On a Sunday morning ten years ago while visiting the fascinating city of Istanbul, I left my hotel to attend Mass in one of the few catholic churches of the city. I went early since I did not have the exact address, but the concierge at the hotel had somewhat explained to me where the church was located. I walked back and forth, back and forth, down two blocks of a busy street and I could not find the church. How could I miss it? This was after all the cathedral of Istanbul!
I finally noticed people entering through a narrow gate into what appeared to be an apartment building. I peeked in and realized that the opening led down a hallway into a courtyard. I entered through the gate uneasily, took about twenty steps, and became pleasantly surprised. As the arched hallway ended, I saw the facade of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. The church had been built to comply with the Ottoman Empire’s building code where facades of churches could not be seen from the street. The church had been built on a courtyard with a building blocking it from the street.
The normal, somewhat narrow and non-spectacular gate led to my destination. I expected a grand facade, yet I found a simple, small path. I thought it would be easy to find the cathedral, but it was a challenging.
Jesus tells us, “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” The narrow gate to reach salvation can be easily missed. Many walk past it without recognizing it. Others give up trying to find it, losing hope and despairing.
Saint Paul describes how many lose heart from the difficulties and trials of life. He encourages us to see these trials as a preparation in the same way a father prepares his child for the future through discipline. Rather than doubting and losing heart when things get difficult, we are called to strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees; to make straight paths for our feet so what is lame in us will be healed (Hebrews, 12).
The gate to salvation is narrow because it involves carrying the cross. Passing through the narrow gate requires not only God’s grace, but also the same sacrificial love which led Jesus to the cross. The presence of the cross makes the gate narrow, yet the cross is our gate to salvation.
Many despair, lose faith, and rebel against God because of the cross. Yet the cross contains the key to pass through the narrow gate. In the same manner that I went past the gate into the church without noticing that was the path into the church, so many times we walk past the cross and fail to find in it our salvation. We must not fail to see in it the narrow gate through which only a few pass. In the difficulties of life, in the crosses we bear, we grow closer to Christ and in Him, find salvation.
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved. Istanbul, 2008.