Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
19th Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
October 4, 2015
Eph 4:23-28, Mt 22:1-14
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
- Today St. Paul in this letter to the Church in Ephesus, tells them and us to be “renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” The interior renewal of our minds will be shown in our literally dressing ourselves as new men and women — that’s what the word induite we sang means, based on the Greek endusasthai — created new by God in righteousness, holiness and truth. With our heart changed on the inside, our external clothing — what St. Paul will later in the letter call our armor, meaning our virtues, our behavior, the way we interact with the world, all should change so that we show we’re right with God, that we live in the truth, that we are filled by grace with his holiness. That also means, as he says today, that we will take off all the old clothing of lying and dissimulation and speak to the truth, that we will remove the garments of stealing and vest ourselves with hard, honest labor with our own hands, that we will be righteously indignant but not let it lead to sin: in short to “leave no room for the devil.” To be a faithful Christian is to live as new men and women, renewed in our minds in such a way that we will live as new creations in genuine holiness of life.
- The need for this same transformation is pointed to by Jesus in the parable he gives us in today’s Gospel. It’s a parable about the kingdom, the kingdom that is both now and not yet, the kingdom that is already “among us” in embryonic form and that we likewise pray each day in the Our Father will come. The kingdom is a wedding feast, a thing of great joy, to which God invites everyone. God indeed wills all to be saved and come to this banquet. We are all called by him to be the “sons of the wedding chamber,” the members of the wedding party, and indeed, as St. Paul will tell the Ephesians later in his letter, the Bride. There are two things, however, we need to do.
- The first is that we need to respond to the invitation, prioritizing it among everything else, not making excuses that something is more important than God, than his kingdom, than the joy he wishes to give us. We see in the Gospel that many “refused to come,” some putting work above the banquet, others putting family. What a pity this is, something we see play out every day and indeed every Sunday as so many invited guests at a practical level prioritize work, or family, or sleep, or sports, or cartoons or political talk shows above the invitation to come to the Supper of the Lamb. The first thing we need to do is respond to Jesus’ invitation and come.
- But that’s not the only thing we need to do. The parable says that the “bad and the good alike” are invited and the way the good and the bad are manifested is by their vesture. The king in the parable saw someone not dressed in a wedding garment and called him out, “My friend,” he said, “how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” and instead of remaining in the banquet, which represents heaven, his hands and feet were bound and he was cast into the outer darkness, the place of slavery outside of the Light, where there was wailing and grinding of teeth instead of joy and celebration. We know what that place is called. It’s the opposite of the kingdom of heaven.
- At first glance, this parable makes it seem that the King is both arbitrary and cruel. He commanded his servants to invite “everyone” to the feast and then he’s picky about what they’re wearing, so picky that he will punish in a draconian way someone probably who was poor, maybe even from the streets, who didn’t have any good clothes? No wonder why people would want to turn down his invitation! But it’s essential to understand how banquets worked in the ancient world. When kings or leaders would invite everyone to a party, they, knowing that most 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, gowns and jewelry to wear. With this history, it’s not difficult to recognize why the king would have been so upset about seeing this improperly attired man: this man would have deliberately refused to wear the clothing that was required and that he had made available. The man had refused to take off his old clothing and put on the new.
- The lesson is clear. It’s not enough simply to be on the guest list or to show up. God wants us to show up properly vested for the kingdom and its banquet. He’ll provide all we need to show up properly attired, but we need to cooperate with his vesting us in his virtues. Like in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we need to take off our swine-dung-soiled rags and allow him to put on us the finest garment. He sent out his royal tailors to vest us on the day we became his children, the day of our baptism, when we were clothed in a white garment, told to see in that white garment the outward sign of our Christian dignity and instructed to take that dignity unstained to the eternal life of heaven. That garment is mean to grow as we grow, but to be kept white, because the banquet of the kingdom is ongoing. No matter whether it’s winter or summer, no matter whether it’s raining or sunny, we’re always supposed to be “dressed” in our baptismal garments, dressed as the new man and woman, having put off our old selves and clothed ourselves in the New Adam, Christ himself, his virtues, his holiness, his manner, his teaching, his risen life. 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 — the way he renews us in the spirit of our minds — 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 fist in the Sacrament of Baptism and then in the continued sacramental washing machine of the confessional 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.
- Today is October 4th, which is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, who is a model for us of the type of conversion to which God calls all of us. One of the most famous scenes in his life happened in the courtyard of Bishop Guido of Assisi, after his outraged father had denounced his son for having taken and sold some of his fabrics to buy materials necessary to repair the dilapidated Church of St. Damian on the Assisi hillside. Pietro Bernardone thought his son had gone mad, putting the repair of the Church above profits, God above family. After Bishop Guido told Francis that he needed to make restitution of the precious fabric, Francis committed himself to doing so and then added, “But, Father, the very clothes I’m now wearing were yourself your gift.” He stripped naked in the courtyard, gave those clothes back to his father, and then said, “Now I can pray truly the words Jesus taught us,” and became to pray, “Our Father, who are in heaven.” He soon vested himself in coarse wool with a rope for a belt and simple sandals as a sign that he was a new man, totally dependent on his Father in heaven and the way that Father would clothe him in the virtues of Christ his Son. St. Francis is a sign of the conversion God wants of each of us, to put off our old selves and live for real the new life that begins in baptism.
- Today as we come forward to this banquet, we thank the Lord for the gift of his extraordinary invitation and we ask him for the grace to cooperate fully with the way he wants us to celebrate, vested in clothes ever more fitting for the occasion, radiant with his justice, his holiness, his truth, with detachment from the sulliness of every sin and from worldliness and strengthened by this celebration to go out with joy to invite others to this same feast and help them get properly clothed so that with them we might be able to celebrate forever at the eternal wedding feast to which this is a foretaste. Blessed, indeed, are those called to the Supper of the Lamb!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians
Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.
The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Matthew
Jesus again in reply spoke to them 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. He 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.”