Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
21st Sunday of OT, Year C
August 26, 2001
Is 66:18-21; Heb 12:5-7; Lk 13:22-30
1) “How many people will be saved?,” someone asks from the Crowd today. It could have easily been any of us, because this question is often made today. But it is fundamentally a question of curiosity, “Jesus, give me a number. How many?” But Jesus knew that there was a far more important question underlying the one asked. “And will I be among their number?” Jesus responds to this question in the Gospel, by answering the question not how many will be saved, but how one is saved?
2) Jesus says in response, “try to enter through the narrow gate.” To be saved, we have to enter through that thin door. He is the narrow gate. He says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” He is the Way, the only Way, that leads to the Father. Therefore, to be saved, we have to enter salvation through Him. We have enter into him, into his life, death and ressurrection. We have to enter into His Body, which is the Church that the Father sent him down from heaven to found as the means of salvation with him.
3) This is well illustrated in the architecture of the most famous Catholic Church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica. The basilica is meant to symbolize the Church as a whole, literally built right on top of Peter, who is buried underneath the main altar where the nave and the transept intersect. The central aisle, called the nave, comes from the Latin word for boat. The Church is Peter’s boat. But to enter the Church, you have to go through the front door, and over the front door, in the pendetive, stands the Resurrected Christ. To enter into the Church, you have to go, in a sense, through Christ. And right underneath Christ is the balcony from which the Pope gives his solemn blessings, symbolizing that the Pope literally stands under Christ, stands under his authority and speaks to us for Christ. To be saved, we have to enter through this narrow gate who is Christ into his Church and remain in his Church. Peter’s barque or boat is like Noah’s ark and we have to enter and stay in that ark in order to be saved.
4) But this brings up a couple very important questions. The first we’ll tackle is whether people who don’t know Jesus can be saved. The second is whether we, right here who know Jesus, can end up not saved.
5) In regards to the first question — can a non-Catholic be saved? Can someone who has never even heard of Jesus’ name be saved? — the answer is yes, but it’s difficult, provided that they respond in faith to the truth they know. It’s not so much knowing about Jesus, but knowing Jesus himself that is most important, and people can come to know and love Jesus without maybe even knowing his name. Jesus tells us this in St. Matthew’s Gospel. For I was hungry, and you fed me. Thirsty and you gave me drink. Those who are saved will ask, “When did we do all of these things for you?” And he’ll respond that as often as you did it for the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me.” These people can be saved, but it’s not easy. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” But they never experience in this life the good that comes from living with Jesus here on earth. So we should never not proclaim the Gospel to them, because, although Jesus might not hold their ignorance of Him against them if they strive to live a good life in accord with the truth they know, he may hold it against us, who have been too lazy that we haven’t proclaimed it to them. Next week is the mission appeal. We should help out the missionary priest coming from the missions in Brazil.
6) That leads us to the next question. Can we not be saved? Is it possible that we could spend eternal life in Hell and not in heaven? Yes it is. Although the Son of God came to earth to die to forgive the sins of everyone so that all might be saved, this gift of salvation has to be accepted in faith and responded to with love. Salvation is not easy and it’s by no means automatic. St. Paul says it have to seek it with “fear and trembling.” Jesus himself says, “The gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.” Every road other than Jesus leads to death. Many people seem to be taking that road today. They don’t follow Jesus, but follow what everyone else is doing. They might come to spend one hour with Christ a week, but they’re really not following him, just paying him a visit. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council say clearly: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” We need to stay in Peter’s barque, like in Noah’s ark. We need to remain in Christ. Christ will give us all the help we need, but we have to choose well.
7) Each of us faces a fork in the road with each moral decision we make: the narrow road of responding in faith to what Christ calls us to do, and the wide dead end that leads to sin and death. Christians are called to follow Christ down that narrow road to life, which will surely lead us to the Cross, but then to eternal glory. We follow that road every time we respond to God and to others with true Christ-centered love, sacrificing of ourselves for others.
8 ) At the end of time, each of us will hear one of two things from God. To those who refused to give of themselves in this world, God will say, as Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel, “I do not know where you come from; away from me!” To those who loved Christ, and gave of themselves following His example, God will say, “Come, O you blessed of my Father, Inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of time.” We stand at that fork again today. May we follow Christ all the way home to the Father!
Praised be Jesus Christ!