In his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul informs us that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” St. Paul writes of the saints of the Old Testament, and those — perhaps even recently martyred by the Empire — of great faith in the early Church. This cloud of witnesses has expanded over the centuries of the Church. No matter in which country or era, the saints have one thing in common — a heroic faith in Christ that allowed them, by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, to deny themselves, and strive to have Christ formed in their lives as they grew in the Christian faith.
Their holiness didn’t come about by binge-watching a Netflix or BritBox serials ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The formation of Christ in their lives came with difficulty, great struggle, and many frustrations, as they moved to ultimate victory in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we read this: “And someone said to him, ‘will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Struggle [agonizesthe] to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not able to enter.’” (Luke 13:23 – 24). The Greek verb found in the text, agonizesthai, can be translated “to struggle”, “to fight”, to “compete” (as an athlete). Think of great athletes and musicians who succeeded in accomplishing their goals. There were tears of anguish, setbacks, failures, aches and pains. But they continued in discipline and struggle that others wouldn’t (or couldn’t) attempt. Their rewards were their recognized victories.
As we move on in the gospel text, Jesus continues,
When the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us.” He will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” There you will weep and gnash your teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from east and west, and from north and south and sit at table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13: 25 – 29).
Jesus speaks against those who presume — in this case many Jews of his day. But such deadly presumption is found elsewhere and among others today, perhaps even in ourselves. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do, we cannot presume that all things will “be just be fine.”
Again we must struggle and fight — against such lazy presumption — to grow in faith, purity, and love. We must all struggle in accordance with the measure of faith given to us. Also, we must understand that while we compete in this struggle we will fall down and fail many times. When this happens we have the sacrament of Confession by which God lifts us up and cleanses us to continue on our way through the narrow door. We are also given the Liturgy’s movement to the Eucharist where, by the Body and Blood of Christ, we are, by faith, nourished spiritually, cleansed and forgiven, and we receive our Lord’s Light, Life, and Victory to continue on through the narrow door. We must know that, by faith, God empowers us by his presence within us: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God who is working in you to will and to work in behalf of his good pleasure” (Phil 2: 12 – 13).
Additionally, we are also struggling and competing together — not against one another — but for one another. We encourage and help each other by our prayers and presence while we struggle to enter through the narrow door to enter into the Kingdom of God.