More Important Than Life Or Death

(Homily for Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Bottom line: Today in the Gospel, we do encounter something more important than life or death.

I heard a story about a man in Liverpool. He was a huge fan of the local soccer team. In fact, his life revolved around his team's fortunes. Someone asked him if he considered soccer a matter of life or death. "No," he said indignantly, "Soccer is much more important than that!"

Some people in Seattle probably feel the same about the Seahawks. They, of course, know that they are exaggerating. But today in the Gospel, we do encounter something more important than life or death, namely, where we will spend eternity: The question of eternal life or eternal death.

A man asks Jesus, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" Will only a few people get to heaven or will almost everyone make it? One reading favors an optimistic answer. Jesus speaks about people coming "from east and west, north and south" to "recline at the table in the kingdom of God." People hear verses like that and conclude that it is fairly easy to get into heaven, that a person would have to foul up "big time" in order to wind up in hell. That is a comforting view.

Jesus, however, says something else in today's Gospel. He says, "Strive to enter by the narrow gate." And he speaks about people who thought they had it made, being locked out. Jesus wants you and me to consider the possibility that we might not be saved. Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar - who was one of the gentlest of all theologians - put it this way: "It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost."

The possibility of being lost - eternally - is the one matter more important than life or death.* We can see it in the life of St. Francis de Sales. When he was a young man, he went through a time of terrible anguish. He had the strong impression of being excluded from the saved, of being destined for eternal damnation. One afternoon in January, Francis entered a church. He knelt in front of an image of Our Lady and made an act of total abandonment to God. He threw himself on the mercy of God and insisted that he would love God - no matter where he might wind up after death. His fear left him and when he stood up, he later wrote, his anguish fell from him "like scales from a leper." He felt re-born.**

Francis de Sales entered the seminary and as a priest - and later as a bishop - he brought a significant part of Europe back into the Catholic Faith. When people met him and listened to him speak, he communicated to them the seriousness of this life: That each person has to make a choice - a choice more important than life or death.

Jesus invites us to make that choice today. He warns that the gate is narrow, that some who seem to be in first place now, will wind up last. And vica versa. In the words of our second reading, "Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees." "Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart." What is at stake is something more important than life or death."


*We do say that some things (such as "honor") are more important than life itself. But that is the case only because they are integral to salvation. Otherwise Falstaff had it right, "What is honor? A word. What is in that word honor? What is that honor? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died." (Henry IV, Part 1 by Shakespeare)

**The illustration from the life of St. Francis de Sales (as well the story about the Liverpool soccer fan) was adapted from "Echad Las Redes, Reflexiones sobre los Evangelios, Ciclo C" by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

Spanish Version

From Archives (21st Sunday, Year C):

2013: You Don't Have to Go to Hell
2010: More Important Than Life Or Death
2007: Depart From Me
2004: Wide Road to Hell and Narrow Path to Life
2001: Will Only A Few Be Saved?
1998: I Do Not Know You

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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