Strive to live with God

What does it mean when Jesus says to strive to enter through the narrow gate. This image, in a sense, is too good. We can easily imagine many people trying to enter through the gate at the same time with only a few being successful. But, does Christ want us to focus on the gate? Or is there something deeper here…? What if Jesus had said to us, “strive for the olympics! Many will try, but few will obtain An Olympic Gold medal!” We would immediately understand the type of training that Jesus is demanding of us. We would know that we would have to work out regularly, manage our weight and spend hours honing and perfecting our skills. It is this type of urgency towards a goal, this type of commitment to a way of life that Jesus is teaching us today.

Jesus says to us today, Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. Is Jesus saying that only a few will be saved? Maybe… But it seems to me that the focus of Jesus’ statement is not on the act of passing through the gate. Rather, the focus is on the journey towards the gate. Jesus is encouraging us to take the call of the Christian life seriously. He wants us to respond generously to his love and grace in our lives. This means that we take seriously the call to conversion and to turn away from sin. It also means that we take seriously the call to serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And finally, it means to take seriously the call to develop a personal and intimate relationship with Christ. The gate represents heaven, and Jesus wants us to accept his grace and to respond by doing everything we can to join him in heaven. The Olympic athlete that strives for the Gold medal is not a failure because he only made the olympics – He made it to the olympics! 

One way that we take seriously Jesus’ call to strive for the narrow gate is to listen to God in our hearts. In our second reading, we learn that God corrects those who are his son’s and daughters. An important aspect of the Christian life is listening to the corrections of the Holy Spirit. There are times that we falter on the journey and need the Holy Spirit to correct us and bring us back on the path towards the gate; to the path that brings us to heaven. Consider Simone Biles, the female who has won the most medals in an olympics, who has just won Gold and gives her coach a big hug. We would be naive to think that there was never a challenging moment before she won Gold. Her Coach would have had to nitpick, had to call out mistakes, and had to correct Simone to make her better. All for the good of the athlete. Just so is the discipline of the Lord: As we hear today: for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. How beautiful it is to know that whenever we receive the Lord’s discipline it is because of his great love for us.

Here is the great irony; our catholic faith loves paradox. The Gospel tells us how challenging it is to obtain salvation. The first reading speaks to us about God’s desire for all of us to be in heaven. The prophet, speaking for God says, I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. Here is the beautiful truth: Christ wants everyone to be in heaven. The Gospel teaches us that heaven is something we must strive for not expect as an automatic gift. The Gospel is Jesus admonishing us, or, correcting us. All of us must realize that our salvation can be lost. But! If we respond to the corrections that Jesus offers us through the Holy Spirit, and strive for the narrow gate; we will find ourselves with Christ in heaven.  We will come into the heavenly embrace of Our Father.

Today as we receive the holy Eucharist may we receive the strength to change our lives in the ways that God is calling us to so that we can strive to live with God for all eternity in heaven. 

Let Go of Anxiety and Seek Christ

On Friday I finished my summer long internship at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s hospital. It was a beautiful experience. There were many people I met there that I will never forget because through them I saw the face of Christ. One such person was a woman in her 90s. She was a small woman who greeted every caregiver with a smile. I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but she was one of mine. The last visit I had with her was the most memorable. On this day she had declined tremendously, I knelt next to her bed and I grabbed her hand. I asked her “how can I pray for you today?” She said, “Stephen I’m ready to go home. I’m at peace, and I want to see Jesus. But my kids are not ready to let me go. I would like to pray for them that they will be at peace when I go to the Lord.”

But there is a striking difference between the man in the Gospel and the woman I met in the hospital. The man in the parable is anxious. He is searching for security. He wants to feel safe and he wants to be at peace. The way he believes that he will find happiness is by storing his wealth. But he is so anxious that decides he needs to tear down his barns and build bigger ones hoping that he will at last find security and peace. The man’s desire for more wealth is an indicator that he relies more on earthly things rather than heavenly things. 

Saint Paul calls us to seek what is above. To hold on to the heavenly things; namely our relationship with God which is what the woman from the hospital teaches us. I believe that Christ is asking us to pray about the anxiety we all experience in daily life. It is in experiencing all the anxieties of life that we reach out for ways to bring peace to our souls; just as the man from our Gospel sought to bring peace to his heart through his wealth. A good challenge for us this week is to be conscious, to be mindful of those moments when our soul is not at peace; and to pray and reflect on these moments. What do we run to? Do we run to our phone because the experience of silence and solitude is too foreign? Do we run to sports or other good activities to bring peace? Or do we go to entertainment, shows, movies or games to distract us from worldly anxieties; such as, for all the young people present, Pokemon Go? I know which one Fr. Mark chooses… Gotta Catch ’em all right padre? All of these things are not bad in themselves, but they are indicators of where each of us is holding on to earthly things.

Christ wants us to go to him first. Christ invites us to prayer so that we can build our friendship with him. The place to find real peace is in prayer and the Eucharist. In prayer we encounter the prince of peace. We encounter Christ. The challenge for all of us this weekend is to be more like the woman I met at the hospital and not like the man in the Gospel. We will find ourselves like the woman if we train ourselves to run to God in the times of anxiety and insecurity; and he will bring us the peace and security we desire. So let us stay close to God in prayer and in the Eucharist so that Jesus, who is the prince of peace, can give us the peace of heart we desire.