Fr. Mikael Schink S.J.
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (2022-08-21)
St. Eugenia Catholic Church
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Will many be saved? (cf. Luke 13:22) An unidentified person asks Jesus this question in today’s gospel passage. And it is indeed an important question. Much hangs on it. For if very many – not to say all people – are saved, then what is the point of putting in the effort and being a Christian? It is true that the more sophisticated defender of a very broad salvation-optimism will say that there are still very good reasons to be a Christian: for instance the simple fact that Catholicism is the true religion, or the fact that we are not Christians for our own sake but for the sake of the Lord – it is because of the friendship with the Lord that we are and remain Christians, not for the sake of some reward apart from God himself. Indeed, some people might even go so far as saying that it is not right to be a Christian only for the sake of meriting a reward; rather, we should be Christians because it is true, right and good.
Whatever the merits of these remarks, it is surely true to say that they are completely abstracted from our current human condition, which is the condition of original sin. Human nature is fallen, and our will is disordered. Therefore, although we might know what we should do, it is often difficult for us to actually do it, because our mind is set on a host of other things: personal profit, short term pleasures or more favorable consequences for ourselves. For the worldly-minded man, doing what is right and just for its own sake simply isn’t enough. We can observe this in any aspect of human affairs. In every area of human life whether it be personal or professional relations, business or politics, education or free time activities, we will find injustice and sinfulness. If it really were the case that doing the right thing for its own sake would be a sufficient motivation to avoid sin, we would have to conclude that all the evil caused by man in the world is due to ignorance, which is obviously absurd.
Indeed, if we are honest, we all know that we are motivated by many other things than doing what is right and just: money, convenience, power, pleasure, fame, and honor. These are just some of the things that can lead us away from doing the will of God. In the Christian tradition, we call them temptations. And for the worldly-minded man, whose passions are disordered because of original and personal sin, it surely seems to be the case that if all or almost all people are saved, there is not enough to motivate him to put in the effort of changing his character and his way of life to be a good Christian. The spiritual tradition therefore sometimes points out the importance of punishment as a motivation to do good. Indeed, saint Thomas Aquinas very realistically says that avoiding suffering and pain is generally more motivating than acquiring pleasure.
It is true that Jesus nowhere directly answers the question whether many will be saved. Instead, he merely counsels us to make an effort “to enter the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). This is indeed very wise, because it is much more important to actually live the Christian life than to speculate about the number of the saved. Yet, the Lord’s remarks can hardly be read as anything else than an affirmation of the difficulty of getting to heaven. And this is indeed the way the major part of the Catholic tradition has read such passages – it is difficult to get to heaven, and so many will not be saved. Thus, the Lord says: “many will try to enter and will not succeed” (Luke 13:24). In another place we can read: “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt 7:13–14).
Reading these passages, we may be discouraged when we think of our many sins and imperfections, but “the narrow gate” is not at all a reason to despair, because our Lord has opened the doors to heaven by his passion. As saint Paul says, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus”. Indeed, our Lord not only opens the gates of heaven; he himself is the gate to heaven. As he says in John’s gospel: “I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). This is the reason he can say: “My yoke is easy and my burden light”. If we put on Christ and rely on him, everything becomes easy and light. If we pray to him and ask for his help, he will surely lead us to the kingdom of heaven.
It is therefore not difficult to understand the urgency that each generation of Christians have felt to spread the faith and proclaim the Gospel. If we look to the first generations of Christians, there are so many martyrs. The Christians were persecuted almost everywhere. All the apostles were martyred in the most gruesome ways – only saint John, the beloved disciple of the Lord, was spared. And so it has continued throughout history. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”, the Church still prays every day in its martyrology.
But in all ages, and perhaps especially in our age, there has been temptations against the words of the Lord” “We should not go to extremes; we should not exaggerate; we should not cause any trouble. It is okay to go to church, it is okay to pray, it is okay to be a Christian; but one should not talk about it publicly, one should keep a low profile, one should not upset anyone.” To keep a low profile was surely not what led to the death of all the apostles and so many other saints. But the temptation of mediocracy was as real in the early Church as it is today. We all know the apocryphal story of Saint Peter the Apostle fleeing from crucifixion in Rome. There on the Appian way, he meets the risen Lord and asks him: “Quo vadis, Domine?” “Where are you going, Lord?” Christ answers him that he is going to Rome to be crucified again. This meeting with the Lord gives Peter the courage to return to the city to give witness to Christ by dying the death of a martyr, being crucified upside down.
Let us therefore turn to the Lord and pray for the grace to “enter by the narrow gate”. Let us pray for zeal in the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel. And let us be on our guard against every kind of mediocracy, every kind of rationalization and pretense not to stand up for the true and Catholic faith. Let us be vigilant and eager in the service of the Lord, so that we can follow him with our whole lives and thereby merit the reward of the kingdom of heaven. +Amen.