Through the narrow door
Peter Gallagher SJ help us to focus not just on the dark entrance, but also on the light and wide space we will be able to enjoy once gone through the narrow door of Jesus’s way of life.
Some Norman churches were built with a dark porch so that when people entered the inner door into the main church it was like going from darkness into spaciousness and light. The Lord says Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you many will try to enter and will not succeed (Luke 13.24). The narrow door is the way of life taught by Jesus Christ. This way of living brings us to the spaciousness and light of God’s kingdom. However, as we embark on the Lord’s way or re-embark on it, it can seem constricting and dark. We are invited to make ourselves small so as to adapt ourselves to Jesus’ teaching. This shrinking or crouching can inhibit us. Obscurity surrounds us. Once we are through the narrow door and can see properly again, we will be able to expand once more and to stretch our limbs. After a phase of being constricted we will be expansive and fulfilled in God’s presence. We move joyfully from the darkness into the light. However, the transitional phase tests and challenges us.
God is not narrow. He does not seek to exclude anyone from the good things to which his door gives access. I am coming to gather the nations of every language (Isaiah36.18). The Lord’s teaching about how to live is addressed to all. However, many will try to enter and will not succeed (Luke 13.24). The narrow door is the entrance to our own heart. The task of making ourselves small enough to open our heart to God’s love and mercy defeats some of us. We can find ourselves closed to God. The door can appear to have no outside handle which we can manoeuvre. We are somehow unable to welcome the One who seeks us and for whom we have been searching. The narrow door is the way into God. There are many avenues to him but the one which might open itself to us seems narrow precisely because its specificity. It is the door for us. The way of life shared by Our Lord Jesus Christ is our entrance to the kingdom of God. It is the right one, intended, shaped and designed to fit. There is nevertheless a submission to God’s will in this shaping by the narrow door which not everyone can manage.
When the spaciousness and light arrive
There is fulfilment and light beyond the difficult entrance. Yet it seems that we do not usually enter the Lord’s realm once and for all. We go in by the narrow door that is Jesus Christ and his teaching many times. It can appear that the door gets narrower. This narrowing of the passage by which we return to God represents progress as well as being an experience of the challenge of repentance and amendment of life. As we know the Lord better the seriousness and challenge of his teaching grows more and more apparent to us. God’s grace abounds and we are learning something about accepting it. We are also coming to know how great our need of this help is.
The more we live in Christ’s way, the more we accustom ourselves to going into the company of God, the narrower the entrance can seem. The range of our choices quite properly limits itself to what suits this way of life, this manner of approaching the Kingdom of God. Gradually, we fit perfectly into the life that has been chosen by us and for us. Then arrives the spaciousness and light of the kingdom and its anticipations. However, there is no doubt a way in which the narrow gate that is Christ only seems narrow to our rather apprehensive eyes. We wonder if we can manage to live as God commands. We doubt our capacity to welcome and make use of his grace. We are not sure that we can make our way along a path so constrained.
The divine training
Once embarked upon, the experience of getting close to God is not all narrowing and restricting. Jesus teaches a way of life which is expansive, and fulfilling and rich in possibilities, as well as obliging us to allow ourselves to be formed according to the will of God. To accept the divine training however may be less a narrowing experience than we fear. It is most painful at the time and far from pleasant: but later in those won whom it has been used it bears fruit in peace and goodness (Hebrews 12.12). The result of finding the right way in to God’s kingdom is, as in the case of those old churches with their dark porches, a wonderful enlightenment and discovery. In the house God there is plenty of space. God is great. He fills up human life with goodness, beauty and truth. Emerging from the dark, narrow door, we almost have to shade our eyes against the brightness of what we have entered.
It is painful to enter the kingdom by the narrow door. It is a tough education. Suffering is part of our training (Hebrews 12.11) and the injured limb will grow strong again (Hebrews 12.13). We are not pleased at the thought of suffering and pain, even of a kind that will leave us stronger and more capable. But let us not be too depressed at what might happen. The prospect of the narrow door can dismay. Let us not be cast down. Rather, we can allow the peace and joy of being in God’s company to inspire us and encourage us. We trust in his grace. The door is open for us and we have enough strength already to stride through. We are welcome in the peaceable kingdom. The love of God ensures that the gate is not too narrow. We will get through this.
Peter Gallagher SJ