Preparing to receive

The herald for the second week of Advent is the greatest herald in the Bible: John the Baptist. His message is to prepare oneself for the Lord’s coming. As his cry travels down through the centuries, it’s deeper than just preparing for a visit from Jesus, it’s preparing to receive Him deeper than we ever have.

Advent is a time to prepare, yet many times we think we need to do all the preparations ourselves. Decorating, cooking, baking, and visiting — it’s all up to us to do. But is it really? Some people can receive a material gift with genuine appreciation, even if it’s not something they want, however, when someone offers to lend a helping hand, they are waved away. The volunteer is offering their gift of friendship, of time spent together, and of lightening the workload, even if it is an activity that is enjoyed. So why is the offer to assist rejected? For many it is a matter of control, if I want something done a certain way then I need to do it myself. I think this is a reflection of our culture where the focus is on what I want and how I feel. If we open ourselves up to receive the gift of aid, then we may also receive the gift of a different perspective. It may lead us to a deeper appreciation of Jesus, the Christmas season, and our relationship with the volunteer.

For some people who are capable of the activities we do to prepare for Christmas, having help may feel like we are taking it from someone who truly needs it. Christmas is a great time to volunteer to help those less fortunate than us. But people who offer their assistance know that we have the means (the time, talent, and resources) to accomplish our tasks. They are asking to be part of our lives, to share themselves with us. In accepting their gift of time and companionship, we are learning how to extend our focus beyond ourselves and to experience the world through another’s eyes. When we understand how to receive the gift of another’s time, we are better able to be compassionate and reach out to others who are in need. And that gift of friendship is the opportunity God provides to us so that we can practice having a relationship with Him. Jesus is continually calling out to us to be our Friend, to receive Him in the Eucharist, and to accept the salvation and redemption He won for us through His death and resurrection.

If John the Baptist didn’t think he was worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, how can we think we can receive Jesus if we haven’t practiced being a friend to others? We are called to practice imitating Jesus by having relationships with those who come into our lives — both in our families as well as the friends we encounter across the various aspects of our lives. Friendship works both ways: by being a giver of what we have, and a receiver of what is offered to us. Let us use this Advent to prepare to receive Jesus by receiving those who offer the gift of time and self to us.

Beginning with the ending

Happy Advent! Did you miss that it started on Sunday? If you only paid attention to the readings, especially the Gospel, you may have thought you were still at the end of the liturgical year. In fact, why in the world would the Church choose such a Gospel for the beginning of Advent? Perhaps a better question to ask is: what is Advent? Yes, it is the preparation time before Christmas, but it is more than that. Advent is preparing for all the comings of Christ, only in reverse order: tomorrow, today, and yesterday. 

First the Church, through the Gospel readings, asks us if we are ready for Jesus to return; not someday in the future, but right now. Secondly, in having four weeks to prepare, the Church gives us the opportunity to “scrub our souls,” to utilize this new (liturgical) year as the time to get our spiritual lives back on track with a deeper relationship with God. Lastly, by celebrating His Incarnation, we remember when, “in the fullness of time” Jesus walked on the earth like you and I. Matthew’s Gospel passage (24:37-44) has Jesus asking His disciples of His day (and all who will follow Him through the centuries) if they will be prepared when He comes again. Jesus is heralding the end of time here at the beginning of the Church’s year. But even the “end of time” is a beginning as well — it’s the beginning of eternity with both body and soul as we anticipate the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment.

Who wants to think of the end of the world as we know it? Isn’t it nicer to think about Jesus coming as a wee babe over 2,000 years ago? The nativity story brings both joy and peace, wouldn’t it be better to just focus on that? Or maybe it’s focusing on the gifts we’ll get, I mean give, at Christmas; that’s a better line of thinking, right? How about instead of thinking of giving  gifts, we think of the holiday’s receiving aspect? We enjoy it when our friends and family delight in receiving our gifts, but how joyful are we to receive what is given to us? From the ugly sweater to the tool we will never use, it’s the thought that counts, right?  But do we receive those gifts well? Do we appreciate the thought, time, effort, energy, and cost the givers spend in preparing our Christmas gifts? Perhaps this year we can challenge ourselves to be content with whatever we receive, and to receive it well. That means with all the love and appreciation that  we have in the relationships we have with the gifters. 

When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, there were very few who were happy to receive Him: His parents, a few shepherds and three foreigners. Is the world any more welcoming to Jesus now? For us Catholic Christians, do we celebrate His birthday or do we use the day to celebrate our material and consumer-driven world? Jesus comes to us every day that Mass is said; do we joyously greet Him as we receive His Precious Body in the Eurcharist? And if Jesus came at the end of the world today, how would you receive Him? Would you be ecstatic to see Jesus or would you feel not truly ready to meet Him? This is what Advent is all about: preparing to receive Jesus in every way He comes to us: yesterday, today, and always until the end of time. 

St. Paul cautioned the Romans in his letter to stay awake and that salvation is closer today than when they first believed. Time is marching ever nearly to its end, which is the beginning of life eternal with God. Now is the time to prepare. Now is the time to turn to God and seek a relationship with Him, to seek to do His will, and to be open to receive all the gifts He wants to give us. 

King or president?

We are in the last days of the liturgical year, heralded by celebrating the feast of Christ, the King of the Universe, last Sunday. In our modern era, do we really understand — and accept — Christ as our King?

Earthly kings, just like other parallels to the sacred, are imperfect reflections of a relationship with the divine. Ever since God led the Israelites out of Egypt, God intended to be King of the people, sending judges and prophets only when the people went astray. However, by the time of Samuel, the people were so consumed with mirroring their surrounding countries, that they asked Samuel for God to designate a king to lead them. While Samuel was quite unhappy about this, God allowed it, but not without first clarifying the consequences of this request. (Spelled out in 1 Samuel 8:10-18.) A king would  take the best of everything and require the people to do his bidding. The king makes all the decisions and the people of the realm are but mere servants,  carrying out whatever tasks his majesty declares. 

Today in many countries, the ruler is not a single person, but rather a government of elected officials who collectively make laws.  In these countries it is necessary to have a single person represent them and that office is held by either a president or a prime minister. Here in the United States, it has been almost 250 years since we rebelled against a monarchy, so how can we claim Christ as our “king”? Or is it easier to correlate Him as our spiritual president? Do we “elect” Him to the office because we agree with His teachings? Or do we feel we can pick and choose what we like and don’t like, because that’s the perspective we have for our government? Do we complain about what God has — or has not — done in our lives, as if He answered to us and our rights and wants are the only things that matter? Do we view God in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality? 

For a freedom-loving country, it can be hard to recognize God as the supreme ruler of our lives. Letting go and letting God lead us, even when we do want to choose it on an intellectual level, can still result in a struggle against one’s will. It can seem like we say, “Yes, God, but…” rather than submitting to His will instead of ours. SImilar to rights of the king as identified in 1 Samuel, God does require the best of us; He wants our first fruits. Yet unlike an earthly king, God does not hoard what we give Him, nor use it trivally. Rather He receives it, multiplies it, and shares it not just with ourselves, but with others as well. We don’t receive back what we give, but we receive it transformed and elevated in a way only the Divine can do. Even knowing all this, and that what we can receive will be better than what we give, we still struggle with God as our only  King. 

We are blessed that Christ is a merciful King, understanding our human nature and quick to forgive us when we seek reconciliation with Him. It may be a struggle of our wills, but through prayer, petition, and the grace of God, Christ can be King of our lives.

The logic of God

Whether one is reading scripture passages or hearing the Word proclaimed at Mass, sometimes human logic and God logic seem to be polar opposites. Is there really a difference? And if there is, how can mere mortals come to know and understand the logic of God?

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, (Lk 20:27-38) the Sadducees pose a perfect (albeit exaggerated) logical question to Jesus. This group of high priests and religious leaders are explained in Luke’s account as not believing in the resurrection, but they also did not believe in any sort of life after death. I can imagine them having theological discussions with the Pharisees, who did believe in some sort of afterlife. How many what-if examples did they debate? I find it interesting they used the number seven as the total number of brothers. Perhaps they were using it as a comparison of the number of days in a week, and they were expecting that the seventh brother would be blessed, since that number is a holy number. Jesus’ response is not a parable to reflect on, but rather the straight Truth which can be summed up as: you don’t understand since you are using the logic of the material world. Ironically the passage just before this reading in Luke’s Gospel is the question of paying taxes to Caesar (Lk 20:20-26). This, too, was a perfectly logical question to ask. Jesus’ response to this question shows a bit more of the God logic: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This answer, especially for those of us who have heard it over the course of many years, seems so obvious we wonder why there is any question at all! 

There is definitely God logic that we can understand. We can understand gravity, two hydrogen atoms joining with an oxygen atom forming a drop of water, and the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. All these parts of creation are able to be studied. They do not change and flex, so there is order to God’s logic. But all of creation makes up the material world, and so we try to apply the same material logic to God and His divinity, which uses spiritual logic instead. God did create the material world for good, however it is still an incomplete reflection of the divine life. God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit live in the unity of love. It is this spiritual logic that we need to use to understand and apply it to the questions we have. The tax is a material requirement and to pay it such requires a material object, in this case a coin. But in the love of God, we need to repay God by loving not just Him, but all that reflect Him: all of creation, all creatures, and all peoples. Marriage is the incomplete example of what it is to live in divine love. It is the full emptying of self, willing the good of the other as other. It is a life of communication between spouses and God. Here in the material realm we practice it on a limited scale, since our human nature is not yet equipped to live such a life as to be in communion with creation past, present, and future. 

However, for the parable of the lost sheep (Mat 18:12-14) we can only understand it if we view it with spiritual logic. From a material and economic perspective, no shepherd would leave 99 sheep to look for one lost sheep; it would be chalked up the same way retail stores do for merchandise that is broken or goes missing. But in spiritual logic, when one is giving their whole self, it is of great importance to not just find the missing sheep but to bring it home and celebrate. Love craves unity where the material world likes categorization and organizing through separation.

The logic God uses may seem odd and incomprehensible to us, but Jesus teaches both in parables as well as straight answers the spiritual nature of logic. Through scripture study and prayer we too can begin to know and apply spiritual logic to our lives, preparing us to live in the Divine Love that is God for all eternity.

The Word still speaks

The Bible is not just a book, but a library of books in different genres — poetry, narrative, law, etc., that convey God’s salvation history within the world. While the events take place during a specific time and place, the meaning and direction it provides transcends all times and seasons, including our modern era. The impact of the Bible is seen and celebrated at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. 

Recently I took a day trip on the train specifically to visit the museum. There is one thing this museum does not skimp on is the number of Bibles from all different languages and times. The museum definitely lives up to its name!  It’s almost hard to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the Bible with all the examples they have on display. Some display items are copies, especially of the ancient timeframe, but others are originals. Scrolls, hand-written books, and printed versions are available for all to see. I did expect scrolls to be  written in Hebrew/Aramaic, but somehow seeing printed versions surprised me. I don’t know why it would seem such an odd concept, since those languages are amongst the very first used to document the Bible. From ancient written languages, and through the evolution of languages and ways to express the written word, there seems to be a Bible exemplifying each variation.

Just like the Bible is made up of a collection of books, so too is the Museum of the Bible made up of various exhibits telling the story of the Bible. I believe the museum does an excellent job refraining from supporting any one particular denomination, however, I realized that much of the history I have of ancient times comes from the Hebrew version of the events. A special exhibit about the Samaritans and who they are illustrated that history can have many perspectives. It was interesting to learn that while many of the Samaritan practices are the same as the Jews, they are a separate and unique people that still exist today! The museum aims to make learning about the Bible, its history, and the people involved within that history as engaging as possible. Some areas have mini movies while others allow for hands-on interaction, allowing visitors to learn in the method they most can understand.

The museum displays not only Bibles from different time periods, but artifacts native to the area where most of the Old Testament was written. In one exhibit, there are mock examples of the various buildings in a village in ancient times. As I walked into the one room, I noticed the small, “oil lamps” placed all around the room on small protrusions of the wall. At once the passage from Matthew’s Gospel rang into my head, “Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand where it gives light to all in the house.” (Matt 5:15) Showing how those oil lamps (even if these were battery operated) really gave a sense of the light shining throughout the room. Those lamps are what the Bible does for us: make us shine. By our baptism we are called to be light to the world, to speak God’s Word by our actions.  

The Museum of the Bible celebrates the Word of God. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and while I did spend the majority of my day there, I think I only saw about 2/3rds of the total amount of content available. There are many good museums in the D.C. area and this gem is worth seeing multiple times in order to fully comprehend the material presented. The Word of God does speak through the different exhibits, do you hear it calling out to you?

Marriage of three

Recently, I was privileged to attend a Buddhist wedding. Before the exchanging of rings, we were informed that they represented “love, understanding, and patience; and the three are never divided.” It seems that even in other religions a bit of God shows through. 

Taken at a surface level, those three characteristics are perfect symbols of what marriage entails. To love another is to will the good of the other as other, as Bishop Barron has often remarked. It’s not a feeling, but rather an act of the will; a choice to take action to support another with all that one has to give. While understanding could be considered a part of love, calling it out as a separate charism of marriage between two people highlights the need to put a person’s wants, needs, and ego aside in order to live in harmony with another. To understand another, one needs to get to know all aspects of the other and to proverbially try walking in the other’s shoes. Understanding is to be able to be compassionate towards one’s spouse in every situation. When patience was mentioned, there was a bit of a chuckle from the wedding attendees, and that one is probably the most challenging of the three. Practicing patience with a spouse is loving and understanding the other in the most challenging circumstances. Like the continuous band of a ring, these three attributes of marriage cannot be divided since each encompasses the others. Some days may require more effort in understanding, other days require more patience, but no matter what, love — that act of choice — is made over and over again, moment after moment.

There may not be a deity in Buddhism, but those three attributes made me immediately think of the Trinity, and not just because of the count. Can there be any better representation of love than God? Catholics often use love as a definition for God, so that Love (with a capital L) is synonymous as the name of God. Can anyone understand us better than Jesus Christ, who put aside His divinity to live and die as a human? Jesus is the epitome of understanding, since He knows what it’s like to feel temptation, hunger, thirst, tiredness, sadness, as well as joy, mirth, and merriment. We should never fear that Jesus would not understand our trials or our successes because He has lived a full life on earth. While the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the Advocate or Sanctifier, patience is one of the fruits when we strive to live a life centered in God. As a tree is known for its fruits, so too is the spousal relationship when it seeks to reflect Love and Understanding.

No matter what religious practices a couple may have, God is a part of every marriage. He brings together two people, binding them into one union. He may choose to bless the union with the gift of children, which reflects the love between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in a more concrete way. Let us take time to pray for all marriages: those newly formed to those spanning a lifetime, for those whose spouses have passed onto eternity, and for those considering a marriage commitment. May God guide them, grant them the grace to live out their vows and comfort them in the difficult times. 

Beyond words

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I’ve heard a particular Bible passage, if I spend quality time reflecting on it, a new perspective or dimension emerges. This past Sunday’s Gospel reading about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31) is only the most recent example.

The rich man, suffering torment after death, asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers to forewarn them about their potential fate. At first my thoughts were curious as to why the man does not ask that he be sent back, but rather Lazarus, a poor beggar, that the man never acknowledged during his lifetime. Who is Lazarus that the man’s brothers would believe him? Perhaps the man realized that his lack of compassion towards Lazarus played a role in his eternal circumstances, and understood that his brothers would be headed for the same torment since they, too, behaved similarly toward Lazarus. What does the man expect that Lazarus can convey by appearing to his brothers that he cannot himself do? The only explanation I can come up with is that it would be beyond the ordinary or explainable and thus would make a deep impression on the brothers that could prompt a change in their behavior.

Basically, the man is asking that his brothers have an experience of faith. Abraham refers to the many encounters with God in the Old Testament and states that if the brothers were not moved by all of these, then they will not be moved by a dead person (who they ignored his whole life) coming to visit them. This way of thinking is not limited to the Jews, as St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that even the Greeks have trouble believing. “For the Jews demand signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor 1:22-24) Faith can be a challenge to  the logic of the intellect. We ask for signs and symbols and yet explain away wondrous gifts from God, perhaps because we want them to be ordinary and explainable. We want them to be in our realm so that we can understand them, perhaps even feel a sense of control over them.

Think about within your own life; have you shared how you have encountered God? If you do have an opportunity to exchange a faith moment, how difficult is it to describe? Sometimes words are not available to convey the feelings, impressions, emotions, and reflections of the instance. For example, if we perceive a message or answer has been given to us by God many questions surface. How do you know it’s from Him? How did it happen? Was the voice audible? Trying to describe it even to oneself can provoke feelings of uncertainty and make us question our lucidity. And when words fail, it can even prompt the beginning of a new word. The Catholic Church created a word to describe the miracle that takes place at every consecration of the Eucharist: transubstantiation. Look that word up in the dictionary and there is only one meaning, which is the miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine. Most words have a history or etymology and while meanings can evolve over many years, there is usually a simple root word from another language from which the word is derived. There are plenty of words to describe emotions and philosophies, but fewer to explain the spiritual realm. Thus, we can struggle to adequately depict our experience to another.  

Faith is not ordinary and it is not easily explainable. Faith goes beyond words because it goes beyond the constructs of time and space, of the world, and of what we know. Yet who has not been touched by the miracle of a newborn baby, or a rainbow after a thunderstorm? We may “know” how these come about, but the circumstances have to be just right in order to create them — it’s not a given. And just like matters of faith, we cannot force others to experience the divine if they are not open to the Lord. However, we can strive to provide signs and symbols for those currently open to encounters of faith. Let our actions reflect the compassion and the unconditional love of Jesus which transcends natural human behavior. 

Mass worship

I came across a meditation suggesting to ponder “God requires Catholic Christians to assist at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.” I think what caught my eye was the word assist.

I was surprised by the use of assist rather than attend. Is there any difference between the two? When looking up these words in Merriam-Webster, the results of both their meanings and their roots were a bit unexpected. For me, assist is more of an action word; ready to spring into action when the lead needs support, which is one of the two definitions for the word. I would consider those that perform a specific liturgical function, like an altar server, choir member, and lector would be classified as assisting at Mass, but not the general congregation. Oddly enough, the second definition is, “to be present as a spectator,” which is a far cry from the attitude the Church is calling us to bring to Mass. The etymology of assist has a root which means “to be present near, stand near.“ This is a good definition for our actions at Mass, as we do stand near the presence of Jesus hidden in the mystery of the Eucharist. 

Attend would be the word I would choose for those who do not have a specific functional activity at a Mass. Usually I will say, “I need to go to Mass on Sunday morning,” which is one of the definitions of attend. Out of the several definitions for the word, I think I like “to be present with : accompany” as the one that most closely indicates what we do at Mass. We accompany the priest as he dives into the mystery of Jesus in both word and sacrament. Yet the root for the word means “to stretch.” While at first I thought how odd it was that the meaning has changed so much through the centuries, but perhaps originally, one was stretching themselves or their capabilities in order to be present to another person. In some ways, we too, stretch ourselves in order to go to Mass. 

Since words matter, I cracked open the Catechism of the Catholic Church to see how it conveyed the requirement for Mass and found this gem:

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1141

This describes way more than attending and assisting at Mass. This is a call to worship God with “all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) It also includes that we have not only an obligation, but our Baptism provides us the right in that full participation. For a country that loves its rights, this spiritual right is far more rewarding than any secular one. Once we are baptized, no one can take that right from us; it is only when we turn away from God that we forgo that right. God is always calling us back to communion with Him, ready to bestow His mercy to those who repent and turn towards Him. 

I may go to Mass, but I do choose to participate in the responses and singing. While it’s hard not to slip into Mass being a routine activity that we check off on our list of requirements, we are given the opportunity each week to bring our full selves to God. Our beauty and our flaws we present to God, as well as our attention and distractions. While coming and sitting in a pew for Mass may be a first step for some, it is not the level of participation to which we are called. Perhaps the next Mass we attend, we can try to go a bit deeper in giving worship, that is our full selves, to the Triune God who created us to be more than we ourselves could ever imagine.

Banquet invitation

Last Friday’s Gospel told the parable of The Ten Virgins and Sunday’s the parable of The Banquet Attendees. While both parables are common in Jesus’ teachings, understanding them is not often as simple as their obvious stories. 

The parable of the virgins with their lamps awaiting the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13) often has the reader declaring “unfair!” For a God who teaches us to love one another and multiplies bread and fish to feed thousands, why couldn’t the women have shared a little oil with those who failed to bring extra for their lamps? It feels like a curveball is being thrown at us with their refusal and their direction to the others to buy it from the merchants in a time when there wasn’t a 24-hour convenience store. But the oil is not just fuel for lamps, it is a correlation between the ladies and the relationship they have with the Bridegroom, Jesus. For each time a lady said yes to whatever Jesus asked of her — the good deeds, the forgiveness of others, the times of sacrifice — they became the fuel for the lamp she uses waiting for Jesus to come. She can’t give it away since it is her devotion to God that provides it. Yet even when one is familiar with the general meaning of the parable, there is always more to investigate each time it is read.

The story of the attendees who jostled each other to get the best seat at the banquet (Lk 14:1, 7-14) doesn’t seem like much of a parable. Its literal meaning is easily understandable…  maybe even too easy? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of parable is “a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” The roots of the word reach back to the Greek translation that has “comparison” as a stem. So what is this parable comparing itself to? We can get lost in the example of humility the story conveys, that it’s hard to see any other narrative. Yet the key to this parable is in plain sight: a wedding banquet.

Just as in the parable of the ten virgins deals with a bridegroom, the one about the attendees at a banquet is also about a wedding. And this isn’t just anyone’s wedding, it is the marriage of heaven and earth; with Jesus as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. The comparison that Jesus is making is that in the spiritual life prestige is worthless and humility shines. All the honor we gain, all the recognition that we so diligently work for during our life on earth, does not bring us closer to God  but rather it pushes us further away. God will be asking us to take a lower seat, while He invites those who have worked humbly on earth to be closer to Him. 

I can understand the parable of those jostling for a better seat, but being an introvert usually has me seeking a table in the back so that I can observe all that is going on at a function. In social situations it can look like I am a humble person, but humility is not just in the most obvious search for honor. Humility includes not comparing oneself to a person or making judgements about another. Humility is also about doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because you will be lauded for it. Humility is about sharing the blessings you have received with others because you know God has bestowed them on you; so that you can be His eyes, His ears, His hands, and His smile when you share His love with others. 

Jesus and Mary are two excellent role models for humility. Humility, like faith, is not a once and done thing; it is the fruit of seeking a relationship with God. Let us always reach out for their assistance as we journey onwards towards the heavenly banquet God has prepared for us. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Unique salvation

In this past Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 13:22-30), Jesus was asked, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It’s an interesting question that doesn’t get answered. But perhaps it is a question that can’t be answered. 

Other Christian denominations ask, “Are you saved?” as a tactic to start their evangelization. The basis for this question is to find out if a person has accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and if so, they have all confidence that they will be saved and have a place in heaven. This predicates that salvation is based on one, single act at a point in a person’s life. The issue with this assumption is that one may reduce life down to one moment in time, but  how can one select which moment upon which they should be judged? The question of who will be saved (or how many) is really irrelevant since it seeks to be the judge or the measure of salvation. We want to compare ourselves against others, and as long as we align on the side of being saved, we can wag our fingers at others and laugh at their misfortune. 

Jesus’ answer to the question in the Gospel is not an exact count of salvation, but rather how to approach the journey of salvation. We know we do not earn salvation; it is only through Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection that the door of salvation has been opened. He has created a path for us. But what does that path look like? Some will look at the Ten Commandments and say that is the measure of salvation. Others will use the precepts of the Catholic Church as a checklist of what needs to be accomplished in order to be saved. But salvation cannot be reduced to a checklist. It’s not a report card upon which you are graded. 

“He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.’” Strive is a verb denoting action that has etymological roots to that of “fight” as in “battle.” Does this mean we need to fight God in order to gain entrance to heaven? No, we don’t need to fight God, we need to fight ourselves: our pride, our wanting to pass judgment on others, and our desire to be god of all we encounter. We are not strong enough if we try to do this by ourselves (which is a form of pride) but instead only when we humble ourselves to let God lead us and to be the person God calls us to be. Our salvation is a summary of our life journey. Yes, there will be times we will fail, but there will also be times when we succeed. It is not a single moment in time, but rather a continual yes to God, turning towards God and seeking Him and His will for us. This life journey will transform us, if only we open ourselves up to Him. 

Every person is called to follow Jesus. Every person has the possibility to be saved. By having a relationship with Jesus, we can discern what He is calling us to do. Our salvation is unique to us because we are all called to serve Jesus differently. The commandments, the precepts, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are all guides to help us find our role in God’s plan of salvation. A life spent following Jesus is a life of action, of doing, of being. And after a lifetime of action and battling ourselves, we humble ourselves once more to leave it to God’s merciful judgment to determine if we will receive the everlasting gift of salvation. So the real question is not “will I be saved?” but rather “Jesus, how can I participate in your salvific will for me?”