25 August 2019

Homily - 25 August 2019 - The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

A few moments ago, we prayed “that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.”[1] Of all the things we experience in this world, only one will remain: love. And love is brought to fulfillment in that place where true gladness is found, which we call heaven, “the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.”[2]

We often want to know where heaven is, but the better question to consider is what heaven is. Christians know that the word heaven

does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever. Man’s being in God, this is Heaven. And we draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him.[3]

To put it another way, “Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart.”[4] This is why we speak of heaven as “the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.”[5] But how are we incorporated into Christ? We shall return to this in a moment.

One thousand nine hundred and forty years ago today/yesterday, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the people of Pompeii under more than fifteen feet of volcanic ash. In the early afternoon of August 24, 79, Pliny the Younger tells us that “a cloud with an odd appearance” was seen in the sky and just a short time later

…it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders… The ash already falling became hotter and thicker as the ships approached the coast and it was soon superseded by pumice and blackened burnt stones shattered by the fire. Suddenly the sea shallowed where the shore was obstructed and choked by debris from the mountain.[6]

The terror was so great that some people thought “the last eternal night had fallen on the world.”[7] By the time the eruption was over about 8:00 a.m. on August 25th, thousands of people perished in Pompeii alone.

Today, throngs of tourists amble about the uncovered streets of Pompeii. They marvel at the intricacy of the mosaics and frescoes, they laugh at the brothel, and stare in wonder at preserved loaves of bread, but they give little – if any – thought to what went through the hearts and minds of the Pompeiians as they watched their inescapable doom come down upon them. Where were their hearts set? Upon the uncertainties of this world, or on that place where true gladness is found? Where are our own hearts set?

Today, we hear the Lord Jesus say to us, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24). When he calls himself the narrow gate, the Savior is not excluding people from salvation, as some of his followers seek to do. Rather,

everyone may enter life, but the door is "narrow" for all. We are not privileged. The passage to eternal life is open to all, but it is "narrow" because it is demanding: it requires commitment, self-denial and the mortification of one's selfishness.

Once again, as on recent Sundays, the Gospel invites us to think about the future which awaits us and for which we must prepare during our earthly pilgrimage.

Salvation, which Jesus brought with his death and Resurrection, is universal. He is the One Redeemer and invites everyone to the banquet of immortal life; but on one and the same condition: that of striving to follow and imitate him, taking up one's cross as he did, and devoting one's life to serving the brethren. This condition for entering heavenly life is consequently one and universal.[8]

The way to enter into this gate – the gate of Christ – is through the waters of Baptism, the Sacrament by which “we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and [are] made sharers in her mission.”[9] Because we are incorporated into Christ through the waters of Baptism we also receive the promise of eternal life with God if “we know the Lamb without spot on which [we] feed.”[10] We know that

the faithful Christian who has ‘kept the seal’ [of Baptism] until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his [or her] Baptism, will be able to depart this life ‘marked with the sign of faith,’ with [the] baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God”[11]

– with the expectation of heaven, with the expectation of true gladness.

But what does Jesus mean he speaks about being strong enough to enter through the narrow gate? He speaks about maintaining a friendship with him that is so deep, so relational, so strong, that the carrying of his Cross becomes not a burden, but a joy. Those who are strong enough to enter through the narrow gate do not fall away from the life of discipleship, they do not abandon the Lord when difficulties, doubts, or demands come their way. Rather, they cling to him all the more fervently. Indeed, “true friendship with Jesus is expressed in the way of life: it is expressed with goodness of heart, with humility, meekness and mercy, love for justice and truth, a sincere and honest commitment to peace and reconciliation.”[12] In short, the true friends of Jesus look like Jesus, sound like Jesus, and act like Jesus.

It is necessary to remember that elsewhere Jesus says quite clearly, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Here, again, the Lord is not being exclusionary, but is inviting everyone to enter into his friendship, to take up his Cross, and follow after him. There simply is no other way to salvation, no other way to eternal happiness, no other way to heaven, than him.

Gathered as we are around this altar of the Lord, in a few moments we will partake of his Body and Blood; we will dine with him at the re-presentation of his Last Supper. Do we know the Lamb without spot on which we feed? Have we come here with our hearts set on this passing world, or on that place where true gladness is found? Because we do not want to hear him say to us, “Depart from me, all you evildoers,” let us strive to see him more clearly, to love him more dearly, and to follow him more nearly, and in so doing become his true friends. Then, with our hearts set on him, we can face the difficulties, doubts, and demands of life with joyful confidence in the power of his love. Amen.

[1] Roman Missal, Collect for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1024.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 May 2009.
[4] Ibid., Homily, 25 December 2007.
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1026.
[6] Pliny the Younger, Letter LXV, To Tacitus.
[7] Ibid., Letter LXVI, To Cornelius Tacitus.
[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 26 August 2007.
[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213.
[10] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 308A.6.
[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1274.
[12] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 26 August 2007.

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