I've been to WYD three times: once in high school (Toronto), five years ago in Madrid, and the last month to Poland. The trip to world youth day always culminates in an excursion or hike that leads us into a bit of "Mother Nature." This past event in Kraków was a nine-mile hike to an huge open park with a couple retention ponds and lots of flat green space. Bushes and shrubs and tall grass were all cut down for the crowd of about 2-million. The hike is never easy. In Toronto and Madrid I recall intense heat. Kraków had temperatures in the 80's, which was comparatively not too bad. But it was certainly not easy.
Pilgrimage is a symbol for the Christian life. It's not easy -- but it's worth it. In some ways that can be said of a lot of things in life: it's not easy -- but it's worth it. Learning a new language is not easy -- but it's worth it. Making new friends is not easy -- but it's worth it. Forgiving someone who hurt you is not easy -- but it's worth it. Making time for prayer every day is not easy -- but it's worth it. Taking care of your physical health is not easy -- but it's worth it. Persevering in marriage and parenthood is not easy -- but it's worth it.
Like all these things, following Jesus is not easy -- but it's worth it.
That is the point of today's Gospel. Jesus says "strive to enter through the narrow gate!" It's not easy, he is saying. Work hard at it. Don't be a pushover. If you fall, get back up. If you get distracted, refocus. Whatever you do, don't follow the easy road.
When it comes down to it, life is about one thing: heaven. In fact, experiencing heaven means to be a saint - there are only saints in heaven. So you could say that life is really all about being a saint, and if you are a saint on this earth, then the journey to heaven is already heaven. A poet of the last century said, "There is really only one tragedy in life: to not be a saint." That is what life is all about. That is our narrow gate. How many of us wake up every day and say, "Lord, help me to live like a saint today!" Or at least we should pray, "Lord, help me to want to live like a saint today!"
The problem is, our world indeed leads many away from the narrow gate. We go in the wrong direction so easily due to the various distractions that are present: electronics, media, books, movies, sports,
One thing that helps us is not doing it alone.
The pilgrimage hike was easier because we weren't alone - we helped each other along the way, picking each other up when it was tough, sharing the burdens of those who were struggling. The challenges of the trip gave us opportunities to show love for each other in concrete ways - and they increased our love.
That is the beauty of family, including the parish family. We help each other along the way.
I thank God for my family, and for the family here at Saint Johns. It has been a joy and I'm happy to keep striving for the narrow gate with you. Let us keep helping each other every day to pray in our hearts: "Lord, make me a saint today."