Why Is the Gate So Narrow?

We know through the eyes of faith that God is to be seen through created things. We are called to see the innate dignity and uniqueness of each human person we meet, and the beauty of a landscape that points to the creative and wondrous beauty of the heavenly kingdom that awaits us all at the end of our lives. Yet, for many of us, created things obscure and get in the way of seeing our loving God. Why are we placed in a world that has endless enticements literally at our fingertips? It is so easy to become attached to material things, especially these days as there is a never-ending variety of goods that attract our eye, through the internet, social media or on television.

The Church teaches us that we must order our love first to God and then to created things, and to understand the latter as being used as a means to bring God glory. So, the latest technological gadget is not bad in itself, especially if we use it to spread the truths of the gospel. This is fine to accept if we have the gift of faith, but how about the countless people who have no faith, or have strayed from the Christian path?

We have to ask ourselves, why has God obscured his presence in the world? On any given day it is possible to go the whole day without him being mentioned. The secular world is saturated with every image and conversation that explicitly invites us to put created things at the forefront of our minds and hearts. The present-day situations and circumstances we find ourselves in are hardly conducive to leading a Christian life. Our Lord himself has said, “Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).

But why is the gate so narrow? If we add to this the struggle to lead a virtuous life in our fallen nature as described by St Paul below, we have to ask ourselves: what is God playing at? “And really, I know of nothing good living in me — in my natural self, that is — for though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want — that is what I do. But every time I do what I do not want to, then it is not myself acting, but the sin that lives in me” (Rom 7:18–20).

In the twentieth century Jesus has revealed the desires and sorrows of his Sacred Heart to a number of victim souls. A recurring theme in all these private revelations which have been approved by the Church is the deep sorrow he feels at there being so few souls who truly know and love him, especially among those who have consecrated their life to him. The words from Jesus to Servant of God Sister Josefa Menendez movingly express this sorrow.

“I come to rest in you, for I am so little loved,” He said. “I am in search of love and meet only with thankless neglect. Rare are the souls that truly love Me.”1

Here is another passage from The Way of Divine Love.

“I have so many who forsake Me and are lost! And what wounds Me most is that they are souls whom I have chosen specially and overwhelmed with gifts. In return, they show Me only coldness and ingratitude. How few souls correspond with My love!”2

What do we make of Jesus’ expression of sorrow? He exclaims how so few souls love him and how this breaks his heart. If this is the case, why does God allow us to inevitably become unfulfilled with created things in a world saturated with an abundance of created goods that obscure and drown out his presence? If he is unknown and unloved, then surely this is his own fault! If the Christian path were more obvious and easier to live, then surely it would follow that more souls would love him intimately as he ardently desires.

Or would this be the case? There is something very peculiar about the Christian path and invitation to become a disciple of Christ. The difficulty and struggle to follow Christ is set against his utter simplicity and infinite love for each one of us. He is unchanging and his love for us will always know no bounds. In the eyes of God, it is not the weight, size, or quantity of our actions that matter; it is the degree of love with which we perform them. It is in the mustard seed where we find the clue to God’s ways — his overflowing and abundant love will reward excessively the smallest desires or charitable acts.

“Although you can do no more than desire to see Me loved, this is already much. It relieves My Heart. For this longing is love.”3

The challenge we are confronted with is trusting in the words of Jesus and believing that trying to do small things with great love is “already much” in his eyes. As he says in the passage below, this “acquires such merit.”

“I do not look at the act itself, I look at the intention. The smallest act, if done out of love, acquires such merit that it gives me immense consolation . . . I want only love, I ask for nothing else”.4

This in essence is the narrow gate — it is a hard road because, to live this life, we have to let the Lord lead us and to find holiness in all the inconsequential details of everyday life. The temptation to do what we want to do, to think we must undertake big projects for the Lord, is immense. So, what does all this mean for each one of us who travel each day in a world that has effectively buried God underneath the rubble and noise of a gadget-filled universe? Well, it is to focus on the small and achievable things — the mustard seeds — and leave the rest to God. In fact, it is also these small things which are the key to the evangelization of the culture.

Evangelization is not a program of action, but a mode of being personally present to and for others — of being-for, of living-for. In other words, the evangelization of culture takes place first in the encounter of one person with another before it affects governments or organizations. This seems strange to us only because we are used to thinking in geopolitical terms, in statistics and mass movements. The pope asks us to believe instead that what is most important in the world and in history lies in the smallest and most intimate details: the glance, the invitation, the smile, the encounter with another person, the interior disposition. These are the most important signs and pathways of love in the world.5

This is not to diminish, of course, the many programs that have been introduced into local parishes — divine renovation, intentional discipleship, life in the spirit, to name only a few. The end result of these programs are followers of Christ who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, offer Jesus what is truly precious for his kingdom, an act of love. You need programs to draw people closer to Jesus so, through a deeper conversion into the life of faith, they become missionary disciples. The point is not to focus on the means as the sole objective of the new evangelization. The real fruit is in “the smallest and most intimate details: the glance, the invitation, the smile, the encounter with another person, the interior disposition,” as described in the quote above.

The temptation in our modern world is to become one of the “organizers,” who rely on their own energy and “efficiency” to solve life’s problems, as Jesus himself describes.

Listen, you must not attach great importance to natural activity. “Without Me you can do nothing.” It is the spirit of the world that desires natures who are “organizers,” “efficient,” as they say when praising them. It is easy to make a stir, to work in a visible, outward manner; it is very difficult to renounce oneself and to let Me work. And yet that is the only fruitful activity, which lasts throughout eternity. Rest in Me. Depend on Me . . .6

In this passage we get a clue as to why we end up succumbing to being “efficient” and an “organizer.” Our Lord advises us that it is easy to make a stir and work in a visible, outward manner, as it is natural to want to be noticed by others. It is very difficult to renounce ourselves and allow him to work within us. Yet as he says, this is the only activity which is fruitful for all eternity.

The opening to the narrow gate is given in the last words of the quote above: “Depend on Me . . .” The narrow way is to depend on our Lord, while the wide road that leads to destruction is to depend on ourselves. This is the challenge laid open to each one of us. Do we depend on our Lord to act in and through us, in the small details of everyday life, or do we do our projects on our own, making an outward stir and no doubt undertaking them efficiently? If we choose the former, we can be sure that whatever we do will be fruitful and last throughout eternity.

  1. Sister Josefa Menendez, The Way of Divine Love, or the Message of the Sacred Heart to the World and a Short Biography of His Messenger (Gastonia, NC: Tan Books and Publishers INC, 1981), 54.
  2. Menendez, Way of Divine Love, 124.
  3. Menendez, Way of Divine Love, 114.
  4. Menendez, Way of Divine Love, 193.
  5. Stratford Caldecott, Not as the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2014), 147.
  6. Words of Love: Revelations of Our Lord to Three Victim Souls in the 20th Century, compiled by Father Bartholomew Gottemoller, O.C.S.O. (Gastonia, NC: Tan Books and Publishers, 1985), 68.
Brent Withers About Brent Withers

Brent Withers is originally from New Zealand. He is now living in Farnborough, England, with his wife and three young children. He returned to the Catholic Church about ten years ago after being away for about twenty or so years. He has previously published essays with the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Presently, he is employed as a commissioning manager for mental health services in an inner London City borough.