Robert Cheaib -

The Narrow Door of the Gift of Life

Lectio Divina: 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

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Roman rite
Is 66.18 to 21; Ps 1167 Heb 12, 5-7.11-13; Lk 13, 22-30?
Ambrosian Rite
Esd 2, 70-3, 7.10-13; Ps 101; Eph 4.17 to 24; Mt 5.33 to 48
XIV Sunday after Pentecost
1) The gift of life to enter into Life, is a struggle.
If we read this Sunday‘s Gospel passage, we realize that Jesus does not answer directly to the question  “Lord, will only few people be saved?” (Luke 13:23), but invites to seriousness in our intentions and choices: “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Lk 13, 24).
For Christ it is not important to answer to the question of how many will be saved. For him it is important to tell how we can be saved, and he indicates the way of salvation that passes through a narrow door. The real question we need to ask is not: “Will only few people be saved?” But “What should we do to avoid being excluded from salvation?” It is for this reason that Christ begins his reply with an imperative: “Fight!” The official translation is “Strive!”, but the Greek text uses “agonìzesthe” from “agonizo” (from which comes the word “agony” that is the final struggle before death) that should be translated “to struggle” with every strength, tirelessly and with eyes and heart firmly oriented toward Christ.
Moreover, we must pay attention to the fact that, instead of responding to a question on the others (how “many” are saved?), Jesus gives an answer that relates directly to his listeners: “Fight”.
“Fight”, “strive” to enter through the narrow gate. Through the wide door pass those who believe themselves to have the smell of God on them, caught between incense, prayers and rituals, and that boast about it. Through the narrow gate enter “who’s wearing the smell of the sheep” (Pope Francis), the workers of God with hands marked by work and good heart. It is the door of the service of love and of making oneself available to God and the neighbor.
Jesus tells us that we must follow the path mapped out by Him and go through the door that is He himself: “I am the door; Whoever enters through me will be saved “(Jn 10,9). To be saved we must take, like him, our cross, deny ourselves in our aspirations contrary to the Gospel, and follow him on his way: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his daily cross and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
For those who want it, the passage to eternal life is open, but it is a ‘narrow’ passage because it is demanding. It requires commitment, self-denial and mortification of one’s selfishness: it is crucifying. However, it is really worthy to accept the call of the only Redeemer who invites everyone to the banquet of immortal life.
Now and for eternity, life is beautiful and happy not when it is in selfishness, but when it appropriates the cross, fills it with a love that is free, and releases all the good that is within us.
One requirement must be fulfilled by all: to fight, to strive to follow Christ and imitate him, taking upon oneself, as he did, the cross and devoting life to the service of others.
2) Door of mercy.
Jesus speaks of himself as the Door and, going on the cross, shows that the key to this door is the Cross. It is a “narrow” door because his love is a demanding love, and because we are big and full with pride and self-respect. Christ is the door of mercy that forgives our contrite heart that is shredded and crumbled because from a heart of stone it has become a heart of flesh. It is a narrow door whose key is the Cross, which allows to open the door of the Heart of Jesus even at the last moments of life, as it happened to the good thief, who, thanks to this key, had the door of Heaven open for him. (Lk 23: 39-43). We too can and must “use” this key that makes us give up life for the Life, entering the Kingdom of God to be forever in his love and in his joy.
Christ is the “narrow” door, but it is also a “large” door, because it has the width of the infinite mercy of God.
Let me explain with an example taken from the life of St. Jerome, who – after conversion – in order to do penance for his sins, chose Bethlehem for 35 years of his life. For all those years and up to his death, he lived in a poor cell next to the Grotto of the Nativity, praying, studying and translating the Bible into Latin. On a Christmas night the Child Jesus appeared to him and asked:” Don’t you have anything to give me on the day of my birth?” The Saint replied “I’ll give you my heart”” That is good but I want something else” “I’ll give you my prayers” ”All right; but I want something more”, insisted Jesus. –“I have nothing left, what do you want me to give you?” – “Give me your sins, Jerome”, said the Child Jesus,” that I may have the joy to forgive them again”.
Jesus asks all, even our sins, to give (forgive) everything.
With sweet violence, the merciful love of Jesus continues his path to winning the hearts. Among these hearts, those of Consecrated Virgins in the world hold a special place. They, living in virginity the total gift of self to Christ, accept joyfully to pass through the narrow gate to belong strictly to Him who says: “Behold, I stand at the door (of the heart), and knock: if any man hear my voice and opens, I will come in to him and will make great feast with him “(see Rev 3, 20).
With their lives lived in simplicity and hiddenness, these women testify that the narrow gate is the spousal fidelity to Christ by humble acceptance, in pure faith and in the serene confidence, of the word of God and of his demanding love, stringent on their own person, the world and history. It is the observance of the commandments as the expression of God’s loving will, in view of a greater good that achieves true happiness. It is also the acceptance of suffering as a means of atonement and redemption for oneself and for others, and as the supreme expression of love.
The consecrated virgins testify that the narrow gate is, in a word, welcoming the evangelical mentality that in the Sermon on the Mountain finds the purest synthesis and in virginity the highest achievement. It is the pure and chaste love that saves, the love that is, already on earth, the inner bliss of those who, in various ways and in meekness, patience, justice, suffering and crying, forget and donate themselves. The cross – narrow gate because stringent and demanding – is the symbol and the icon of the virginal love, because the cross is the maximum fullness of love for God and every human being. It is a love that embraces everyone and excludes no one. It is the synthesis to the highest degree of love received and given, of love crucified and already risen or illuminated by the light of the dawn of the resurrection. The cross is the heart of the world. So it has been in the history of salvation, and the women who have chosen this love, harbor this heart in them.

Patristic reading
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)
Sermon LXI. [CXI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Lc 13,21 and Lc 13,23 where the kingdom of God is said to be “like unto leaven, which a womantook and hid in three measures of meal;” and of that which is written in the same chapter, “Lord, are they few that are saved?”

  1. “The three measures of meal”1 of which the Lord spake, is the human race. Recollect the deluge; three only remained, from whom the rest were to be re-peopled. Noe had three sons, by them was repaired the human race. That holy “woman who hid the leaven,” is Wisdom. Lo, the whole world crieth out in the Church of God, “I know that the Lord is great.”2 Yet doubtless there are but few who are saved. Ye remember a question which was lately set before us out of the Gospel, “Lord,” it was said, “are there few that be saved?”3 What said the Lord to this? He did not say, “Not few, but many are they who are saved.” He did not say this. But what said He, when He had heard, “Are there few that be saved? Strive to enter by the strait gate.”4 When thou hearest then, “Are there few that be saved?” the Lord confirmed what He heard. Through the “strait gate” but “few” can “enter.” In another place He saith Himself, “Strait and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that go thereby: but broad and spacious is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which walk thereby.”5 Why rejoice we in great numbers? Give ear to me, ye “few.” I know that ye are “many,” who hear me, yet but “few” of you hear to obey. I see the floor, I look for the corn. And hardly is the corn seen, when the floor is being threshed; but the time is coming, that it shall be winnowed. But few then are saved in comparison of the many that shall perish. For these same “few” will constitute in themselves a great mass. When the Winnower shall come with His fan in His Hand, “He will cleanse His floor, and lay up the wheat into the garner; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”6 Let not the chaff scoff at the wheat; in this He speaketh truth, and deceiveth no one. Be ye then in yourselves among many a many, few though ye be in comparison of a certain many. So large a mass is to come out of this floor, as to fill the garner of heaven. For the Lord Christ would not contradict Himself, who hath said, “Many there are who enter in by the narrow gate, many who go to ruin through the wide gate;” contradict Himself, who hath in another place said, “Many shall come from the East and West.”7 “Many” then are the “few;” both “few” and “many.” Are the “few” one sort, and the “many” another? No. But the “few” are themselves the “many;” “few” in comparison of the lost, “many in the society of the Angels. Hearken, dearly Beloved. The Apocalypse hath this written; “After this I beheld of all languages, and nations, and tribes, a great multitude, which no man can number, coming with white robes and palms.”8 This is the mass of the saints. With how much clearer voice will the floor say, when it has been fanned,separated from the crowd of ungodly, and evil, and false Christians, when those who “press” and do not “touch” (for a certain woman in the Gospel “touched,” the crowd “pressed” Christ), shall have been severed unto everlasting fire; when all they then, who are to be damned shall have been separated off, with how great assurance will the purified mass, standing at the Right Hand, fearing now for itself the admixture of no evil men, nor the loss of any of the good, now about to reign with Christ, say, “I know that the Lord is great”!9
  1. If then, my Brethren (I am speaking to the corn), if they acknowledge what I say, predestined unto life eternal, let them speak by their works, not by their voices. I am constrained to speak to you, what I ought not. For I ought to find in you matter of praise, not to seek subjects for admonition. Yet see I will say but a few words, I will not dwell upon it. Acknowledge the duty of hospitality, thereby some have attained unto God. Thou takest in some stranger, whose companion in the way thou thyself also art; for strangers are we all. He is a Christian who, even in his own house and in his own country, acknowledges himself to be a stranger. For our country is above, there we shall not be strangers. For every one here below, even in his own house, is a stranger. If he be not a stranger, let him not pass on from hence. If pass on he must, he is a stranger. Let him not deceive himself, a stranger he is; whether he will or not, he is a stranger. And he leaves that house to his children, one stranger to other strangers. Why? If thou wert at an inn, wouldest thou not depart when another comes? The same thou doest even in thine own house. Thy father left a place to thee, thou wilt some day leave it to thy children. Neither dost thou abide here, as one who is to abide always, nor to those who are so to abide, wilt thou leave it. If we are all passing away, let us do something which cannot pass away, that when we shall have passed away, and have come thither whence we may not pass away, we may find our good works there. Christ is the keeper, why dost thou fear lest thou shouldest lose what thou spendest on the poor? “Let us turn to the Lord,” etc.And after the Sermon.

I suggest to you, Beloved, what ye know already. To-morrow breaks the anniversary day of the venerable10 lord Aurelius’ ordination; he asks and admonishes you, dear Brethren, by my humble ministry, that ye would be so good11 as to meet together with all devotion at the basilica of Faustus. Thanks be to God.

1 (Lc 13,21
2 (Ps 135,5.
3 Lc 13,23.
4 (Lc 13,24
5 (Mt 7,13-14.
6 (Lc 3,17
7 (Mt 8,11
8 (Ap 7,9 Ap 7
9 (Ps 135,5.
10 Senis.
11 Dignemini.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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