HOMILY for the 30th Wed per annum (I)
The question asked of Jesus today, really, is “who will be saved”? And Jesus, who in St John’s Gospel says, “I am the door” (Jn 10:9), says in St Luke’s Gospel that he is the “narrow door” (Lk 13:24). Why narrow? Because elsewhere in John’s Gospel, Jesus affirms that “no one comes to the Father except by me” (Jn 14:6). So, Jesus alone is the universal Saviour of Mankind, and today’s Gospel suggests that “many” will seek salvation by some other means, or even by some other religion, but Jesus says they “will not be able” to enter God’s kingdom without going through him, the “narrow door”, indeed, the one and only door to salvation. Ordinarily, entry through this door into the life of Christ is through baptism. Thus the Second Vatican Council said that “through baptism as through a door men enter the Church” (Lumen Gentium, §14), the Mystical Body of Christ. Hence, we believe that “outside the Church there is no salvation” because without Christ, without entering into his life and being united to his Body in some way, one cannot be saved.
But why is it that Jesus then says that “men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29)? Does this not suggest that some people, who are not visibly part of Christ’s Church, who may not even be baptised, may yet find eternal communion with God, and so, be saved? How is this possible? The Second Vatican Council taught that those who “through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will” by following their conscience may possibly “attain salvation” (Lumen Gentium, §16). So, salvation may be broader than the visible membership of the Church. Nevertheless, salvation is granted to the non-baptised only through the grace of Christ, so that such people are somehow still associated with the Church spiritually without visibly and formally being members of the Church. Somehow, “through no fault of their own”, they have not been able to be baptised or are ignorant of the need for baptism, and so, God in his mercy may yet save them if they live good lives. But this is really an extraordinary work of God’s mercy and grace. The ordinary means of salvation is still through baptism, which opens the door to the grace of following Christ, and, through the sacramental life, gives us the most sure access to God’s grace so that we can grow in friendship with Christ, as part of his Body, the Church.
However, today’s Gospel also has a warning for us who are baptised Christians. Jesus says that not all who “ate and drank in [his] presence”, or call him ‘Lord’, will necessarily be admitted into the kingdom of heaven (Lk 13:26f). So, merely being visible members of the Church through baptism and, even receiving the Eucharist, does not guarantee that the Lord will recognise us at the Last Day. Why? Because it is possible for someone to outwardly receive the sacraments but inwardly not be transformed by grace because of a sinful resistance to God’s grace. This is why it is vital that we examine our consciences and ensure that we receive the sacraments worthily, in a state of grace, and that we “strive” (Lk 13:24) to co-operate with grace so that we live loving and good lives. When Jesus says he does not recognise the unrepentant sinner, this is because sin defaces one, whereas sanctifying grace remakes one in Christ’s image so that when Jesus looks at the face of a saint, i.e., someone who has repented of sin and co-operated with grace, Jesus sees himself; he sees love.
But this should not lead us to despair or worry about our salvation. Rather, St Paul counsels us to pray with humility, trusting in the Holy Spirit who “helps us in our weakness” (Rom 8:26). For since God has chosen us and called us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29), he will bring to perfection the good he has put into our hearts. As St Paul says, “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28). So, let us strive to truly love God, and thus, to co-operate with his grace so that we become like Christ, become Love. For this, ultimately, is what saves us: that we should enter into the Trinitarian communion of love through Love, that is, through Jesus Christ. There is no other way, no other door than Love by which one can be saved.