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Sunday Readings for Aug. 22, 2010 (21C)
By Fr. Alex McAllister SDS
The readings today seem to be about salvation and the question of the villager is as relevant today as when it was first posed: Will only a few be saved? And then there is the question behind the question: Will I be saved?
Jesus’ reply is paradoxical, but we expect no less from him. He says that many will try to enter the door of heaven but will not succeed. Yet hundreds upon hundreds will come from the four corners of the globe and take their places at the heavenly banquet.
His message is that salvation is meant for all; because, as we know, Jesus came to open up the way to salvation for all people, for each and every person he created. But in the parable there is a warning, a severe warning that we cannot presume to be saved.
When we arrive at the gate of heaven the master of the house might say to us: I do not know you. And we might find ourselves pleading that we were good Catholics and did everything prescribed and yet still the master might say: I do not know you. And people from the east and the west and from the north and the south will take their places in the Kingdom ahead of us.
The message is that it is easy to delude ourselves, easy to think that because we have followed the rules we have earned our place in heaven. We know intellectually that this could never be the case because we realise that salvation is entirely in the free gift of God. It can never be earned, it can never be presumed.
The key, of course, is in the simple words: I do not know you. It is all about our relationship with God, he wants to know us; he wants to love us. He does know us and he does love us; the life and death of Jesus proves that this is so. But God also wants us in our turn to know him and love him freely and without compulsion.
Unfortunately we are poor creatures, we are easily deluded and we are world experts at deceiving ourselves. We can convince ourselves that we are doing all the right things; we can convince ourselves that hours spent in prayer and in doing good to others has earned us great credit in heaven, and that our place in heaven is already assured.
We completely forget that in comparison to the love God has for us anything we do is a mere nothing.
We completely forget that in the great plan of God our piffling schemes and projects are of no significance.
We completely forget that we cannot earn or bribe our way into heaven by novenas and prayers and penances.
What God wants from us is love and for this we need hearts. We need hearts large enough to praise and glorify and bless his holy name.
Hearts full of compassion for others; hearts that beat with passionate love for those nearest to us; hearts that will make enormous sacrifices without a second thought. Hearts that are filled with sorrow for the many sins we have committed, hearts that pour out appeals to God imploring him for mercy.
We can count ourselves among the privileged few. We are so fortunate to have come to knowledge of and believe in Christ and in his Church and to have heard the message of the Gospel in all its fullness.
As members of the Catholic Church we can feel proud to be in direct line with the Church of the Apostles. We know that the Holy Spirit keeps the Church faithful to the Gospel in matters of faith and morals and we feel privileged to be the inheritors of this the richest of all the Christian traditions.
We know that this greatest of all gifts brings with it heavy responsibilities. We know that we must keep faith with Christ and follow the teaching and prescriptions of the Church. We know that we have a duty to bear witness to his name in the world. We know that we have the obligation and the duty to remain faithful to all that has been handed down to us.
But being the recipients of these advantages guarantees us nothing in relation to heaven. Whether we be laity, religious, priests, bishops or popes we have no built-in advantage over anyone else. The biggest sinner could get into heaven far ahead of us if he truly repents.
They way in is to be found only in Christ: I am the way, the truth and the life. He is the way, and it is only through him and with him and in him that we will be saved.
And he wants us to be saved. This is why he took the form of a slave and emptied himself and made peace by the blood of his cross.
He has poured out his life for us and the invitation to us is to pour out our lives for him and our brothers and sisters in the human family.
We live our lives in imitation of him. We learn from the words and actions of Jesus how to speak and act ourselves. We put his words on our lips, we walk in his footsteps, we touch with his hands.
We become so like him that when at that most significant moment of our lives the master opens the door to our knock he does not see us, instead he sees his Son.
We have emptied ourselves of all our egoism, all our pride, all our superiority, all our arrogance and have become humble as Jesus was humble, patient as Jesus was patient, loving as Jesus was loving, compassionate as Jesus was compassionate. But doing what he does we have become like him, become his true witnesses and ambassadors on earth.
Although we cannot earn salvation, although we cannot presume it; we can certainly, and indeed ought to, hope and pray for salvation. Indeed we ought to pray for it every day of our lives for ourselves and for those around us.
We have received already so many wonderful gifts from God, let us pray that he will grant us that one, final and best of all possible gifts—the gift of salvation itself.