During the transition to the new translation a lot was made about the change in the Institution Narrative, the words of consecration. Where, in the old translation the priest said: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” Now, in our current translation it says: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
Some told me that this new translation isn’t charitable; they had a problem with the change of the word ‘all’ to ‘many’. Christ didn’t die for a certain few, he died for all! How can we condemn part of mankind? This isn’t the first time that one word caused a stir in the church, indeed about 1000 years ago the church ruptured over just one Greek letter, iota.
The truth of the matter is that the old translation was just not accurate to the Latin version, which is the official language even to this day. It didn’t relate what the church has been proclaiming for millennia. Though not totally wrong it was definitely not accurate. Today’s Gospel brought this issue back to mind because the Gospel reading helps to explain why this current translation is more accurate.
Today, Jesus tells those around him, including us: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” And this phrase seems to reinforce the idea of exclusivity. Who won’t make it? Who isn’t strong enough and why? Why won’t a supposedly loving God desire all to make it and why doesn’t He help them?
But then we hear Christ say: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Christ is actually telling us that the door is open wider than we think; it is open to everyone, to all of humanity. But, as His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in 2007 ‘it is narrow, demanding because it requires commitment, self-denial and the mortification of one’s selfishness.’
In other words, we aren’t guaranteed access to heaven just because we are a member of the Church; we don’t get privileges because we are a favored child; and we can’t say that those who aren’t members of Holy Mother Church are denied Heaven. Rather, it is by our lives, how we live them, in accordance with God’s plan, that we will be judged worthy or not. I heard a great description of this ‘just because you have been given a ticket to the movie, doesn’t mean that you saw it.’ Action on our part is essential for our accepting the gift of salvation.
This understanding of salvation is pervasive throughout Holy Scripture; in Matthew (23:37) Christ laments: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!’ Christ was willing – mankind wasn’t.
In the Gospel of St. John (3:16-17) Christ tells Nicodemus: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Might not perish, might be saved – it is up to us.
From just these two passages we see the underlying truth that God did indeed come to us to save us – but that many of us, through our inaction have pushed away His gift. Many of us have not sought to journey the path that Jesus did, the path of faith which is not easy, the path that we heard Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describe earlier. Like it or not, we all look at this journey with some trepidation – the path is hard.
My brothers and sisters, our faith is not one of understanding only, not one of learning some abstract truth. It is one of action, one of relationship, one of discipleship. Catholicism is not so much a noun as it is a verb! We ‘do’ – ‘do’ for each other by ‘doing’ for God. Today’s readings are a reminder for each us. So, when we look at the change in the Institution Narrative we now understand that though Christ died for all, for everybody; His blood was shed to save those who accept this gift, who take the ticket and actually go to see the movie. Though we have been given the fullness of faith in the Catholic Church; through the sacraments we have the helps needed to strengthen us and heal us, it is no guarantee that this alone will secure us heaven, it won’t – you need to use a key to unlock a door.
Can we tell who is in which category? I would suggest that is a waste of our time and energy – only God judges and we should be concerned with everyone out of love. In discussing this topic, Bishop Fulton Sheen on his TV show told the audience: ‘I am only certain there will be three surprises in Heaven. First of all, I will see some people whom I never expected to see. Second, there will be a number whom I expect who will not be there. And – even relying on God’s mercy – the biggest surprise of all may be that I will be there.’
Now, in case we start to worry, it is never too late to change. In the 2nd letter to Timothy we hear very reassuring words: ‘This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.’
He cannot deny Himself; love can never not be love, the only question is will we accept it.