Naming the Gate

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, July 17, 2016

Sometimes coming up with a reflection on a Gospel passage can be quite a challenge, especially around those passages that are far from “warm and fuzzy.”  At the same time, these hard words can also be an invitation to look beneath the text and dig deep.  Really deep.

In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus is doing some of the prophetic work of denouncing.  He’s pointing out to the people around him what can happen when they fail to pay attention and so make the Holy invisible.  He reproaches the cities where most of his miracles had occurred.  Why?  Because, he says, they didn’t repent.  They weren’t doing the deep inner soul work that would have opened them to a change of heart, to a shift in their worldview.  They had been smack in the middle of holiness and miracles and not even noticed.  They couldn’t see what was right in front of them all along.

What had Jesus done that they hadn’t been able to see?  He called them to a deeper life.  He prayed and restored healing to their wounded hearts.  He offered compassion to all that was fragile and broken.  All that in plain sight, and yet they hadn’t been paying attention, noticing, listening.  And so they missed the miraculous, the signs and wonders, all around them.

So what does this have to say to us in our time and place?  Might it be a call to open ears, open eyes, open hearts?  A call to see and hear beyond appearances?

Perhaps Bobbie, a Golden Retriever, can offer us a visual.  My sister’s family lived in the suburbs with this beloved dog.   Every morning, someone would open the back door and let Bobbie out into a yard that was completely enclosed by a wire fence.  And this was Bobbie’s pattern:  he would wander around the yard and survey it for a few minutes.  Then he would amble over to the wire gate, sit down in front of the gate, and wait for someone to open it so he could go out and explore the rest of his doggie world.  This was his ritual for years.

Well, one day, the family decided that the fence was no longer necessary, so my brother-gate with golden copyin-law spent an entire day pulling the wire fence out of the ground.  At the end of the day, only one thing was left standing: the little wire gate.  Everything else was clear and open space, now without borders or boundaries.

The next morning, they opened the back door to let Bobbie out and he followed his usual pattern.  He ambled around for a few minutes.  He surveyed the yard that was now entirely open.  And then what did he do?  He went over and sat down in front of the only part of the fence that was still standing: the small wire gate.  In spite of the family calling out and gesturing to the fence-free yard, Bobbie wouldn’t budge.  He was stuck in his pattern of not noticing.  And so he sat there, refusing to move, until someone finally opened the wire gate.  Only then did he walk out of the yard that had been open to him all along.

Since then I’ve often reflected on what that might say to my life, to our lives.  All around us and within us, God is acting.  God is speaking.  God is continually pouring out love.  But often we don’t notice.  We fail to pay attention.  We’re unaware of the amazing and the miraculous right smack in the middle of our everyday lives.

So in reflection times, we might want to ask:  What is the gate in our lives?  What do we resist?  What is that one thing or things that stands in the way of freedom of spirit?  The one thing that keeps us distant from our searching, hurting world?  The one thing that blocks our path to the fullness of God’s dream for each of us?

May we continue to cultivate the practice of paying attention, noticing, living with awareness.  Because in our beautiful, yet wounded world, God is at work.  Grace does abound.  The miraculous is happening right here, right now, within us and among us and all around us.  Let’s not miss it!


Sit with the image of the closed gate in a totally open, unenclosed yard.

What is the gate in your life?
What do you resist?
What is that one thing or things that stands in the way of freedom of spirit?
What is the one thing that blocks your path to the fullness of God’s dream for you?

Today, every time you notice a gate or a doorway, ask God for openness of heart.


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My thanks for your prayer on behalf of all those who were part of the directed retreat at St. Mary by the Sea, Cape May Point, New Jersey, July 7-16.   Today’s blog is from a reflection I offered as one of the retreat directors.













One thought on “Naming the Gate”

  1. What a grace for me to read your post and to take the time to consider that gate! On that particular day, “the gate” was a grudge that I was holding against a family member. Her actions had deeply wounded me, and I did not understand. Prayer is very healing. I did ask God for openness of heart, and He never fails. Thank you, thank you, for reminding me of God’s faithfulness , and for opening the gate of my heart to understand my feelings and another’s feelings.

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