21st Sunday Year C - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2016

“The narrow door”. It is a clear image; but will the message depend on how we individually hear it? The context seems to suggest that the door leads somewhere, or to something; and that that somewhere or something might be salvation. But what is salvation? Here is where the clichés begin to line up - and I am not sure that they are all that helpful.

Over the last few days I have been haunted by the image of the aboriginal teenager recently beaten up and dehumanised in the juvenile detention centre in Darwin. On Thursday we were talking at lunchtime about one of the teachers at the school here in Hamilton who has the wonderful skill of calmly exercising discipline without the least trace of threat or violence. And then on Thursday night I turned on the TV news, only to be shown footage of further brutal ill-treatment of a juvenile aboriginal, this time in a Townsville detention centre. Neither of the young men was probably a little saint. For all I know, they may have been troublesome, immature adolescents, in detention perhaps because of violent behavior on their part. What troubled me more deeply was the clear immaturity, inhumanity and callous violence of the adult guards at both places. 

We can keep on seeking to lay blame. But I wonder if society as a whole is not deeply involved. In the case of the teenage aboriginal youths, I wonder if they were ever adequately fathered. I also wonder whether the same could be said about the adult youth officers. Had anyone ever really formed in the lot of them attitudes of respect, responsibility and non-violence? And if not, who had decided that they were suitable to be employed in the delicate role that was theirs? Does society see it as all too hard, and simply try to ensure that woefully inappropriate responses are kept hidden?

These musing have been stirred by Jesus’ insistence on the need to “enter by the narrow door”. Here the narrow door is the difficult and inevitably painful process of growing up and maturing. People mature by learning to love; and they learn to love by learning to let go. Jesus even called it “dying to self”. I feel wary of any emphasis on “saving my soul” at all costs. While still immature, we can hear it only as a focus on raw self-interest – which is the exact opposite of genuine maturity. Our lives are not all about ourselves. Or, put it this way, love is learning to put others’ interests before our own. After we have matured somewhat, we may even recognize that love is really all-inclusive, that in loving “our neighbor as ourselves”, the one naturally flows into the other. We see that natural connection as we learn wisdom.

Fathers need to teach their sons. While clearly loving them and allowing them space to make mistakes and to fail, they need to help them recognize that they are not the centre of the world. There is a sense in which they are not all that important, and that the world does not owe them anything. They have to be taught that they cannot have everything their way, that life can be hard; and that that is OK. It is in adversity, whatever shape it comes in, that growth occurs. Young men have to learn that it is by accepting difference, by respecting the inherent dignity of others and relating accordingly, by not concentrating simply on their own fulfillment, that they in fact become truly alive. Salvation, ultimately, is acted out rather than passively received - learning to love “in sync” with God who loves everyone and who is purely and only love. Anything else is excess baggage that hinders passage through “the narrow door”. [Somehow, girls seem to learn these things more naturally – though, even here, it is not inevitable.] 

In the meantime, let us all step into the strong current of God’s love as it sweeps us outward to embrace all creatures – and find ourselves saved in the process.