Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Someone asked Jesus if only a few people would be saved. So, Jesus doesn’t speak to the question; He speaks to the questioner. He often does that; He turns the tables on them. He says to strive to enter by the narrow gate: live in-bounds, stay in your lane, and don’t be a stranger. In short, decide what matters most, make a commitment, i.e. promise yourself to it, let it guide all your actions, and subordinate everything else to it. These are the actions of fidelity. This is what Jesus is calling for today…and it is a calling!
Fidelity is the virtue by which we remain centered and focused on the calling of our life (relationships, community, etc.) so that we grow more deeply into them. Depth comes from preferring this commitment even when it’s aggravating.
Fidelity is part of the cardinal virtue of fortitude by which we pursue the difficult good. It is based on remembering God’s fidelity to us as shown in such events as the Exodus and the Passion of Christ. In the OT fidelity is expressed by trust in God. In the NT it is shown by “standing fast”, by holding out against opposition and persecution.
We recall last week’s reading from Ezekiel about bad shepherds. Because they failed to pasture the sheep, the sheep were scattered and became food for wild beasts. The shepherd’s, as God’s agents, were not just unfaithful; they made themselves irrelevant. God’s faithfulness is not irrelevant. Neither are His creatures that were made for love. Thus, our fidelity must be reciprocal and taken seriously.
Fidelity allows us to persevere in our commitments. These commitments are usually to a task, an ideal, or to a person. In any case, patient endurance is often needed. This is needed because the gate is narrow. Temptations are to see fidelity as an obstacle to freedom, as binding us to an unknown future, and to fear that it might not “pay off” and thus be a waste of time. What if one finds the commitment to be disagreeable or discovers a more attractive alternative?
The commitment of the vowed life occasions the theological virtue of hope. As Christians, our freedom has meaning when placed in a higher good than occasional satisfaction. So, an unknown future is not as important as the object of our hope. A sense of integrity does not come from living for a guaranteed future.
Before entering this narrow gate, before making a vowed commitment, one must know herself and what she can do. She must know what she deeply cares about. Living for what is most cared about makes one come alive! It is the first reason why fidelity is essential to a life promised to God. A long period of preparation (engagement or novitiate) is necessary. Again, fidelity requires courage and hope.
A second reason for fidelity is that the meaning of our calling always lies ahead of us. That’s how it worked for the Israelites in the desert.
A third reason for fidelity is that we are easily scattered by things that attract the shallower parts of our hearts: the pull of pleasures, possessions, and reputation. These offer fickle and short-term satisfactions. The deeper parts of our heart are for the important-in-itself, and only by fidelity to it can we be held to the word of our deepest and truest self.
And finally, a vowed life carries with it a reminder of what we did not choose. By our promise we intend our lives in a certain way toward a certain good. So, we’re aware of living our lives “at the expense” of other possibilities. Fidelity to our daily way of life for the sake of an ultimate good keeps us mindful of what we most deeply care about.