Walking the balance beam: Homily for August 21, 2016, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Walking the balance beam: Homily for August 21, 2016, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time August 20, 2016

If you’ve been watching the Olympics down in Rio this year, and the endless television coverage on NBC, you may have caught some of the gymnastics competition.

A highlight is the balance beam.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I am not a champion gymnast. So I had to look up some of the background on the balance beam.

The rules are pretty strict.

A beam routine must consist of two dance elements, one a leap, jump or hop with legs in 180 degree split…a full turn on one foot…one series of two acrobatic skills…acrobatic elements in different directions…and a dismount. The whole thing has to be done in less than 90 seconds. All this happens while standing on a beam that is only 3.9 inches wide. Less than four inches.

That women even attempt to do this is remarkable.

That they do it with such style and precision is nothing less than amazing.

And I think it gives us an interesting context to consider today’s Gospel. Jesus advises his followers to be saved by entering through “the narrow gate.”

Considered another way: it’s not unlike the Olympics. Our life as Catholic Christians is a little like a performance on the balance beam. It calls for dedication. And practice. And focus.

And it only succeeds with generous amounts of grace.

Grace which comes to us from the sacraments. Grace which enobles us and enables us. Grace which makes the difficult do-able, the impossible possible.

Grace which helps us, like Olympic gymnasts, take flight.

We are reminded at the beginning of this Gospel just what Jesus is thinking about, what’s on his mind. It’s something that has been recurring again and again this summer, as we walk with Christ in the Gospel of St. Luke through the Sundays of Ordinary Time: he is headed to Jerusalem, to suffer and die. His lessons these weeks have been especially powerful and surprising, with an urgency that seems to say: “Listen! This is the last chance I will have to tell you this.” He has told us to be good Samaritans…to gird our loins and light our lamps…to be ready for a world set on fire.

And this Sunday, he is telling us to walk the narrow path, to choose the more difficult way, as a means for our salvation.

That way, of course, is Christ himself—”the way, the truth and the life.” He is our narrow gate. He is our balance beam.

The question we need to ask: how do we stay on balance?

It goes back to what I mentioned earlier: grace.

The grace of Baptism made each of us a child of God. That is just the beginning.

The grace of Confession, of Reconciliation, reaffirms and renews us on those times when we fall off the beam—when we slip and stumble and sin—and gives us the courage to get back on and begin again.

The grace of the Eucharist nourishes and sustains us to live out our call as Christians—as followers of what the first Christians called “The Way,” that narrow path, that slender beam, of sacrifice and prayer, of mercy and love.

Grace, the grace given to us by God through his Son, makes it possible for us to make leaps of faith—and, as they say in gymnastics, “stick the landing.”

Every gymnast will tell you that you that the balance beam demands time, practice, sacrifice. The narrow gate, the narrow beam, asks more. The narrow way of the Catholic Christian calls us to stand straighter and try harder. With this Gospel before us, this Sunday is a good time to take stock.

Do we make prayer a priority?

Do we listen for the voice of God?

Do we trust in God’s will for our lives?

Do we care for those who are forgotten, neglected, abused, marginalized?

Do we defend the defenseless—the unborn, the sick, the bullied, the elderly?

Do we strive, day by day, to be holy people?

In a few days, Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be declared a saint. When people would ask her for some words of wisdom, she would take their hand and remind them that the Gospel was with them, right there in their hand. And she’d touch each finger and say, “You did this to me.” Remember that, she’d say, quoting scripture: “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.”

Do we remember the Gospel in our hand? Do we live that?

This is how we enter through the narrow gate, the gate that is Jesus Christ.

And this—enlivened and enriched by the grace of the sacraments—is how we stay on that 3.9 inch-wide balance beam of the Christian life.

As we approach the Eucharist this morning, and extend our hands and our hearts to welcome Christ, let us pray for the grace to live as Christ taught us—to take leaps of faith with courage and with poise, so that we can do what every gymnast aims to do…and really “stick the landing.”

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