The following is a close approximation of the homily I delivered at the 4:30 PM Mass, Saturday October 11 and the 7:30 AM Mass on Sunday October 12, 2014 at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Slidell. On Saturday, I had the privilege of preaching to the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, with the Most Rev. Ronald Paul Herzog, Bishop of Alexandria, Louisiana as the principal celebrant. The scripture readings are for the twenty-eight Sunday of Ordinary Time and are available by clicking this link.
30 years ago, I received a beautiful engraved invitation from the President of the large multi-national company for whom I worked inviting me to a banquet – a banquet honoring the employees of the year…. I was going to be one of the guests of honor.
The banquet was like nothing I had ever seen before or since. Everyone was dressed up. There was a lavish cocktail party with gorgeous ice sculptures scattered throughout and exquisite flower arrangements on each table. There were more knives and forks on the table then I could count. Being an Irish Channel boy, I had never seen more than one knife, fork, and spoon at a place setting in my life and was quite nervous that I would commit a social gaffe by eating the wrong dish with the wrong fork.
The food was indescribably good. The menus were all in French and I am not exactly sure what the food was, but I assure you it WAS delicious. There were different wines with each course and sorbets to cleanse the pallet between.
In the days leading up to it, I had my hair cut, my best suit dry cleaned, my shirt pressed, my shoes shined and a bought a new tie. For such an important occasion, I needed to be dressed appropriately.
Contemplating over the Gospel this week, I could not help think back on that banquet, and imagine that in all its splendor, it was nothing compared to the heavenly banquet prepared for us. And just as I got all cleaned up and groomed for that banquet, as people of faith, we also need to be dressed appropriately for the heavenly banquet.
The parable in today’s Gospel, as many parables do, has two distinct messages, depending on your historical perspective. One message was for those who heard this parable directly from Our Lord’s mouth in Jerusalem in are about the year 33. The other message is timeless, and applies to all Christians regardless of place, space or time.
Lets first look at the message to those in Jerusalem. To put the parable of the Wedding Feast in perspective, it is important to realize when and to whom it was preached. Our Lord is not speaking to his disciples, but to the scribes and Pharisees. The preaching of this parable is just after his triumphant entry into the City on the day we now call Palm Sunday. A few days after this parable, Jesus is going to celebrate the Last Supper with his friends, and then suffer his agonizing passion and death followed by his glorious resurrection.
The Wedding feast is symbolic of the eternal celebration in heaven. The King is God the father, the bridegroom is Jesus. The servants that he sent out to invite the guests who were abused, and even killed are the Old Testament prophets. The King being enraged and destroying the city refers to the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in less than 40 years.
The King ordering his servants to go out on the roads and invite whoever they find to the banquet refers to the end of the exclusive place and status that was set aside for the Jews and the opening of the Kingdom of God to all people. Inviting all into the banquet - this is exactly what the Apostles did after Pentecost and what we are all called to do – invite all into relationship with Our Lord.
And although the average Christian today might find the symbolism a little difficult to grasp, the scribes and Pharisees new exactly what Jesus meant. In fact, it enraged them. This is made evident by the verse that is immediately after today’s Gospel that reads:
Then the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap him in speech.
But we are not Jews, and we are certainly neither scribes nor Pharisees, so what it is it saying to us today, here and now in Slidell Louisiana?
That might be best understood by going back to the Rite of Baptism. In Baptism, there is part of the rite that is entitled “Clothing With The White Garment” Here is the white garment that we use at saint Luke (holds up one of the baptismal garments.) The prayer during that part of the Rite is: 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.
Consider your soul, as symbolized by the Baptismal garment, as YOUR wedding garment. And now we return to today’s Gospel. That guest without the proper wedding garment – might that be you or I, who at the end of our earthly lives shows up at the gates of heaven with our white garment torn, our immortal souls, tattered and with the ravages of sin. Unfit to enter the heavenly banquet, we are tossed out because many are invited, but few (not all, not most) … few are chosen. That sounds like bad news… few are chosen to attend the heavenly banquet.
There is not only good news, there is great news! God has provided us with the Church who gives us rules and laws to follow to help us keep our Baptismal garment clean. The moral rules, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and the Catechism are not there to cramp our style or ruin our fun. Consider them like the danger signs on high voltage wires, there to keep us safe from harm.
What is your homework?
There are 2 very easy assignments this week. Each morning this week, as you pick out your clothes, make sure that they are clean, and neat and appropriate for the occasion, I suggest that we take a moment to consider the state of our souls. Ask yourself this question - is MY wedding garment neat and clean enough for the occasion - to enter the heavenly banquet?
Second, today, before we approach the altar today to receive Jesus, in the Eucharist,, ask yourself that same question.
Because we never know the day or the time when we might receive the invitation, it is important that each of us keeps our Wedding Garment clean at all time. And from time to time, when our garments get a little soiled, the Church provides a dry cleaner like no other. One that can take our garments, our souls, dirty and torn and tattered and make them come out looking as pristine as the day we were baptized. That is the great gift of the sacrament of reconciliation. It makes us presentable for the Eucharistic banquet ... and for the one with angels and saints in heaven.