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A narrow gate leading to life!

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on at the Annual Diocesan Young Adult Mass at Saint Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria.

Most likely, many among us are quietly but truly asking: "Isn't there a contradiction in the scripture readings we just heard? Between God's desire that everyone be saved and Jesus' insistence about entering through the "narrow gate?" Yes, there seems to be a contradiction, but note: it seems that way. However, upon further reflection there is no contradiction at all. Let us explore more deeply.

Yes, the absolute truth is that God desires that all people be saved, that is, God desires that each person live forever with Him, once this life ends, and we are freed from the permanence of evil, sin, suffering, pain and human death. This is why God sent His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem and save us. This He did through His Death and Resurrection. So, in our first reading, Isaiah foresees God's desire that everyone enter His Kingdom, that everyone be saved: "I came to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory." In today's gospel, towards the end, Jesus Himself confirms this: "And people will come from the east and the west - and from the north and the south and recline at table in the Kingdom of God."

Yet, the Lord insists: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough." What is the Lord really telling us? Everyone is called to be saved - we describe that as "the universal call to holiness" yet to be saved, one must enter through the narrow gate!

We need to reflect further. To enter through the narrow gate means saying "yes" to the Lord's invitation to allow ourselves to be drawn into a more personal and intimate relationship with Him within the Community of His Disciples, the Church. Jesus so ardently desires that each one of us be united to Him, that we live in Him and He in us. In another gospel account, Jesus refers to Himself as "the gate" or "door" through which we find real life. This image likewise stresses union with Jesus, a living relationship with Him.

However, our "yes" must be real and actually lived as best we can with His saving help or grace. Without His help, we cannot and will not be strong enough to live our "yes."

Saying and living "yes" to the Lord's invitation demands conversion, that is, turning away from sin, which separates us from Jesus and turning back to Him; He is full of compassion and mercy! Saying and living "yes" also demands perseverance, because in our human frailty, we often prefer "no." Yet, we must turn back and never give up because God never gives up on us! Saying and living "yes" demands as well dependence on the Lord, that is honestly admitting that we cannot save ourselves, that we depend radically on Him to assist our every effort in this life, all life long!

So then, this "yes" cannot be notional or superficial, temporary only and merely minimal. I repeat, this "yes" must be real and actual and lived. I realize that each one of us is at some specific spot in our response to the Lord. Young adults so often are searching for what will really satisfy the inner longing of the heart. Some among us - many perhaps, have come to realize, as did centuries ago Saint Augustine - that what our society tells us and models before us does not fulfill our longing. Yes, at the moment, it seems to fulfill and satisfy, but later on, we feel empty once again. "Is this all there is," we agonizingly ask?

Yes, there is more - a Person whose name is Jesus Christ. But, saying and living "yes" demands - I have used that verb intentionally - conversion, perseverance and dependence. These are "the disciplines of the Lord" we heard about in today's second reading. Saying "yes" and actually living "yes" is not and will not be easy. But, stop a moment and think: is fostering and deepening a relationship we truly treasure easy? Doesn't that demand doing everything we can to deepen such a relationship, whether marriage or friendship, and avoiding anything that would weaken or destroy it? Or, seeking to achieve a good, like learning how to golf with success, or life advancing in a career; doesn't that demand effort and even struggle? Yes, there is "a discipline" as we say and live our "yes," but the end result is not pain, but joy, the fulfillment that really satisfies and lasts: union with Jesus Christ now and forever!

Remember, though, we cannot live this "yes" on our own. We must be in touch with the Lord - as best we can. Living "yes" is far more than agreeing with a set of proposals; it is a personal decision, which calls for surrendering to the One Who so loves us!

Jesus the Lord is the "Face of the Father's mercy." Search for Him! Draw closer to Him! Cling to Him! He will do for us what we cannot do on our own. Let me share with you a real-life event involving young people, who proclaimed our need for Him in a rather dramatic yet instructive way. These young people were from New Jersey, where no one pumps his own gas, but rather, the station attendant must do that. So, attending a national gathering and desiring to be identified as a united group, they each wore the same shirt: yellow in color, on the front the name of their diocese and on the back the words: "we don't pump our own gas." (cf. Magnificat: Year of Mercy Companion p. 263). The point is: we need someone else, whose name is Jesus Christ!

God's mercy is endless. This truth does not give us an excuse for ignoring the Lord and His invitation, for saying "no" instead of "yes," for abandoning those around us in need. Rather, His mercy is the incentive to make a decision to turn back to Him, to say and to live "yes."

In the parable we just heard in the gospel, the master of the house has locked the door when some people knock to enter and are told: "I do not know where you are from" But they respond, "We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets." But, the master repeats, "I do not know where you are from."

We are being taught by Jesus, we are taking part in the divine banquet He provides for us, this Eucharistic Sacrifice. Surely, we do not wish to hear words like these in that parable!

We will not hear such words if only we make every effort to say and to live our "yes," thereby entering through the narrow door, accepting the discipline of conversion, perseverance and dependence on Jesus, thereby experiencing what our hearts so long for: real satisfying and fulfilling life, united with Jesus and with all His Disciples now and forever! Cling to Jesus! You will never go wrong!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016