To earn a gold medal in the Olympics, athletes must, first and foremost, know what they are getting into. They set a goal and aim to achieve it against all odds. Athletes go through intensive training for the body, mind and spirit as preparation for the event. Because the Olympics happen only every four years, it is important that they are 110% focused on their training from their diet to sleeping habit to physical and mental fitness all throughout. If they fail to follow their training program strictly, they can either not qualify and miss the event or fall short in obtaining the gold medal.
Bottom line is, athletes must strive to align themselves to a certain ‘trail’ that entails uncompromising discipline to earn a recognition that is not given to all – the gold medal.
Today’s readings create a similar picture of how athletes prepare for the great event – the Olympics. We, Catholics, are like the athletes who will be judged if we will ever earn the gold medal to enter the ‘Narrow Gate’ or not. There is only one gold medal in a particular Olympic game or event, hence only the best athlete can obtain it; otherwise, an athlete can only earn either silver or bronze, or no medal at all. Likewise, in the gospel of St. Luke, when Jesus was asked if only a few people will be saved, he answered, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many… will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” [Luke 13:24]. There is only one judgment day for each of us; there is only one salvation and it is not for everyone. We either get the gold or not at all. This is the hard truth. But, whoever strives towards it will earn it.
As Christians, it is not enough to say that we are safe because Jesus’ Passion has already saved us from sin. Just because we were born Christian, it does not mean that we automatically inherit salvation from our ancestors. It is not enough to live in complacency. Today, Jesus reminds us that we must work for our salvation. In the previous gospels, we were exhorted to make a radical choice to follow Jesus, to live the Word through actions, to think of what is eternal and not of this world, and to prioritize God among others. These are not easy tasks but these are what Jesus wants us to strive to do.
Further in the gospel, Jesus said that, “After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’”[Luke 13:25-27]
Without a doubt, it is painful and awful to be rejected when judgment day comes. Even if we say that we have been a constant Sunday Mass goer, it is not enough. We cannot just tell the Lord that we have ‘met’ him in one of the retreats that we attended. Or say that we know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Much more is asked of us. The Lord does not want an acquaintance in us, but rather he wants a personal, intimate relationship with us. Having an intimate relationship with the Lord entails tremendous work. It is not a one-time deal, or a temporary decision to be associated with him. Often times, it comes with God’s ‘training program.’
In the letter to the Hebrews, we are reminded about the Lord’s way of training his children through discipline. “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges. [Hebrews 12:6]” Like a father to his son, God allows trials to take place in our lives to strengthen us, as part of the training. God wants us to endure the challenges by “making straight paths for [your] feet” [Hebrews 12:13]. These trials will bring us closer to the Lord initiating an intimate relationship that we aim to create.
Building an intimate relationship with God starts with knowing and experiencing him everyday, and doing our part as his children that is to “go out to the world and tell the Good News” [Mark 16:15]. This is part of our mission as Jesus’ disciples. This is what makes our relationship with God grow deeper.
It will not be easy as the ‘gate is narrow’ but we, as Christ’s followers, are encouraged to strive to enter through it. If we make great efforts to be able to enter through it, the Lord will see it. In Isaiah, the Lord says, “I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory” [Isaiah 66:18]. The Father is merciful, “gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” [Exodus 34:6]. The Church highlights this nature of God when Pope Francis proclaimed this year an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy where we are invited to grow stronger and more effective as believers. In Pope Francis’ words, “we need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man… At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.”
The Lord living in us, and we living for the Lord is the kind of relationship that he acknowledges when our judgment day comes. This is the kind of relationship that we must strive to build to be able to enter through the narrow gate. And it is only through Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, that we can come to the Father (John 14:6) – through whom we can enter the narrow gate.
The only difference between Olympic gold medalists and us Christians is that, they have already earned their reward and recognition as we have witnessed it, while we have not – not just yet. We can choose to strive, training under God’s program until the ‘big event’, or we can choose to slack and end up knocking on a shut door.
Dear Jesus, thank you for reminding me to strive to be the best person that I can be to deserve the salvation that you came here for. I ask for your Holy Spirit to lead me to the narrow path and to grant me the strength to endure the trials that come with it. I can never do this alone, may you keep me in your loving arms so that when the time comes, I can enter through the gates of heaven with joy and peace in my heart. Amen.