“Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Lk. 13:24
I grabbed the edge of the rolling laundry bin as Mike maneuvered it through the door to the parking garage. It was a tight fit. So tight, I realized, that the edge of the sturdy blue canvas was tattered, worn by its many passages through the narrow doorways.
Last week, my oldest son, Mike, packed up the car and we drove to Georgetown to start a new academic year. At the start of his freshman year Mike thought about what he needed. This year he looked at his things spread out across the living room and thought about what he could do without.
The car was unquestionably emptier. Still, on Sunday, when I heard the Gospel proclaimed, I saw in my mind’s eye, not a narrow stone gate in Jerusalem, but the doorway in the parking garage as we slipped a bulging cart through, its frayed canvas catching on the latch.
Jesus’ words in this passage from Luke can be difficult for me to listen to, surfacing images of a divine sieve that only a few of us can pass through. But St. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century doctor of the Church, suggested in his commentary on Luke’s Gospel that I listen more closely to the exchange.
Note, he says, that Jesus doesn’t answer the question posed — how many will be saved — but turns the focus back to what might help us — how we can be saved.
Like Mike, winnowing down his possessions to fit in the car and through the narrow doorway, we are encouraged to consider what we must let go to move forward on the path to heaven. And like the laundry cart we piled high, trying to enter through the narrow gate can change us. Narrow doorways can literally and sometimes painfully strip away what we cling to. They help us imagine what shape our lives must take, a physical mirror of the ways in which we are expected to decrease, so that Christ might increase.
At the start of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, urged us look at our possessions not as “whats” but as “ways.” Choose what to bring along not based on what you need, but on the way in which this will deepen God’s life in you.
This week, I’m moving back into my office at the college and preparing to teach my fall classes. There are many things I need, and need to do, to walk through the door on the first day of classes ready to teach. But this year I’m thinking, too, of the ways in which I might choose to deepen my life in God, so that when I reach the narrow gate, I might strive to enter.
Read a 19th century translation of St. Cyril’s reflection here.
Read a modern translation of the First Principle and Foundation from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises here.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.