There are two images in today’s gospel, and neither one of them is particularly encouraging. First there is the image of the narrow gate. Jesus says that to enter the kingdom we must enter through the narrow gate. Second, there is the image of the closed door. Jesus warns us to be careful lest we be locked out. Now how do these two images apply to our lives? They both point to an essential need. The narrow gate points to the need of personal responsibility, and the closed-door points to the need for adequate knowledge.

The Church of the Nativity was built in Bethlehem during the Middle Ages over the site where people believe that Christ was born. It is not a particularly attractive church. It appears more like a fortress than a house of worship. Its stone is rough. Its proportions are uneven. Perhaps the most notable thing about the church is its doorway. It is very small, only about three feet wide and four feet high. The crusaders who built this church designed the doorway in that fashion because they wanted to assure that whoever would come to visit the place where Jesus was born, would have to make an individual and conscious choice to enter and at the same time would be forced to bow as they came into the holy place.

The small door of the Church of the Nativity, like the narrow gate in today’s gospel, reminds us that if we are going to enter into the presence of the holy, if we are going to enter into the kingdom of God, we must do so with a conscious and purposeful choice. We cannot stroll into the kingdom unaware. We cannot walk in as part of a large group of people, holding onto someone else’s coat tails. We cannot enter the kingdom on someone else’s merit. One day, each one of us will have to stand before the Lord and give an accounting for the lives that we have lived, for the decisions that we made, for the opportunities that we missed, for the gifts that we used and the gifts that we squandered. It will be our life on the line. No one else can answer for it. We must assume personal responsibility. Therefore Jesus says that those who enter will enter by the narrow gate.

Jesus also warns us about the closed door. This image reveals the need for adequate knowledge. Those in the gospel who are shut out are surprised, because they thought they knew what was required to enter the kingdom of God. They were mistaken. They presumed that because they ate and drank in Jesus’ presence, that certainly they would be welcomed into the kingdom. They were wrong. They did not have sufficient knowledge of what was required of them, and more was required than they expected. Because of that lack of knowledge, they found themselves on the wrong side of the closed door.

So, these two images in the gospel remind us that each one must claim personal responsibility for our entry into the kingdom. We must also have adequate knowledge of what that responsibility entails. So how do we assure that we have this sufficient knowledge? By committing ourselves to grow in our faith. Faith formation is a life-long process. At every stage of our life, we face new challenges, new decisions, new possibilities. It is important that we have sufficient knowledge of our faith to guide us along each of those steps of our lives. We all agree that children need to learn about their faith. But adults need to learn as well. Do we really think that what we learned in the fourth grade is sufficient for the adult challenges in our lives? Growing in our faith is a life-long process. May we always grow and learn in our faith. Once we stop learning, we die.

Fr. Monteleone

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