. The way to salvation is through the narrow gate.

Lk 13,24 says: “"Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” What does it mean to enter through the narrow gate?

1. We recognize that it is us who have to conform to God, not God who has to conform to us.

In 1996, the Rev. Joe Wright said this opening prayer at the Kansas House of Congress:

“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!”

His opening prayer made a stir in that Congress. One legislator walked out, and some criticized the pastor. But when the media aired the story, the response from the public, including those from other countries, was overwhelmingly supportive of Rev. Wright.

Entering through the narrow gate means it is us who have to adjust, not our definition of what is right and just. It means divesting ourselves of our burdens of self-interest, prejudices and comforts since they hold us back from passing through the gate. After all, it is God’s will we are seeking not our will, God’s way we are following, not our way.

2. We relearn the values of discipline and commitment.

Heb 12,11 says: "At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it."

The recently published National Study of Youth and Religion observes a disturbing trend. It seems a new religious movement has already emerged. It cuts through practically all major religions, especially Christianity. The researchers of the study give it the name: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). This alternative faith “feeds on and gradually co-opts if not devours” established religious traditions. And it has become the "dominant civil religion" in America.

Of course, no one, at least not yet, calls himself a moralistic therapeutic deist. The label is a summarizing term. But if the common creed for those who hold this belief may be stated, it would look something like this:

1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Perhaps, some of us may even identify with some or most, or maybe even all of these beliefs. What is wrong with holding them?

What adherents of MDT want is a feel-good religion where God is present but is not too demanding;

where civility (being nice and fair to others), and not much else, is the new morality; where self-affirmation replaces grace, and self- gratification replaces salvation as the goal of life; where Christianity is considered just one of many roads to enlightenment; and where (almost) everybody is expected to go to heaven when they die. In short, it is for people who like the benefits of religion but not its discipline and commitment.

Can you imagine parents not teaching their kids discipline and expect them to succeed later in life? Can you imagine a teacher advising students that in order to graduate all they have to do is just browse through their books and attend classes only when they feel like it? Can you imagine a music teacher telling a budding artist that all he needs to achieve excellence is simply to love music and practice only when he feels like practicing? Can you imagine Freddie Roach advising Manny Paquiao to just take it easy, after all boxing is just a matter of punching and taking punches, and then expect him to win his fights?

If discipline is important in parenting, education, arts and sports, why not in faith as well? Yet today we hear of so many people resisting the discipline of faith, interpreting Scriptures according to their needs, and following only Church teachings that best fit their lifestyle. And then they’ll say: “Why be so hard on yourself? After all, God is love.”

Remember Heb 12,6: "for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines". And then Mt 7,21 says: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Not everyone who invokes “God is love” will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our Gospel this Sunday is a solemn reminder of just what we need to do to enter the kingdom: pass through the narrow gate. Or find the doors forever locked and suffer the cold, lonely exile of sinners where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

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