Sunday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate ….. After the master of the house has risen and locked the door ….. And people will come ….. and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
Our following Jesus, our discipleship, has been described by many writers as a journey seeking the kingdom of God. Others have called it a pilgrimage. The difference between the two, journey and pilgrimage, is rather dramatic. A journey is described as going to some destination in a straight line. If I wish to take a journey from Minneapolis to Duluth, for example, I would get my car on I35 north and in three hours or so I will be in Duluth. If I choose to take a pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Duluth, I will head north and stop at every casino on the way. In a couple of weeks I will arrive in Duluth — broke! The journey is direct, the pilgrimage meandering, going this way and that, back and forth. I think our going to the kingdom is a pilgrimage rather than a journey.
Today’s Gospel illustrates this pilgrimage with three images shown in the quotes at the beginning of this homily: as a narrow door, as a locked door, as a banquet. The first two images indicate that arrival at our destination of the kingdom might not be as easy as one first imagined. Jesus calls us to enter through the narrow door in the Gospel. One has to be careful and attentive or they will miss the door. We must love our neighbor, all of them, by eliminating prejudices; we must forgive them for their occasional hurting us; and we must get the selfishness, the “it’s all about me,” out of our lives.
The door is narrow indeed! The door is locked, not easily opened. The key is our conversion; by becoming different people, by following Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. It is putting Jesus in control. Anyone who enters through the narrow door or the locked door, is welcome at the banquet of the kingdom. These will come from all directions, the Gospel tells us, from all races, religions and cultures. There will be no discrimination.
If we take the time to reflect on this Gospel, it is rather easy to apply it to our own lives. How many times have we tried to enter through the narrow, locked door and failed? But sometimes we succeeded and sat at the banquet. We know how to enter, we have the key to the locked door. We go back and forth, in and out. The banquet is prepared and waiting for all of us to join in.
MONDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Monica is the patron saint of mothers. She prayed and prayed and prayed some more — for 17 years — for her wayward son, Augustine, who finally turned out to be St. Augustine. I would imagine that all mothers spend more time than we will ever know praying for their children.
Monica was born in Africa and her family arranged for her to marry a violent-tempered pagan man by the name of Patricius. She finally got him to become a Catholic. Two of her three children joined the religious life — and then there was Augustine. He went his own way, disregarding God in the process. We will see more about him tomorrow when we celebrate his feast day. As we just saw above, Monica’s prayers brought him back to God and the Church.
We cannot change other people, even if they are our own children. We spend a lot of time trying, but it just won’t work. If they get into some problem, whatever it may be, our only recourse is prayer. All the nagging, screaming, warnings, enabling in the world will not change another person. Persistent prayer is the only way to go, as Monica showed us. After a life of 55 years, she died near Rome in Ostia. Her relics are in a church named after her son, Augustine, in Rome.
St. Monica, pray for us.
TUESDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Books have been written on St. Augustine, his conversion and his greatness. He is one of the greatest saints that ever lived and his writings still carry great authority in the Church to this day.
Augustine was born in Africa in 354 and died in 430. He spent many years in wicked living and false beliefs. Augustine must have been a fantastic rationalizer before coming to realize that Christianity was the one true religion and that Christ was the one to follow. Many of us, including myself, would fall into this category.
One day he finally became convinced that he was on the wrong road and uttered the following words of surrender: “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins.” He began to read the Letters of St. Paul and began a new life.
Augustine was baptized, became a priest, a bishop, a prolific writer and founder of a Religious Congregation (Martin Luther was an Augustinian priest). Many still read his Confessions, and The City of God. His words: “Too late have I loved you” could be said by many of us. His feast day is August 28.
St. Augustine, pray for us.
WEDNESDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
John the Baptist, besides being the fore-runner and proclaimer of the Messiah, was also what we might call today a fine Christian man. The gory story heard in today’s Gospel happened because John stood up publicly for what was right and ultimately gave his life for his beliefs. That is being a real Christian. I think this is a lesson that all of us might well reflect on. I am not suggesting that all of us have become “hard-hearted Hannahs,” devoid of love and very judgmental, but I think we should also avoid the other extreme of indifferentism, or “it doesn’t really matter,” attitude that we can so easily find ourselves drifting into on occasion.
The way of Jesus is not to be minimized. Once again, virtue stands in the middle between the two extremes. Indifferentism goes hand in hand with rationalizing. These are nice ways to have everyone love us and think we are cool. We all want to be accepted and liked by everyone. It was a great day in my life when I suddenly realized that everyone doesn’t have to like Howard. The world isn’t going to end if that happens.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us.
THURSDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household?”
We haven’t written anything for a while on prudence and this is a most important virtue for us to reflect on from time to time. St. Thomas Aquinas defines it in three Latin words: Recta ratio agibilium: the right way of doing things. Obviously, an important consideration in our lives, prudence is often referred to as wisdom, and true wisdom is the way of God. It is prudent, then, for us to follow the ways of Jesus, to look upon him and accept him as the way, the truth and the life.
In Matthew’s Gospel, 7: 24, the parable is told of the “wise” man, the prudent man, who built his house on rock. The storms and winds came and buffeted the house but it remained standing. It did not collapse. This in contrast to the “fool” who built his house on sand. The floods came and it washed away. Which one of the two is prudent? Which one is wise? It is rather obvious which one knew the right way of doing things in building his house.
We make many choices in our lives every day. Let us pray that they are always prudent choices reflecting the wisdom of God.
FRIDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel is a continuation and another application of what we learned in yesterday’s Gospel. Repetition is the mother of studies! Yesterday we spoke of prudence, wisdom, of doing things the right way, God’s way. And we said if we do this things will work out well for us. If, on the other hand, we do not act prudently we will see things in our lives collapsing.
The five foolish maidens in our Gospel for today did not act prudently in not taking oil with them for their lamps. And while they were fooling around doing what they should have done before, they missed out on what was important to them. The same thing may well happen to us if we fail to act prudently. One indication that we are missing the boat is experiencing a great deal of frustration in our lives. Frustration is the result of imprudence.
Lord, help us to do things your way and get it right the first time.
SATURDAY of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
One more homily on the topic of prudence that we began last Thursday and which has become a theme of the Scriptures since then. For the umpteenth time, prudence is the right way of doing things. I’ll bet we all have that little definition memorized by this time. And that is good!
The point of today’s Gospel selection is that it is prudent for us to put our gifts and talents to work and not to ignore them or let them remain idle and unused. In doing this we miss our mark, we miss doing what God wants us to do and miss being what he wants us to be in his plan for salvation. Only when we use and improve our gifts and talents are we fulfilling God’s plan and serving our neighbor as we are meant to do. And this is the prudent, the right way to go.
Lord, help me to be aware of my gifts and talents and help me to use them as you intended.