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Sunday Readings for Aug. 22, 2010 (21C)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
Arthur Tonne tells an interesting tale. Most people have seen the famous photo of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. It pictures United States Marines raising the American flag on a hill in bloody Iwo Jima during World War II. Many of us too have stood mesmerized by the equally famous heroic size bronze likeness of the scene sculpted in Washington DC.
What is little known is that the photographer Mr Rosenthal was a convert to the Church from Judaism. For his conversion, he was shunned by fellow Jews for abandoning the faith of his people. But Rosenthal was not intimidated.
He wrote, "The day before we went ashore on Iwo Jima, I attended Mass and received Holy Communion. If a man is genuinely convinced of the truth and still neglects it, he is a traitor and that goes not only for my Jewish friends who do not attend synagogue each Saturday but also for my friends who miss Mass each Sunday."
The Teacher was pulling himself through the towns and villages of Palestine. Busily He was teaching all the time. His destination was Jerusalem. There He would keep His long-planned rendezvous with death. He was asked by someone, "Lord, are those to be saved few in number?"
The exhausted Christ, desperately needing a shower and a cold drink, ignored the query. Oftentimes the question put to Him did not touch on His syllabus. But He took advantage of the well-intentioned question to say in effect, "The door to the kingdom is unlocked. Keep in mind it is not wide, but it freely swings open on well-oiled hinges. Those willing to exert themselves will walk right in. No people at any time need stand outside with their noses pressed against the glass door wistfully looking in."
All of us need a re-introduction to the real Christ. Many of us live in a fantasy world in relation to Him. Today's Gospel is as good a teaching tool as any. He is not the naive individual many of us imagine. He is neither a patsy nor an easy touch. Rather, He is a no-nonsense Man who tells it like it is. This Gospel reveals that His favorite sport is not softball but hard ball. Solemnly I apologize to writers of insipid greeting cards verses for sharing the real Jesus with you.
In very blunt language today, the Nazarene informs us that no one has a lock on Heaven. Rather, it is the payoff for a lifetime of hard labor. What our parents or grandparents may have done for the Christ matters not. Everyone must pay his or her own dues. Why should anyone of us have the bonus without the onus? Even in the spiritual life there is no such thing as a free lunch. We belong to what someone has aptly called the Church of the Narrow Door. Given these ground rules, one can see why the Joe Rosenthals of our culture travel first class with the Teacher.
That dog-eared certificate of Baptism in the tin box under the bed is not necessarily a passport into the next life. At best, it is only the first few pages in a six hundred page autobiography everyone of us is writing each day. After all, almost all of us here did not consciously choose Baptism like Mr Rosenthal. Why then should it give us a guaranteed leg-up on everyone else in the neighborhood?
Those who think, an author suggests, that they have the heavenly seating chart arranged, are in for quite a shock.
One does not need to be a genetic scientist to identify the DNA of today's Gospel. As we are advised, the Christian life is forever a task of putting one foot in front of the other and one hand on top of another. As Will Rogers puts the case, even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if all you do is just sit there.
Some years ago I said a weekday Mass in Rhode Island. Among the worshipers was Felix de Welden. He is the celebrated sculptor responsible for the bronze image of Rosenthal's Iwo Jima picture in Washington, DC. He, like Mr Rosenthal, was just paying his dues. He attends Mass daily.
However, do not grow discouraged as you attempt often with little success to put on Christ. "The only way to fail," says St Teresa of Avila, "is to stop."