Gospel and Homily Notes by Archbishop Joseph Harris, C.S. Sp
Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from. And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
My dear fellow citizens as we approach the fifty-first anniversary of our independence there is a sense of unease, of apprehension in our nation. The political situation that we live; the gang warfare; the increasing murder rate; the allegations of corruption, risen some would say to unprecedented levels, the increasing lack of trust in our leaders, be these political, business, labour and yes even religious, have all converged to create a climate that hovers between hopelessness and anxiety. Even the successes of those who sat the SEA, O Level and Cape examinations, and those of our athletes and cricketers do not seem to make a lasting dent in the climate of hopelessness and overall anxiety that we live.
How have we come to this state after all the dreams dreamt by our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers the young men and women of the early days of independence? It seems to me that without any philosophical base, we accepted models of individual and community development which put more emphasis on personal fulfillment than on regard and concern for each other and for the poor and voiceless of our society. The result has been the increase in greed and selfishness and the often vulgar accumulation of wealth which has brought us to this present state in which trust in our leaders seems to be evaporating and hopelessness and anxiety among so many of our people is on the increase.
In this present scenario I am reminded of our vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ to be a people of hope, not only for ourselves but to be a people who bring hope to and cultivate hope among others. Pope Francis has this to say; “Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict – the struggle between life and death, good and evil – believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love. We heard the Song of Mary, the Magnificat: it is the song of hope, it is the song of the People of God walking through history. It is the song many saints, men and women, some famous, and very many others unknown to us but known to God: mums, dads, catechists, missionaries, priests, sisters, young people, even children and grandparents: these have faced the struggle of life while carrying in their heart the hope of the little and the humble. Mary says: “My souls glorifies the Lord” – today, the Church too sings this in every part of the world. This song is particularly strong in places where the Body of Christ is suffering the Passion. For us Christians, wherever the Cross is, there is hope, always. If there is no hope, we are not Christian. That is why I like to say: do not allow yourselves to be robbed of hope. May we not be robbed of hope, because this strength is a grace, a gift from God which carries us forward with our eyes fixed on heaven. And Mary is always there, near those communities, our brothers and sisters, she accompanies them, suffers with them, and sings the Magnificat of hope with them.”
My dear friends let us listen carefully to what the Pope says to us; “Hope is the virtue of those who, experiencing conflict – the struggle between life and death, good and evil – believe in the resurrection of Christ, in the victory of love.” How will this victory come about? The Gospel reading for this Eucharist gives us the answer. Jesus tells us; “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This speaks to us about effort and effort which builds our strength. But what is the narrow gate? In the Gospel of St. John Jesus describes himself as the gate. “I am the door,” he says, “If anyone enters by me he will be saved”
(John 10:9). To enter by the narrow gate then is to imitate the Lord Jesus in his attitudes to life, attitudes revealed to us by the way in which he faced the temptations in the desert, rejecting everything which would lead him away from the will of the Father. All of us then are called to contemplate the Lord Jesus, to fix our gaze on Him and learn from Him and above all strive to be like Him in all of our dealings with others; in all of our activities. To contemplate the Lord Jesus, to fix our gaze on Him, will help us to see that Jesus lived the Beatitudes; that the beatitudes were his programme of life. Living the Beatitudes is not easy. It is difficult at times to be poor in spirit, it is difficult at times to be merciful; it is difficult at all times to suffer persecution for the sake of Justice but we are not alone in the struggle. St Paul reminds us of this when he says to us; “If God is for us, who can be against us? Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. …. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8; 31 -38) As conquerors we will imitate the Lord Jesus in his living of the beatitudes. These will be for all of us our programme of life. This is for us belief in the resurrection of Christ and belief in the victory of love over hatred and vengeance. When this happens, we will be (a) the poor in spirit, (b) the meek, (c) the afflicted, (d) the hungry and thirsty for justice, (e) the merciful, (f) the pure of heart, (g) the peace makers and (h) those persecuted for justice (Mt 5, 3-10). We will be other “Christs” in this land of ours and then we will begin to see the beginnings of the new heaven and the new earth proclaimed in the book of the Apocalypse in which there is only room for LOVE and no room for hatred, in which there is no room for the corrupt and those who use ethnicity as a weapon, in which there is no room for the malicious and those who spread lies and rumours to destroy others, in which there is no room for the violent and those who have no respect for life; in which there is no room for the idolatrous who make pleasure and money their gods. To proclaim the new heaven and the new earth by the witness of our lives my dear friends is our vocation as people of hope, the hope which we must give to this beautiful land of ours, now scared by the violence and corruption which we read about so often. Then my dear friends that expression which we love to use, “God is a trini” will be exposed for the fallacy that it is, for God is the God of those who strive to enter by the narrow gate, those who are poor in spirit; those who hunger and thirst for Justice; those who are merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted for Justice whether they be trinis or Jamaicans or Grenadians or bajans etc. who suffer the ravages of hurricanes and earthquakes and other natural disasters.
My dear friends, let us here in Trinidad and Tobago and all who claim to be followers of Christ Jesus face our fifty second year as an independent nation as people of hope, with our eyes fixed on heaven determined to do all that we can; striving to enter by the narrow gate, to ensure that the values of the Kingdom of God which reach their total fulfillment in heaven be planted and watered and grow in our land. Let us commit ourselves to building a nation in which the harmony and peace, the unity in diversity which the word “Trinidad” Trinity in English, denotes becomes a reality. Let us build a nation in which every citizen experiences herself/himself as a partaker of the riches with which God has blessed us. Let us be truly a nation in which every creed and race has an equal place. Let us strive to be the blessing for which we pray when we sing “May God bless our nation.
May, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the divine shepherdess, La Divina Pastora, known to others as Siparee Mai who sang the Magnificat, the Hymn of Hope; shepherd this nation and all its people as we continue our journey towards true independence.
All powerful and ever-loving God, as we approach this fifty-first year of our independence, we pray for the grace of being a people of Hope, a people who truly believe in the victory of love over hatred because we live it in our own lives. Help us your followers to so live that we will encourage others as we strive to construct the civilization of love here in our land. Remove from our hearts every obstacle to your grace so that we may truly live the Unity in Diversity which Trinidad denotes. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, the divine Shepherdess and Jesus, her son and Your Son. Amen