Coming Well Dressed and Calling Others to the Banquet, 28th Sunday (A), October 12, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
October 12, 2014
Is 25:6-10, Ps 23, Phil 4:12-14.19-20, Mt 22:1-14

To listen to an audio recording of today’s Mass, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Becoming One of the Chosen Few

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to us about the kingdom of heaven, the invitation he has given us to join him there forever, and about how we need to respond to that invitation. He does so within the context of a parable about salvation history in which he illustrates for us, basically, how not to respond. He concludes the parable by saying, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” We are all here because we want to be numbered among the “chosen few.” Those who are chosen are not those whom God somehow favors over others. Those who are chosen are the ones who respond fully to having been chosen by God. Therefore it’s important for us to pay close attention to what Jesus tells us today that we will respond to his invitation, choose him who has chosen us, and help the “many” we know also learn how to become among the chosen as well!

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding banquet a king is throwing for his son. This banquet will be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah from the first reading: there will be a true feast where everyone present will say, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad for he has saved us!” God wants to invite all people to this feast, he wishes all people to be saved, but there are three parts of this parable that we need to ponder:

Responding to God’s invitation

The first is the invitation. Jesus says that the King sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. When they didn’t respond the first time, he gave them a second chance. He sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and my fatten cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’” But again they made light of it. One went to his farm, another to his business, and yet others seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

The servants that Jesus has been describing up until now are the prophets who had been sent by God to invite the Jews to this feast, but, as we talked about last week in Jesus’ parable of the tenant farmers in the Master’s vineyard, all of the prophets were mistreated and killed by the people receiving this invitation to communion with God, to heaven. We should note that all of the Jews were invited, but sadly only some — like obviously the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and those who became Jesus’ disciples — responded to that invitation.

But God kept inviting. As Pope Francis said in his Angelus meditation earlier today, “Despite the lack of response from those called, God’s project wasn’t interrupted. Despite the refusal of the first invitees, he is not discouraged, he doesn’t suspend the feast, but enlarges the guest list.” The King said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” The servants went out into the streets and “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad,” Jesus says in the parable, “so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” This is the mission of the Church. Beginning from the apostles down to our own age, we are sent out into the streets to invite all we find, both good and bad. Everyone is invited. The author James Joyce once described the Catholic Church with this famous expression: “Here comes everybody!” We don’t have a Church only for the good and the holy, for those of a particular economic class, for those of a special race or background. All are invited. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that in the Church we find great saints and great sinners, that we find the faithful and the hypocrites. All are invited. We’ll come back to this point a little later.

What I’d like to focus on now, however, are the priorities of those in the parable and our own priorities. Why didn’t the ones first called come to the banquet? They all excused themselves from it thinking something else was more important. St. Luke remembers Jesus’ words with even greater precision than St. Matthew does: “At the time for the dinner he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come’” (Luke 14:7-10). One used his home as an excuse, another his job, a third his family. Pope Francis said this morning, “None of those chosen first accepts to take part in the feast. They say they have other things to do. Some even show indifference, alienation, indeed annoyance.” Notice that none of those who refused the invitation said that they wanted to go out and wreak havoc by doing evil. No, all of them were interested in good things — caring for the home, working, and spending time with one’s spouse or family are all good things — but things that became relative evils for them because they prevented them from something better. When it came down to a choice between the wedding banquet and these other tasks, the wedding banquet lost. The King lost. God lost.

So the first application of today’s Gospel for us is whether God is truly our priority, whether he comes first, whether we sacrifice other things for him or sacrifice him for other things. This is one of the reasons why throughout the history of the Church the saints have applied this parable to the Mass, not just because the Mass is a banquet with the choicest food of all, but because it is the foretaste of heaven. Our attitude toward God, toward heaven, toward God’s kingdom is often shown by how we respond to the invitation Jesus makes to us of the Mass. On Holy Thursday, Jesus said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you.” Jesus always eagerly desires to share Mass with us each Sunday. More than St. Bernadette and the greatest saints hunger to receive the Lord in Holy Communion, the Lord desires to feed us. He wants us present at Mass more than the most loving mother in the history of our country wants all her kids present at Thanksgiving dinner. But very often we hear the same excuses given for missing Mass as are found in the parable Jesus uses: people prioritize work over God, fixing up the house over God, family over God, sleep over God, even Sunday cartoons or NFL preview shows over God.

For us to come to the kingdom of heaven, for us to be not just the many invited but the chosen few, we first need to prioritize God, to accept his invitation, to treat it as the awesome privilege it really is and not take it for granted. The way we know we’re doing so is by the way we prioritize Jesus’ eager invitation to the Mass, which is the great banquet of all those who are called. The very word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means those having been called! Those having been invited! The Church is comprised of those who have responded to Jesus’ invitation. The first thing we learn from this parable is that God invites everyone but that each of us needs to prioritize God over the other good and important things in life. Without that prioritization, we won’t enter God’s kingdom because we’ll be too busy trying to construct our own.

Proper Vesture

The second thing we learn is about how we’re supposed to arrive when we respond to the invitation. In the parable, Jesus says, “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man there who was not dressed in a wedding garment, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

At first glance, it might seem that the King is both crazy and cruel. He commanded his servants to invite everyone to the feast and then he’s picky about what they’re wearing? The truth is that in the ancient world, when kings would invite everyone to the feast, they, knowing that many would be poor and not have proper vesture, would normally send out the royal tailors to make proper clothing for everyone who was invited or in some other way provide the fitting clothing. It would be like a rich man today inviting a bunch of homeless people to a black-tie dinner but then giving them free hotel rooms to shower and providing free tuxedos, shoes and gowns to wear. With this history, it’s not difficult to recognize why the king would be so upset about seeing this improperly attired man: this man deliberated refused to wear the clothing that was required and made available.

The lesson for all of us is that it’s not enough just to show up. We, too, have to be properly dressed for the feast. But we have to ask: What clothing has been provided for us? What does God want us wearing? What apparel is fit for this banquet?

St. Paul describes the proper vesture in two of his epistles. In his Letter to the Colossians, he described, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.   … Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:12-14). In the Letter to the Ephesians, he talks about our clothes as a spiritual armor: “Therefore put on the whole armor of God: … fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:11-17). It’s easy to get the picture: the wedding garments God wants us to don are weaved with acts of faith, love, hope, kindness, compassion, humility, patience, meekness, truth, holiness.

To make the image even simpler, more concrete, and more specific, God wants us to show up with the garment he himself gave us when we became his adopted children. As we were vested with our baptismal garment, the baptizing priest or deacon said to us, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Christ himself is meant to be our garment! We are to be clothed in him, in his risen life. As long as we live in him, vest ourselves in his virtues, then we will always be ready and unstained for eternal life. To talk about arriving properly dressed means we’re adorned in our baptismal graces, we’re living the life with Christ that flows from our baptism, we’re living a moral and holy life, rejecting Satan, his empty promises and evil works and living by faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in communion with the saints in the Catholic Church.

Getting Our Garments Washed in the Blood of the Lamb

To be properly dressed spiritually is so important today. The Church is not only “Here comes everybody!” in which all people are invited, but the Church also seeks to remind everyone of the need spiritually to dress appropriately, to “put on” and adorn ourselves with Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14). In practical terms, it means that everyone is both welcome and called to be cleansed, summoned to look at their clothing and see if their soul still sparkles with the brilliance of their white baptismal garment. Many are invited but not everyone chooses take advantage of the Lord’s help through his Church to change their vesture.

In the Book of Revelation, there’s an image of what it takes to get to the banquet of the kingdom of heaven. It’s an image of the saints, a “great multitude that no one could count from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.’” St. John is told, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:9-14). The way God cleanses our garments and makes them white is through Jesus’ blood, which is, paradoxically, the most powerful bleach ever known. But we need to be humble to let him do it, and it’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Jesus wants to bathe us in that cleansing detergent that can wipe out even the darkest stains of sin. That’s what we need to do to clean the garment of our soul so that we are always ready for the feast.

One area in which this is very important is with regard to our preparation for the Lamb’s High Feast of the Mass. We should never approach to receive Jesus in Holy Communion “improperly dressed,” without being in the state of our baptismal grace. St. Paul says we eat and drink condemnation on ourselves when we do that (1 Cor 11:27-32). Just like the king provides clothes for the guests, so Jesus provides the Sacrament of Penance to cleanse our soul but if we don’t go to confession and instead come to Communion unworthily, we’re just like the person in the parable who nonchalantly tries to show up for the banquet in his own dirty clothes rather than in the vesture given.

Let’s apply this to one situation that’s been very much in the news lately, the Church’s pastoral care for Catholics who are divorced-and-remarried, whose first spouse is alive. The Church cares very much for people in this circumstance and wants to help them. The Church always invites them to Mass and wants to help them grow in faith. But at the same time, the Church must be true to Jesus, the Truth himself, who loves us all enough to die for us on the Cross, who said very clearly in the Gospel, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” There are some in the Church, including a few Cardinals, who are pushing for pastoral accommodation for those who are in second marriages while their original spouse is alive, who have not sought or obtained an annulment, who nevertheless would like to receive Holy Communion that they be able to do so without any major change to the way they approach this second union. While I certainly appreciate their motivation in trying to help the many in such circumstances, what they’re proposing, it seems to me, is a false compassion. It would likely lead to many no longer believing that there is really anything fundamentally awry in a union that the Lord Jesus himself calls adulterous. The Church very much seeks to accompany those in these circumstances, to pray with them for a solution to some of their personal circumstances, and to persevere in faith in a situation in which they’re often torn. The Church seeks through the declaration of nullity process to help them investigate whether the first marriage was sacramentally valid, because if not, they would be able to regularize their situation with the Church and return to the sacraments. Even when that would be too difficult or impossible to do, the Church nevertheless gives couples in these circumstances something they can do: if they can’t cease their union or cohabitation because of particular circumstances, the Church says that if they choose publicly to live as brother and sister, rather than as husband and wife in a one-flesh union that only God can bring about, they would be able to receive Holy Communion after a good Confession. But it would require their choosing to put their desire for union with the body and blood of the Lord Jesus above their desire for physical union with each other. Some divorced-and-remarried people make this choice in prioritizing Christ above each other, which in our day is a truly heroic choice of faith. But some don’t and continue to live as husband and wife in a union Jesus calls adulterous. While we certainly need to reach out with compassion to people in these circumstances, we do have to note that they’re objectively not living in communion with Jesus’ moral teachings. If they were to try to encouraged or allowed by the Church to receive Jesus in these circumstances in which they’re persevering in a life not in communion with the sixth commandment, the clear spiritual danger would be, according to St. Paul’s clear words, that they would be eating and drinking judgment upon themselves. To use the image of the parable, it would be the equivalent of inviting people to the feast and just telling them to show up dressed any way they want, without helping them to dress in Christ’s virtues and teachings about the commandments and the sacraments. To do that would not be compassionate at all. It would be cruel!

Going on Mission into the Streets

The third and last lesson is about sharing the faith with others, what the recent popes have called the new evangelization. Just like the prophets, just like the apostles, so we, too, have a role as God’s servants in calling everyone to the feast and helping them to get dressed for it. That’s our task in the world, the continuation of Jesus’ mission. We want our family members to get to heaven. We want our fellow parishioners to get to heaven. We want our neighbors, our classmates, our coworkers, even strangers and those who persecute us to come to heaven. But we need to correspond with God’s work, let others know of the invitation, help them to say yes to it, and then assist them to get ready.

In order for us to do this effectively, we first need to show them by our own lives that God is our priority and really knows how to throw a feast. When we go out to invite others to join us at Mass and on the path leading to the eternal wedding banquet, we’re not inviting them to an execution! We’re inviting them to a party in which we celebrate the most important things of all, the things that the saints will be celebrating forever. We say at Mass, “Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb!,” and we’re called to live with a sense of how blessed we are to be called to the Lord’s Supper here on earth and through it to the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. Others need to see that prioritizing the Lord in our life actually makes us joyful, that coming to Mass and being filled with God changes us for the better, and that they’ll consequently never find fulfillment putting other things, activities, or people in God’s place. God also wants us to show by our own “clothing” that it’s so much more beautiful than anything that the world says is in fashion, the types of sins that the world celebrates rather than confesses. It’s then that if they respond they can join us forever in the feast that will know no end.

Pope Francis has been constantly encouraging us to share the “Joy of the Gospel” with others. He said in his Angelus meditation today that we’re not supposed to be concerned only with our parishes and those who are coming, but are supposed to seek to bring news of the invitation of our faith to all. “The goodness of God has no limits,” he said, “and for this reason Lord’s banquet is universal, it’s meant for all. … We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of ‘little churches’ — our own ‘little Church’ — but to expand the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.” The Lord wants us to go out to crossroads. Once upon a time this was done and it built the Church, but in recent years, we’ve become so focused on maintaining what we have that we’ve forgotten this mission.

In a homily this morning for the equivalent canonization of two French Canadian missionary Saints — St. François Laval and St. Marie of the Incarnation — Pope called all of us to learn from them how we’re all called to be missionaries, to spread the faith. “Missionaries have received this call: they have gone out to call everyone, in the highways and byways of the world. … The Church’s mission of evangelization is essentially a proclamation of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness, revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Missionaries have served the Church’s mission by breaking the bread of God’s word for the poor and those far off, and by bringing to all the gift of the unfathomable love welling up from the heart of the Savior.” After commenting on how fruitful the first missionaries of Quebec were and how many priests, religious and missionaries Quebec produced over the decades — people who were willing to leave France behind to come to risk being tortured and martyred by the Indians in order to share the faith with those in a far away land — the Holy Father noted that Quebec has been suffering through a decrease in faith. As late as the 1960s, Quebec was one of the most fruitful places on earth, producing thousands of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the missions, and producing generous families that lived the faith. Pope Francis asked what happened to reduce the faith in Quebec to a situation where a priest friend of mine told me two years ago that he had only eight people combined come to his two Easter Masses. Pope Francis said, “Perhaps – indeed, even without perhaps! – the devil was jealous and would not tolerate that a land could be such fertile ground for missionaries.” That led him to pray, asking the Lord that “Quebéc may once again bear much fruit, that it may give the world many missionaries.”

What Pope Francis said about Quebec can also be applied here in Fall River. When the scores of French Canadian immigrants were coming to our city, Catholic life was thriving. There were over 30 vibrant parishes. Now we’re down to a dozen and many of them are struggling. Is it going to get worse or are we going to do something to turn it around? Pope Francis is encouraging all of us to learn from the example of the great missionaries how to go out into the crossroads and invite others in to the banquet of Christ’s love. The Lord wants us as his servants to go out. If we’re vested in him, in his love, and in his will, our great passion will be to share the gift of our faith so that we can share eternal life with all those to whom we’re sent.

“Come to the Feast,” the King in the Parable tells us today. He says it both about the Mass and about heaven. If we put God first, respond to his invitation in life by coming to the new and eternal Passover he eagerly desires to eat with us, arrive well-prepared and well-dressed, and seek to invite others to join us, we can be confident that we will be ready to greet him whenever he comes to call us to the eternal wedding banquet. The more we arrive at Mass with readiness, joy and an immaculate wedding garment full of virtues and love God, the greater our preparation for eternity. This will be the best means for us to be numbered among the “chosen few” who will say, in the words of King David from today’s responsorial psalm, “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This is the path for us to behold our God to whom we looked to save us and rejoice, in fact, in that salvation!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
is 25:6-10a

On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe away
the tears from every face;
the reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the LORD has spoken.
On that day it will be said:
“Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us!
This is the LORD for whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

R/ (6cd) I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
R/ I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

Reading 2
phil 4:12-14, 19-20

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel
mt 22:1-14

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people
in parables, saying,
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants
to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”