The Narrow Gate
Published: April 9, 2009
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt 7:13-14).
We have been on retreat this week, a retreat being given by Mother Maureen McCabe, OCSO, the abbess of Mount St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Mass. She has a soft-spoken, gentle way and has a gift for finding those places in life where the divine and human encounter each other in a special way. These places are people, and Maureen has many wonderful stories she has stored in her heart, stories that tell the tale of God’s love for being a human and knowing us and our ways.
A few days ago, she spoke about the Scripture passage from Matthew’s Gospel that contains Jesus’ teaching about the narrow gate. It is only a two-verse teaching, but the verses contain volumes in terms of a road atlas for life. I was so moved by what Maureen shared about the verses.
I do not remember thinking of the narrow gate in the terms of which she spoke. I had long assumed that the narrow gate was meant to be taken as a way of behavior, a way of living life that would qualify one for passing through a rather difficult port of entry. It seemed to me that the gate separated this life from the life to come, and only by trimming ourselves of any excess baggage could we hope to squeeze through to the other side, to that Promised Land. This was, roughly, the sense I had of the gate and what it means to get through it.
Maureen offered another approach.
Life, by its very nature, is confining. We experience its restrictions all the time in large and small ways. We only know life through its limiting nature. Our time is limited, as are our appetites, our abilities, our successes and even our failures. There is nothing about us that is restriction-free—though we seemingly have no problem trying to rid ourselves of restrictions. The list is long: broken vows, broken promises, broken diets, broken records—all done because of the nasty imposition of the limit.
Is finding one’s way through the narrow gate a way of transcending limit? I do not think so. I think it has more to do with trusting the grace that pours through the confines of limit. It is learning that all the things in life that are truly good and worth seeking are not on the far side of the gate. They are not to be “accessed” by our losing the fat of our excess and leaping through the gate and taking a grab at the goodies.
The narrow gate is today’s passage and the things and people that are the gate. It is within the limited reach of this day that a chance at life is offered—a life that becomes clearer the more we learn to love what is given us. It means staying put and not wishing to go anywhere “better.” It means avoiding the detours to the greener grass sites and the better lover areas. It means learning to bloom where one is planted. It is taking to heart a very ancient key to wisdom, and turning the key and opening the gate.
It takes time. Life has its limits and time is surely a prime parameter.
We celebrate Easter as the entrance for us all to the Eternal. It is through the Resurrection of Jesus that we pass through Him, and Him alone, to Eternal Life. Yet Easter is, on the one hand, a collapse of all limits and, on the other hand, a blessing of every limit of this life.
We are saved through the promise of love that is at hand in every moment of our lives. We may not always see it, especially if we are looking to a different horizon for a hoped-for upgrade of human existence.
The Risen One is in our midst, wherever we go, on any given day. The Life He offers is what makes the gold out of what we normally want to jettison—the ordinary and limited routines of our lives.
How more “there” can it all be—in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of friendship, in the heart of everyone—this gate that is hard to find because we tend to wish it was somewhere else, anywhere else, but in the portal of this day.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com.