My father used to say that there are three ways of doing something, “your way, my way, and the right way.” I may not have appreciated this when I was young, but in adulthood I have come to see the wisdom in his words. However, now I would clarify “the right way” as that which is rooted in the Way taught by Jesus. The gospel implies that this right way involves compromise, a middle way, a way of peaceful resolution. But it also suggests that this path is more difficult to choose because it means we have to let go of what we cling to; that is, we have to choose to surrender to something beyond ourselves and our way of thinking. Jesus provided an unambiguous distinction between the path we could choose and the one we should choose: “… for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”(Matthew 7:13-14) Jesus was clearly saying that the way of the Gospel is not easy and that we have to really work at living it. He wanted us to realize that there are many dangers and pitfalls which will arise and that we will be tempted away from this path many times. But He also provided hope that if we are grounded in the gospel message and in a life of prayer, we will indeed be prepared to find the narrow road, to choose it, and to stick to it. And when we stray - (and we will) - the grace of God will aid us in finding our way back.
We should not be dismayed when Jesus says that few find the narrow road. If we put the world into perspective and view it through the lens of salvation history, we will see that fully committed believers, the faithful remnant of the Old Testament and the saints of the New Testament and beyond, have always been in the minority. The world, in spiritual terms, has always been a corruptible (and therefore corrupt) place, wanting to tempt us into everything from hedonism to relativism, from spiritual malaise to atheism, and from insensitivity toward the lives of others to complete self-centeredness. This is not to say there is no good in the world; indeed beauty and goodness are at the core of everything God has made, including every human person. But the kingdom of God is pure and indestructible, based on truth, mercy, love, and the selfless action of bringing these to others.
The biggest threat today is that of riding the wave of popular culture, buying into the values of society rather than those which are rooted in the gospel of Jesus. When we embrace materialism, the culture of self, hedonism, neglect of the poor and marginalized, lack of civility, and moral relativism, we are treading the wider road and we are in danger. When we turn a blind eye to something which we know to be wrong or unjust, we are treading the wider road. And even more insidious, and which can incapacitate us, are the temptations of worry, fear, discouragement, spiritual laziness (neglecting our relationship with God), and falling prey to deceit.
To put on the armor of God, we need to continually grow in our life of prayer no matter how good we think we are in this area. (Remember, prayer is about relationship: falling more deeply in love with God.) A suggestion is to commit to reading the Scriptures and to praying with them, particularly the Gospels.* Perhaps while doing so we can focus on growing in one virtue or one work of mercy at a time. We should also pray for discernment, that is, the guidance of the Holy Spirit to assist with every decision we make. These are perilous times. But let’s be clear: it has always been so. Nevertheless, we can hold on to hope while arming ourselves with spiritual help; although the kingdom of this world is powerfully alluring and the enemy desperately wants to weaken our resolve to grow in holiness, we can choose the way of Jesus, trusting in His goodness, His power, His justice, His mercy, and His love. Remember, Jesus told us to go out and make disciples of nations. He would not have commanded this if it was not possible. Let us put on the armor of God, with mercy and love as our guide, bringing the Good News to all those with whom we interact. This is the right way, the gospel way, the Way of Jesus.
May we never lose hope in choosing the narrow road, the way taught by Jesus! May we bravely take up the ‘right way’ of the Gospel which is expressed in justice, mercy, love, and peace! May we always ask the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us on the journey! And may we continue to grow in our relationship with the Lord, accepting His love and offering a response of love in return! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Pope Francis issued a papal decree that the third Sunday in Ordinary Time, this year on January 26, is to be the day of celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God. Therefore reading, praying with, and sharing the Word of God in all we say and do should be our priority. For more, go to https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2020-01/sunday-word-of-god-fisichella-press-conference.html
Images: All of the photos are my own.
1. Photo: Walking path to the glacial lake near Mt. Cook, Mt. Cook National Park, New Zealand.
2. Photo: Sign on the trail in park near Lake George, NY.
3.Icon: St. Paul the Apostle by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in a copy it can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-paul-the-apostle-196-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Photo: This was painted on a wall in one of the squares in Munich, Germany. It is presumably St. George slaying the dragon, a representation of God prevailing over evil.
5. Photo: Walking path near Tomintoul, in the Highlands of Scotland.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart