By Junno Arocho Esteves, Catholic News Service     9/7/2016

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The “narrow gate” to salvation described by Jesus isn’t narrow because God is oppressive, but because pride bloats Christians and prevents them from entering God’s merciful embrace, Pope Francis said.

Christians “must seize the opportunities of salvation” and not waste time on trivial things before the gate is closed, the pope said before reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 22.

“If God is good and loves us, why does he close the gate at some point?” the pope asked visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The reason, he said, is because “our life is not a video game or a soap opera; our life is serious and the goal to achieve is important: eternal salvation.”

In the day’s Gospel reading, Jesus calls on his followers to “strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

By using the imagery of the narrow gate, Jesus tells his listeners that the question of how many will be saved is not as important as knowing “which path leads to salvation,” the pope said.

Having a humble and faithful heart in need of God’s forgiveness, he added, allows Christians to enter the gate that, while wide open, remains too small for those swollen by pride and fear.

“It is a narrow gate to restrict our pride and our fear; it is a wide open gate because God welcomes us without distinction. And the salvation he gives us is a never-ending stream of mercy that breaks down every barrier and opens up surprising perspectives of light and peace,” he said.

Jesus, he continued, offers an invitation to cross this threshold and is “waiting for each one of us — no matter what sin we have committed — to embrace us, to offer us his forgiveness.”

Upon passing the gate, Christians can experience an “authentic change” that allows them to shed “worldly behaviors, selfishness and closures.”

Pope Francis led pilgrims in a moment of silence to reflect on those things that “we have inside and that prevent us from passing through the gate.” He also asked them to reflect on the “wide open door of God’s mercy” that leads to a path of salvation for those who wish to experience his love.

“It is the love which saves, the love that already here on earth is a source of blessing for those who, in meekness, patience and justice, forget themselves and give of themselves to others, especially to the weakest,” the pope said.

After reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis led the crowd in the square in praying the “Hail Mary” for the victims of a suicide bombing in Turkey the night before. At least 50 people were killed and dozens wounded when a suspected suicide bomber, who was reported to be between 12 and 14 years old, detonated his explosives at a wedding party in Gaziantep.