Enter through the narrow gate

Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt 7:13-14).

Saint Luke has a parallel passage: "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24).

Jesus makes the point that there are only two gates for us to enter, not three; one leads to life, the other to destruction. There is no third gate that leads to a neutral mode of life by which we can avoid a decision about entering into life or going down the way of destruction. Modern commentators claim that the words "many" take the road that leads to destruction, and "few" take the road to life should not be taken in a statistical sense. For example: "In the context that follows the issue is not a statistics of salvation, but the danger in which most people exist with regard to eternal salvation" (International Bible Commentary 1281). Surely, Jesus intended by these words to warn us that we should not take it for granted that heaven is ours automatically. We need to take the steps indicated by Him to achieve that goal of life. Unless we walk up, we slide down.

Note that Jesus also said: "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God" (Luke 18:27). God excludes no one from entering heaven by an eternal decree of predestination, as John Calvin falsely taught. God gives to each and all a free will by which to choose, the narrow way or the broad way, the tree of life or the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Hope for eternal life is open for us until the end, when we breathe our last. With all the help from God that Catholics especially have - the Sacraments, the parish, the communion of saints - the pilgrimage to heaven is meant to be a journey on foot passed in good company, with song and story telling, with mutual help and encouragement, and as the years pass and the Holy City is just over the horizon, the spirits of the pilgrims pick up and the anticipation of a joyful welcome at the homecoming gives a youthful spring to our steps.

Saint John Chrysostom (Sermon 23) observes that the same Jesus who said, "The gate is narrow" also said: "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:30). The narrowness of the gate ought not frighten us, because the gate is still wide enough to be found, and ample enough for us to squeeze through. And having entered the gate, one step at a time up the narrow way is negotiable. We need not jump up like professional pole vaulters; just take one step at a time will get us there eventually. What Christ is warning us about is that the way to heaven is not automatically given to us, or forced upon us, but needs to be traveled by us with conscious and free effort.

Why is the way that leads to destruction so easy to find and travel? I think it is because our eyes and ears and bodily comforts are the first things we perceive and experience without much effort or even any free exertion at all. We are immediately at home with the sense world in which we live. The Lord has made life on earth almost as comfortable as sitting like a couch potato before a TV set. Our senses and natural inclinations just love this beautiful world that God created, and it is troublesome to look beyond to what the senses cannot perceive.

Our minds feel no warmth nor cold nor any sensation at all, and to think spiritually requires some effort. If we then perceive with our minds that there are moral obligations - the Ten Commandments - the senses keep telling the mind that being a couch potato is more comfortable, so why do what is hard. I like to think of our bodies as donkeys that the mind must shout at and slap with a stick to make the reluctant donkey go step by step up that narrow uphill road to heaven.

Our bodies feel none or few of the joys that the mind knows when we recite the Psalm: "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?" (Psalm 42:1-2). The body says that heaven is "Pie in the sky" out of reach, unrelated to the realities of sense and touch. Atheists can laugh at us for believing what we cannot see. The temptation is always near that we choose what is immediately at hand rather than what is over the horizon and cannot yet be seen. Chrysostom encourages us: The labor is temporary, the reward is eternal. Don't join the crowd of the "many" nor let yourself be troubled by them. Go your own way, the way of the "few."

The atheists, the scoffers, the materialists have it easy to win arguments in this life, saying that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. We won't win the argument here, but as the Book of Wisdom assures us, we will win it in the next world:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself (Wisdom 3:1-5).

At the end of the world we will finally have our day of triumph over the scoffers. On the day of the Last Judgment, Christ will use His shepherd's staff to move the sheep to His right side, and the goats to His left. To those on His right He will say, "Come." To those on His left, "Depart." Shall we then say: "I told you so!" I rather think our parting word might be: "So why didn't you open your mind to the truth?"

False prophets

Jesus warns next that robbers hide around the corners of the narrow road and that we must take precautions lest we fall into their trap:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15).

False prophets, of course, are those who say what people like to hear. We need not look far to spot them. There is a delightful story in the Old Testament about King Ahab who asked his supposed-to-be-prophets whether he should go to war against his enemy. All the four hundred prophets said what the king wanted to hear: "Yes, go, and you will be successful." But one prophet, Michaiah by name, was true to his mission. He said: "As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak" (1 Kings 22:14). He warned King Ahab that if he goes into that battle he will die, and that the Lord is allowing the false prophets to give him a false message which he ought to disregard:

Then Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, 'I will entice him.' 'How?' the LORD asked him. He replied, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then the LORD said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.' So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you" (1 Kings 22: 19-23).

But King Ahab went into battle, believing what he had wanted to hear. When the battle was raging, he was hit by a chance arrow that struck between the scale armor and the breast plate and pierced him. He told his chariot driver to wheel about out of the battle, then bled to death while propped up on the chariot. It was his own fault for having listened to the flattering message of the false prophets instead of to the one single prophet that had tried to convince him about what would really happen.

The six hundred theologians who rebelled against Humanae Vitae in 1968 with the fanfare of the media, were six hundred lying prophets, none of them being more truthful than the four hundred that flattered King Ahab. These false prophets dissented from the Church teaching in Humanae Vitae and led American Catholics into a battle which we are losing. The UN Fund for Population Activities, and USAID funders mouth the false message to avoid overpopulation and to fight AIDS by use of condoms and contraception. And condom users are dying now as fast as the defeated troops of King Ahab died. Planned Parenthood sex educators who demonstrate to school boys how to put condoms on bananas destroy the morals of our youth and explode epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases. Our work is to expose these false prophets, and to teach chastity. For your information, here is a sample of how one government program teaches abstinence. I copied it from "The Governor's Program on Abstinence, Teacher Guide, State of Louisiana, June, 2002, which is excellent and is producing good results among the youth of Louisiana:

Lesson One Handout

GOVERNOR'S PROGRAM ON ABSTINENCE (State of Louisiana) Health Crisis Fact Sheet

False prophets are teaching the young that sex with condoms is safe. The Church teaches that sex is a gift of God to be used according to His eternal wisdom: within marriage and not outside of it; with one's spouse and with no other. King Ahab should have listened to the Prophet Michaiah, not to the 400. And our young should listen to the Sixth Commandment, not to Planned Parenthood.

We will next hear from Jesus how to distinguish false prophets from those who are true to the Lord.