August 21, 2016
Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of a homily Fr. Rich preached on August 24 and 25, 2013, at then-Blessed John XXIII University Parish in Knoxville, TN. In it, he reflects on the scripture passages for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C): Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; and Luke 13:22-30.
In our gospel passage today, someone asks Jesus if only a few people will be saved. He answers with a paradox. First, he encourages his disciples – those people who have been traveling with him on the road to Jerusalem for the last four chapters of Luke – to strive to enter through “the narrow gate.” Our reading from Hebrews today expands on the idea of why it’s good to work hard and not assume that it’s easy to get into heaven. But Jesus also declares that people “from the east and the west and from the north and the south” will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. That sentiment ties into our first reading today, from Isaiah.
So, will many people be saved? It’s a paradox: many people who think they will be saved will not be saved, but many people whom we don’t expect to be saved will be saved. The key is discipleship, to have a personal relationship with God.
God has shown us love and mercy beyond our comprehension at every moment of our lives. Let’s pause to celebrate that!
An image keeps coming in to my mind: people trying to get into an exclusive nightclub. Perhaps we can sneak in with a friend who’s been invited. But if we run into the owner of the club and he doesn’t recognize us, I doubt that he’ll be satisfied if we answer, “You don’t know me, but I’ve crashed your parties before,” or “You don’t know me, but we grew up in the same neighborhood.”
If the doorkeeper to heaven says, “I don’t know you,” I don’t think that things will go so well if we say, “But my grandmother was a good Catholic,” or “I used to live across the street from the church.” It’s not about being a friend of a friend of Jesus; it’s about having an intimate, personal relationship with God, a relationship that we’ve nurtured and deepened over the years.
The Paulist Fathers minister to the people outside the church walls, and the people of Blessed John XXIII Parish share this vision of church. We reach out to people who’ve never heard the saving message of the gospel. We collaborate with people of other faiths, and we strive for greater unity among all Christians. We stretch out our arms to anyone who feels hurt or alienated from the church. Here, all are welcome! No one is perfect; we’re all works in progress.
If you’ve made it this far in life without developing a personal relationship with God, that’s OK. We’re thrilled that you came in the door today! Frankly, I’d be more worried if people here felt as if they had all the answers about faith, religion, and God. We are a university parish, where everyone realizes that the more we know, the more we realize how little we know. No matter what your major, no matter who you befriend at UT, people will urge you to question many of the assumptions on which you base you life. Blessed John XXIII Parish is NOT a refuge from questioning your beliefs. If someone gets to the age of eighteen without questioning why they believe what they believe, I hope he or she starts asking questions in college. As adults, we must appropriate the faith for ourselves, not just accept what our parents handed down to us.
It’s scary to question what our families believe. But if we stick it out, trying to grow in relationship with God even as we wrestle to understand who God is, we will be richly rewarded. It’s a paradox, like Jesus explained. As one scripture scholar put it: “Strive as though admission to the kingdom depend[s] entirely on your own doing, but know that ultimately it depends on God’s grace.”
It’s never too late to start growing. We never take the first step on our own in our relationship with God. The first step comes from Holy Spirit – the grace already inside each of us – always inviting us into closer relationship with God.
So no matter where you are on the journey of faith, we want to support you and walk beside you as you continue the journey. Here are some ideas of how to take a next step in growing in personal relationship with Jesus Christ:
Maybe it’s a big step for you to come to Mass. Welcome! Come on back! With the readings, the music, the prayers, the people, and the preaching – we hope that the Holy Spirit will find something with which to move your heart each week. With five Masses every weekend, hopefully one of them will fit your schedule!
If you’re uncomfortable coming to church alone, we’ll introduce you to new people. If you’re an undergrad, come to CSA, the Catholic Students Association, on Wednesday nights. If you’re a grad student or a young professional, come to our group on Sundays. After a few weeks, you’ll always have someone with whom to sit when you come to Mass!
If you have any questions or concerns about anything, make an appointment with Fr. Charlie, Dr. Ruth, or me. We’ll be glad to see you!
If you’d like to take the next step in learning about your faith, there are lots of options. We plan to have about 30 Bible studies this fall – many for undergrads, a few for grad students. We also have multi-generational Bible studies and a Bible study for parents with young children. Maybe you’d like to teach Sunday school. Consider joining the Paulist Associates, who study the ideas of Servant of God Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers.
Maybe you know someone who’s drifted away from the practice of the Catholic faith. We’ll be starting a program this fall called Landings, which gives people a safe, healing space to explore the possibility of returning to the faith.
And the biggie: if you have non-Catholic friends interested in learning more about Roman Catholicism, invite them to consider the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s not a class. It’s much more about transformation into a disciple than learning information. This year, RCIA will meet on Tuesday nights. But even for people who can’t make Tuesdays, we can find ways to bring you through the process.
The door to heaven may be narrow, but we have a lot of ways to help you get to know the doorkeeper. Here at Blessed John XXIII Parish, you’re sure to meet people you wouldn’t expect, from the east and the west, from the north and the south, all gathered around the one table of the Lord.