28th. Sunday, Year A
Isaiah 25:6-10; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich food and pure choice wines. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to Whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for Whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us!”
This passage, indeed the whole of the first reading, is wonderfully suited to picture the blessings of Christianity, and by that, I mean above all, the Catholic religion, for those who, be they pagans or nominal Christians, have felt the anguish of ignorance accompanied by a vaguely oppressive sense of sinfulness and inadequacy, weakness and insignificance, those who have felt the insufficiency of all merely human ideals to enable them to withstand the trials and temptations of life – “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) -- and all who have suffered from divisions within themselves, within family, society, and between nations. All who have experienced and want to learn from such occasions of suffering and sorrow, the Catholic faith is a most wonderful reconciliation with God, with the world, and with one’s own self. It is a setting free, a restoration of peace, meaning, beauty, and above all, of hope, to life.
Nevertheless, all these wonderfully great blessings do not easily penetrate through to the warm sensitive core of men as individuals. For men are formed by, and live most fully in, their personal relationships with others. It is in the deliberate and free gift and acceptance of whole-hearted personal love (not the impulsive, driving passion of sexual encounters!) that a human being first opens him- or her-self up for maturity. When a man or woman gives and receives such love for the first time they are changed thereby, and life is no longer the same as it was before that encounter and embrace… it is the initial warrant and seal of one’s worth as a personal being.
Now it is the Eucharist which brings that glow of personal, loving, encounter, fully into prominence in the spiritual life of a Catholic Christian, for the Eucharist is indeed the feast, the banquet, of rich food and pure, choice, wines. For the most stupendous fact and meaning of the Eucharist is that Jesus, the very Son of God made Man for us, there presents and renews (not repeats!) His original and eternally enduring gift of Himself as man in sacrifice for us all, and in Personal love to each one of us who receive Him. Now that gift of total love by Jesus is unique and absolutely inimitable: we human beings can only offer ourselves partially to another, and can also only receive another’s gift partially, even though most sincerely and committedly. Uniquely with Jesus, in the Eucharist, is total gift and commitment to be found, and -- by the Spirit of Jesus -- to be gradually and most carefully nourished in us who receive Him. As foreshadowed on the human level, so here most sublimely, this union of love (CHARITY) is indeed the ultimate fulfilment of one’s being, it is the total vindication of one’s worth as a human-being now become a child of God the Father in Jesus. For Christ is Truth, Love, and Life, and He comes to us that He might give us a share – chosen for us by the Father – in His Own Life of Truth and Love before the Father.
All these blessings, which reach to and transfigure the core of our human being are ours in Christ indeed, but we are only aware of them through faith, and we have to pray that we might grow in faith precisely in order that we may appreciate, esteem, value, and respond to these blessings to which our Father invites us.
That is not always easy for us since we, like children who seek all that glitters, are very subject to the impressions of our external senses and our resultant inner emotions, and these can easily drive us to over-involvement in worldly activities; not that is wrong to be fully involved in all that we undertake -- indeed St. Paul warns us against half-heartedness – but that over-involvement so easily leads us to over-esteem success in those worldly activities and under-value those spiritual blessings which we can only perceive through faith, to which our instinctive emotions do not immediately respond. And it is here that we must turn to our Gospel reading.
The invited guests in Our Lord’s parable were first of all, self-regarding-righteous Jews, and the OT covenant with God was the first invitation. Jesus Himself was the servant ultimately sent to announce that the Messianic feast, long foretold, was now prepared. Because that meant leaving aside the pursuit of power, profit, and success, the excuses came back thick and fast from all sides with varying degrees of politeness: but they all had the same fundamental meaning, ‘We have much more important things to do just now than come to your feast.’
That is the great danger for us today, People of God: we can come to value earthly, visible, emotionally stirring, activities exclusively if we allow ourselves to become too wrapped up in them … the traditional fault, indeed, of too many husbands in their family life, and sadly the modern, and yet more unnatural failing of some wives – I am writing as a Catholic priest for married Catholics, not for legal ‘partners’ or pseudo-wives -- who find they have not enough time, when money can be earned and personal success be gained, for them to be true mothers. Of course, the surety which such sinners feel in denying any significant value to religion is not so much a proof that religion has nothing to offer, no meaning for them, no reality in itself, but rather an indication of the extent to which they have been blinded by earthly attractions, and deafened by the cares and solicitudes of life, to the intimations of spiritual truths.
In this parable Jesus teaches on the one hand that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven by his own efforts without an invitation from God which has to be not only heard but also recognized and accepted as being for our compliance; and, on the other hand, that no one is condemned to remain outside the Kingdom except as a result of their own deliberate rejection or willful disdain of God’s offer.
People of God, there is no automatic predestination or salvation, no impersonal fate. A choice has to be made by all of us; it is a choice for Jesus, a choice involving life or death, a choice to be made not once by God judging for us or against us, but one to be made and re-affirmed by ourselves many, many, times over the years of our life.
Lest light-headed, and perhaps big-headed(!) youngsters, care-oppressed adults, weary elders, are inclined to think of these things as of no modern importance, let me quote some tragically beautiful and yet so sadly mixed-up thoughts of a modern philosopher of renown, Bertrand Russell:
“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious, wild pain – a searching for something transfigured and infinite. The beatific vision—God, I do not find it. I do not think it is to be found – but the love of it is my life.”
The only-begotten, most beloved, Son of the heavenly Father came as our Lord Jesus to save those original likenesses of God still loved by His Father but cut off from the benefits of that love by life preferences and practices adopted through ignorance and weakness. Our Lord died and rose from death to save those spoiled ‘likenesses’; and ascending back to His Father in heaven He offered them the Gift of His Most Holy Spirit to enlighten their ignorance and support their weakness, and, as living members of the Body of Christ on earth, Mother Church (unknown or at least unappreciated by Bertrand Russell looking for understanding and truth exclusively to his own powers of human thought) to lead them to the fulness of earthly life and heavenly glory as ‘other Christs’ in the beatific vision divinely revealed to us in Mother Church, and so vaguely loved and doubted by Russell.