19th Sunday after Pentecost
At the heart of today’s Gospel we find a wedding feast, a royal wedding, thrown by the king for his son. Who is this King and who is this Son and what is this wedding? The King is God the Father. The Son is the Eternal Word. The Wedding is the union of the Son with our humanity. Where does it take place? In the virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth on the day of the Annunciation. It is at the very moment of the Incarnation, when God becomes man, that He unites humanity to Himself as His Bride.
Weddings are important events, and they are much more than significant milestones in the lives of people, for they take their meaning and grandeur from the fact that all of creation is a love story between God and His creature. He drew all things out of nothing in an act of pure love, and at the summit of His creation He placed human beings, male and female, choosing in His sovereign will to unite them with Himself in the Person of the Word. All of eternity will not suffice for us to fathom the depth of this mystery, the central one of our faith. God has become man. Jesus is true God and true Man. His conception in the virginal womb is the beginning of the wedding celebration which will reach its climax at the end of time in the beatitude of our heavenly home, where the Church, the Bride of the Lamb, as the book of the Apocalypse tells us, will be definitively united with the Bridegroom.
As much as this mystery will be our delight in eternity, it behooves us to draw out the consequences here and now, for there are many. If God became man, it is because He loves man, it is so that man might become God, that is to say, that he might become like God in this life through grace and be beatified with the vision of the Divine Essence in eternity. If God became man, it also follows that man has been the instrument of salvation. Grace is mediated to us through the Sacred Humanity of the Saviour and through all the traces He left during His brief passage through time. God’s grace is mediated through the Church, through the sacraments, through the saints, and in particular through the woman from whom He took flesh. God came to us through Mary, and He intends that we return to Him through her. God could very well have saved the world without such a bold act of love, but He chose to ennoble our humanity by giving it to share in the very act of salvation. Catholicism is both the most divine and the most human of all religions, for it was founded by One who was fully God and fully man.
Today’s parable tells us that even though the King had prepared a magnificent wedding feast, the ones who were invited refused to come. How is that possible? God invites us to share in His banquet of love, and so many find a way to refuse. It is so sad to see. The mystery of God’s love is met by the mystery of man’s refusal of that love. The gift of free will is so often misused to turn away from the very Giver of the gift. That is tragic. It is the most tragic of events, and it happens all around us every day.
Let’s have a look and see the excuses they have. The sacred text tells us that upon receiving the invitation: “they neglected and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise, and the rest laid hands on his servants, and having treated them contumeliously, put them to death”. They neglected; they were negligent; they didn’t care; they had other concerns deemed more important. One is distracted by his home and his land, which is a way of referring to one’s involvement in one’s family life. Another is taken up with business affairs and worldly success. No one has time for God. But there is worse. There are those who scorn the messengers sent to invite them, and, unbelievably, still others who put them to death.
Does all that sound familiar? The same scenario is reproduced in every age. Ever since the day of those divine nuptials in Mary’s womb, the divine cry rings out through the Church: Come to the wedding feast! Business is not everything; even family is not everything. God Himself is calling you. Listen to the call of God; wake up from your torpor. And yet, in spite of the witness of the truth, in spite of the presence of God in our midst, so many, most of humanity so it would seem (many are called, but few are chosen), is so taken up with its own affairs, with its own petty world that it has no time for God and for that amazing offer of Divine Intimacy made through the Son. With St Augustine, we have every right to ask: “Who could be greedier than a man for whom God does not suffice?”
But there are also those who are not content with ignoring. They attack, they criticise, they poke fun, they even seek to eliminate the truth, if not by actually killing the messengers of the Gospel, at least by destroying them in other ways. No one can remain indifferent to God Incarnate. Ever since the day He took flesh, ever since He hung on that cross which reigns over all of history, no one can ever pretend that Christ is not a real question. “He who is not with me is against me; he who does not gather with me, scatters”.
But there is more to the parable. The messengers have gone into the highways and byways, they have brought in folk such as ourselves so that the wedding feast is filled. But the Lord sees there a man not wearing the nuptial garment. What is this wedding garment? It is the symbol of the state of grace, which is given at baptism, recovered through confession, and sustained through the Holy Eucharist, prayer and penance. In today’s epistle, St Paul tells us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth”. To do so is to wear that white garment of holiness and truth; it is to truly be God’s friends.
Tragically there are those who have entered the Church, and who have done so without putting aside their wayward lives, or resumed them after a period of conversion. There are those who, while professing publicly to be Catholic, do not share her doctrine; some of them even strive to change the teaching of the Church to suit their own agenda. To them we say: be very careful that you be not among those who are physically inside, but spiritually outside. It is not for us to change the Church; it is the Church that calls us to change. We do not save the Church; it is the Church that saves us. And that Church, founded by the Incarnate Word, has a Divine Constitution that is unbreakable and unchangeable – it is given by God. Do not risk finding yourselves at war with God. You will lose, and your demise will be complete.
The parable tells us that at the King’s question, the man bereft of the wedding garment had nothing to say: he was silent. Indeed, so it will be at the final judgment, when the sinner is asked why he did not mend his ways; when the heretic is asked why he did not accept the faith of the Church instead of trying to impose his own brand of belief. He will have nothing to say, because he knows, deep down in his heart, that his whole life was a facade. He knew very well – but tried to hide it to himself – that he was living a lie, that his effort to change the Church was only because did not want to humble himself and accept God’s teaching, that he did not want to mend his ways and leave a life of sin. He will be silent, for it will be over for him. His life was, to quote Macbeth, “a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. A life lived for self in preference to God is indeed a tale told by an idiot. What greater folly could there be but that of one who lives as if there were no God?
And so my dear Friends, let us take care to not be among those who are too busy with other things to accept God’s offer; more importantly still, let us be sure to keep our wedding garment undefiled and live in a state of grace, humbling our minds in obedience to the Word of God as taught by the Church, and denying our flesh when we feel its wayward motions that would lead us to defile the covenant of grace we have solemnly made on the day of our Baptism as well as any other solemn commitments we have made, such as marriage vows or religious profession.
Let us recall that this mystery which we call the “hypostatic union” – that is to say the union of the divine and human natures in Christ and which is the source of the Church and all that it teaches – takes place at a precise time and in a specific place, namely under the human heart of a young maiden, who at the very moment, becomes Mother of God, as she was solemnly proclaimed at the Council of Ephesus in 431, and which this day the 11 of October commemorates as being dedicated to the Divine Maternity. Let us turn continually to her, for in addition to being our model in faith, in acquiescence to God’s plan, she is now the Mother of the Church who destroys all heresies, for every heresy, in one form or another, refuses one or other aspects of the Incarnation and seeks ultimately to dissolve Her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as St John tells us: “Every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God. And this is Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he cometh: and he is now already in the world” (1 Jn 4:3).
May she who at Cana of Galilee, understood the significance of that first miracle of Her Son, obtain for each of us to be, every day of our lives, worthy guests at the Eucharistic Banquet, that we may one day recline in the eternal kingdom of God.