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The golden door

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

These words from Emma Lazarus' poem, engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, might seem to some people to be a faint echo of a bygone era but they are still a loud and clear call from the church today. They reflect Jesus' own words, "Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome … ."

In today's first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, the Lord invites all peoples from different lands and backgrounds into the Kingdom of God. All people are invited to the "golden door" of salvation.

The "golden" door to salvation, however, is narrow. Not all will be able to pass through because they carry too much luggage. They are weighed down by the baggage of sin, excess and self-indulgence.

To enter the Kingdom of God we must free ourselves from the weight of sin and excess. The spiritual life is a great deal like going to the gym. It is not enough to sign up for a gym. We have to go to the gym, follow the exercises and be attentive to our weight. So, in the spiritual life, it is not enough to join the church but to live the life of the church. We need not only church membership but also discipleship.

Most people find losing weight to be very difficult. The first 10 pounds are easy to lose. After that, the real work begins and that requires discipline. In the spiritual life as well, we need the discipline of the sacramental life of the church. We need the discipline of commitment to and responsibility for others.

As the letter to the Hebrews today reminds us, we may even need the discipline that comes from life's difficulties, those wake-up calls that arrest our spiritual lethargy and remind us of our need for God. We need not only reflection but actual resurrection to new life in Christ.

There are some people who simply give up. The discipline, the work, the time that weight loss demands are all too much. They revert to old ways and let the door to the Kingdom of God be forever closed to them. They know about Jesus, they know about the Gospel ("We ate and drank with you … You taught in our streets"). They know what the Gospel asks but refuse to take that next step. To them, the door to the Kingdom of God is closed.

Sometimes people go hunting for the quick fix, the pill, the latest fad diet, the diet drinks, the new gimmick about which we get "infomercialed" all day long - all promising the reward without the work.

I had a relative years ago whose attic had a large box of quick weight loss gimmicks. None of them worked and that huge box that contained them was like a treasure chest of frustration and despair. Ultimately, though, what he needed was not a new short cut to weight loss but a change of lifestyle and that he was unwilling to do.

Today's readings are not about weight loss but about growth in our relationship with Christ. We know about Jesus but do we love Him enough to follow Him, to do whatever it takes to enter that condition of soul called "the Kingdom of God" where Jesus reigns.

The "golden door" of the Kingdom is open to all. Are we willing to make the effort to enter through its narrow opening? Or will we enter that "golden" holy door only in our dreams?

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016