I’ve long been a spectator of hockey and football. With hockey, the ability to drive a puck past a goaltender into a 6-foot-wide net defines victory; it makes the difference between winning and losing. With football, while touchdowns are preferable, three points may be garnered by skillfully kicking a piece of inflated cowhide leather through goalposts measuring 18-feet, 6-inches wide. A cursory scan of both NFL and NCAA history books shows that many games have been won or lost by the skill of a kicker.
Now in the longer Gospel passage (Matthew 5:17-37) for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we find Jesus teaching His disciples about the Law and Prophets. During His discourse on topics ranging from murder, adultery, and divorce, Jesus not only confirms God’s Law regarding each but proceeds to build upon them.
With regard to murder, Jesus adds “…whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”
With regard to adultery, Jesus also notes that “…everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
And with regard to divorce, Jesus clarifies that “…whoever divorces his wife, unless the marriage is unlawful, causes her to commit adultery.”
So, it is clear that the Divine goalposts that God has established for you and me are very pointed and precise.
A question? How successful have we been in keeping ourselves within these goalposts? I suspect that none of us has a perfect record! Still another question; when we’ve failed to keep God’s Law, even after having been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, do our past failings continue to follow and haunt us? For this, we can thank the Evil one! For while God has both forgiven and forgotten, the Prince of Darkness seeks to discourage and disrupt us from following His plan for our lives and remaining on a pathway that will end us right between those Divine goal posts.
There is a story of a man in his late twenties who had been experiencing what he believed to be a call to the priesthood. One day, he decided to sign up for a week-long apologetics cruise where noted theologians would be guest speakers. One evening, after the sessions had ended, he approached one of the presenters, a veteran priest, and began to tell him how he felt called to the priesthood but felt unworthy because of his “sinful past.”
For a moment, this holy priest paused and then proceeded to ask him two questions. First, have you ever murdered anyone or aided and abetted in such a crime? Astonished at the question, the young man quickly said “No, Father.” The priest then proceeded to tell him that Saul (now St. Paul) did just that when he consented to the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.
And then came the second question. Have you ever fathered a child out of wedlock? Again, the young man replied with an emphatic “No.” To which the priest told him that St. Augustine had done just that.
Regarding our own lives and the times that we’ve strayed and failed to walk through the “narrow gate” or “Divine goalposts” the Lord has established, it seems that a centuries-old saying attributed to St. Teresa of Avila applies: “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
Indeed, the great movements in our lives very rarely follow a straight course. When we reflect upon each of our life journeys, do we have eyes to see the detours and diversions? Do we see His hand at work in our lives? Do we pray like Mary did? Do we “let it be done to us according to His Will” or, in the end, do we “give God what we’ve decided?”
St. Paul gives us the answer as to why we should fashion our lives according to God’s Will. Because in seeking His Wisdom, we will find “…what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:6-10)
Regarding the width of God’s goalposts, not one of us knows the answer. However, we do well to travel to the 7th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (13:14), where Jesus tells us to “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.”
Today, may the Psalmist’s prayer (5:8) be ours: “O Lord, make your ways straight before me.” And may this path lead us through eternal goalposts where, at the end of our earthly journey, we will reach the goal for which each of us were designed—to meet Jesus, face to face, and enter into His peace, His heaven.