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Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time

Does Heaven have security checkpoints? And if so, how do you get through?

A number of years ago, on our annual golf trip, we discovered an interesting thing. One of my classmates, Fr. Bob, was on an FBI terrorist watch list. We found that out when Bob was pulled aside AGAIN to be screened in a private room prior to leaving and prior to coming back. That made the last 6 trips we’ve taken with Bob in a row where we skipped through and he was pulled to the side. Fortunately this time, one of the ‘screeners’ had the courtesy to tell him that he was on a terrorist watch list. He doesn’t know why he was on the list, but it guarantees him that every time he travels, he will be pulled aside, and grilled and checked out and inspected before they let him through.

It led to a few amusing conversations about ‘Bob the terrorist’ during dinners. But it also got me to thinking – “Just what are they looking for when they screen people for airport security?’ And then, in a little moment of grace, I starting asking the question: “What kind of security checks people will have to go through to get into heaven. Do you have to go through a ‘goodness detector’ akin to our metal detector? When you go through, and it turns red, do they shunt you off to purgatory for a while before they let you on? How intensely would they have to screen for eternity?”

It is not a new question. In today’s gospel a man shouts out to Jesus the equivalent question to my own musings: “What’s security like at the pearly gates?” Are they few in number who are to be saved?” And Jesus, in his usual way, never really answers the question, does he. His reply ducks the question. “You’re looking for the end result – wanting to know who is on the list of suspect people and who is not. God is much more interested in the process.” So instead of letting them know what we long suspected about Bob, that there is a list and his name was on it, Jesus tells them “STRIVE to enter the narrow gate.” That’s what you need to be worried about. Not whether you look like a terrorist or look like a Christian for that matter – but whether or not you are making the attempt to be a disciple, making the daily effort to be a follower of Jesus.

Contrary to a popular belief that it takes NOTHING MORE THAN LETTING JESUS LOVE YOU to get to heaven, Jesus invites any of us who would be his disciples to a deeper call. Many will strive to enter but will not be strong enough. I don’t know about you, but that is one scary line coming from the lips of my savior. Many will strive but not be strong enough. Your baptismal certificate will not get you in. Nor will your confirmation card or your Sunday collection envelope. Only by striving and yearning and longing for the kingdom in very concrete and practical ways – will you enter the narrow gate.

And that word “strive” – in the Greek language, it is ‘agon’ from which we get the word agony. We are not talking a leisurely 15 minute stroll for exercise here, are we? We are talking about a Michael Phelps 6 hours a day, six days a week effort here. Or Simone Biles’ 5 ½ hours a day, 6 days a week. And then going to the beach on Sundays when the gym is closed and pulling herself up a rope with just her arms… AGON. Strive to enter.

So, what are the narrow gates YOU face. My friend Bob has one waiting for him at every airport. He gets through but it is tough. Maybe it is the diligence of setting aside time for your spouse during the ‘mom and dad chauffeur’ years. As a high school or college student, maybe the narrow gate is the relationship that is exciting and new, but tempts you to say more with your body then your heart really wants to say. Perhaps the narrow gate is the opportunity you have tomorrow to help that cranky co-worker instead of gloating over their struggles. Maybe the narrow gate is the temptation to go online and surf places that make men and women into objects for your own satisfaction and pleasure. Perhaps the narrow gate is the choice you must make to set the alarm 15 minutes early because that’s the only time you’ll be alone enough to spend time in prayer…

The good news of today’s gospel – all of us are on TSA pre-approved check list. The door is open. It is possible. It can be walked. BUT, it is narrow. And we have to STRIVE for it. We have to do our AGONY – our effort to pass through it by the way we live NOW. So, what choices do you need to make for this week, that will allow you to pass through the narrow door?

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