First Reading: Is 25:6-10a; Psalm: 23. R. v. 6cd; Second Reading: Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Gospel: Mt 22:1-14
THE CHURCH PREPARES US FOR THE HEAVENLY BANQUET
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The past three successive Sundays have been Sundays of parables; parables about the kingdom of God. Today’s parable of the Wedding Banquet makes it the fourth in a role. It is not by accident that the Church re-echoes these kingdom parables; for as we gradually approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, we need to be constantly reminded of the eschatological dimension of the Church to help whip us into the line as we journey towards heaven our true home.
Today’s parable of the Wedding Banquet is divided into three distinct parts: the first invitees to the banquet that turned down the invitation; the second invitees gathered from the thoroughfare; and the criteria needed to partake in this banquet.
Now, if we paid attention to the nuances in this parable, it is as though the first invitees were special set of people to be given the first place; but only lost that first place through insolence and indifference. The second invitees seemed to be second class citizens because they were only considered when the first invitees declined. Well, from a layman’s point of view, this understanding is in order. But since this parable is about the kingdom of God, we will be mistaking to think this way. There are no first or second class citizens in the sight of God. It is just that God calls us in different ways and at different times. And our responses whether in the affirmative or negative do not place any limit to God’s further invitation to others. The heavenly banquet is for all.
But how do we make sense of this whole parable bearing in mind its three distinct parts? To do this, we shall be reflecting on the Church and the sacraments; for the Church is a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom; and so is the Eucharist a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Recall that the first invitees already got invitations prior to the wedding banquet; but declined the invitation when reminded that the banquet is ready. This suggests that they had access to the banquet hall but refused to listen to the call of the king of the banquet. It is not enough to be a baptised Catholic or a member of the Church. If we failed to listen to God’s daily invitation to do his will; we are heading for ruin.
The Church, God’s banquet hall is opened to all. This explains why the king in the parable instructed his servants to go to the thoroughfare and invite all and sundry. Our call to faith happened at different times and in peculiar ways. And God never fails now and always to invite both saints and sinners to the banquet hall. So, whenever we gather for Mass to partake in the Eucharistic banquet; we gather with our strengths and weaknesses. Both the good and the bad. But we know that not all who gather for Mass are worthy to partake in the Eucharistic meal but only those with the banquet garment; those in the state of grace.
Now, when we juxtapose the two invitees in this parable, we see clearly our strengths and weaknesses as the Body of Christ the Church. Flippant excuses have in many occasions deterred us from good works; from loving one another and giving God the first place in our lives. We always have well fashioned reasons why we can’t be generous to people, why we can’t love, why we can’t forgive or why we failed to attend Mass on Sundays. These reasons are often selfish to gratify our own desires. The more we feed our selfish appetites, the more we distant ourselves from God and lose our wedding garments.
Concerning the parable of today St Gregory the Great says that “. . . the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity.” (Evangelia homiliae, 36). Charity is a life of love in practice; nothing else can make us more holy. Although the door of salvation is opened to all, we cannot be saved without the good life of love.
Since the wedding garment is the virtue of charity, a life of love in practice, a life of holiness; it therefore means that we already know what qualifies us to partake in the Eucharistic meal. The beautiful thing about the Holy Mass is that it offers us the opportunity to see through the mirror of our consciences the kind of garments we are putting on. When the Word is read and preached, we judge for ourselves whether we are wearing that garment of charity or not. As we examine our consciences before the Eucharistic meal, we see how worthy or unworthy we are to partake in this feast. If our conscience says to us, “Friend, where is your wedding garment? How did you get in here without it?” That is Christ warning us to find our garment of charity else we shall be cast out and lose our communion with him.
So, the liturgy of the word and that moment before the reception of the Holy Eucharist is a graced moment that we must listen to if we must be saved. But unfortunately many of us don’t. We often fail to listen to that question from the voice of our conscience: “Friend, where is your wedding garment? How did you get in here without it?” Or perhaps we hear it and make light of it. If we paid attention to this voice of Christ asking us of the whereabouts of our garment of charity, maybe we won’t get up so spontaneously and easily proceed to the altar to partake in this banquet. And maybe, just maybe this could also dispose us to seek reconciliation with God in the sacrament of penance and receive the grace to begin to wear this garment of charity, this garment of purity.
Right now, as Christ speaks to us through his word; his word is already a judge to us, for we can clearly tell whether we are clothed with the wedding garment or not. Soon, Christ shall be inviting us to partake in the Eucharistic meal. Please, do not just get up spontaneously as though everyone has a free pass to partake in this meal. Let us examine our conscience first and listen to the judgement it passes on us. Our conscience never lies. When it condemns us we have no defence. When it accuses us, we are speechless and motionless. Yes! We are not perfect; but through the grace of God we are capable to do what it takes to possess this garment of charity and purity.
Our spiritual experiences in the Church’s life prepare us for the kingdom of heaven. If we leverage on the spiritual opportunities and lessons from the Church’s life, we will be preparing ourselves to partake in the banquet of heaven. Because in the Church, Christ opens his door to both saints and sinners. In the Church, Christ washes away our sins in Baptism and clothes us with the garment of purity to be kept unstained by works of charity. In the Church, Christ instructs us in the Holy Mass through his word on what we need to do to keep our garments of purity unstained. In the Church, we also see how prepared or unprepared we are to partake in the heavenly banquet by our worthiness or unworthiness to partake in the Eucharistic meal. In the Church, Christ reconciles us back to himself. And in the Church, Christ commands us to go into the world and proclaim the gospel with our lives.
In the first reading of today, the prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse of the life of heaven. Heaven is a place of joy and celebration. It is a place where death is destroyed forever and all tears wiped away. It is the final destination of every disciple of the faith. Isaiah’s description of heaven with the image of a mountain suggests that personal effort is needed to get there just as getting to the mountain top demands so much effort. In Christ through the Church, we have received all the graces needed to get to heaven. If we cooperated with this grace of God, we will be responding to Christ’s invitation with our garments of charity; and will not be cast away into the outer darkness where there will be weeping gnashing of teeth.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, help us to respond to the graces you offer us through your sacraments, that we may be found worthy to partake in the banquet of heaven. Amen.