Saturday, August 20, 2016

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Narrow Gate

There is a story told by St. Teresa of Jesus, the founder of the Discalced Carmelites, that one time during prayer she complained to the Lord that she had so many trials. Our Lord answered her that that was the way he treated his friends, burden them with trials. She immediately replied, "No wonder you have so few friends".

St. Teresa affirms in her book THE WAY OF PERFECTION, chapter 1, that indeed Jesus has so many enemies and so few friends.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus himself confirms that he has only few friends. The reason is because those who want to be his friends have to pass through a narrow gate and with all the effort they can muster. And only few do this.

Let us listen again to the reading in our Gospel today.

In response to a question whether only few will be saved, Jesus answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough."

In the commentary of Barnes' Notes on the Bible, there is a quotation from Dr. Thomson, taken from his book  The Land and the Book, where he says: "I have seen these strait gates and narrow ways, 'with here and there a traveler.' They are in retired corners, and must be sought for, and are opened only to those who knock; and when the sun goes down and the night comes on, they are shut and locked. It is then too late." This gives us some background about the meaning of this narrow gate. Jesus might have been referring to these gates in retired corners of houses for travelers.

But even in our time we can also get the meaning of this narrow gate. You probably noticed that in big schools and buildings there is a narrow gate. There is a wide gate for the cars. There is also a narrow gate for individual persons. The structure of this narrow gate is such that it allows only one person at a time to pass through conveniently.

This is also what Jesus meant. We are to strive to pass through this narrow gate where only one person passes through at one time. In John chapter 10 Jesus speaks twice that he is the gate (verses 7 and 9). In other words it is Jesus himself through whom we pass through. And we do this one by one, not in a group. This means that individually we enter his life, his thoughts, his desires. This is nothing else than becoming friends with him.

He says that we strive to pass through him. The word used to translate the word "strive" here is the one from where we get the English word "agonize". This is the word used to describe an athlete struggling with all his strength to compete for a prize. In other words Jesus is telling us to strive with all our might, with all the strength that we have to be his friend, to enter into his life, his way of thinking, speaking, and acting. This is because there are so many things alluring us away from devoting our whole life for Jesus: our family, our friends, our work, our recreation, etc.

The Letter to the Hebrews in our second reading tells us that this is a painful process, the putting on of Christ in our life. But it is a condition for us to get saved both from the evils of this present life and those of the life to come.

We know that only a few do this. Most of us are contended with discharging our religious obligations and doing what we can to avoid sins. But Jesus is not content with this.

He wants us to so desire him with all our strength to be his friend that we can truly say with the psalmist in Psalm 73, "Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you" (25 AV).

Again Teresa of Jesus writes in the Way of Perfection, chapter 34, "But He (Jesus) will not reveal Himself openly and communicate His glories and bestow His treasures save on those who He knows greatly desire Him, for these are His true friends. I assure you that anyone who is not a true friend and does not come to receive Him as such, after doing all in his power to prepare for Him, must never importune Him to reveal Himself to him. Hardly is the hour over which such a person has spent in fulfilling the Church's commandment than he goes home and tries to drive Christ out of the house. What with all his other business and occupations and worldly hindrances, he seems to be making all possible ways to prevent the Lord from taking possession of the house which is His own."

Notice that Teresa addresses here the situation of the ordinary person in the world, not just of the religious in a monastery.

Unless we have become personal, intimate friends of Jesus, we will later on hear him say to us what we heard in the Gospel reading, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!" Some of us may say to him, We attended your church, we contributed to your cause, we obeyed your commandments, we ate your body and drank your blood. None of these will move him to change his mind towards us. He will still say those very harsh words, most painful to us, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!"

In closing let us listen to the poem which has been sung countless times by Christians all over the world, especially by our separated brethren, but because it is a song owned by the Spirit of God, it also rightfully belongs to us.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there. Amen.
(from the song What a Friend We Have in Jesus)

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