"Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.” These are sobering words indeed, which we hear in today’s Gospel from Luke.
Luke’s Gospel is better known for its parables of mercy: the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son come to mind. Yet sometimes we forget that justice and mercy are the two sides of the same coin. One expression of divine mercy is that God takes pity on those who are subject to oppression and evil, by calling the unjust and the wicked to account. If the oppressed and the oppressor were treated in the same way it would offend against both Divine mercy and justice.
All of us will one day be held to account for our life’s decisions: the sum of our good deeds will be weighed against our evil deeds in an equation that only God can calculate. Of one thing we can be sure: that in the end no one gets away with anything. This theme recurs in Luke: “For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17 and Luke 12:2). This is only a terrifying prospect for the wicked. For the just, especially when they are victims of oppression and injustice, it is a source of elation.
On 15th August, the Catholic Church celebrates one of the great Marian Feast Days in her Calendar of Saints: the Solemnity of the Assumption. This honours the doctrine that at the end of her natural life, Mary was assumed (or ‘taken up’) body and soul into heaven. Although faith in Our Lady’s Assumption has been universally held in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches through the centuries, remarkably it was only officially defined as a Dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. In his Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, Pius XII declares that “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” We might well wonder how this doctrine came to be defined so late in the Church’s history. In fact, many tenets of the Church’s doctrine have been held in near-universal belief and only later defined. One example is the list of books that make up the Bible, which for 1500 years had never actually been formally declared canonical. It was only at the Council of Trent in the 16th Century, in response to the Protestant revision of Scripture, that the Church felt any need to define what had until then been universally accepted.
On Monday (8th August) we celebrate the Solemnity of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, our nation’s first canonised saint. Mary MacKillop (1842-1909) was born in Fitzroy. A plaque on Brunswick Street, opposite the present site of Australian Catholic University, marks the house where she was raised. When the heroic holiness of one so close to us in history and culture is recognised, it is a source of great encouragement to us to strive towards holiness. We too can, and must, become saints! There has been a cringeful tendency in recent times to portray St. Mary of the Cross as a proto-feminist, anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian rebel. She has thus entered Australian folklore as a kind of Catholic ‘Ned Kelly’. The bare facts of her life paint another, quite different portrait. Mary MacKillop was without doubt a woman of indomitable strength of character. Yet her strength of character should not be confused with obstinacy or contempt for authority. On the contrary, Mary was deeply humble, self-sacrificing, even-keeled and charitable to a fault. Her obedience to those in legitimate authority in the Church was flawless throughout her life, even when this was tested to breaking point.