The Narrow Gate
by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers," Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.
So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you , I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."
The irascible and always entertaining British novelist Evelyn Waugh observed more than 75 years ago, “It is better to be narrow-minded than to have no mind, to hold limited and rigid principles than none at all. That is the danger that faces so many people today — to have no considered opinions on any subject, to put up with what is wasteful and harmful with the excuse that there is ‘good in everything’ — which in most cases means inability to distinguish between good and bad.” Is this a mere literary rant for our amusement, or is Waugh to be taken seriously?
Whenever there is an act of violence in the name of religion somewhere in the world, the customary early response is: “Not all members of that religious group are bad.” Aside from stating the obvious, it is a provocative initial response. In considering the horror of the violence at a distance, there seems to be a pressing need to avoid being labeled “narrow-minded” or “judgmental” or even “bigoted” — a need apparently equal to recognizing the evil of the deed. Hence it is useful to press those who make the response with the question echoing Christ: Why do you call them (or anyone) good?
In the Gospel, Jesus responds to the rich young man, “No one is good — except God alone” (Mk 10:18). God alone defines what is good. But in every generation, in every heart, there is an unholy inclination to test God to our own definition of good and evil, just as Adam and Eve were seduced by the devil to “know (be in charge of) good and evil.” Furthermore, whenever we hear, as we often do, that “we are hated because of our values,” before we take up arms it would be helpful to ensure that our “values” coincide with God’s values. And God’s “values” can be found in summary form in the Ten Commandment covenant revealed to Moses and the Israelites.
But the commandments do not resonate only in the hearts of Jews and Christians; they are inherent in the hearts of everyone. St. Paul insists the commandments have been inscribed on the heart of every man: “When Gentiles (unbelievers) who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:13-16). When it comes to the possibility of unbelievers truly living God’s law and entering into heavenly glory with a clean conscience, St. Paul is “inclusive.”
In view of St. Paul’s “natural moral law” assertion, it is a mistake to dismiss Catholic teaching on morality as rigidly narrow and sectarian. Yet we often hear people say, for example, “For Catholics, abortion and contraception are wrong.” Of course, this is none-too-subtly suggesting contraception and abortion may not be wrong for non-Catholics. But the absurdity of the phrase, “for Catholics,” in connection with morality should be clear if, for example, we adjust the phrase: “For Americans, mass murder is wrong,” or “For Americans, racism is wrong.” A universal objective moral order is evident and should be acknowledged. Catholic teaching on morality is not an “imposition” on a limited number of believers or cultures. Catholic moral teaching is a gift of moral clarity, broadly revealing to everyone the path to salvation — as well as the path to just and orderly families and societies — and even a template for dialog among nations and religions. The computer voice of a GPS navigational device may be pleasant and nonjudgmental during wrong turns, but the recalculations always point to the final destination. Our leaders and shepherds might take a lesson from the example of those relentless GPS devices, directing us on our way to justice and salvation with constant references to the Ten Commandments written on the hearts of all people.
How “rigid” or “open-minded” must we be in matters of our salvation? Christ teaches in Sunday’s Gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”
Christ knows we have enemies and obstacles to salvation. And He carefully distinguishes between good and bad as He directs us through the narrow gate. He is the Good Shepherd whose voice we recognize. Evelyn Waugh may not speak with the pleasant GPS voice we would care to hear every day. But his message is fully compatible with the teachings of Christ.
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