This reflection is based on Luke 13:22-30.
There’s something paradoxical about the Gospel reading today. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to “strive to enter through the narrow gate,” but that not all will succeed and many of us will, in fact, have the door of the kingdom shut before our very faces. In almost the same breath, however, we are told that people from every possible direction will “recline at the table of the kingdom of God.” It sounds suspiciously like there’s another access to the kingdom that isn’t as narrow and selective as the front door!
So, what’s going on here? Either the Lord has, in spite of himself, gotten self-contradictory here, or heaven simply has a blatant set of double standards. Is there actually a wide-open backdoor to heaven?
As it turns out, there is neither self-contradiction nor double standards here. You could say that there really is just one gate to get into the kingdom, and it’s one helluva narrow door. Our Lord tells us the secret to get through it, and it’s not what we think. “Many will attempt to enter,” Jesus says, “but will not be strong enough!”
Strength? Doesn’t it require patience or ingenuity to squeeze through a tiny pathway–at least physically speaking? In a spiritual sense, my guess is that it would take humility to get through heaven’s narrow door. We need to make ourselves small not only before the eyes of God, but also in our own and others’. We need to humble ourselves–be “poor in spirit”, as Jesus invites us in the Beatitudes–before the kingdom of God can be ours.
Come to think of it, it does take strength to be humble. It’s so much hipper and cooler these days to be “in-your-face” confident. Worse, it’s so much more hilarious to make fun of people and to put them down–and the more outrageous and out-of-line you get, the louder the cheers and the applause from the unthinking mob. It’s heartbreaking to see how arrogant and egotistic people get away with murder. And it’s just as heartbreaking to see the more decent and discerning among us look away or just keep mum. It takes every ounce of strength to resist the temptation of pride not only because it’s so fashionable in this day and age, but also because it seems so much more effective to get the work done.
I say this because I struggle with this temptation every single day. In doing my work, I deal with people, and people, by their very nature, complicate life. Writing my dissertation was hard work, but it was simple work because I was working alone. Once we work with people, we can’t help but get entangled with every sort of things we’d rather do without, whether it’s people’s lack of competence, lack of integrity, or especially lack of humility. And my knee jerk reaction is to judge them, in the process, unwittingly enthroning myself as superior to them.
In my most exasperated moments, I catch myself thinking: “Why can’t people just be as competent, as honest, and as humble as me?”
Yes, I know what you’re thinking–and I agree: What a terrible and conceited thought indeed! By reacting to others and judging them, I have fallen into the trap of pride.
So my point is, it takes a lot of strength to stay humble. But as if it’s not hard enough to work hard to squeeze through that narrow door, we also need to exert every effort to keep our hearts wide open to others–including the very people we can’t stand! I hate to admit it, but there are people I’d rather, for various reasons, exclude in my life: people I prefer not to work with because they’re difficult and tedious, or even persons I’d rather not deal with because they’ve hurt me in the past or they are potentially harmful.
But an essential part of being humble, it seems, is being forgiving, tolerant, and inclusive: Yes, people have hurt us, but we need to forgive them because we ourselves have been beneficiaries of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Yes, some people are truly intolerable, but we have to be patient with them because each day of our lives, we are recipients of the Divine Patience. And finally, it’s sometimes much safer for us if some people are written off (or even black-listed!), but we need to strive to be as inclusive as God’s all-embracing love in spite of how people are.
The paradox is that to enter through the narrow door of heaven, we need to fling the doors of our hearts wide open to people from every possible direction.
It’s tough, isn’t it? No wonder our Lord tells us that it takes strength to go through the narrow gate. Let’s pray for that strength today: the strength to be humble, forgiving, and inclusive.
11 replies on “IS THERE A BACKDOOR TO HEAVEN?”
Yes, entering thru the narrow gate is difficult or even impossible if we get too fat because of gluttony, or having so much possessions that we won’t fit thru it, or being greedy as to want all things in life that we won’t pass thru it, or if we become too proud of all our achievements,thinking we did all these on our own, or become bloated by our love for our selves only, or be attached to the pleasures of the world. With all these worldly attachments, we won’t fit in thru a narrow door. But God gives us so many second chances to unload ourselves of all these weights that we may become thin enough to go thru the narrow gate. God bless us all.
You hit the nail on the head once again, Fr. Johnny. The older I get, the more difficult it is to be tolerant and forgiving; instead I seem to get more arrogant and intolerant. It is a daily struggle. It may not show in my actions but it is certainly in my thoughts.
Thank you for your candor. It helps to know I am not alone and that you have been able to overcome it and become more tolerant and forgiving.
Hello Fr. Johnny,
The Gospel reading today was really an eye opener. It brought me to a realization that passing through that narrow door is really difficult esp. when “self” becomes the center of one’s focus and not of “others”. Simply giving is not sufficient but rather giving of oneself in sacrifice is the real thing. I ardently pray for courage and grace to step out of my comfort zone and extend help to others.
Thanks for the inspiration, Fr. J. Regards.
Thank you Fr. J for these gems of thought, The hardest
to do is forgiving, but as you say our Lord never tires of
forgiving us so we could try harder to be more like Him.
Being inclusive is another difficiult virtue because it
is always comfortable to be with people you
I have to try harder with God’s loving grace.
Hi Father Johnny, as you Im your fan ever. I was lying down and feeling some heartache. I open my facebook and the very first thing I read your Is there back door to heaven. So so beautiful. I think Im not far from what you said that we should be. I try my best always to ne poor in spirit and i feel sometimes I over do it. When sometimes I feel bad, I want to see you to ask for some counseling, but I feel shy. You know me father my very close ties to my family my children and grandchildren. I love them so much, but sometimes I get hurt and worry about them. Sorry for the bother. Thank for this opportunity to express my feelings. I love so much what I read about the back door to heaven.thank you so much father johnny!
Indeed, we are beneficiaries of God’s forgiveness and mercy. May our prayer be that God inspire us to be channels of forgiveness and mercy especially in times when we find it difficult to do so.
Thank you Fr. J
Thanks for the reminder & for being honest with us, Fr. J. It seems we all go through the same struggles in our spiritual journey
Thanks for the reminder & for being honest with us, Fr. J. It seems we all go through the same struggles in our spiritual journey.:-)
Hi Fr. Johnny Go
Just to let you know that I always get inspire by your homilies but i never write a comment
because of my poor writing skills ( & grammar) except now because this topic is very close to my heart- humility.
I think humility is one of the hardest virtue to acquire but it is one of the most important
virtue for getting close to God ( or entering to heaven) In my spiritual journey, i learned the following:
A humble heart will lead to an appreciative and grateful heart.
And a grateful heart will become a generous heart.
And a generous heart will turn to a loving heart.
And with a loving heart, one will experience the presence of God in his life
for God is Love.
So everyday, we need to strive to acquire the virtue of humility because only when we are humble or “poor in spirit” can we realize that everything and every moment in our lives is Graces ( free gifts that we do not deserve) from God.
Without God, we are nothing. God is the vine and we are just the branches. God is the author and we are the pen. Apart from him, we are nothing. And only when we have
this spiritual humility can we start to be appreciative and grateful for everything- big and small things , good and even bad times.
This sense of gratefulness will naturally make one to become generous- to share and give back ( not counting the cost) .
And when we become generous , we become a loving , caring & forgiving person.
And when a person’s heart is full of love, that person will surely experience the presence
of God here on earth and for eternity in heaven for the Spirit of God is Love.
Thank you very much Fr. Johnny for your homilies.
ps. please do not put my name if you will post this comment. thank you
Excellent comments! Thanks for sharing as well. Fr. Johnny should be delighted with your kind words and insights.
“when hard may seem the task, one step is all He asks of us” – letting go 🙂