Deacon Matt’s Homily for the Start of the Semester
In case you missed it, or just want to hear it again, here is the homily that I preached to students at the first Mass of the new semester, on Sunday, Aug. 21. The gospel reading was Luke 13:22-30, when a disciple asked Jesus whether only a few would be saved, and Jesus responds by telling him to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
There’s nothing like starting off the semester with a gospel passage about wailing and grinding of teeth! But what this passage really is about is this invitation we have to come and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.
When Jesus is asked whether only a few will be saved, he responds with what sounds like a dire warning: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” It’s easy to hear this and think that our chances of making it to heaven are pretty slim, like getting into some exclusive scholarship program that only accepts ten students each year. But it’s not like that. Jesus doesn’t say that only a few people will be accepted into heaven. He says the way there is narrow. And having a narrow focus, while being restrictive in a certain sense, can also be empowering and liberating. I’ll explain what I mean.
Some of you are just starting your first year in college and you may not have chosen a major yet. So you take a broad range of classes in different subjects until you figure out what you want to study. That’s fine. But at some point you will need to declare a major — at least if you want to graduate. And when you do, you will begin to take classes primarily in that subject. The focus of your study will narrow. And the narrowness of that focus is what allows you to gain that deep specialized knowledge in a particular field that you cannot acquire through a broad, general survey.
Something similar is true when it comes to relationships. If you are just dating casually, to get to know people as potential romantic interests, you can date a few different people at once, no problem. But if you want to pursue a serious relationship with someone, you need to be exclusive and date just that one person. When my wife and I got married, we made a promise to each other to be faithful and to be exclusive. So in that sense, the range of our romantic options narrowed tremendously, down to one. But that narrowness of focus, while limiting in some regards, is what freed us to give ourselves fully in love to one another. This total free gift of self between husband and wife is the foundation of a stable family life. God has granted us 22 years of marriage and seven children that we would not have if we had not embarked down this narrow road of matrimony.
Having a narrow focus is necessary to achieve a goal or to get where you want to go. If you want to go to WalMart from campus, there is only one road that leads there. If you were to be dropped off by the campus entrance, blindfolded and spun around and told to start walking in a random direction, chances are pretty slim that you’d make it to WalMart. There are lots of ways to not get to WalMart from here. But if I were to take that blindfold off and point you down the one road that leads there and say, “That’s the road to WalMart,” I have liberated you to get where you want to go.
Jesus does this for us when it comes to heaven. There are many ways to not get to heaven, but there is only one way to get there and Jesus is that way. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he says. “I am the gate, and the one who passes through the gate will have eternal life.” It may seem restrictive to say you can only get to heaven through Jesus, but remember God didn’t send his Son into the world to make it hard to get to heaven. He sent his Son to open the gate to heaven for us. You cannot get to heaven without Jesus because of what heaven is. Heaven is being in a perfect loving relationship with God. That’s it. And Jesus is the Word of God. You cannot be in a loving relationship with God and at the same time reject God’s Word. You cannot be in union with God and reject God’s union with us in Christ.
God wants to be united with us in love and he shows us the way to do that. This is the lens through which we should understand all of his commands. They are instructions in how to love. We know the commandments. Jesus tells us that the two greatest are to love God and to love your neighbor. It sounds simple, but it can be difficult in practice. Like I said, I’ve been married for 22 years and I’m still learning how to love my wife well. I’ve been a campus minister for 15 years and I’m still learning to love you guys. And most importantly, I’m still learning what it means to love God. We have a lot to learn about how to love, so Jesus tells us what it means to love. He shows us what it means to love. He points to himself and says learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. Bind yourself to me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Take up your cross and follow me. And if you love me you will obey my commands.
It’s why he established a Church with the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins, and to teach in his name, telling the Apostles, he who hears you hears me. And, most concretely, it’s why the Church has put us here, on this campus, to serve you. It’s why the bishop has entrusted me with this ministry, to help you strive to enter through that narrow gate of love that is Jesus Christ.
During your time here on campus, you will have many opportunities to grow and explore and have new experiences. But remember that you are here for a purpose. We want you to succeed in school and that means maintaining that narrow focus on your studies. But more importantly, we want you to succeed in life. You are here, on this earth, for a purpose — to love God and to love one another as God loves us. We want you to help you learn to do that well. That’s why we are here. That’s what all our programs and Bible studies and catechesis and retreats and everything else we do are for. It’s to help you follow that narrow way of Jesus.
Look around you. These are your fellow travelers on that road. These are students who have made the choice this first Sunday on campus to prioritize coming to Mass, because their relationship with God is important to them. Make friends with these people. They will help you on this road. Introduce yourself to our student peer ministers. Join a Bible study group. These are students who have made a commitment to helping their peers in this ministry. Lean on them when you are struggling. And please, don’t be afraid to come talk to me anytime you need a listening ear. That’s why I’m here. We are going to have a little meet and greet social time upstairs after Mass so we can get to know each other better, but you can always schedule a time to come see me one-on-one.
The way to heaven is narrow, yes, but it’s a way that is clearly marked out for us. And God gives us every grace we need to get there, including the grace of companions to help us along that road. May we all help one another in our pilgrimage as we strive to enter through that narrow gate together.