Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homily 28th Sun O.T. Year A–The Marriage Feast and The Call

marriage feastI am sure we have all, at one time or another, experienced the disappointment of working and planning diligently for a major event only to have very few people show up. Especially when it is a parish event, you can feel so defeated and discouraged when you know that a presentation or a speaker could have been so helpful to so many people and you want so badly for the gifts of the Church to have an effect on everyone. But imagine the big occasions in your life where it is obligatory that a lot of people show up. Imagine if only a handful came to a milestone birthday party, or a family reunion, or worse yet, your wedding reception? I was thinking about how disappointed I would have been if my Ordination had been like that. The challenge today is for us to consider that sometimes we do that to God, leave him high and dry. Really mankind has done this to God throughout salvation history.

Beginning with the Israelites of the Old Testament, God sent them the prophets to continually call them to Himself, to salvation, to eternal life. What Isaiah called “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” was the salvation God had in store for them. Throughout the Scriptures the image of a great heavenly banquet is used to illustrate the great intimacy that God desires to have with us, in order to share with us His greatest gifts. Through the prophets, God proclaimed continuously, in the words of Jesus’ parable, “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” They don’t have to bring anything. God doesn’t split up their last names and have A through H bring a meat, I through P bring vegetables, and Q through Z bring a dessert! He just wants them to be with him.

But, the Jews at that time either ignored the call – preoccupied as they were with worldly or family concerns – or, worse, rejected the king’s feast and killed the prophets who were sent to invite them. Remember, Jesus is in Jerusalem for his passion. He is making one last attempt to stir the consciences of the scribes and Pharisees, to help them see that they have fallen in line with the wicked tenants of last week’s parable who killed the servants and the landowner’s only son, who were sent to collect the produce of the vineyard. And now, Jesus says, they are like the invited guests who ignore and kill the servants sent to invite them to the feast.

But, in order to prove once and for all God’s great patience even for those who reject him, Jesus will go the greatest length himself to show that any and everyone are called to the feast, “bad and good alike.” He will go to the point of the cross to gather all he has found. He will suffer a three-fold rejection – He is the King that gives the feast, mocked by the purple robe and the crown of thorns – He is the Son around whom the feast is prepared, mocked as an illegitimate blasphemer before the Sanhedrin – He is the servant sent to proclaim the good news, mocked and jeered at as he hung on the cross.

When we get so caught up in our worldly concerns – “one to his farm, another to his business,” as the parable puts it – then we, in effect, are making this type of three-fold rejection of Christ the King, the Son of God, the Servant of our salvation. When I say, “I’m too busy to pray morning prayer” then I am making this three-fold rejection. Other examples could be saying, “I don’t want to get up for Mass” or “I’d rather watch the football game” or “I’m too afraid of what people will think if I invite them to Church or challenge their behavior”.

When Jesus says in the parable that “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city” he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. For us, if we choose over and over to reject God, our destruction, so to speak, will come about through the natural consequences of such choices: a feeling of alienation and distance from God, a sense of loneliness during times of difficulty, a less and less fulfilling way of life. Ultimately, if we receive Hell, it will be not because God sent us there, but because we chose it, consistent with the choices to reject him in our earthy life. One of God’s greatest acts of love for us was giving us the ability to choose to not love him in return. Love is free or it is not love. God will not force us to choose good and avoid evil. Only when we choose to love God rather than reject him will the love between us grow into an earthly life and an afterlife full of the richness and bounty of God’s gifts and graces.

The point of Jesus’ parable, and really this homily too, is not to beat up those who have rejected him, but to help them and us see the richness and the beauty of what is at stake and to challenge us to live our lives according to such great gifts. Our readiness for these gifts – the feast of the Eucharist, the gifts of the sacraments, the richness of the sacramentals that are constantly available to us: holy water, blessings, the rosary, the crucifix, the scapular, religious medals, and icons… our readiness for these gifts is illustrated in the wedding garment that the guests were required to wear to the feast. Those who wear the garment of a life of conversion and virtue joyfully share in the celebration. Today’s designation as Vocation Awareness Sunday also helps us to look at this parable in a positive light. Who among us is God calling to lead us to the celebration?

We all have the responsibility to answer the call of Christ to come to Him through his Church and to help others to answer his call. But, it falls particularly on those in the priesthood or consecrated religious life to be the servants of this call in a special way, to empower the laity to “Go out, therefore, [even] into the main roads” and “into the streets” to ensure Christ’s call is heard by all, and to do their own part in making it known. The King needs servants. The Church needs young men to hear the call to be priests and to extend the call of salvation to all the world. The Church needs priests who will offer, as Isaiah called it, the “rich food” of the Body of Christ and the “choice wine” of the Blood of Christ to the people gathered at the Eucharistic feast. The Church needs young women to hear the call to consecrated religious life, to be wedded to the Son, to make the Eucharist in their hearts a true wedding feast, to meditate on the call to salvation and help the wider Church understand it.

How many in our three parishes are willing to let their son, grandson, or nephew join the priesthood or their daughter, granddaughter, or niece enter consecrated religious life? To most of our children, this is never even presented as an option. It is never even considered. Sure, what was described in the parable could happen to them too, they too might be rejected or persecuted because of God’s message, especially in our increasingly hostile society. But, I can personally testify that St. Paul’s comforting words to the Philippians are true as well for those who receive a religious vocation: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Throughout seminary and into my priesthood, I am constantly amazed at how he has helped me along the way, helped me when formation was difficult, helped me to do things I never thought I could do, like preach, and teach, and minister to people at the most profound moments of their lives. Plus it is incredibly fulfilling to stop and think that it is my hands and feet and voice that he uses to, as the Responsorial Psalm described it, lead God’s people “beside restful waters” and refresh their souls; to guide them in “right paths for his name’s sake”; to be at their side and give them courage; to “spread the table” before them; to anoint and to “overflow” them with graces. These things make it a tremendous blessing and a joy to “dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”

We are blessed here to have six members of the clergy in constant contact with you: Fr. Chuck, Fr. Stan, Deacon Joe, Deacon Bill, Deacon Karl, and me. We must encourage our children and our grandchildren to follow their good example. We are doing very well as a cluster in having three seminarians from St. James who are in the seminary, and one is a Deacon. Let’s keep up the momentum. The Holy Spirit is moving in this archdiocese and there is much cause for hope and excitement! When I entered seminary in 2005 I was one of three men studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville. Now we have almost 20 seminarians and more on the way!

As we all strive to hear and answer Christ’s call in our own unique way, let us pray with St. Augustine, “Help us, Lord, to disown our vain excuses. We want to attend the banquet… Don’t allow our pride or sensuality or attachments or idle curiosity to get in the way of our attendance. Make sure that we show up… We have been invited by the wealthy one who became poor for our sake… We will come… and we will tell him: “Keep steady my steps according to thy promise’ (Ps 118:133).”

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