Responding Properly Dressed to Jesus’ Invitation to the Kingdom, 19th Sunday after Pentecost (EF), October 15, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
19th Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
October 15, 2017
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: 

  • 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 arbitrarily favors over others by a primordial coin flip. Those who are chosen are the ones who respond fully to having been chosen by God. Therefore it’s important for us to pay very close attention to what Jesus tells us today, so that we can respond fully to his invitation, choose him who has chosen us, and help the “many” we know, love and meet also learn how to be numbered, too, among the chosen few!
  • Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a wedding banquet a king is throwing for his son. There are two essential parts we need to ponder. 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, sending other servants with the words, “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. 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 the prophets were in large part ignored, 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 only some responded to that invitation, most notably the prophets, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, the Apostles, and those who became Jesus’ disciples. In St. Matthew’s version, Jesus tells us that one went to his farm, another to his business, and yet others RSVP’d by shedding the messengers’ blood. St. Luke remembers Jesus’ words with even greater precision: “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 14:17-10). One used his home as an excuse, another his job, a third his family. Notice that none of those who refused the invitation said that they wanted to go out and wreak havoc by doing evil. No, they 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. And that choice led some worshipping other small-g gods to kill the messengers of the true God. When it came down to a choice between the wedding banquet and these other tasks, the wedding banquet lost. The King lost. God lost. And some sought to make that refusal permanent.
  • This must lead us to examine our own priorities and whether we sacrifice of things for God or sacrifice God 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 the foremost locus of the kingdom on earth but because it is a banquet with the choicest food of all, indeed a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. 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. In fact, every day he says, “The feast is ready…. Come to the feast!” More than St. Agnes and the greatest saints hungered 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 wants all her kids present at Thanksgiving. 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. And such a refusal can often lead to death, in most cases not of the herald but of the invitee, who commits spiritual suicide by cutting himself or herself voluntarily off from God.
  • How does God respond to this refusal? He didn’t call off the feast but expanded the guest list. He kept inviting. 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!” And we want everyone, 100 out of 100. If we don’t want them, we don’t love them. Jesus’ words point out that the Church is not only for the good and the holy, for those of a particular economic class, for those of a special race or background, but for everyone. 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. The very word “Church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which means those having been called, those having been invited, those who have responded, at least initially, to Jesus’ invitation. God indeed invites everyone but that each of us needs to prioritize God not only over evil but 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.
  • That brings us to the second point, which is about how we’re supposed to arrive when we respond to the invitation. This is really important for us to understand clearly what God is asking of us in the midst of present controversies in the Church and in society. 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, this parable makes it seem that the King is both arbitrary and cruel. He commanded his servants to invite “everyone” to the feast but 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 Manhattan billionaire today inviting 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. Clothing — indeed fine clothing — was provided! 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. This man showed up but he had refused to change.
  • 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 fittingly attired, but we need to cooperate with his dress code. 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 his 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 meant to grow as we grow, but it is meant to be kept dazzlingly 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 those who get to the banquet of the kingdom of heaven are adorned. 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. 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 fist in the Sacrament of Baptism and then in the continued sacramental washing machine of the confessional that Jesus wants to bathe us inwardly 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.
  • So while everyone is earnestly and eagerly invited, we can’t just “come as we are” and think that that’s all that’s needed. We need to be willing to change, which, spiritually means, we have to be willing to convert. There are some in the Church today who stress the “all are welcome” message but don’t even mention the way Christ wants us to show up and the means he provides for us to show up well. They don’t utter a peep about the change God out of love wants for us, but instead behave as if God doesn’t care if they come and leave with all their filthy sinfulness. God wants to welcome everyone, but he wants everyone similarly to welcome his cleansing. I remember when I was chaplain at a Catholic high school in Massachusetts that at the time needed a lot of work. When some students would come for Holy Communion, they would try to receive Jesus on hands that not only had all types of ink over them, but with the crib sheets they had written on their palms to help them cheat on tests. How contrary this was to the Holy Communion in which they were supposed to be receiving him. So today in some places Catholics are saying that no matter what the state of their soul, no matter how much cheating on the commandments they have inscribed on their hearts, they can come to receive Him who is holy, holy, and holy. It’s one of the most diabolical lies today. How sad it would be to have Catholics come to the banquet of the Mass, even every Sunday, but come improperly dressed, come uncleansed and unadorned in Christ’s sacramental grace, so that at the end of life, they risk being cast out into the darkness.
  • The type of interior metamorphosis that Christ wants to give us so that we might enter into his kingdom and enjoy his banquet is what St. Paul describes in today’s epistle to the Church in Ephesus. He 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. As St. Paul says today, that will lead us to take off all the old clothing of lying and dissimulation and speak to the truth, to remove the garments of stealing and vest ourselves with hard, honest labor with our own hands, to be righteously indignant but not let it lead to sin: in short to “leave no room for the devil,” who seeks to wrap us in worldliness, in life according to the flesh, in anything and everything except in Christ. 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.
  • In this month of October, we can focus on the most beautifully adorned person of all time and how she, by her example, her prayers and her interventions, wants as a loving mother wants to help get us ready for the Mass and for the eternal wedding feast. Our Lady, the woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1), wants us to be adorned with her Son, with sin with enmity stomped on under our feet, with a crown of the greatest virtues. On Friday, we marked the centenary of the last apparition in Fatima and the miracle of the Sun she had foretold four three months happened, something that led the 70,000 present to experience not just to witness the sun dancing in the heavens, but their drenched clothes and the ground dried to dessication in the matter of just ten minutes, something that points to how she wants to dry up all the sin in us that still remains after the flood. In Fatima, Mary helped bring us to the heart of the Gospel, by reminding us that to enter her Son’s kingdom and the banquet of the kingdom, we and others must repent and believe. There she asked Saints Francisco and Jacinta — and their cousin Lucy — to pray for the conversion of those refusing to respond to God’s invitation or to show up properly dressed. There she asked us to enter with her into her “garment district,” praying the Rosary every day, so that we can look at her Son and the world with her eyes. There she asked us to consecrate ourselves to her immaculate heart, which is a heart freed from sin by the blood of her Son the Lamb and fit for the kingdom, a heart that says yes to God, that treasures his word and does it, that loves God and others as Jesus loves. Her pure heart is the image of the kingdom of God, the icon of the type of interior garment the Lord wants to see in each of us. When we consecrate ourselves to Mary’s immaculate heart, we are asking her to clothe us in her purity, her charity, her docility, in short her sanctity. Saint John Paul II used to reconsecrate himself to Mary every morning as he put on his clothes. He would pray the prayer that he had learned from the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, from which he took his papal motto, as a sign of how he was trying to clothe his papacy. Since this is a Latin Mass, I’ll say it in the Latin he used: “Totus tuus ego sum et tota mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea Omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, O Maria!” “I am all yours, Mary, and all I have is yours. I receive you into the totality of whom I am. Give me your heart!” That heart is not merely what this centenary of Fatima is all about. It’s not just what the prayer of the Holy Rosary in this month of October and throughout the year is supposed to form. It’s also the full response to the parable Jesus gives us today.
  • As we come forward to this banquet on the altar, 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, like his mother and the saints, with his justice, his holiness, his truth, with detachment from the taint 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. That way, not only here on earth, but forever at the eternal wedding feast, we might rejoice together. The feast is ready. And we’ve come. 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.”