Sunday, October 09, 2011

Moral Responsibility and the Marriage Feast of the King’s Son

Prime Minister David Cameron with Pope Benedict XVI last year

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 9, 2011 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 2011]

Between August 6th and August 10th of this year, there was widespread rioting, looting and arson in several cities in England.

Most of us saw the frightening footage on the cable news stations: the people engaged in this activity were completely out of control.  They indiscriminately destroyed the private property of others, and caused good, law-abiding citizens to fear for their safety and their lives.

The world was shocked—although, according to the Prime Minster of England, David Cameron, the world—and that includes the people of Great Britain—should not have been shocked!

They should not have been at all surprised.

Listen now, to a few of the things he said to the citizens of his country in a speech he gave a few days after the chaos was over:

[He began by saying] It is time for our country to take stock.

Last week we saw some of the most sickening acts on our streets. . . .

[Then, a few lines later, he got down to the ‘nitty-gritty’:] So as we begin the necessary processes of inquiry, investigation, listening and learning: let's be clear.

These riots were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian.

These riots were not about government cuts: they were directed at high street stores, not Parliament.

And these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.

No, this was about behaviour...

...people showing indifference to right and wrong...

...people with a twisted moral code...

...people with a complete absence of self-restraint.

Now I know as soon as I use words like 'behaviour' and 'moral' people will say - what gives politicians the right to lecture us?

Of course we're not perfect.

But politicians shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality...this has actually helped to cause the social problems we see around us.  [Pro-choice Catholic politicians in this country need to read this speech!]

We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong.

We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said - about everything from
marriage to welfare to common courtesy.

[After giving some reasons why this is the case, he added] In this risk-free ground of moral neutrality there are no bad choices, just different lifestyles.

People aren't the architects of their own problems, they are victims of circumstance.

'Live and let live' becomes 'do what you please.'

Well actually, what last week has shown is that this moral neutrality, this relativism - it's not going to cut it any more.  [Sounds a lot like Pope Benedict XVI, does it not?  He’s always talking about moral relativism and its consequences.  This is yet another example, my brothers and sisters, of how the Church is way ahead of the world!  The Church doesn’t need to ‘get with the world’; the world needs to ‘get with the Church!’  Well maybe that’s finally happening—to some extent at least—over in England.  Cameron continued,]

One of the biggest lessons of these riots is that we've got to talk honestly about behaviour and then act - because bad behaviour has literally arrived on people's doorsteps.

And we can't shy away from the truth anymore.

So this must be a wake-up call for our country.

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face.

God bless Prime Minister David Cameron, for making it clear to his people that we are all human beings with free will, who have the power to make moral decisions which have definite consequences—consequences for us as individuals, as well as consequences for our families and for the society in which we live.

It’s a message that people in England and the entire western world need to hear more often.

And, of course, as Catholic Christians we would add that our personal moral decisions also have eternal repercussions:  What we do here on earth will ultimately determine who we are and what we are and where we are for all eternity!

Our gospel readings for the last few weeks have reminded us of this truth.  Notice that in today’s parable the wedding guests are all invited to the celebration (the celebration here is a metaphor for heaven!).  They are not compelled; they are not coerced; they are not unduly pressured.  They are simply ‘invited.’  (Did you catch how many times a form of the word ‘invite’ was used in this text?) 

The king wants them there for his son’s wedding (in other words, God wants all people to be saved)—in fact he goes so far as to send messengers to personally extend the invitation (the messengers symbolize the prophets in Old Testament times and the representatives of the Church in New Testament times: the Pope; the bishops in union with him, etc.).

Unfortunately, many who get the invitation make the personal decision either to ignore it or to attack the messengers (that, of course, still goes on today with respect to those who constantly attack the Church and her teaching).

But it’s not enough to decide that you want to go to the eternal wedding feast of the king’s son, Jesus; you also have to make the decision to dress properly for the occasion by putting on a ‘wedding garment’.  In modern Catholic terms, that garment is a symbol for being in the state of grace.  It’s a sign of the fact that the moral choices a person made during his or her life were the right ones, preserving baptismal innocence; or, if they were the wrong ones, it implies that the person repented of those sins and was absolved of them before death. Those in this last category are like the ‘bad’ people in the parable who got invited at the end.  They changed and put on wedding garments before they arrived at the celebration—with the exception of that one, bad dude who thought he could get in without changing his dirty, sin-stained clothes.  That, as we heard a few moments ago, didn’t cut it with the king.  He was not impressed!

I think Prime Minister Cameron would like this parable, because it contains a message about personal responsibility and accountability—a message that far too many people in his country (and ours!) have tried to ignore for several decades.

Let me close now, by quoting a few more lines from his speech on August 15, which illustrate this very point.  He said,

Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our streets, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.

Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback.

We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state.

We know what's gone wrong: the question is, do we have the determination to put it right?

Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?

Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences.

Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort.

Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control.

Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged - sometimes even incentivised - by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.

So, do we have the determination to confront all this and turn it around?

I have the very strong sense that the responsible majority of people in this country not only have that determination; they are crying out for their government to act upon it.

Of course, it’s a mistake to think that government alone can change these things, Mr. Prime Minister.  Hopefully you realize that.  The change must begin with us—with each of us, individually, examining our lives, converting our hearts, and changing for the better—every day!

Do the people of England have the determination to do that?  I pray they do.  And on this Columbus Day weekend I pray that we in the United States do as well.