21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

     You don’t even have to turn on the news anymore to know that society seems to be falling apart. It doesn’t matter where you live, who you associate with, it seems like every single day we discover once again, another innocent life taken. There is no doubt there are serious problems in our society and no one seems to have the solution to those problems. I certainly don’t claim to have the solution, but I do think the solution is multipronged. But as I have been thinking about and talk with various people about all the craziness going on in our society, I think one of biggest reasons society seems to be in collapse is because of our sense of entitlement. Certainly, people are entitled to some things; for example, all people are entitled a certain dignity as human persons, children are entitled to proper care from their parents, but there are also many things which we want and can earn, but that we are not entitled to. This unhealthy sense of entitlement is ultimately leading us to believe the lie that we are the center of the world and when we are the center of the world, we will do whatever we want with no regard for others.

     As Christians we profess that God is the center of the world yet, not us. Yet if we are honest, how often do we fall into the trap of spiritual entitlement. I think a good way to find out is to recognize that we fall into that trap when we get to this level of presumption, when we get to the level where we say to ourselves, I’m a Christian, I’m going to heaven. It’s an easy jump. It’s a jump we want to make, but we know as Christians, that is as followers of Jesus Christ, that we are called daily to take up our cross and follow Him, not ourselves. [1]

     Did you hear Jesus in today’s gospel? Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel against presuming that we will go to heaven, reminding us that the pathway to heaven is narrow. Salvation is not easy, which is why we need to head St. Paul’s advice 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 hope for salvation, that is why we are here. But it can be so easy for us to 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. After all 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 but then fall into the trap of believe in is all about them and 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. I have to admit I kind of admired the man. I tend to find those people a little annoying with the force that they use. But there I am in my collar and he clearly know a priest. I give him credit for trying to catch the big fish. But he came up to me 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 he was going to ask my why I needed my church or the sacraments. On the other hand, if tell him I have not been saved then he is going ask why I was baptized. Fortunately, this wasn’t the first time I had encountered this trick question. So I told him as baptized Christians we believe 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] That was enough for him to turn around and walk away. Look today’s Gospel is a reminder to each and everyone  that God wants us to spend eternity with Him forever in heave. We are destined for eternal life, but to get to heaven we have to go through the narrow and we need to cooperate with God if we want to enter through that narrow gate.

     God never forces us to do anything. Love can never be forced. God always extends His invitation of love to us, but then it is up to us to decide if we want to love Him in return and we love Him by our actions. He tells us in the scriptures, “if you love me, you’ll keep my commandments.”[6] It is never a question of whether God loves us, it’s a question of whether we reciprocate that love through the way we live our life.

     We are made for communion with God, but we also have the ability to break that communion; to choose to live our life in a different way. After all, “heaven means that man has a place in God,”[7] and if that is true, we have to invite God into our lives on earth if we want to spend eternity with Him forever in heaven. Look as Christians we are about to profess that God is at the center of the world and we know that following after Him comes at a cost. We hold out hope for eternal life. Why because if we place God at the center and cooperate with His grace, then He has given us all the tools we need to enter the kingdom of heaven. But we cannot presume that we will have the heavenly reward. For the second we do that we place ourselves at the center of the world.

     My friends, I don’t pretend to have the solutions for the problems in our society today, but I do know that if at least we put God at the center of our lives, then there is one less problem in our society and one more solution. Today our Church celebrates the feast of St. Louis, a man whom our city is named after. A man, who at it his time was certainly one of the 5 most powerful people in the world. At age 12 he became the king of France. At a young age, that power could have gone to his head. He could have done almost anything he wanted to do. Yet instead of that He becomes a man of extreme power who used his life to serve those in need. He could have done whatever he wanted, He had all the power in the world, and what does he do? He opens up hospitals for the sick and homes for the poor. He recognizes that while He might have earthly power, before God he is nothing.

     Shortly before he died, St. Louis wrote a powerful letter to his son. IN that letter, he reminds his son that without God we are nothing. He reminds his son, that unless Christ is at the center of his life, he will fail as a king. That unless God is at the center of the world, all of that earthly power means nothing.

     Today’s Gospel then invites us to ask ourselves, who is the center of our world. Is it us or is it God? Are we presuming that everything is just fine in our life or are we day in and day out trying to enter through the narrow gate? The path is there, God has given us everything we need. The challenge for us to respond. To like St. Louis, offer our lives for the glory of God and in service to our neighbor.

[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] Jn 15:14

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

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