‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you,
will try to enter and will not be able to’.
The Gospel reading at Mass this Sunday (25th August, 2019) was that terrifying one about the difficulty for us of reaching the Kingdom of Heaven.
Luke 13:22-30 reads:
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’
He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last’.
Catholics have always considered true devotion to the Virgin Mary to be a most efficacious means that God in his mercy has bequeathed to us to assist us in attaining salvation.
And Pope Francis recalls this, with reference to Mary’s title as “Gate of Heaven”:
Vatican City, Aug 25, 2019 / 06:10 am (CNA).- The way to heaven is difficult and the gate to enter small, but Jesus’ mother, Mary, who herself entered through the narrow gate, will help those who ask, Pope Francis said Sunday.
Mary can be invoked under the title “Gate of Heaven,” he explained in his Angelus address Aug. 25.
“She welcomed [Jesus] with all her heart and followed him every day of her life, even when she did not understand, even when a sword pierced her soul.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary is “a gate that exactly follows the form of Jesus: the gate of the heart of Jesus, demanding, but open to all,” he said. “May the Virgin Mary help us in this.”
Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel passage from Luke, when someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
This was a highly debated issue at the time, Francis said, and with his answer, Jesus turns the question “upside down.” Instead of focusing on the number of people who get to heaven, he speaks of the path to heaven, and how many will choose to follow it.
Using the present tense, Jesus invites people to take personal responsibility, saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”
“With these words, Jesus makes it clear that it is not a question of numbers, there is no ‘closed number’ in Paradise! But it is a question of going through the right passage, which is there, for everyone, but it is narrow,” Francis said.
He explained that Jesus does not deceive people; he does not say that the way to heaven is a big, beautiful highway with a large door at the end, to not worry.
“No, Jesus tells us things as they are: the passage is narrow,” he said.
“In what sense? In the sense that to be saved one must love God and one’s neighbor, and this is not comfortable!
It is a ‘narrow door’ because it is demanding, it requires commitment, indeed, ‘effort,’ that is a determined and persevering will to live according to the Gospel.
“For us Christians, this means that we are called to establish a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves with his Word,” he explained.
“This keeps us in faith, nourishes our hope, revives charity,” he continued. “And so, with the grace of God, we can and must spend our lives for the good of our brothers, fight against every form of evil and injustice.” ….
Applying some biblical perspective
Dear Mr. Mackey:
Hello. I appreciate a lot of your papers – so thank you – but in this case . . . no, Mary does not “help us enter heaven.” It’s God alone who does that, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the glorious Trinity. Mary, despite being a spiritual hero of mine, is not the “Gate of Heaven.” Jesus himself – and Jesus alone – is “the gate” (John 10:7, 9).
…. Of course, salvation comes solely from the most holy Trinity.
But God has chosen for Mary, the New Eve, to be our mediator with the Divine, so that we do not approach God directly.
Just as we do not approach royalty on earth without go-betweens.
To go to the Triune God via Mary is the more humble way, and God loves those who are humble.
God could have acted differently, of course, but this is the way that He chose, for the Woman to be our spiritual mother (John 19:26).
My best wishes,
The following article by Stephen Beale attempts to add some biblical context to Mary’s title of “Gate of Heaven” (Janua Cœli):
The Significance of Mary as the Gate of Heaven
The Church teaches that Mary is the way to Jesus, but is this grounded in Scripture?
As Catholics we can point to the gospel stories of the Annunciation, the wedding at Cana, and the cross and demonstrate through a close, faithful readings of these texts that Mary is indeed the ‘way’ to the Way.
But we can also look at her traditional title as the ‘Gate of Heaven’ which is biblically based. This title serves as further clear confirmation of Mary’s significance.
Quite literally, Mary is the ‘gate’ through which Christ enters the world. This title is one that is actually applied to her in Scripture. Ezekiel 44:1-3 records that,
Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary facing east, but it was closed.
The LORD said to me: This gate must remain closed; it must not be opened, and no one should come through it. Because the LORD, the God of Israel, came through it, it must remain closed. Only the prince may sit in it to eat a meal in the presence of the LORD; he must enter through the vestibule of the gate and leave the same way.
What was the holy gate through the Lord entered and which must remain closed? Who else could it be but Mary Immaculate who remained ever virgin after giving birth to Jesus?
The portal to heaven
A gate is quite simply a way of getting in or out of somewhere. Usually they are two way.
So if someone came out of a gate it’s a safe bet that we can go where they came from using the same way.
In our collective imagination, gates can be portals to other worlds. Ancient mythology is steeped in stories of other worlds through which one must enter through a gate. Often the gate is as mysterious as the other realm itself—and finding the gate is akin to discovering the world beyond itself. In more modern times, the wardrobe of C.S. Lewis was a gate to Narnia. In the Canadian-American television series Stargate the so-called ‘stargates’ were portals or shortcuts through space-time to other worlds.
Certainly these characteristics of gates apply to Mary as Catholics understand and venerate her. St. Louis de Montfort describes her as the shortest way to get to Christ: “the sure means and the straight and immaculate way” and again as “the most easy, the most short, and the most perfect means by which to go to Jesus Christ.” Likewise, Pope St. Pius X: “There is no surer or easier way than Mary in uniting all men with Christ.”
The biblical background of city gates teaches us even more about what it means that Mary is the Gate.
In the ancient world in general, walled cities, by their very nature, meant that there were limited ways of getting in and out—the gates. People familiar with sprawling cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, or Houston may not be able to relate, but anyone who has been to Manhattan perhaps can—there are only so many bridges, or tunnels, leading onto and off the island. You are dependent on them for access.
But gates were more than just important passageways.
Gates: prophecy, justice, and mercy
The gates also served as places where important business was done. They were seats of justice, marketplaces, public squares from which prophets spoke, and vantage points from which the king appeared to the public, according to the International Bible Encyclopedia and Haaretz.
The legal-commercial function of gates is evident in Genesis 23:17-18, where the gates of the city of Hebron are the context in which Abraham makes a legal purchase of some land:
Thus Ephron’s field in Machpelah, facing Mamre, together with its cave and all the trees anywhere within its limits, was conveyed to Abraham by purchase in the presence of the Hittites, all who entered the gate of Ephron’s city.
The city gate as a place where the ideals of justice and mercy are to be carried out comes to the fore in Amos 5:12 and 15:
Yes, I know how many are your crimes,
how grievous your sins:
Oppressing the just, accepting bribes,
turning away the needy at the gate.
Hate evil and love good,
and let justice prevail at the gate;
Then it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will have pity on the remnant of Joseph.
The implications are immense for our understanding of Mary. They reinforce the many titles and associated roles she has in our lives, as a conduit of God’s mercy and lovingkindness, a place of refuge for sinners, and a source of prophetic words.
A place for sorrow and triumph
In 2 Samuel, the gates play an intriguing role in the drama of King David. First, in 2 Samuel 19:1, he takes to an area of the gates seeking consolation amid his sorrow over the death of his son Absalom:
The king was shaken, and went up to the room over the city gate and wept. He said as he wept, “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!”
The gate also becomes a site for David to assert himself. A few verses later, Joab tells him to make a public appearance or his army will desert him. Eventually, in Verse 9, David relents,
So the king got up and sat at the gate. When all the people were told, “The king is sitting at the gate,” they came into his presence.
As Haaretz explains, this was the key moment in which David maintained control over the throne.
The city gates thus encompass a wide spectrum of human experience, from sorrows to triumph.
Mary too embraces us in all our circumstances. To her do we cry, ‘poor banished children of Eve,’ and through her we find mercy and a vision of the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus, as the old hymn says.
The beautiful gate
Finally, the gates were beautiful. In order to fortify them some were solid stone, which, according to the International Bible Encyclopedia, lent itself to rich biblical imagery about jeweled doors:
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians,
your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones
The foundations of the city wall were decorated with every precious stone; the first course of stones was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made from a single pearl; and the street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass
These texts point to one more role Mary has: as a refuge, a safe place. Once inside the ‘city of God’ she ensures we stay there. And what wonderful images Scripture has given us of her maternal protection!
Whatever it is that we are looking for, we should fly to the Gate of Heaven, because there we can be confident we will find Christ.
Mary, Gate of Heaven, pray for us!