“What is lacking in Christ’s sufferings” gets filled up every day, on the terrible altar of the hospital bed. Please pray for our dear mom, whose heart does not work quite right, because she has grown old.
Owing to this situation, I’m not sure that we will see each other this coming Sunday. But here’s a homily for you to read at your leisure, if you like…
Lord, will only a few people be saved? (Luke 13:23)
Lord Jesus did not give a straight answer. Why not? Maybe because the question included an unspoken smugness. ‘Lord, will only a few people be saved? That is, a few people like us? Or will I have to share the glory with a lot of riffraff?’
So, instead of patting this man on the head, the Lord evoked an image which He repeatedly used. A banquet hall, full of people eating delicious hummus with warm pitas and drinking fine Lebanese wine, thoroughly enjoying themselves, with the master of the house providing everything for them freely—but the doors to the hall have been closed and locked.
Remember the first verse of Foreigner’s big hit “Jukebox Hero?” Standing in the rain, with his head hung low. Couldn’t get a ticket. It was a sold-out show.
Outside, they knock franticly. They want some hummus and warm pita. “Lord, open the door! We have all kinds of facebook friends in common with you.”
From inside, He says: “I don’t know where you’re from.”
“But we’re from the same place! We’re your homeboys! We went to the same high school. We ate the same foods. We went shopping at the same car dealerships and the same malls. We got stuck in the same traffic jams. We just assumed that we were your friends!”
He cuts through it all. “Depart, evildoers.”
By now the man who originally asked the question must have started thinking to himself, ‘Now, I consider myself above-average virtuous. But the rabbi seems, in his roundabout way, to call me an evildoer…’
Does Jesus call us evildoers also?
Let’s focus on the details of His image. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets in the kingdom of God, with people from all four points of the compass—people who presumably share in the holiness of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.
At Holy Mass last Sunday, we heard about one of the prophets, namely Jeremiah. They had thrown him into an empty cistern. He sank into the mud at the bottom. Why did they do that to the prophet? Because he tried to warn them: God will judge you. He will judge you according to the truth. You cannot fudge with God. He knows all. You cannot pretend to obey Him, by just going through the motions. And if you don’t trust Him above all things; if you don’t trust Him more than yourselves, you will wind up ruined.
I think we can say what all the people sitting and eating the warm pitas and drinking the wine have in common. Abraham, his son and grandson, the prophets, and the righteous from the four corners of the earth—what they have in common is: the humility, and the honesty, of real faith.
Evildoers? Only very infrequently do we act out of pure malice. Usually, people do evil because our minds fall prey to the illusion of an apparently satisfying theory that takes the place of reality. Comfortable self-delusion. A broad road leads there. But the path to reality is narrow, because it is so humbling.
Without God, without His generosity and His mercy, I am nothing. Abraham took Isaac to Mount Moriah, and prepared to sacrifice his beloved son, because he knew: Without God, Who has ordered me to do this, I am nothing. Jeremiah declared to the people of Jerusalem, “Without God, you are nothing!”
How do we reconcile these two particular sayings of Christ? On the one hand, we just heard Him say, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate, for many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.” Strive with strength. As St. Paul put it, ‘Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.’ But on the other hand, Christ said, “Come to Me all you who strive strenuously and weary yourselves, because My yoke is easy and light.”
How can the One with the supposedly easy burden command us to strive with all our strength? And how can the demanding one tell us to relax?
The narrow path to the banquet involves total trust and dependence. God reigns. God provides. When we face reality humbly, we recognize that we lie prostrate here on the earth, powerless and desperate—unless we give ourselves over completely to the Blessed Trinity.
Nothing is harder, though, for us. Nothing is harder than doing the easiest thing, becoming like carefree children in the Father’s hands. Because we human beings congenitally presume to greatness that we don’t have. We think that we are God. That’s original sin. It extends almost to the very bottom of our souls. So nothing proves more humblingly difficult for us to achieve than: the humility of Christian faith.
But: No one has more patience than God. He knows that, with time, even we stubborn self-deluded headcases can bring forth the peaceful fruit of righteousness. He does not tire of training His beloved children. When we forget Him, and put ourselves in His place, He gently corrects us and tries to bring us back to reality.
The door to the banquet stands open now. As long as we draw breath, hope for our holiness remains. He will shut the door and lock it eventually. But, may it please Him, we will have taken our seats inside by then.
We don’t even have to see the narrow path in order to follow it. In fact, following the narrow path involves our acknowledging that we do not see it clearly. But we show up at Mass to humble ourselves before God’s almighty and merciful goodness. So there’s hope for us yet.