Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
In the late 1970s, a small unit of the United States military was established to investigate the possibility of using psychic abilities for counterintelligence efforts. This secret group, known as the Stargate Project, focused on people who could engage in “remote viewing,” the ability, purportedly, to see things happening in remote locations—like the Soviet Union, for example. Although the project was eventually disbanded, it lasted into the mid-1990s. Recently, the Stargate Project became the inspiration for the hit TV series, Stranger Things, produced by Netflix. This show is now on its fourth season and is extremely popular. During the week of July 4th alone, viewers spent a total of 188 million hours watching it. That’s more than 21,000 years of time, all in one week.
Stranger Things is set in the 1980s in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. There, a government lab is investigating the very same things that the Stargate Project did. What ends up happening, though, is that instead of a person with psychic abilities accessing a remote part of our own world, they end up accessing an entirely differently world. This world is known as the Upside Down, and it’s the complete opposite of our own world. Whereas our world is filled with life and life, the Upside Down is filled with darkness and death. It’s also filled with dark forces which want nothing more than to break into our world and turn it…upside down. When a gateway to the Upside Down is accidently opened up by a child with remote viewing abilities, the dark forces attempt to do exactly that. In the show, the gateway is depicted as a “thin” place. Where there used to be a thick wall of separation between the worlds, the wall has become “thin” and translucent, almost like a membrane. The two worlds come together in this “thin” place, and the dark forces from the Upside Down can easily break in.
Although we do not live in the fictional world of Stranger Things, we can think of our world as also having places that are “thin.” And while we do not know of any other universes existing parallel to ours, we can think of other worlds existing than our own—the worlds of heaven and hell. The “thin” places in our world, then, are those places where heaven or hell “break in,” and we catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side. An encounter with something that is false, evil, or horrifying, is a “thin” place where we catch a glimpse of hell; an encounter with something true, good, or beautify, is a “thin” place where we catch a glimpse of heaven. Heaven or hell “break into” our world at these places, bringing with them either light and life or darkness and death.
To find those “thin” places where the light and life of heaven break into our world, we need only to look for Christ. Because where Christ is, there is the meeting place between heaven and earth. Jesus, because He is fully divine and fully human, is that meeting place. He is the narrow gate spoken of in our gospel today. The gate is narrow, because it’s the size of one Person, and one Person only: Jesus Christ. And if we have any doubts about Jesus being the gate, we need only turn to the Gospel of John. In John 10:9, Jesus says this: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” You could hardly get any clearer than that.
To strive to enter through the narrow gate is to strive to become like Christ. And the more we become like Him, the more we too will become gates for the light and life of heaven to break into our world. This is what people experienced when they encountered figures like St. John Paul II and St. Mother Teresa: These saints seemed to glow with an other-worldly light and be strengthened by an other-worldly life. They had become “thin” places, where heaven and earth meet. And we too can become like them, and we desperately need to. There are plenty of “thin” places in the world today where we can catch a glimpse of hell. Far fewer are the places where we can catch a glimpse of heaven. And if people today have a hard time believing in heaven, it’s partly because we have failed to become these “thin” places, where the light and life of heaven can break in.
But if we want to become one of these “thin” places ourselves, we need to seek out the source: we need to seek out Christ. Christ is the “thinnest” place, the place of greatest access to the light and life of heaven. The saints are the ones who do this; they are the ones who seek out Christ. That is why you will never meet a saint who does not pray regularly, receive the sacraments frequently, and love Christ in their neighbor consistently. For this is where Christ is to be found: in prayer, in the sacraments, and in the least of our brothers and sisters. And someone who is constant contact with Christ, becomes like Him, full of light and life. This is what it means to strive to enter through the narrow gate: it is to strive to become like Christ, who is the gate. This is not an easy task, and it takes great strength, but Jesus will give us the strength if we ask Him.
So, let us ask for that strength today, at this Mass. In the Mass, Jesus comes closer to us than on any other occasion in the gift of the Holy Eucharist. This makes the Mass the “thinnest” place on earth, where the light and life of heaven can most easily break in. But we need the gift of faith to see this. Faith is a kind of “remote viewing” ability, enabling us to see into another world, the world of heaven. Faith is what enables us to see beyond the appearance of bread to the reality of what, or rather Whom, we are receiving. May Christ increase our faith at this Mass, and may He strengthen us with the gift of His very self. Amen.