Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 11, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14

When I was seven years old, Sister Edward Clare prepared me and my classmates to receive our First Holy Communion. This preparation involved her preparing us for our first Confession. Sister made great efforts to prepare us in such a way as to draw us closer to Christ. For weeks, she walked us through the process of making an examination of conscience by reviewing our lives considering each of the Ten Commandments.

Yet, the most important part of this examination was the prayer to the Holy Spirit before reviewing the Commandments, that the Holy Spirit might save us from fear and scrupulosity on the one hand, and from presumption and laxity on the other hand. It was clear that the Holy Spirit would show us our sins that we were to confess to Christ present through the priest. Among the graces in my life attached to this lesson was the constant reminder that sin was not simply the breaking of a rule but rather an offense against a dear friend in Jesus. That friendship with Jesus is what we mean by communion in the New Covenant.

In our Gospel reading, Christ speaks in a parable to and about the People of the Old Covenant — and also to and about us His Church, the People of the New Covenant — as guests invited and called to a wedding banquet. This metaphor conveys images of celebration, friendship, and joy. The wedding imagery conveys an invitation to an intimate covenant of self-donation made at God’s initiative between God and human beings. Who would not want to be a part of such a celebration? Well, apparently, there are many.

These many are invited and called to the wedding banquet that the king is providing for his son, and they refuse to come. Just like in last Sunday’s Gospel of the parable of the tenants in the vineyard — when the vineyard owner sends servants to obtain the produce and the tenants abuse, mistreat, and kill the servants — so too in this Gospel, the king’s servants are abused, mistreated, and killed when they summon the invitees to the wedding feast. In this parable it’s not a refusal to give the fruits of the vineyard to the landowner; it’s now a refusal to let oneself be invited to a wedding banquet, image of joy, covenantal union, friendship, and communion and life. How hard-hearted and close-minded might these invited guests be! They feel that they have enough knowledge about their status and identity independent of their king’s invitation. They understand their participation in the life of the kingdom to be sufficiently established on their own abilities alone, and a response is not only unnecessary, but also not wanted because it is inconvenient. Even joy will not move them to participate. Their knowledge is a self-absorbed knowledge; a covenant would only inconvenience them with expectations to practice and to offer an active giving of themselves. In other words, they think, “What difference does it make? Why should we bother?”

The imagery of marriage and the wedding banquet is used in many places in Sacred Scripture to denote the closeness and intimate friendship with us desired by the Lord. The Lord wants His people with Him in joyful celebration. So, in the parable from today’s Gospel, the king then sends out his servants to invite other people, good and bad alike, who are not self-satisfied and who accept the invitation to enter this intimate friendship.  They enter and join the celebration. Their entrance and joining the celebration requires a preparation and action on their part — simple passivity will not suffice. Their response requires not only proximity, it requires more than cordiality. It requires conversion and repentance. Thus, the late invitee who is not adequately dressed for the celebration is unrepentant and does not follow through with his response to the host’s invitation; he is cast out into the street. The invitation is free, but it demands a serious yet happy response that includes a firm purpose of amendment.

The parable in today’s Gospel conveys the fulfillment by Christ of Isaiah’s prophesy proclaimed in our first reading, the unshrouding of the veil that covers all nations that is sin and its bitter effects, including ignorance, sickness, and ultimately death. During this month dedicated to Respect Life it is important for us to examine how frequently we in our culture propose death as a solution to our social problems — abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and capital punishment. The victory of Christ establishes a new and eternal covenant and fulfills the old one. It falls to God alone, the sole Author of Life, and not to us to unveil the veil of death that clouds humanity.

Our lives as Catholics include a response to an invitation of betrothal from the Lord to prepare for that day. Our response begins in Baptism and continues through the other sacraments of initiation and requires not only preparation but perseverance in good deeds with reliance upon His grace. We are each and all invited to the wedding banquet, but being chosen depends upon our response and our perseverance. Accepting God’s invitation to share His life is not enough; knowing about Jesus and His message is not enough.

The poor, speechless man in the Gospel is not appropriately dressed, and as a result is cast out from the wedding banquet. He remains a bystander even after he is invited to become a participant and a witness. Though invited and called, he was not prepared and therefore he was not ready and not chosen. This invited, but poorly dressed and cast out individual is the half-hearted and ill-prepared hanger-on — he is only an acquaintance and not a friend. Though invited and called, he was not ready for where the call would take him: friendship with Christ and witness to that friendship. The Gospel, especially the Gospel of Life, requires each of us to be a witness and not simply a bystander. It requires friendship.

Every Sunday and today again we are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, the Eucharist instituted by Christ. We are called to communion with our God — closeness, intimate union with the Lord. It is an intimacy that is too frequently taken for granted by us through our lack of preparation to receive Holy Communion. When we approach the altar for Holy Communion, we are entering into His intimacy and we are not dragging Him into our lives. He sets the terms, we do not.

What matters is that Christ becomes a living presence in our lives and His Gospel becomes our way of life requiring our attention as His friends. The wedding garment, the baptismal garment, is the sign that we have taken to heart what Jesus calls us to do as His friends, and that we truly become people of charity, humble service, and most especially of prayer.

“Blessed are we called to the supper of the Lamb and we are not worthy to have Him taken under our roof, He says but the word and each of our souls is healed.” Many are invited, but few are chosen. What about you and me? Are we simply bystanders and acquaintances or are we ready and prepared to be friends and chosen witnesses?

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