Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Divine Guest List

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 12, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 22: 1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2008]

I was on the guest list—and I was thrilled!

And it was such a surprise; it was definitely not something that I had expected.

It began about 3 weeks ago. Fr. Tom Hoar from Ender’s Island called me on the phone and said, “Would you like to come to lunch on Friday, October 3rd?”

Without any hesitation, I said, “Of course!”

I responded quickly and enthusiastically, not only because I like to eat—which, of course, I do—but also because I realized that this was not going to be an ordinary Friday afternoon meal at Ender’s Island!

October 3rd was the day that Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, and Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court were scheduled to receive awards from Fr. Tom and the people at St. Edmund’s. And since it’s not every day that I can sit down and have a meal with a good bishop AND a Catholic Justice of the United States Supreme Court, I jumped at the opportunity!

And then I prayed all week that no funeral would come in for late Friday morning!—because if one had come in, I would have been forced to cancel with Fr. Tom.

With respect to this special luncheon, I was on the guest list, but that did NOT mean I would actually be at the celebration (although, thankfully, I was!).

You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.

In today’s gospel parable from Matthew 23, we hear about a number of people who were also on a guest list—the original guest list for the wedding of a certain king’s son.

But, amazingly, none of them actually attended the event!

It’s clear that Jesus used the wedding feast in this story as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven. We know that because he says so explicitly at the very beginning. He introduces the parable with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”

Now if you read the story carefully you see that there were 4 reasons why some of the invited guests didn’t attend. These are important, because they’re the very same reasons why some people might miss the eternal wedding feast of Jesus Christ our Savior.

The first group that’s mentioned initially refused to come. No further details are given. They were invited to the feast, but apparently they just didn’t want to go!

“But, Fr. Ray, who would actually be like this and say no to heaven? Who would consciously refuse the invitation to eternal life?”

Well, think about it. In heaven there is only goodness; there’s no vice or sin. But if you’ve lived the better part of your life steeped in vice and sin—holding grudges, thinking only of yourself, lying, lusting, stealing, etc.—and you’ve found enjoyment in those things, would you really want to go to a place where everybody is pure and honest and selfless and kind?

Probably not!

Yes, it is possible to choose hell for all eternity by choosing the “things of hell” in our earthly lives each day.

Of course, we have to be careful not to judge anyone in this regard. Even if we think we know someone extremely well, only God is qualified to judge whether that person will spend forever at the wedding feast or in “the other place”.

I had a teenage boy come up to me a few weeks ago and tell me that his grandfather had recently died. Then he said, “Fr. Ray, should I pray for him? He didn’t go to church; he wasn’t always the nicest person in the world—is there any hope for him?”

I said, “Of course there is! In fact, all the more you should pray for him. Pray that he died in the state of grace; pray that he opened his heart to God sometime before he left this life; pray that he’ll pass quickly through purgatory if he needs to go there; pray that you’ll see him again. The Church says that we’re supposed to have hope for everybody—even people we thought were hopeless.”

We’re then told that this first group of invitees ignored the king’s invitation when they received it a second time. One went to his farm, Scripture says, another to his business.

This is a warning against putting other things before God and our Catholic faith. In this regard, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly and easily some people put other things before the required worship of God at Sunday Mass. This is the time of year when I’m at CCD classes and in our school for confessions, and I hear it often from some of these young people: “We can’t go to Mass every Sunday because we’re too busy.”

Do you realize that’s the same excuse these invited guests used in this parable?—these guests who never got to the big feast!

But it even goes beyond that. If some Catholics were totally honest, they would be forced to admit that they put their politics before their faith, or their sinful pastimes before their faith, or their ungodly relationships before their faith.

It’s a very real temptation for all of us—at least from time to time: the temptation to ignore the invitation.

Another group didn’t get to the feast because they attacked and murdered the king’s messengers. These are the Bill Mahers and the Rosie O’Donnells and the many others out there who openly attack the Church and the Gospel she preaches. We need to pray for their conversions.

And speaking of conversions, perhaps the most tragic part of this parable comes at the end. Here we encounter a man who represents the last group that missed the feast. I say this is the most tragic part of the story because the man in question actually got through the front door! He was there—but he was not allowed to stay.

The key to understanding why is in the detail of the wedding garment. In this story, wearing a wedding garment is symbolic for being in the state of grace (that should be easy for us to understand, since we’re clothed in a white garment when we’re baptized, as a symbol of our being washed clean of sin).

It says that the king sent one last group of servants out into the streets to bring in “the bad and the good alike.” In a sense, that line is good news for everyone, because it means that even those who are evil—really evil—have the potential to be saved.

But it’s not automatic! To be saved in the end and enter the eternal wedding feast of the Savior, you must repent of your sins, be washed clean in the blood of Christ, and thus be clothed in a “wedding garment.”

So what was the problem with this guy in the parable? Simple. He hadn’t repented! He tried to bypass that necessary step in the process!

That’s why he didn’t have his garment on when he met the king—and that’s why he couldn’t stay!

This, of course, is why confession is such a gift, and why we should receive that sacrament on a regular basis.

I was on the guest list for the special luncheon at Ender’s Island the other day, and for that I’m extremely grateful to Fr. Tom. But I’m much more grateful for the fact that I am also on the guest list for the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb of God in heaven.

And you should be grateful too, since you are also on that “Divine Guest List”!

But let’s remember the last words of Jesus in this story: “Many are invited (that is to say, many are on the ‘guest list’), but few are chosen.”

May God help us to live our Catholic faith every day—and to repent of our sins whenever we need to—so that we will be among the chosen few.