The dominant images in the Gospel today are a narrow gate and a door. But in the way they are used, the takeaway is more of an action image, more of a verb than a noun. The narrow gate implies an ongoing effort – the verb striving is used, and attempting to enter.
We all know some St. Peter at the pearly gates jokes – I’m not going to tell one here – but the pearly gates are a symbol of destination, finality, and we know in our lives doors and gates are signs of destinations. But today, the door and gates are signs of the actual journey itself.
And our faith is meant to be a steady practice, a discipline. Think of the connection of the words discipline and disciple. The narrowness of the gate means a kind of emptying, an austerity, a letting go, an alignment. The original followers of Jesus were called people of “The Way,” and, indeed, still, Christianity is a distinct way of life, a path, not simply participation in the institutional life of the Church, good as that may be, but a comprehensive inner and outer harmony with the life of Jesus.
Proximity to this process is not good enough. Those standing outside the door in today’s Gospel say that they were in the neighborhood of the master’s teaching and fellowship, but that’s not good enough. We have to be first-hand participants in our own spiritual lives.
As an example of both the challenge and the hope of the narrow gate, let’s say part of the narrow gate is living fully in the present moment. Sounds good, right? Who wants to live in the past, and we know how fruitless it is to project into the future. And we know that God can only be found in the present, here and now. But then think of the times every day you’re replaying the past or anticipating the future. The promise and the difficulty of the narrow gate.
The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, “It is by the doors of the deep self that we enter into the spiritual knowledge of God.” So we can look at this gate going within as much as going forward. When we have the humility to pursue the narrow gate, we are positioned right where God can work with us best, to take us deeper into the true self within and farther afield in love of neighbor around us. The narrow gate, challenging as it may be, is always open for those who wish to participate actively in their discipleship.