“Oh, poor us, poor us,” they moaned. “This is all so hard,” they complained. “Our parents and grandparents were so excited by this new faith, this Christianity, but we are not all that excited. We put up with it though, just in case it is right. But it is such a struggle to be Christians. Oh, poor us, poor us.”
The people complaining were those first century Jews who had become Christians living throughout the Roman Empire. Their fellow Jews had ostracized them. The pagan Romans were sporadically persecuting them. Eleven Apostles were martyred and new bishops and leaders of the Church in various cities were given a death sentence. The first thirty-one popes, would martyred. Now there were rumors that Christians were to be persecuted throughout the empire. They also complained that they couldn’t join in with the festivals of the people of their country. They were told that they couldn’t be Christians and at the same time live like the pagans.
“Knock it off,” says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. “Shore up your drooping arms and firm up your knocking knees.” Their body language showed how they felt. “Stop moping around,” Hebrews says. “Instead, trust in God. If you are called to be a witness to God with your life, it will unite you closer to Him than you could ever imagine.” The letter reminds them that Christian life would never be easy. Nothing worthwhile is easy.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the narrow gate is not the popular gate, but it is the only one that leads to God. Many people choose the wide gate, the way that everyone seems to be going. These are the people who justify their immorality with the “everyone’s doing it,” mentality. Simply put, they choose to live like pagans. We cannot be the people of the wide gate. We have been given the call, the grace, to enter into God’s presence. But the way to get there is not easy. The gate is narrow. It demands sacrifice. It demands saying “No” to sinful desires. It demands saying, “No”, to the popular but immoral crowd.
We recognize the hard work that is necessary for a person to become a good lawyer, a good doctor or even a good farmer. We know that there is no easy button to push to become good in something. Even in the area of sports we recognize that what might appear easy on the football field during an NFL game on Sunday is the result of months of hard work. We tell our young athletes, “No pain, no gain.” This maxim applies to athletes, scholars and those who want to faithfully practice their Catholic Faith.
We need to embrace our Christianity with enthusiasm. We need to stop complaining about our sacrifices and look to the Cross of Jesus Christ. We have purpose and meaning and beauty in our lives. We have Jesus Christ. And He has us. Our arms cannot be drooping. They need to be raised high in praising the One who redeemed us. Our knees should not be knocking. They need to be moving our feet through the narrow gate to our God and salvation.