Narrow road

Narrow Road, Narrow Gate – Manila Bulletin


Prof. Rolando V. dela Rosa, OP

One of the poems that I enjoy reading and re-reading is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. He tells us that it is difficult to choose between two equally attractive options. It’s like standing at a crossroads, and you can’t decide which way to go.

But once a decision is made, it generates consequences that are beyond our control. Our choices can make or break us. Unfortunately, we only realize this in hindsight. As the oft-quoted part of the poem says:

“I will say this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I – I took the
one less traveled,
And that made all the difference.”

Frost does not specify what this “difference” was. But his message is clear: we must not put off making crucial decisions just because we are afraid of making a mistake. When we don’t decide for ourselves, we let others decide for us.

This voluntary renunciation of autonomy can turn against us. Thus, Frost advises us to take the “path not taken”, as the title of his poem suggests. Many, in fact, choose the “traveled path”, the popular and conventional path that requires very little effort to travel because one is only following in the footsteps of others. This wide road leads to a wide door that opens into a place where everyone is like everyone else.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks to the many Christians who are choosing the wide path that leads to the wide door of conformity. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will try to enter but will not be strong enough to do so” (Luke 13:24). What saps their strength is their desire to fit in with whatever environment they find themselves in, even if that environment directly contradicts their principles and value system. Their constant search for what is convenient and easy makes them weak, unable to defend what is right and good. The word “sacrifice” is foreign to them. They believe that everyone will go to heaven because Jesus has already died for us.

This type of thinking is reflected in our current public pre-college education system. In the name of fairness and accessibility, educators unwittingly make students believe that society doesn’t care if they don’t aspire to be the best, as long as they play their role as cogs in the greater wheel of politics, business, industry, and government. Paying lip service to excellence, students are promoted to the next academic level, regardless of their performance.

Jesus warns us against choosing the beaten track forged by our culture, which advocates conformity, compromise and mediocrity. Rather, we should walk the narrow path of freedom and excellence that results from our obedience to God’s will. When we go against the grain, we are actually forging a new path. As Antonio Machado’s poem says:

Traveler, the road you tread
is nothing but your fingerprints.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path by walking.

In a very real sense, our life journey is unique to us. The path to the narrow gate is ours to create with every decision we make. We can take the wide path where people cheer us on, calling us “the best” and “the first,” because we are like them. But if you think about it, only mediocre ones are always at their best. When the bar is set low enough, everyone becomes exceptional.