21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

     Someone recently asked me what I thought the biggest problem with my generation is. I think one of our biggest problems is our sense of entitlement. While there are certainly some things that we are entitled to; for example all people are entitled a certain dignity as human persons, children are entitled to proper care from their parents and many of us are entitled to certain privileges spelled out in our contracts like a set number of vacation days, but there are also many things which we want and can earn, but that we are not entitled to. An unhealthy sense of entitlement is very dangerous because when our lives revolve around our own sense of entitlement we begin to believe the lie that we are the center of the world.

     As Christians we believe Jesus is the center of the world yet, often without realizing it, we fall into the trap of spiritual entitlement.  When we fall into the trap of spiritual entitlement, the sin of presumption, we cease to be disciples of Jesus Christ, because to be a Christian means that we are willing to take up our cross and follow Him,[1] not ourselves. Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel against presuming that we will go to heaven, reminding us that the pathway to heaven is narrow, so we must head the advice of St. Paul in today’s second reading when he encourages us to “strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.  Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”[2]

     As Christians we can easily fall into the trap of believing that we deserve heaven, but the reality is we are all sinners and don’t deserve anything. None of us can make a claim on God, it is only by God’s grace, it is only because Jesus was willing to hang on a cross and rise again, that you and I can hold out hope for eternal life. There are many people who refuse to live Godly lives and yet presume that they will go to heaven but how can we presume that God will extend His mercy to us if we refuse to extend His love to others. Friends “holiness is perfect in heaven, but it belongs on earth.”[3] If we want to live in perfect holiness in heaven, we better start living that holiness on earth.

     A few years ago a missionary approached at a gas station and asked me if I had been saved. Fortunately I recognized that he was asking a trick question, because if I said I was saved then it doesn’t really matter how I live my life. On the other hand if I’m not saved, then Jesus’ death and resurrection had no purpose. As baptized Christians we have been redeemed[4] and we have hope that we will be saved but like St. Paul we should be working out our salvation with fear and trembling,[5] because as today’s Gospel reminds us, while we were destined for eternal life, the gate to heaven is narrow and we need to cooperate with God if we want to enter through that narrow gate.

     Today’s Gospel can be scary because none of us want to think about the possibility that we may end up separated from God in Hell. To try to avoid this fear, some Christian preachers will say that while hell exists, God loves everyone, so everyone must be saved. While, in His infinite love for us God desires all to be saved, He made each of us with a free will so we can choose to spend eternity with Him. We are made for communion with God, but we have the ability to break that communion and thus choose, through the way they live their life, to go to hell. After all, “heaven means that man has a place in God,”[6] so we must invite Him into our lives on this earth if we want to be with Him for eternity in heaven.

     Today’s Gospel warns us against the sin of presumption; against presuming that we can do what we want on this earth and still earn our eternal reward. In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that all of us can be saved, but that it is not something we should take for granted. No one can give to God the ransom for himself, nor pay a price to redeem His soul. God wants all of us to be saved, but how can we spend eternity with Him in heaven if we never spend any time with Him here on earth?

     God has given each of us limitless gifts and asks us to use them to enter into a relationship with Him. God has done His part, He has sent His only Son into the world to suffer and die so that we might have eternal life, but the outcomes of our lives are not His responsibility, they are ours. God has shown us the narrow path back to Himself, now we must respond by following after Him, for unless we respond, nothing happens.

     As Christians we believe that Jesus is at the center of the world and we know that following after Him comes at a cost. While we hold out hope for eternal life we can’t presume that we will have a heavenly reward, so we need to fix our eyes on Christ and strive to follow Him wherever He leads us, because we know His path, however difficult it may be, ends up at the gates to the heavenly kingdom.

[1] Mt 16:24

[2] Heb 12: 11-13

[3] Jean Galot S.J., Theology of the Priesthood. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2005. Pg 265.

[4] Eph 1:7, 1 Cor 1:30, Col 1:13-14

[5] Phil 2:12

[6] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg 313.

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