The tone of our gospel today is rather terse and ominous. But, as always, Jesus speaks not as a pessimist but as a realist. He may tell us the sad truth; but he offers it as an invitation to choose something better for ourselves - and invitation to change our direction. The truth may not be pleasant or easy, but if accepted and followed will lead us to freedom.
We hear today that the entrance gate to the kingdom is narrow and there are few of us who find it and fewer still who choose to travel the rough road to life. Jesus declares, in no uncertain terms, that entry to the kingdom can never be automatic, but is the result of a struggle. "Keep on striving to enter," he says. The word for striving is the word from which the English word agony is derived. The struggle to "enter" is so intense that it can be described as an agony of soul and spirit.
As professed Christians, then, we run a certain danger. We can deceive ourselves. The name Christian alone can create a false sense of security - as though granting us instant access to the kingdom. But the reality is that many who seek to gain entrance will be shut out - - much to their surprise. They will be so surprised, Jesus tells us, that they will begin to defend themselves: "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." These words couldn't be more challenging for us as Catholics, for many of us will undoubtedly seek to defend ourselves in the same manner: "We ate and drank in your presence, we have received the Eucharist. Every Sunday, sometimes more often, we listened to your word as it has been proclaimed to us."
Yet, as with those in the gospel, we may be unaware that we often eat and drink to our own condemnation. We may show by the way we live our lives that we have not embraced Christ's teaching, that we prefer what this world has to offer over the kingdom, that our faith is a sham. Perhaps our actions have made us unrecognizable as children of God. Maybe the only response God will be able to give us is: "Depart from me all you who are workers of iniquity," because that is what we have been and made ourselves.
What Jesus wants us to understand in all of this is the dramatic quality of our lives and our choices. God desires our salvation. The path has already been marked out: Christ is the Way, the sure road, into the actual living presence of the Creator. But we alone decide the way our soul shall go.