Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.”
I desire to give clear instructions to spiritual persons on the narrowness of the way leading to life—that narrowness of which our Savior spoke—so that convinced of this they will not marvel at the emptiness and nakedness in which we must leave the faculties of the soul in this night.
We ought to note carefully our Savior’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter seven, about this road: Quam angusta porta et arcta via est quae ducit ad vitam! Et pauci sunt qui inveniunt eam (How narrow is the gate and constricting the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it) [Mt 7:14 and its parallel, Lk 13:23–24]. We should note particularly in this passage the exaggeration and hyperbole conveyed by the word quam.
This is like saying: Indeed the gate is very narrow, more so than you think.
We must also note that first he says the gate is narrow to teach that entrance through this gate of Christ (the beginning of the journey) involves a divestment and narrowing of the will in relation to all sensible and temporal objects by loving God more than all of them. This task belongs to the night of sense, as we have said [Cf. The Ascent of Mount Carmel, I. 13.].
Next, he asserts that the way (that is, of perfection) is constricting in order to teach that the journey along this way involves not only entering through the narrow gate, a void of sense objects, but also constricting oneself through dispossession and the removal of obstacles in matters relating to the spiritual part of the soul.
We can apply, then, what Christ says about the narrow gate to the sensitive part of the human person, and what he says about the constricting way to the spiritual or rational part.
Since he proclaims that few find it, we ought to note the cause: Few there are with the knowledge and desire to enter into this supreme nakedness and emptiness of spirit.
As this path on the high mount of perfection is narrow and steep, it demands travelers who are neither weighed down by the lower part of their nature nor burdened in the higher part.
This is a venture in which God alone is sought and gained; thus only God ought to be sought and gained.
Saint John of the Cross
The Ascent of Mount Carmel: II, Chap. 7, nos. 1–3
John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.