Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matthew 7:13-14).
These words from Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father and God, Himself, in human flesh, pulsate with a meaning meant to inflict serious reflection. Why? Because here is God speaking about roll call in Paradise at the end of time, and the forecast is not sunny for some. The stunning eternal union with God is found by few, while many approach the gate of eternal separation from God, replete with wretched souls, spiteful demons, and a wrathful Satan.
Door #1 sounds much more pleasant.
The Narrow Gate reference comes at the tail end of Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, the magnificent discourse on human moral behavior that raises the bar on man's accountability before God. Why raise accountability? To raise holiness! That is, with the unleashing of divine grace through the Cross and the seven sacraments, man now has power to defeat evil and reacquire deeper union with God; propel towards personal sanctification and heroic heights of virtuous self-sacrifice, and trumpet the salvific message of Christ. But to achieve this, we must have grace.
At what is Our Lord ultimately driving? The irrevocable connection between Heaven, Hell, and the moral life we choose. The rich young man's question to Jesus in Matthew 16, What good must I do to inherit eternal life, is met by a stark reply: AIf you wish to enter life, keep the Commandments. Again, Jesus Christ assets an inseparable connection between the moral life and eternal destiny.
Hence, the title of this column reflects the whole point of living morally. The first goal of morality is not a nicer society but the personal sanctification of every soul in order to gain Heaven and avoid Hell. Only then can we construct a better society. The startling comment of Jesus Christ that few people traverse the Narrow Gate should alarm us and jump-start authentic personal conversion via prayer, confession, and penance for our sins.
The Virgin Mary told the children at Fatima, More souls go to Hell for the sins of the flesh than for any other reason. This comment alone is Arctic water to splash and awaken the sleepiest conscience! Similarly, Dante's hike through Hell in the Inferno is recognition of the horror of sin and a highly-charged motivator to commence authentic repentance, to seek the magnificent beauty of spiritual perfection.
In tracking the moral life there are the fundamentals. God's original delivery of the Ten Commandments via Moses may have resembled Pony Express rather than Fed-Ex, but it is not technology that determines fundamental truths about human nature B it is God. Hence, the eternal truths of good and evil contained within the 10 Big Ones radiate through human history because human nature, its goodness and weaknesses, has never changed from the Golden Calf to the Dow Jones. The Golden Calf represented fertility, wealth, and physical strength, and the primary temptations of today remain sex, money, and power.
As always, there remains the fine print. The Ten Commandments represent all of the natural (moral) law, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says. When Moses hiked down Sinai with THE tablets, it was God's moral outline. However, the fine print regarding medical ethics and other modern moral perplexities failed to manifest further Thou shall not... imperatives.
One might wish Moses had had a third tablet that spelled out, Thou shalt not clone, Thou shall not sterilize, Thou shall not burn CD's and distribute without owner's consent. Since these are not specifically mentioned, the question is begged: to whom does God give full moral interpretive authority?
Our Lord specifically targets this issue by giving the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Saint Peter, and succeeding popes, to bind and loosen. Despite the exhortations of modern expositors such as Oprah Winfrey and the New York Times, when it came to the distribution of THE Keys, they didn't make the cut.
Thus, we have an overarching authority, indisputably established by Jesus Christ and testified to by early Church Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus. It is the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church from the time of the Apostles, that discerns for us moral truths. This leads to great consolation, as it defies modern skepticism and existentialism and solemnly declares we can know absolute truth!
The real question is: Will we accept it?
Henceforth, this column will address moral issues relevant to today and to the salvation of our eternal souls. There are no higher stakes. Blunt discussion is imperative, since to brush aside these issues or candy coat them is even worse than a doctor ignoring a cancer so as not to upset the patient!
God has given us enormous dignity, being made in His image because of human frailty and His great desire for us to live in holiness, God gives us infinite mercy and healing through confessions. But, we are obligated to actively pursue mercy with inner conversion.
May the example of the saints, captivated by the beauty of spiritual perfection, enflame us with the same desire for holiness, through obedience to, and not defiance of, Almighty God. That is the key to the Narrow Gate.
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