Christ: The Narrow Gate
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

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

The narrow gate is none other than Christ. He is the gate that leads to eternal life. And he is indeed a narrow gate. The word “narrow” suggests a zeroing in on a well defined point. The opposite, of course, is broad and wide.

What is particularly interesting about today’s culture is that “narrow” has a rather negative undertone, as in “narrow minded”, whereas broad, wide, inclusive, open to everyone and everything, is positive and is now associated with a mature outlook. And yet Jesus said that the road to perdition is wide and many take it. The way to eternal life is narrow and few manage to make their way through it.

A priest friend and I blessed a house recently, and before we even entered one of the rooms we were to bless, the owner of the house said there is a statue of a god on the table. It might have been a statue of the Buddha in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which regards the Buddha as a deity. The owner immediately said: “I guess I have to get rid of this, right?”

We agreed with her intuition, but what is noteworthy is that she said it, not us. She had a sense that what was happening that day—the commitment she was making through the blessing of her house to get back to her faith—was incompatible with the New Age mentality that was hers prior to that. We didn’t talk any theology at all; and it really wasn’t the statue that was the problem, but the spirituality she had embraced, which was lacking a focus on the Person of Christ. There was no crucifix visible anywhere, or any other religious statue. It seemed as if Jesus was just one guru alongside others.

The New Age has always been with us, and we see it today in the book The Secret as well as in the writings of Deepak Chopra. Caroline Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit was the New Age book to read a few years ago, in the 90s it was The Celestine Prophecy, and prior to that it was something else, i.e., The Power of Positive Thinking, etc.

What is typical of the New Age is that it promises salvation without personal reform. That’s why it is so attractive to many people, and that’s why these New Age authors produce best sellers, but we never see the great spiritual classics on the best seller list, like The Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales or something by St. Theresa of Avila, etc. With the New Age, there is no requirement to make any kind of personal sacrifice; there are no commandments, certainly no moral precepts bearing upon one’s sex life. The New Age is about power. The salvation it promises is not eternal life, but prosperity in this world. It is about becoming empowered in order to have what you want. That’s salvation. And that’s why there is no mention of sacrifice, taking up your cross, detaching oneself from this world, etc, and that’s why New Age writings are so popular and sell.

But for us this is a false promise. The name Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation”. Jesus is the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. He is God in the flesh. And if that is true, then he is right to say “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. That is not narrow-minded. It is true. Christ said of himself: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live forever. Although he die, I will raise him up on the last day. Anyone who denies me before others, I will deny him in the presence of my Father in heaven.

Jesus proclaimed himself. If he was telling the truth, if he is God in the flesh, then salvation has been narrowed down to a very defined point of reference, an individual Person with a history, born of Jewish parents, born at a particular time and place.

But that is not bad news. That’s good news. The human intellect needs clarity, it needs definition. That’s why we have dictionaries—to define words, so that a word means this to exclusion of that. Communication would be impossible without well defined words. Imagine if we were so inclusive, so open minded that words could mean whatever we wanted them to mean. Our inclusivity would render human life chaotic. Communication would be impossible, for nothing would make sense.

The truth is a Person and that Person has become flesh. That’s good news. We don’t have to go away and study Philosophy for 25 or 30 years. We can pick up an ordinary bible and read one of the gospels and become familiar with the character of this Person, Jesus of Nazareth, we can get to know what it is he taught, how he behaved, and when we do so, we will have far more than Aristotle or Plato ever dreamed of having. That’s how blessed we are.

There is no doubt that Aristotle was a genius; he was a true master of human reason. He systematized the rules of logic, he wrote on the nature of matter and motion, he wrote on metaphysics, on human nature, and he wrote brilliantly on ethics, virtue, happiness, the good life and politics. But compared to the red wine of the gospel, Aristotle is a lukewarm glass of water. One can’t get drunk on water. Water is good, but a simple uneducated man or woman can pick up a New Testament and read Matthew, Mark, or Luke, or John and ponder it, think about life in light of what’s in there, in light of Christ’s teachings, and he or she will have so much more than Aristotle was able to figure out for himself had he lived 10 times as long as he did.

The truth has become flesh in the Person of Christ. The world denies Christ. The world hates Christ. He said it himself: “If the world hated me, know that it will hate you too”. But Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is everything that religious man was looking for.

Man is naturally religious and has always been on the search for God. We see this in the great world religions. And man has discovered quite a bit. There is great wisdom in Hinduism, tremendous wisdom in Buddhism. There is so much truth in Taoism, it is astounding. Confucius was brilliant. But these are all man’s word about God, and it is not all false. I would say there is probably more truth in them than error.

But God is so good that He responded to man’s search for Him, God came looking for man. He joined a human nature to reveal Himself to us and to die so as to save us. In dying, He reveals how much He loves us—so much that He would enter into the worst of human suffering, and death, so that we would never suffer alone, and die alone.

And so Christ is everything that the world religions were looking for. Ghandi knew this; he said it more than once. And it is really only in the Person of Christ that we can appreciate the wisdom of the world religions. Since the fullness of Truth dwells in Christ, he gives us the eyes to see and love the truths in these religions.

But Christ gives us himself, who is Truth Itself, and he gives us the ability to live according to that Truth. He gives us divine grace. He does not point us to the way; he is the Way. Our life is to be lived in him, in his flesh. That’s why he gave us the Eucharist. We can eat and drink the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and when we do, we are given divine grace, which alone enables us to rise above our sinfulness.

Unlike the New Age, Christ calls us to personal reform, to reject sin. He calls us to sacrifice: “Anyone who wishes to be a follower of mine, let him take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. Anyone who saves his life will lose it”. He said not to worry about what you are to eat and drink, or what you are to wear. Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be provided. It’s all about him, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, Light from Light, True God from True God.

In Wales there were two brothers in the seminary together, both studying for the priesthood. The two of them were ordained together, but the one brother eventually left the priesthood. He became a complete atheist and there was nothing the other brother could do about it. Years later, the atheist brother suffered a brain aneurysm. He was in the hospital, in a coma, and he was not going to live. The brother who remained faithful to his priesthood was there next to the bed, praying the rosary. The graces of the Anointing of the Sick must have gone to work, because at one point the dying brother sat up in bed, eyes wide open, turned to his brother and said: “It’s all about Christ! Go and tell the whole world!” He then laid back down and died.

His last words. He had the opportunity to say one last thing, to leave a final testament to the world. He could have said anything. He said what he finally came to learn: “It’s all about Christ! Go and tell the whole world!”