Of Firsts and Lasts

It has been a month of firsts and lasts. Perhaps the last person we would vote for has been selected as their party’s presidential nominee. Unknown athletes from all corners of the world have overcome personal and physical setbacks to dazzle the world with gold medal performances. These may provide us some modern day examples as we consider the divine answer to the gospel question today: who will be saved?

Isaiah tells us it is the unlikely and the outcast. In the first reading, we see a gathering of Olympic proportions: nations of every language are brought together to see God’s glory. Foreigners and fugitives not only see, they have an active role in proclaiming God’s universal salvation. It is an unlikely and expansive event, meant for all.

Alongside Isaiah’s image, we find Jesus’ response to the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” At first, it appears the answer is “yes,” as Jesus coaches those who are listening to “strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Herculean strength, it seems, will be needed to make it through. Even the Chosen People, who claim to have kept the master’s company and know of his teachings, will not be let in. But wanderers and exiles from the four corners of the globe will have a seat at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. How can this be? It’s not logical nor calculated. It is the surprising ways of the providence of God. This is “the narrow gate” – accepting the grace, the gift of God.

How do we prepare to receive this great surprise? Maybe our instruction is found in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. What is required is discipline. Any true athlete or honest politician knows this well. Discipline requires time and effort and the pain of endlessly dull repetitions, the forming of physical and mental habits which lead us with little thought to the desired outcome. Discipline strengthens, purifies, transforms. Discipline forms disciples who are recognized and admitted to the universal companionship of those who are seated at the Eucharistic table. Discipline, the writer of Hebrews tells us, brings “the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” of goodness and honesty. Discipline prepares us to accept the sudden, unexpected turns of life. And the accolades of the medalist’s podium.


  • How are life’s turns “disciplining” me now? What am I learning from my recent setbacks?


  • Watch the Olympics closing and celebrate the Olympians’ achievements and your own, in your life with God.

–Sister Mary Flick, CSJ

One thought on “Of Firsts and Lasts

  1. Mary Ann Hilgeman, CSJ says:

    The word “discipline” has a root that means “learning,” and maybe the first thing we have to learn is what Jesus adds in his reply to “how many” after comparing the “narrow gate” to the “eye of a needle,” “What’s impossible to humans is possible with God.” (My paraphrase.) Maybe the discipline necessary is learning to leave ourselves open to God’s action, invitation, etc.


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